Do you disturb the peace, or perpetuate it?

  “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

The tail twitches and crouching ensues. Hips raised, ears flattened, the tail twitches more rapidly.

“LJ, stop!”

He remains immobile and continues his focus.

“LJAAAY,” said with slow emphasis on the A-sound.

A look is tossed over his lowered shoulders, signaling he doesn’t feel like listening.

Hand reaches for the spray bottle, and John, my husband, walks towards LJ, trigger aimed.  That is all it took. LJ, our solidly black cat, takes off in an attempt to avoid being squirted, but he’s not to be conquered.  Not yet. 

He circles back around the dining room table and reenters the same room through another entry point as if we can not see him.  Meanwhile, the desire of his pouncing antics, Tippi (Tail), our 14 year old gray cat, with the exceptions of tuxedo white on her chest and tufts of white on the tips of her paws and tail, sits peacefully undisturbed.  The only sign that she is aware of his shenagings is the very slow whishing of her tail along the top of the carpet.

LJ prepares to pounce once more; however, John rapidly squirts water in LJ’s direction.  Although John isn’t trying to precisely hit LJ, the sound and sight of the water sends LJ scuttingly out of the room.

Tippi looks towards where the water missed its target, turns her head back to its original position as her body sighs towards the floor in a perfect cat loaf.  Her tail encircles her body once more.

Throughout LJ’s attack, Tippi remained peaceful, never hissing or spewing.  While her tail signaled her awareness, she did not otherwise bring attention to LJ’s negativity.  Instead, she chose to remain at peace with it.  Vigilant, but non-reactive.  

John and I have watched this play out repeatedly, yet no matter how many times LJ attempts to attack Tippi Tail, she rarely responds out of anger. To be sure, Tippi will occasionally respond if he corners her. Mostly, though, she remains peaceful and at ease.  

LJ is a bit younger than Tippi and has not moved from the self-absorbed stage of life.  He wants to be the center of attention on his terms.  If the humans in his home, family members or visitors, aren’t paying attention to him, he finds ways to draw attention to himself.

For example, if Tippi decides to sit with one of us, due to her arthritis, we find ways to offer her assistance to climb up beside us, such as slightly lowering the reclining portion of a chair or couch.  As she tries to lift herself up to position, LJ will haughtily cross the room and attempt to “beat” her to the desired person.  If we move a step stool near the bay window, in order to assist Tippi’s assent to the cat beds in the window, LJ will try to block her attempts in order to claim the bay window area for himself.

Nonetheless, Tippi Tail finds ways to persist with grace and equanimity.  Her peace remains (mostly) unflappable.  Neither does she appear to hate LJ, nor does she appear to be jealous of his presence.  Instead, she seems to understand with a sense of compassion and patience that he can’t help what is inside him–his tendencies to compete, invade, dominate and exploit perceived weakness.  

Due to her serene perseverance, there reigns an unspoken peace between the two cats . . . most moments.  The more peaceful and tolerant Tippi becomes, the more LJ is learning to become that way.  It has taken years, but there are times I will wake up in the morning to find both cats sleeping at the foot of the bed–not necessarily near each other–but in the same approximate area. Furthermore, it is not unusual during cold days to find both of them soaking up the morning sun in the same room and within the same area, albeit, not touching each other.  

Sometimes, upon waking, I am surprised to discover, after I turn on the bedroom lamp, that both LJ and Tippi Tail had been peacefully sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” When LJ sees Tippi with one of us, he suffers jealousy because he perceives that she is getting all the attention and love.  If he sees that Tippi wants to be in one of the cat beds in the bay window, he suffers fear because he is afraid there isn’t enough secure space for him in the sunlight to cozy for a nap.  

While they both lived their early lives as stray cats, it is possible that something happened in LJ’s past that causes him to remain stunted and insecure.  Then, again, due to the fact, Tippi is older, and lived with us longer; perhaps, she feels solidly secure with her position in our family.  It could also be that she remembers a time when she was the younger cat in the house, competitively trying to exploit the weakness of one of our former cats, in order to gain our attention.  Possibly, she has simply outgrown those impulsive years. 

Whatever the reason(s), Tippi seems to understand that within LJ are potential seeds of love, compassion, playfulness and peace.  However, she also appears to sense that LJ is dominated by seeds of willfulness, anger, fear, and insecurity.  Due to age, circumstances, and/or experience, she is mindful of these seeds both within herself and within LJ.  Therefore, it often appears that she uses this insight to mindfully choose her actions–modeling peaceful behaviors, and only fighting back in order to keep from getting hurt when he corners her.  

Of course, I have personified my cats in order to make a point. To live in peace and harmony with others, we must recognize that all humans have similar needs/desires:  food, water and shelter, safety, esteem/value, love/belonging and so forth.  There is often fear and/or a feeling of lack when humans sense one of these is missing.  Additionally, everyone has the potential to develop and foster seeds of insight, self-awareness, and self-control, but not everyone focuses on developing these, much less developing them at similar rates.  

As the story of Tippi and LJ illustrates, it is important to be aware of our own insecurities, fears, and impulses in order to exercise self-control.  Recognizing our own proclivities with compassion and understanding, allows us to offer that same consideration and empathy for others.  

While this is never easy, and it takes practice, by learning to be less-reactive and modeling more appropriate ways of speaking, engaging, and responding to others, the more we can reduce conflict.  Of course, this is not to say we passively agree or accept all behavior and actions; rather, it is important to recognize that not every word, action, and deed with which we disagree needs a response.  Furthermore, if a response is required, how much more productive and beneficial they can be when given with considered insight/thought, self-control, and discipline   

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all learn to do what Tippi does with LJ– pursue patience, tolerance, and think before acting.  

The more Tippi practices patience and tolerance with him, the more LJ is becoming more at peace with her.

We all need a little patience

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”–Eric Hoffer

“Change is only felt when it is drastic.”–Lailah Gifty Akita

Dedicated to the teachers with whom I work, and all the other educators, near and far.

As I step into the warm shower, pulsating water beats down on my tight neck, my low back is still dully throbbing from the previous day’s efforts, and my feet, my heavens, my feet, they are pulsating from the constant pounding of walking on concrete.  

It’s Friday.  You can do this.  Everyone is feeling similar aches–it’s not just you.  Yes, but most others are a heckuva lot younger!  You can do this; you’ve done this before–albeit, not so drastic . . . or was it?

Students working at school in the age of COVID and an era of paperless (as close to it as possible) education.

I remember following the Special Education Coordinator of the county school district in which I had first been hired fresh out of college.  I felt proud, excited, and eager.  The clipped, rhythmic pace of her heels as they click-clacked across the tiled floor resounded–even more so when she continued on into the gym.  At the time I couldn’t understand why we were in the gym when she was supposed to be taking me to my classroom.  

Tables cleaned and sanitized well before 7:30 am when the students begin arriving to homeroom.

Eventually we made our way to the opposite side from which we entered, walked up some steps, and began walking under one side of the gym’s bleachers.  Clickety-clack, clackety-click, past what looked like one semi-formed classroom through another vaguely formed classroom until we reached the end.  This was to be my so-called classroom with not a single window.  No textbooks.  No materials.  Broken desks.  Dirty teacher desk.  Not even real walls for two sides–just the underside of bleachers, a rolling chalkboard, one concrete wall, and metal, padded locked door with Junior ROTC weapons stowed away behind it.  All 4’11’’ of me would be serving 15-25, 9-12 grades students in this space, the majority of which were lanky, long males who did not want to be there.

Gone were those meticulous lesson plans and the abundant, never ending resources of Ohio University.  The colorful, bright, window-lined classrooms arranged, organized, and utilized based upon the current, best educational practices were nowhere to be seen.  It was 1987, so there was no internet, certainly no cell phones, and those education journals to which I had been advised by academia to subscribe were certainly not going to be of help in this unbelievable setting.  This was a drastic change, and yet, I somehow found a way to make it work for two years before facing my next challenge . . . 

Moving on to another district, I was assigned to teach twelve, K-5 grade level students with severe behavior and emotional issues that often required restraint, in a metal portable classroom isolated from the rest of the school.  I was young and foolish enough to think this was a good idea–a good move for my career.  Certainly, it was financially speaking, but after one day of passive restraint training, I began to wonder.  

Although this classroom had four walls, it was empty and bare, save for a few tables and desks.  Then, there was the challenge of all those different age ranges.  Developmentally, a kindergartener is miles apart from a fifth grader.  The challenges and changes I faced over the next seven years, the unbelievable behaviors I witnessed, and the most heart-wrenching stories–seriously, seriously horrible–still haunt me to this day.  No child should undergo what those children went through.  Baby bottles filled with beer, children sexually abused, parents addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, older children responsible for numerous younger siblings while mom did tricks for drugs . . . the gut wrenching stories never seemed to have an end.  On top of all of this depravity, it was the early 90s, autism was not clearly understood and accurately identified as it is now.  Therefore, I also had several autistic students, mistakenly identified as “behavior disordered” alongside students who were often prone to violent outbursts.  Given the combination of all of these factors, I honestly do not know how I made it work–and yet, somehow Divine Providence helped me through it all.

I have experienced numerous changes in education since those first nine years of my careers, many of which were drastic, and all created unique circumstances for which I was ill-prepared, but none can compare to the combination of educating in the midst of COVID while simultaneously teaching both in-person and virtual students at the exact same time.  As an educator, my colleagues and I are tasked with keeping kids safe from a pandemic-worthy virus, care for their emotional well-being, and educate them in the socially distanced manner of their parents’ choosing–at school or from home–attending a regular schedule of classes through the technological wonders of the imperfect internet.

Each morning begins well before sunrise, in order to begin planning, organizing, and posting from home.  Arrival at school for teachers starts well before 7:00, as each teacher must mix fresh bottles of both disinfectant and sanitizer that is used before and after every class change.  Students begin arriving in our classrooms by 7:30 after going through a routine check of health questions, temperature check, and hand sanitizing procedures.  Classes officially begin by 8:10 after morning announcements, prayer, and pledge.  As students enter my classroom, they must wait until all tables are sanitized.  Then, I must quickly log in and connect my chromebook with my virtual students for that class period.  While I am doing this, in-person students set up their tri-fold, clear plastic dividers and log onto Google Classroom.  We are all masked, and by the end of the day, my voice, and those of my peers, are hoarse from projecting through the barrier of the material covering our mouths and noses.

The day begins mixing fresh batches of both disinfectant and sanitizer. Tables, light switches, door handles, class counters, and sink area all clean well before the 7:30 arrival of students.

While offering instruction, I am simultaneously monitoring, engaging, and facilitating with students within my classroom and those at home.  This also means I must work hard to be as paperless as possible for the benefit of all students, but especially those who are participating virtually.  Then, there are the technological glitches that can cause delays, interruptions, and malfunctions with both groups of students.  Additionally, I am trying to learn, assemble, and implement a multitude of on-line educational platforms to enhance, streamline, and engage all levels of students.  By the day’s end, my Fitbit watch consistently reveals that I have taken anywhere from 15,000-20,000 steps with minimum time spent outside of my classroom walls.  

If the first week is any indication, my work day will consist of a constant stream of decisions, sanitizing, and juggling–juggling in my mind to best meet the needs of both in-person and virtual learners–as I work to redefine the art of facilitating instruction.  Never in my previous educational training did I ever receive training on how to engage and instruct students in a meaningful way during a pandemic.  Nor have I ever seen so many of my fellow teachers experience such high levels of anxiety, stress, and discomfort as I have in one week of school.  The emails from students and parents never end, and it feels as if there is not enough time, nor enough of each teacher to go around. 

And yet, that experience of my early years tells me that we will all adapt, grow, and learn from this.  Educators are a formidable, flexible force driven by the passion to educate and care for all of those entrusted into our care.  However, educators, parents, and students all need extra doses of patience with one another, the ever-evolving educational technological tools, and with ourselves.  The type of drastic change we are undergoing requires much patience, tolerance, and a new level of understanding. Educators and educational institutions are all trying to rapidly respond to a situation for which there has been no previous experience.  There are bound to be countless bumps along this new educational trail which we are currently blazing.

Personally speaking, I am stepping out of my comfort zone, stepping up my game, and stepping into a new role that feels very uncomfortable.  I have never been the most technologically savvy person, but I am learning—some of it on my own through trial and error, but most of it from my professional peers as well as my students  Therefore, I implore parents of students, far and wide, please be patient with teachers and schools.  We want to educate and care for your child as badly as you do, but cutting remarks, critical emails, and sensationalized social media posts only undermine our efforts and morale.  Instead, kind words, thoughtful notes, and genuine appreciation for our efforts can go a long way in supporting our new role within your child’s life. We understand this isn’t easy for you as many of us are parents too.  We understand that you are your child’s number one advocate, and you want what is best for them, but so do we.  We want to keep everyone safe and healthy, both emotionally and physically, including ourselves.

In conclusion, let us focus on what connects us–the well-being and education of children.  Let us, as a community, be supportive of one another as we forge together through this brave new educational world; so that, one day, we can look back on this, as I do on my early years in education, and proudly declare, “We did it; we really did it.  Look how far we’ve come!”