Not a scratch… here’s my story

Early January 2007 was unusually warm in Washington County, MD. The weekend of January 6-7 through Monday the 8th saw a great deal of rain and balmy temperatures. I was teaching English at Williamsport High School in Williamsport, MD that year while living in Boonsboro, MD. My children, Kayla (17) and Marcus (15), were a senior and a sophomore at the same high school. Since Kayla had her driver’s license, I had the privilege of driving to work in peace…and the kids were able to leave home much later! That Tuesday morning, despite the frigid, typical January cold snap that hit the night before, I was in an unusually good mood. I dressed in a long suede skirt, a favorite sweater, and boots… and I was having a very good hair day. I got into my 6 month old G6 and headed to work.

It finally felt like January. I could actually see my breath in the crisp air, but it was ok; it was January. I turned left on to Sharpsburg Pike and then right on to Lappans Road to head toward Williamsport. I had driven this road every day since I started teaching at WHS in 2003, so I knew it well. There is a notorious S-curve on Lappans Road that requires drivers to slow down. This curve is also shaded by trees and in the natural drainage path from the surrounding hills. The rain from the previous few days froze under the cold front of Monday night creating a large patch of black ice.

I slowed and leaned into the curve – I saw what I thought was a small patch of ice, so I took my foot off the break to coast over it. Once over the ice, I put my foot on the gas to accelerate out of the turn. Unfortunately, the patch of ice I thought was small actually covered the roadway. As I hit the gas, my tires immediately spun, and my little G6 slid sideways and slammed into the rocks on the right.

The car immediately went into a spin. I remember being immediately scared; I offered up an audible prayer, “Help me, God!” The G6 felt like a washing machine, and I just wanted it to stop. When it finally did come to a stop, I was hanging upside down by my seatbelt. I was completely disoriented, but I remembered that I had been paying for On-Star since the free 90-day trial was over. I closed my eyes to remember where the On-Star button would be… when it started talking to me… telling me in a lovely voice that the air bag had deployed (I knew that) and that I was not connected to the network… great… a dead zone… the one time I actually need it.

It wasn’t long before a gentleman got down on his hands and knees to peer into the smashed drivers side window at me. “Do you need some help, ma’am?” Yes, he actually asked me that… and I remember very clearly that my sarcasm bone was intact because I very nearly said, “No, I think I’ll just hang here for a while.” Realizing the precarious position I was in at the time, I thought better of it and actually said, “Yes, please…” At that point another man opened the passenger side door and poked his head into the car. “I’m going to unhook your seatbelt,” he said.

“But, I’ll fall,” I replied.

“Ma’am, you won’t go very far.”

He unhooked the seatbelt, and I crawled out of the car. By then a crowd had gathered, and one of the men put one of the floor mats on the ground so that I could sit… remember I’m in a long, suede skirt. I suddenly remembered my kids. I didn’t want them coming down the road behind me and see my car upside down. One of my helpers got my purse, glasses, and phone from the car. I called my husband Tom and told him to tell the kids to take another way to school… but don’t tell them why. I didn’t want them to worry. I told Tom I would meet him at the hospital.

Some nice ladies helped me to get up… the ambulance arrived… they saw me standing, assumed I was fine, and told me to sign the paper that said I refused the ambulance ride to the hospital. “Just go to see your own doctor today,” they said. I was dumbfounded, not sure what to do… in shock… and now stranded because my car was upside down. So, I called Tom again. He was already at the hospital waiting for me. A kind lady told me she could wait in her truck in a nearby driveway until he arrived to pick me up.  I climbed in her truck, sat down, and started to feel the pain…

I tried to make small talk with the lady while we waited. I asked her for her name because I wanted to make sure I could send her a thank you note for her kindness (my mother trained me well), but I just couldn’t remember it. Tom finally arrived, helped me into his truck, thanked the lady and jumped into the driver’s seat. On the way to the hospital Tom informed me that he had called my mom and the school to let them know that I needed a sub… and being the good teacher that I am, I called the school to give them my plans for the substitute. Yes, we kept emergency plans in the office, but my AP class was working on a project, and my English 10 class could continue their novel… and I just needed to check in. So, yes, I called in substitute plans on the way to the hospital.

Once we arrived Tom dropped me off so that I could go to check in while he parked the car. I checked in… and of course they asked why on earth I didn’t come in the ambulance!  I could have gotten right in – at this point I needed to wait in line. So, I went back to the bank of chairs and sat down. It wasn’t long before a man decided to sit next to me.

“Can I get you something? Do you need something to drink?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

He proceeded to tell me why he was at the emergency room on a Tuesday morning… but he never explained why he was drunk on a Tuesday morning.

“I brought my buddy in last night. His girlfriend broke up with him, and he cut off his finger to see if she would come back”  (That was his story, I swear.) “So, I put his finger in a baggie with ice and brought him in… You know you have really beautiful hair.” (Remember I told you I was having a good hair day)

During his very long story (I shorted it for you, you’re welcome), I kept wondering where my husband had gone.  How hard was it to park a truck? He finally shows up and sits on the other side of me. At the mention of my hair, I realize that it probably was a mess from the accident. I reached up, touched my hair, and my hand came down with a fistful of hair. I started to panic!  Why was my hair falling out?!

My new gentleman friend wanted to take the large clump of hair from my hand, and my husband finally stepped in, “No, I’ve got this. Thanks.” He took my hair to the trash as I proceeded to gather clumps of loose hair from my head. At this point I was in a panic. What was happening to my hair? The windshield had crumbled sending glass shards all over me… cutting my hair. I had thought about getting layers, but now it wasn’t an option. I had no cuts on my face or scalp, but I had glass all through my hair.

At this point I was starting to feel the pain increasing. My teeth had pierced my tongue, my jaw was swelling, my head was pounding, and my left leg was killing me. We were called back and the examination began… Remember I was wearing a skirt, sweater, and boots… so I need to get them off or have them cut off… then I had nothing on my feet. I still have the nifty socks they gave me.

After the exam I was taken to x-ray and then for an MRI. Once the MRI was complete, and my claustrophobia was reminding me how real the fear actually is, a new nurse helped me up, and I hear, “Mrs. Peterson! How are you!?” There are many places I enjoy seeing former students… dressed in a thin hospital gown with snazzy socks sporting a killer headache was not the time or the place. BUT, I smiled, “Well, Hi Ashley (so glad they wear nametags), I could be better. So nice to see you.” I’m sure the conversation continued, but I just don’t remember any of it.

They placed me in a wheelchair, called for someone to return me to my area, and put me into the hallway to wait…and wait… and wait. I have never felt so helpless in my life. I was tired, in pain, and I just wanted to go home, but I couldn’t even move from the hallway. I kept wondering if I just started wheeling myself if I could find where I needed to go…but I couldn’t remember how I got there. I just had to wait. People walked by me and ignored me. I felt practically naked… wearing hospital socks… and I was at the mercy of the nurse who was supposed to take me back to my “room.”

After all the tests were finished… I was told that I had a concussion and many bruises… but that was it. My jaw was so swollen I had to eat very soft things for days because my teeth couldn’t even meet. My left leg had a bruise on it that I kept for years… but I was ok.

What did I learn? I learned that God wanted me to remain on the planet for a while longer… and that seatbelts are worn for a reason.

For those of you who are wondering about how my kids handled all of this…while I was enjoying my x-rays and MRI, Tom called the school and got word to Kayla and Marcus that I was ok. I was home on the couch when they arrived home from school.

10 years. It will be 10 years in January. When I think of the things in my life that I would have missed I thank God for keeping me safe that day. Every day is a gift; never take one for granted.

 

Book covers, cursive writing, and mangoes

We can learn anything we want these days. We have the world at our fingertips..literally. If this is true, why aren’t our students all brilliant? Shouldn’t they be? They each carry a very powerful computer in his or her pocket that has the ability to call Figi if they happen to sit down wrong. Why do the members of the digital generation seem so stupid – to be perfectly blunt.

Book Covers

When I was in school – back in the olden days – we were required to cover our books. We would get a paper bag from the grocery store and fold it in such a way as to create a cover for the book. This year I told my one English class (the rest of my courses were theatre) that IF they would cover their textbooks the old fashioned way and write their names on the cover, they would be permitted to leave the text in my closet until it was needed. Of course I heard much lamenting… “Why can’t we just buy a stretchy book cover?” It ruins the book binding, and you can’t write your name on it. “But our grocery store uses plastic bags!” They all have paper ones; you just need to ask for one. “I don’t know how to make one; could you make one for me?” No. Learn how to do it yourself… Google it! No matter what skill  you would ever want to learn…there is a youtube video or an instruction page on that particular skill at your fingertips. Of the 32 students in that class, only 6 actually completed the task of making a paper bag book cover to be able to store the book in my closet when not in use. The remaining 26 carried the books in their already stuffed backpacks.

Cursive Writing

Sally (not her actual name) was at my board diagraming a sentence. Yes, my classes still do that. As the other students in the class began to check their work with hers, some of them commented that they could not read her writing. The writing was beautiful and flawless; the problem was not with the writing but the reader because she wrote in perfect Zaner-Bloser script – it was beautiful! This prompted a class discussion on cursive writing… do we really need it? I asked Sally how she learned the skill, and she explained that her grandmother taught her during the summers that they spent together. Go grandma! As we discussed it some students remarked that they felt stupid that they couldn’t read her writing. I asked them what they could do about that. I had some rather bright students in that class, and by then they had learned what I wanted to hear: “We can learn how to do it!”  We then looked into opportunities on-line for learning cursive writing. Zaner-Bloser even has an app for the phone! Some seemed excited about the possibilities… however, if I would put down a wager on how many of them actually followed through… I would put my money on none of them. They have the ability.  They have the technology. They do not have the desire… and for many of them… they do not want to put forth the effort. I’m not saying that to be critical; it’s just a fact. For this new generation to put forth the effort to learn something, they need to see a reason… unfortunately, one doesn’t understand the reason for learning something until you need it.  That’s where teachers come in.

The Dumbest Generation

Eight years ago Mark Bauerlein published a book entitled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeoopardizes our Future (2008). He discusses many pertinent and interesting topics concerning our youngest adults, but he makes an interesting point in the preface to the paperback edition concerning the teacher or mentor role in the education of today’s adolescents: “For [kids] to grow into mindful citizens and discerning consumers, then adolescents must break the social circuit and think beyond the clique and the school yard. But they can’t do it themselves – peer pressure is too strong – and so adults must help draw them away…Mentors steer young minds toward deeper wisdom and young tastes toward finer consumptions” (p. ix). They have the world of knowledge at their fingertips, but they don’t know what they don’t know or what they should know. We need to point them in the right direction and whet their intellectual appetites for knowledge and wisdom.

We have so many students who are excelling in school, but they still seem to lack what we “old folks” would call common sense. They have learned to play the game of school, but gaining knowledge doesn’t seem to be a part of many tasks that are required for their standardized tests (we will get into those in another conversation). Baulerlein comments: “Just get the grades, they tell themselves, ace the test, study, study, study. Assignments become exercises to complete, like doing the dishes, not knowledge to acquire for the rest of their lives. The inner life fades; only the external credits count” (p. 3).  Our students aren’t “dumb” they have just learned what is absolutely necessary to be considered successful at this particular point in their lives. The immediate is paramount.

Mangoes

Ok… I knew you were wondering when we would get to the mangoes. When I was working on my M. Ed in Educational Technology, we spent quite a bit of time on “just in time”  learning. This is learning something right when you need it. Thanks to the computers we carry in our pockets, “just in time” learning can happen any where, any time!

I’ve never been very good at cooking – no, really – I can follow a recipe, but I have always seen cooking as more of a necessary evil rather than a creative process to enjoy. Well, thanks to the internet, I’m learning!  Go figure. I can find a recipe, watch a video, and learn how to do things. A few days ago I was having guests for dinner, and I was making a Mexican dish that I found on-line, of course. I was standing in the produce section of the grocery store wondering, “What fruit goes with Mexican food?” I asked Siri, and she helped me to find a good recipe. I gathered the ingredients and took them home.

One of the ingredients was a mango – I actually got three of them. I had absolutely no idea what to do with it… so, back to Siri – “How do you cut a mango?” She found me a perfect video showing me exactly what to do…and I successfully completed the task and made a really good dinner that was enjoyed by my guests.

We can learn anything we want to these days!  We just need to encourage our young people to learn things right along with us!  Do you know how to make a book cover, write in cursive, or cut a mango?  I know where you can go to find out… “Ok, Google…”

 

Be Nice!?… Kindess Part II

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2004), yes, I looked it up, the definition of NICE is as follows:  Nice – pleasing, agreeable, respectable. One can look nice (pleasing), and one can conduct himself or herself in a nice manner (agreeable, respectable), one can even wish that another will “have a nice day!” but can one really BE nice?  When I think of being nice, I think of the pleasantries we use to greet others – especially those we do not know… common courtesy. We aren’t being “fake,” we have learned how to coexist with our fellow earthlings with whom we bump elbows throughout the day – we act in a pleasant, agreeable, and respectable manner – we are being NICE!

So how is that different from being kind?  Back to the dictionary: kind – of a sympathetic, patient, restrained, or pleasant nature; kindness – the quality of being friendly, generous, considerate. To me, kindness just goes deeper. It is more genuine. Kindness goes further than niceness – saying “good morning,” “please” and “thank-you” is nice… asking someone, “How are you?” and then actually stopping long enough to hear the answer while showing interest in that person is kind. 

Michael J. Chase in his book am I being kind (2011) relates a story about a time in which he and his wife helped a turtle cross the road. They in no way benefited from helping the turtle; however, the turtle was delivered to his destination safely. They showed kindness to the turtle. They weren’t merely nice… saying hello as they drove on by… they took the time to demonstrate interest in the turtle’s life, intervene in his life, and show generosity of spirit as they helped him on his way. What did it cost them? only a few moments of their time. During that event Michael Chase had his kindness epiphany: “kindness creates happiness.”

Chase extends his philosophy of kindness into the 9 Elements of a Kind Heart. In this blog I will discuss only three of them.

Attentiveness – an attentive heart recognizes the needs of others (Chase 2011, p. 198). Pay attention! Too often we all are oblivious to the needs of those around us – whether by design or not – and we need to get our heads out of our phones and be aware of the needs around us. I my last blog I mentioned ways that I was able to make the day a bit brighter for those around me, but often I am as lost in my own thoughts as others who are lost in their phones. If we are to create “random acts of kindness” we must first perceive a need in another.

Now… why is it easier to show kindness to a random stranger than it is to show that same kindness to a close friend or family member? Don’t deny it – you know it’s true… and, of course, I have a few thoughts about that. With strangers we have no scorecard. If you have a spouse or siblings, you know you keep a scorecard – how many kind things I do for you… how many kind things you do for me… who’s turn is it? If you ask a friend for a favor, what do you say? “I’ll owe you one.” That implies that we keep track. Wouldn’t life be easier, kinder, and even nicer if we just threw away the scorecard and were as kind to those close to us as we can be to strangers?   Hmmm… I’ll try to work on that and let you know how it goes…

Authenticity – An authentic heart is genuine and acts from truth (Chase 2011, p. 199). Several years ago during an English lesson that included the word facade, my students taught me a new word. As I explained that a façade is a false front – could be in architecture or on a person –  but it is not real… a young lady in the class said, “OH! You mean frontin’!” The confused look on my face encouraged her to explain: “That’s when somebody is puttin’ on a front.. you know pretendin’ they like you but they don’t.” Exactly. Nobody likes a phony… and students, like dogs, can spot one a mile away. 

There was a Disney movie that was taboo for our household when my children were small… and that was Bambi. My husband was, and still is, an avid whitetail deer hunter, and he didn’t appreciate how hunters are portrayed in the film… however, there is one message from Thumper that my kids heard loud and clear: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” although I think we should add “if you can’t say something nice AND MEAN IT, don’t say anything at all.” Be genuine, authentic, kind, and HONEST. You know if your words are empty platitudes or genuinely kind… and so will the recipient.

Enthusiasm – “The enthusiastic heart displays limitless energy and passion. For an act of kindness to be effective (and believable), we need to have enthusiasm” (Chase 2011, p. 204). When you demonstrate enthusiasm for a conversation, an act, an activity, you show that you are happy to be participating… if you act tired or lethargic with the attitude, “well, I’m doing it… what more do you want?” you are not demonstrating kindness, and it is my guess that the recipient would prefer if you would just go away. This is a concept that is difficult to teach teenagers. The attitude displayed is just as important as the act itself.

Is enthusiasm an issue for you?  Fake it!  No, it’s not the same thing as frontin’. This time it’s ok. You have the desire to be kind, you truly want to be helpful, but you just aren’t feeling enthusiastic at the moment… ACT! Use those skills from drama class. No, you are not being fake… you are getting yourself out of your own funk and encouraging the enthusiasm to grow… and it will.

Be attentive. Be authentic. Be enthusiastic… Be kind! 🙂

Until next time…

Be Kind… Is it really that difficult?

Yes… as a matter of fact it is! Any more the default is to be rude because somehow we have been conditioned to think that kindness shows weakness… kind people don’t get what they want… kind people are push-overs. This realization hit me yesterday at Wal-Mart – yes, you read that correctly, Wal-Mart.

The task to return the tractor battery and get the battery core fee refunded was graciously bestowed upon me since, of course, I drive past Wal-Mart every day. Ok, no problem. I took in the battery completed with the receipt of the battery core fee (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t fret, it’s actually irrelevant!). I waited in line at the customer service desk. On my turn, I presented the battery and receipt to the nice young lady at the register. She was a new employee, or new to that area, and did not know quite how to complete the transaction. We needed to wait for assistance. She kept apologizing all over herself.  I assured her that I was in no hurry and waiting was no problem. She seemed terrified that I would be upset with her. Why? Had I given her a reason to think I was irritated or impatient? So, I smiled and made small talk with her until the more seasoned employee could walk her through the process.

Why do we expect others to be rude, mad, or  upset? Why don’t we expect people to be kind?

I finished my transaction and went on with my shopping. Picking up some bird seed, I saw a man struggling to raise himself from his scooter cart to reach a bird feeder on the top row. Naturally, I offered to reach it for him. He was able to complete the task himself, but he gushed with gratitude at my offer. I didn’t do anything. As I was at the register paying for my items, I saw the young customer service attendant again… this time she was at the next register. She had forgotten our transaction, but she was certain we were friends. Kindness leaves a positivity in its wake.

Last weekend, my students performed the classic Broadway play HARVEY. I was so proud of them (yes, I’m a high school theatre instructor). One of the lines from the play has been ringing in my ears recently. Elwood P. Dowd, the man who has the invisible 6 foot tall what rabbit named Harvey as his friend, said, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’  Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” Elwood’s character demonstrates genuine interest in all of those around him. He looks into their eyes and wants to know WHO they are not merely WHAT they can do for him. This is what kindness is all about – looking at another human being and seeing that person then choosing that person’s happiness over your own.

Too often we are so engrossed in our own lives or our own thoughts or our own PHONES to see the people around us.  Recently I was at a flea-market-like establishment with a friend. As she and I walked through the merchandise, strangers spoke to me, so I replied. Later Tasha said, “You must have a ‘talk to me’ face. No one ever talks to me.” I do… because I actually look at people – in the eyes – and I smile. That’s enough.

I have been a high school teacher for twenty years. In those years I have earned the respect of my students – and I have heard that many feared me. Yep, I’m tough. I don’t take excuses. I have high expectations for my students. So, I am not always popular. Last year a former student who is now a friend of mine on Facebook… He posted one of those “Like for the truth” type posts, so I did it.  I clicked LIKE.  Soon after, in my messages was a  note from David. He said, “You are a genuinely kind person.” I laughed it off and replied, “Oh no!  My cover as the mean teacher is blown!” When he responded he explained that they all knew I had high expectations for all of them and that that was fine… but they also knew that beyond any doubt that I had their backs…which was true.  I would fight for each one of them or give them the coat off my back if they needed it.

But does being kind make me a push over? Sometimes. Do people take advantage of my kindness and use me? Yep. Am I always kind? Of course not.  Do I get irritated and annoyed? Yep.  Am I perfect? Not even close.

In the photo I have attached to this blog is a book I have recently read: AM I BEING KIND by Michael J. Chase. I highly recommend it.

Let’s consider this post PART I of my Kindness Series. There is so much more to talk about. Please comment and join the conversation.

Taboo Talk

Back in the 1990s groups of people would gather at someone’s home to play games. Do people even do that any more? One of the games we used to play was Taboo.  The basic premise of the game was that one person would try to get the team to say a certain word without using a list of Taboo words.  If the speaker used one of the Taboo words, the person with the judge would “buzz” the taboo word, the team would not earn that point, and the speaker would go on to the next word.

Sometimes, as a teacher, I feel like I’m playing Taboo… which words are forbidden now? We teachers talk all day long… to students. We need to watch every word that dares to slip past our lips. It used to be the taboo words were limited to the typical cuss words and the N-word while teaching Twain or Lee. These days the list of taboo words is expanding… and it’s difficult to keep up.

I’ve seen several articles telling us teachers not to use words that identify our students as male or female.  This would eliminate “boys and girls,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “guys,” “gals,” “he, him,” “she, her,”  and the like. I felt like the Taboo buzzer got me one day early in this semester when I accidentally said “she” when referring to a male student who has long hair. I felt vindicated when a guest presenter in my class did the same thing!

I read another article today in which a mother complained to a store manager because a man used the female restroom.  The manager said that the store is not responsible because no one but the individual can determine the gender identity of that individual. So… should I ask which pronoun a student would prefer that I use?  I teach over 100 students a day… things can get complicated.

Diversity has become a popular topic to discuss these days… and I am not very good at determining whether a person is Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Columbian, African, Portuguese, or from the Dominican Republic. Just as it would be difficult to distinguish a person of German descent from an Irish, English, Russian, Swedish, Scottish, or Dutch person.  The people of Asian descent have as many differences as all of the others… so I just try to avoid the issue entirely because I am destined to get it wrong and will offend someone.  In normal society, getting it wrong is ok, you apologize and move on… as a teacher, you are hoping to avoid a lawsuit.

I read an article that asks teachers to stop referring to “people of color,” her words, as “minorities.” She stated that doing so diminishes the effect that those people can have on a group.  Ok, I see how she could take it that way, and being a person who tries to be very specific and purposeful with my words, I understand the connotation… but what if it is merely a fact?  What word are we permitted to use without offending someone?

As a Christian, it offends me when someone uses my Savior’s name as a curse word… but somehow, that’s ok.  I’m not permitted to be offended by that. However, when a student exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” in my classroom, I will kindly say (without sarcasm, I promise), “If you are praying, I will gladly join you, if you are not, please do not use my Savior’s name in that way.” Most of the time, they understand and try to avoid saying that in the future. Other times they simply have started exclaiming, “Cheese and Rice” – just to try to get a rise out of me.

Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure exactly… I guess I wanted to say that I understand that words are important and that words can be powerful… I just find it more difficult every day keeping up with the things I’m not allowed to say in my classroom.