Author Archives: Alicia W

Why The American Model of Public Education Won’t Work for Every Child

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For the student pacing in front of me, unable to focus on the chemistry book because he was busy contemplating the stars, school was increasingly frustrating.  And as a teacher, it’s impossible for me to tell him, with a straight face, that it’s all gonna be worth it.

For many kids, school works.  There are many kids who come into the school and find a way to fit in.  Some excel at academics.  These are the kids who have no problem sitting in a desk for upwards of ninety minutes without using their ubiquitous smart phones or who can manage to balance their Candy Crush and Snap Chat addictions with note-taking responsibilities.  Some excel at sports or the arts.  These are the kids who seem to have every school pride t-shirt, be in every yearbook photo, and are always hanging up posters for this thing or that event.  Some kids are social butterflies – they can flit from clique to clique and they are always ready for some quick gossip to let me know what’s “really going on with so and so today.”  And some really amazing kids manage to do it all and somehow make it look easy while they’re doing it.

Yet there are some kids for whom this model of education doesn’t work.  These are kids for whom sitting down for ten minutes at a time might be a struggle.  These are kids for whom school activities hold no appeal.  These are the kids who are so busy handling adult tasks that they are too busy for the adolescent business usually reserved for bildungsroman.

And then there’s Coby who is sweet, brilliant, curious, inquisitive, funny, unique, full of personality and altogether awful at “doing school”.  But does this mean that the kids for whom school doesn’t work are destined to be life failures?  (Nah.)  Does this mean that they are not going to grow up and find just the right job for them? (Nope.)  Does this mean they even need school? (Well.  Yes. Of course.)

I mean, what is school for anyway?

If we, as a society, have decided that it is the job of the public education system to churn out individuals who are well suited to fulfilling the economic, social, and civic needs of maintaining the status quo then we’re doing an okay job.  Our very model of education is based on the needs of large industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Kids are shuffled from class to class like so many raw materials on an assembly line.  In the English class they get this bit of knowledge, in the Math class they get a tune-up, and in the end the number-of-credits checker is there to make sure that the cap is screwed on just right.  No cap, then no cap…or gown.

If we, as a society, have decided that it is the job of public education to give every child the foundational knowledge, skills, and opportunity to achieve greatness – well, many in education are actually working towards that.  Schools are having discussions about what it means to have a more holistic education that prepares kids for what they might encounter instead of what we have encountered.  The only problem is, many schools are still talking about “21st Century Skills” and the 21st Century is already a decade old.  In the meantime, a horde of standardized testing doesn’t seem to help with any of this.  It’s getting better, with people advocating testing reform that more adequately, accurately, and authentically measures student achievement – but let’s face it, it’s not quite there yet.

As a public school teacher, I believe that it is my responsibility to help prepare my students to be the best whoevers they are going to be.  And in a world where facts need not be memorized, it seems to me that the best whoevers are going to be critical, creative, reflective, and analytical individuals.  These whoevers aren’t going to compartmentalize their knowledge, but are going to be able to connect ideas.  And though these whoevers may not be able to sit in a desk for very long, they will be able to find success in their own way.

And there are many adults in our society who recognize this fact and are taking matters into their own hands.  I’ve seen some of the amazing work that some moms and dads are doing with homeschooling (or even unschooling) their children.  I’ve had the privilege of teaching some of these students, who come to school self-aware, secure, and, due to the limitless nature of highly individualized instruction, miles ahead of their age-mates.  I know of private schools, charter schools, small schools, new schools, and virtual schools, with shiny success stories about the different approaches to education that work for the children attending them.

But not everyone can afford to homeschool their children.

Not all private schools are stellar – in fact, some are downright dangerous.

And “more parent choice” in education isn’t always the best solution – as the great debate over “Opportunity Scholarships” and charter school caps in my home state will attest.  We need opportunities, alternatives, and options for all the Cobies – not just the kids who can afford it and not just the kids whose parents are involved.  And until we recognize that all children need equitable, accessible, education, we’re going to continue to fail Coby.

Alicia is a mom and public school teacher in North Carolina. She blogs at alburnet.wordpress.com.

The Establishment’s Worst Nightmare: Why I Want My Daughter to Question Everything

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By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

Nearly every Friday in my classroom is “Current Events Friday”.  On these days, I bring in articles to share with the class.  The students read, analyze argument, debate hot topics, and write essays regarding the writing.  Not only is it good reading, writing, speaking, and listening practice, but it also brings the rest of the world right to my students.  Many of these sixteen and seventeen year olds will be voting soon, moving out into the “real world”, and I, for one, more than wanting them to remember Macbeth’s lamentations on the futility of life or Hamlet’s suicidal contemplations, want them to have the critical thinking skills to be constructive members of society.  (It’s all pretty selfish, actually.  I like those kids, but I don’t want a bunch of non-thinkers messing up my future!  Just kidding.  Sort of.)

Anyway, it was the end of the semester that one of my students popped in for a chat.  I was actually in the midst of setting up a CNN video clip for the class to watch and, hopefully, argue about.  “I wanted to thank you, ” he began, “for teaching our class.  It was one of my favorites.  You are like, The Establishment’s worst nightmare – you actually teach and encourage kids to think.”

Oh man.

Best teacher compliment ever.

I must have grinned about that all day.  Because yes, that was my main goal – developing critical thinking skills in students.  And while I’m pretty proud that, he “gets” the class I was simultaneously saddened by the fact that throughout his schooling experience, he hasn’t found many who want kids to think for themselves.  I can’t imagine that the idea that critical thinking is contrary to The Establishment comes directly from our school.  I know that my colleagues and administrators love nothing more than having kids question texts, evaluate arguments and analyze assertions.  However, he’s not totally incorrect.  In fact, the first thing that comes to mind Texas Republican Party’s 2012 Platform.  In the section on education, they state that they “oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills…critical thinking skills and similar programs…which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority” (Republican Party of Texas, 2012, p.20).

I shudder because in many respects, I am totally cool with challenging fixed beliefs – something I don’t believe undermines parental authority. Where would the world be if someone hadn’t challenged people’s fixed beliefs on, well, anything!  Yes, I want my kid to think for herself.  When the other kids decide to bully someone, I want her to be the one to stand out.  If she is overlooked, I want her to be a squeaky wheel.  When her government acts I want her to ask questions.  If she disagrees, I want her to protest.  To do what she thinks is right, to be guided by her own compass, to sit in, speak up, or walk out.  I want her to be a counter friction to stop the machine, straight up Thoreau style.

Well, at least, in theory.

A couple of months ago, my kid began asking a ton of “why” questions.  Then she started challenging my edicts and dictates.  It was then that I realized that I was now The Establishment.

That’s right.

I’m the one saying that we go to bed at this time, that it’s time to use the potty, that the TV had been on far too long, that going outside at the moment wasn’t an option, that we weren’t going to spend money on A because we needed to spend it on B.  And, stupid me, I taught her to ask questions, and girl, does she ever.  “Why?”  She asks.  And before I can answer that one good, she adds on another “Yes, but why?!” It pops up at every turn!

And the explanations!  Sometimes, when you ask a kid to stop jumping on the bed, you just want them to stop jumping on the bed at this very moment.  (Yes, Mom, I know that this is parenting karma.  But I was just stepping on the bed.)  But kids that think?  Kids that think have explanations for everything.  A simple “please stop spraying the mirror with water” gets a long explanation of just why she decided mirror spraying was a great idea.

Who taught this kid to think?!  Who taught her to ask questions?!  Oh, that’s right, it was me.

Womp womp.

So how do you become The Establishment’s Worst Nightmare? (And, perhaps one day, your own…)  It’s simple, really.

  •  Answer Those Why Questions!  Answer the questions as completely as you can – it encourages your child to ask more.  Unless, of course, you’re pretty sure she already knows the answer – then ask her what she thinks.  If you don’t know the answer, admit it then do one of two things.
  • Turn the question around and ask her. “I don’t know why it’s still raining.  Why do you think it’s still raining?”
  • And if neither of you can come up with a suitable (or awesomely creative) answer, look it up.  “Why can’t I eat chocolate for dinner?!” was one of my favorite research projects.  Via Sesame Street’s YouTube channel, we discovered that even The Cookie Monster eats healthy foods.  The promise of having strong bones has been enough to get her back to eating peas.  For now.
  • Ask Questions of Your Own!  When she starts in on a long explanation about just why she felt the need to do exactly what you asked her not to, don’t just ask her what she was thinking.  Instead, once she’s out of danger, throw some open-ended questions at her and ask her to make predictions about the consequences of her actions. The oven incident didn’t end with just a spanking and an “I told you not to!” – it also included questions about how warm the oven felt and what she thought would happen if she touched the oven without a grown up.  It gave me the chance to correct some commonly held misconceptions about the oven’s ease-of-use.  (I must admit though, this approach did not work for electrical outlets.  Or, for some reason, rolls of toilet paper.  That took…more effort.)
  • Challenge Stuff!  Is that guy happy?  Was that the right thing to do?  Is Alexander right to be so grumpy?  Why don’t you need a nap?  Should we wear seatbelts?  I think I’m going to wear pants on my head today, do you think that’s a good idea?  Now, occasionally I’m thrown for a loop when she says “Yeah, wear those pants on your head.”  However, most of the time, she’s pretty good at stopping me from doing something too silly.  The main purpose behind this game is to get her to use logic to support her arguments.  Full disclosure, it doesn’t always work.  Case in point: The other day, she wanted a new washer and dryer set from Sears (okay, I wanted it, she was complicit) and tried to hand the sales person some pocket lint as payment.  It took forever for me to convince her that lint would not suffice.  It was funny, I’ll admit it.
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    So how do I teach her to question authority – just not mine?   Well, see, I don’t think I can.  And yes, I get frustrated, who wouldn’t?  One study of moms in the UK found that we get asked about 300 questions a day!  And it takes everything in me to stop myself from answering whys with becauses and from telling her to just do whatever it is because I said to do it.  There are plenty of times when I begin counting, because I’m all out of words and I just don’t feel like fighting any more.

    I try to make those times rare.  And to help us both out, I keep trying to remind myself that “Why?” is a question I never want her to stop asking.  Because once she does, The Establishment will win.

    4 Shows that Both Mommies and Toddlers Can Enjoy

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    By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

    Now, before I start writing this, I’ve got to make a confession.  I watch television with my two and a half year old daughter.  For some people, this may not seem like much of a confession.  However, I must note that according to the experts, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids under two aren’t supposed to be watching TV.  The AAP encourages doctors to ward parents away from allowing television in the house, warning that “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”  They also advocate creating screen-free zones of the house, getting rid of televisions, computers, and video games in kid bedrooms.

    Petals has exactly two games on my iPhone (ABC Flash Cards and a coloring book) so the videogames aren’t much of a problem.  But, for reasons, the “No TV under 2” rule was quickly broken.  The Kid has known Elmo’s name since she could talk and before she began requesting shows by name, she and I had watched Baby Signing Time videos and scoured YouTube for videos of cute puppies and baby animals.  And admittedly breaking all the rules of good parenting, I’ve been regularly watching (and talking about) TV with my kid.   For example, Dora has taught my kid how to beg for help in Spanish, with rather hilarious results.  But, the repetitive nature – say backpack, say backpack – drives me up a wall.  And Dora isn’t the only annoying show out there.  There are a host of other shows she loves that irk my nerves.  If she tries to force me to watch the poorly written Lego Girls movie one more time, I may scream.  Dinosaur Train drives me bonkers, I cannot with that show.  And even though he’s oh-so-special, Special Agent Oso’s tendency to never listen to instructions really irks me.

    So when Dora left Netflix, I was only too happy to find other shows to replace it – shows that she and I can watch, and enjoy, together.  Here are our top four:

    1. My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic
    What it is:
    This show is one that I actually enjoy and that I would probably watch without her!  Basically, the show centers around the exploits of one pony who is tasked with figuring out the most powerful magic of all – the power of friendship.  It sounds hokie, I know.  But hear me out.  The show focuses on six ponies – though it occasionally dips into the lives of secondary characters – and deals with all the issues that maintaining a friendship entails and just how rewarding being a true friend can be.
    Why I like it: There are many questions explored in the series that Petals and I actually come back to in real life situations.  What do you do when a friend annoys you?  Or lets you down?  How do you stand up for your beliefs in the face of great adversity?  And, they’re all girls!  AND, they’re all different TYPES of girls.  AND AND AND despite the pastel colors and the female main characters, there is no reason why any guy-child couldn’t identify with any of the ponies.  And on top of all this, the show is genuinely funny and well-written.

    2. Sesame Street
    What it is:
    umm…classic!  There are muppets, there are humans, there are even muppet humans.  Can’t be beat.
    Why I like it: Sesame Street manages to take big issues and bring them down to a kid’s level.  My favorite episode has to be the one in which one of the muppets, Baby Bear, finds himself having to deal with gendered societal expectations and discovering that it was way more fun to be himself than to be worried about whether or not what he was doing was girlie.  The show has dealt with death, adoption, making new friends and saying good bye to old ones.  Besides that, numbers, letters, shapes, and color recognition are all top priority in the programming.  Also.  It’s funny!  Those muppets make some pretty snide comments, occasionally, and also allude to grown up stuff giving me something to laugh at (I don’t think she thought that the Pox News or the Law and Order: Special Letters Unit parodies were funny, but I did) while my child enjoys the slapstick humor.

    3. Super Why
    What it is:
    Super Wyatt and his team of friends, Alpha Pig, Princess Pea (A Black – and possibly biracial – Princess!) and Red Riding Hood, use “the power to read” to solve problems, learn morals, and improve the outcomes of traditional storybooks.
    Why I like it: Though occasionally Red Riding Hood’s complete cluelessness annoys me (Really, Red, you can’t figure out why Grandma doesn’t want your muddy boots in the kitchen?  You tried it?!), in general, the message of the show, that having the power to read can help kids find the answers they seek in old stories, is a good one.  And the idea that a person can change a Big Bad Wolf into a Big Good Wolf with the stroke of the pen has encouraged my child to be more critical of the books she reads – and has given her an interest in figuring out just how those letters work.  Granted, she has quoted the show, retorting that trying to potty or going to bed “isn’t in her story” occasionally…

    4. Sid the Science Kid
    What it is:
    Sid has lots of questions – and he and his friends hit answer those questions by conducting research.
    Why I like it: I have taught way too many kids who would rather have an answer handed to them than to figure things out for themselves, so I really appreciate a show in which the main character not only has a stellar imagination (every episode, Sid discusses his ideas for a fantastical invention) but who also embraces research, observation, questioning, and experimentation to find answers to questions he has.  What is a seed?  How do birds fly?  Where does rain go?  Also – Sid’s friends are obviously multicultural, and Sid himself is biracial.  Of course, both of his parents are orange…but Sid’s mom is definitely a black woman with locs, and his dad – with slightly lighter orange skin – is more than likely White.  Or perhaps I’m reading it that way because this is what my family looks like.  Whatever racial makeup Sid’s parents are supposed to be (or not be) they don’t “match”, but they do go together perfectly.

    Well, I should note that there was at least one study by the University of London asserts that television watching, especially educational television watching, won’t have too many horrible side effects. This is good thing – because other than reading, watching television is my second favorite hobby.  And perhaps, using television shows like My Little Ponies and Sesame Street to engage and share experiences with my daughter may keep her thinking about television instead of being a passive consumer.

    True Life: I’m Insecure About My Successes

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    By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

    I’ve been teaching now for six years.  I’ve been married for five.  I’ve been a mommy for two.  And for all this, I’ve got plenty to show.  I’ve got: letters from pleased parents and thank-you cards from former students, awards for teaching excellence, a husband who brags about me, and a healthy, rambunctious, and beautiful daughter.

    So why, oh why do I feel like such a fake?

    Let me tell you: If I receive criticism from an administrator, my day is shot.  If my parents correct my child’s behavior, I immediately feel all of my mommy confidence melt away.  Then I begin to doubt everything I’ve ever accomplished.  Maybe all of those successes were a series of “mistakes” made on the part of my superiors.  Surely getting a lead role in a high school play was simply because the director liked me.  Of course I only got that Teacher of the Year award because of the small pool of candidates.  In fact, for a good while, I found that the more success I had, the more I began to doubt myself.  When I was rejected for a fellowship, I began to wonder if maybe I didn’t even deserve the Master’s degree I’d “earned”.  Perhaps someone pulled strings for me!  Perhaps I only got in because of affirmative action!  Perhaps I just caught a nice reviewer on a good day…  In fact, any “failure” I encountered immediately called into question every “success” I’d ever had.

    Over time, my self-doubt waxed and my self-assurance waned.  And I probably would have continued on this way had it not been for my mother.  One night, she called to tell me that she’d read an interesting article in Emerging RN Leader on “Impostor Syndrome in Nursing Leadership”.  Though I’d never heard of it, impostor syndrome, also called the impostor phenomenon, was a term first coined by Drs. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes back in 1978 when they, themselves, were feeling like fraudulent grad students.  In an article entitled “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” they discuss how societal standards lead many women – successful, intelligent, women – to feel like phonies.

    Self-declared impostors fear that eventually some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors. One women [sic] stated, “I was convinced that I would be discovered as a phony when I took my comprehensive doctoral examination. I thought the final test had come. In one way, I was somewhat relieved at this prospect because the pretense would finally be over. I was shocked when my chairman told me that my answers were excellent and that my paper was one of the best he had seen in his entire career.” (Clance and Imes, 1978, p. 2)

    Though those thriving women might have oozed coolness and poise, they constantly worried that one of the “higher ups” (a boss or a professor) would discover that the person they’d hired (or admitted as the case may be) was utterly incapable.  These women felt like they were impostors.  And while many people can “fake it” until they “make it”, a person suffering from impostor syndrome, despite how much experience or success she has had, never feels like she can quit faking it.

    Impostor syndrome has been found to affect women more than men.  Women generally attribute their success to luck or ease of task, while many men attribute success to hard work.  Clance and Imes theorize that growing up in a society that repeatedly tells women that they are, or at least should be, academically or professionally less capable than men is partially to blame.

    If this internalized message hits women hard, it is especially salient for Black women.  In a recent paper, “The Imposter Phenomenon Among African American Women in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education: Implications for Counseling”, Dr. Frances K. Trotman, a professor of Psychological Counseling at Monmouth University, discusses just how difficult  IP can be for Black women in the United States – who have to deal with being treated as inferiors not only because of their gender, but also because of their race.

    One’s self-concept must be affected and self-esteem is likely to suffer as a result of such damaging appraisals by the society into which the black girl child is born. The effects of the imposter phenomenon are particularly virulent for those African American women who have chosen careers in higher education. (Trotman, 2009, p.78)

    But this isn’t just a problem for women in higher education – as women in all fields, especially those traditionally dominated by men, can face this hurdle.

    “Is this me?” I asked myself.  I had to know.  So, I took the test offered by Dr. Clance on her website.

    In a word: Yup.

    In a few words: I got it bad.  I exhibit all the classic signs of having impostor syndrome.  I’m not an impostor, yet here I find myself, day in and day out afraid that someone will discover that I really don’t know anything about what I am doing.  Someone will find out that I’m really an appalling mommy (I have very little patience with my toddler), a terrible teacher (there are so many things I forget to do), a crummy cook (I’m sure that my inability to balance meals properly is what has led to my weight gain), and the worst wife a husband could ever want (I mean, besides being so needy there’s the fact that I never remember to do laundry…).

    So, what to do?  Must I wallow in self-pity for eternity?  Am I to languish in some dark corner of my bedroom, plagued by the constant fear that I am not good enough – and that I never will be?

    No.  I refuse.  For a couple of reasons.  1. I’m pretty sure that my husband is getting tired of finding different ways of saying the same things “You’re pretty, you’re smart, I like you, you’re doing a great job…”  And… 2. (And more importantly) I’m sure that I want my child to see a mom who is confident in herself, and not just pretending to be.

    Certainly, having a name for the way that I’m feeling, and knowing that I’m not entirely alone in has helped.  But there are a few things that fellow impostors can do to combat this phenomenon.

  • Be reasonable.  By this I mean that we, as women, especially those of us trying to live up to the stereotype of the “Strong, Black Women” have a tendency to feel like if we aren’t doing it all, then we aren’t doing enough.  That’s simply not the case.

  • Go for it!  Ben Franklin once said “Hide not your talents, they for use were made.  What’s a sundial in the shade?”  Sure, we need to set reasonable expectations for ourselves (it may take a few more years before I’m able to afford that mansion and private school) – but we also to take a few chances.  Sometimes, when a chick feels like a fraud, she declines to speak at conferences, or lead professional development because she’s not sure that she’s good enough for the position she’s in.  And according to The Economist, many women won’t even apply for a job if they’re not 100% sure they meet all the prerequisites, unlike our male counterparts.  Take those talents out of the shade, ladies.

  • Get a mentor.  And make sure that you get a mentor you can trust – someone who can tell you when you’re doing great, and someone who can tell you when you’re just not right.  And then, and this is perhaps the hardest part, you’ve got to trust that when your mentor tells you you’re doing well, you’re actually doing well.  Or heck, try being a mentor.  Many of us are much better at telling someone else what they’re doing right, than accepting that someone else thinks we are.  And perhaps, just perhaps, telling someone else that they’re doing a good job, even when they think they’re not, might rub off on you.

  • You Better Recognize.  Realize that other people out there feel like impostors, too.  In an article for Psychology Today (2009), Santoshi Kanazawa writes about the many successful women who feel like frauds.  Women like Dr. Margaret Chan who like, totally handled the Swine Flu Epidemic and is the chief of the World Health Organization.  Even she feels like her success with H1N1 is all due to a stroke of luck.  Though she travels the world giving speeches, she still doesn’t feel like she deserves to wear the title of “expert”.

  • Finally, and this is one I’ve had to meditate on the hardest: Failure is okay – it helps you grow.  Failing at a task does not define you as a failure.  And though focusing on the positive instead of the negative might sound easy, this is what I’m going to have to spend my time working on.  At the end of the day I replay all of the “bad” things I’ve done.  The things I’ve eaten that I shouldn’t have.  The kids I’ve yelled at.  The parenting I could have done better.  The papers I haven’t graded.  When I get an evaluation, I immediately look for the low scores or the criticisms, allowing my eyes to float over the positive words on the paper.

  • Now that I know that there are others out there like me, now that I know I’m not alone, perhaps I’ll be able to take my own advice.  Perhaps I’ll learn to quit internalizing societal dictates about my value, my worth, and my beauty, and I’ll be able to define myself.  And as far as focusing on fixing the bad has gotten me, who knows where I would be had I broken free of self-doubt?  Now that I know, perhaps I’ll kick the habit in enough time to become the woman I want my kid to see me being.

     

    Baby Love: Alicia and Petals

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    Introduce yourself.
    A:
    My name is Alicia and I live in Raleigh, NC. I’m a working mom – I teach in the classroom during the day, and I teach an online class in the evenings.

    I am married to one super-awesome stay-at-home-dad/comic-book writer. (We all wear a lot of hats in this house.)

    Tell us about your children.
    A:
    We have one child – Miss Petals, age 2. She is smart, hilarious (sometimes downright cheeky), high energy, sweet, and willful. Not only do I never know what she’s going to say, I also am never quite sure how she will react to new situations. She keeps me on my toes!

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    Tell us about your birth experience.
    A:
    Interestingly enough, everyone knew that it was time for me to have the baby before I did. I was in the library with my students, helping them get started on a research project, when the librarian tells me that I have a very important phone call. I take the phone and one of the hospital nurses tells me that it’s time for me to come in and have my baby. “Umm…no, I feel fine, ” I replied. She informed me that I had some serious preeclampsia symptoms and would need to be induced…and that she’s already called my husband to tell him when she couldn’t get a hold of me. I turned around to see that the office and media staff, who knew that the hospital had called, had already gathered, eyes shining, just waiting for me to tell them the good news…that they knew before I did. Nearly two days and several labor inducing attempts later, the tiny baby was looking at my entire family with confusion.

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    Did you breastfeed?
    A:
    I breastfed for nine months – and I would have done longer, I think, but the stress of pumping at home and at work was too great. As hard as it is to get away from the classroom for a quick bathroom break, it was even harder to get away for fifteen minutes every few hours. A couple of times, someone even tried to unlock and walk into my classroom, despite the covered windows, the cow sign on the door, and me yelling “SOMEONE’S IN HERE!”.

    How do you balance work and motherhood? How do you carve out time for yourself?
    A:
    This is a question that I still struggle with. Occasionally (and I hang my head in shame as I type this) I answer emails or grade papers from my iPhone while the kid climbs on things – or I step outside to make phone calls while she watches Sid the Science Kid.

    What is your biggest parenting challenge right now?
    A:
    Having a toddler. Actually, scratch that. Potty-training a toddler.

    Who is your child-rearing support group?
    A:
    My family (our families) is (are) very close – and her grandparents, aunts, and uncles are always happy to watch Petals, when they can. Besides that, my husband stays at home with Petals most days (she goes to daycare on Fridays) until I get home from work. Then he leaves for work and I hang with Petals until she goes to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. On Monday and Wednesday nights grandparents come over so that I can actually get work done (grading papers, responding to emails, making parent phone calls, lesson planning, progress reports, online meetings) and the other days we both do the best we can. We’re tired, but we’re making it work.

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    How do you determine that Petals is well-adjusted?
    A:
    With two-year-olds, it’s hard to tell. Right now, she listens relatively well. She’s becoming more and more independent. She TALKS a ton! She is quite attached to both her father and me. She gives hugs and kisses, she loves school and learning. I think she’s doing okay.

    What is the most important value, ideal or philosophy that you want to impart to your children?
    A:
    Her father and I would say we are “spiritual, not religious” – mostly because we want her to listen to and follow the truth that is in her heart, rather than dogma. We want her to know that she’s fantastic – no matter who she is – and to set her moral compass by having respect for life and the lives of others.

    What advice would you give to a new mom?
    A:
    You’re probably not doing it “right” – whatever “right” is – but that’s okay, because none of us are. And if you are doing it right, could you give me a call and let me know what that is?

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    Alicia is a new writer for Baby and Blog! Look out for more content from her in the coming weeks ?

    My Daughter Is Mistaken For a Boy All the Time… And it Doesn’t Bother Me

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    By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

    She’s barely been alive for two and a half years and she’s already been gender-checked.  Several times.  Though we’d come to expect “Princess Pink” paraphernalia from well meaning relatives, my husband and I had resolved to let our daughter pick out the things that she wanted.   Turns out, she actually likes pink, sparkly, Hello Kitty type stuff.  But you know what?  She also likes things that are listed as being “boy” things.  So, we let her wear what she wants.  Superman shirt?  Go for it.  Sparkly crown?  Let’s wear it to the park, baby!  Fake necklaces and Dora shoes are some of her favorite apparel.  And most of the people who had things to say about what girls should wear were adults.  “Hey, look at the little fella!  How old is he?” they’d ask.  When I replied “Oh, she’s ….” they might say “Oh, she’s a girl!  Sorry, I didn’t see any pink anywhere…” while looking for bows or other gender identifying apparel.

    Therefore, it was a big surprise to my husband when, one day, while out on the playground, he encountered a little girl – perhaps three – who demanded to know why he let his son wear Dora shoes.

    “Why is he wearing Dora shoes?!” this child asked, with all the gravitas of Judge Judy.  “Dora shoes are for girls!”

    “Well, first of all, ” my husband answered, “Boys can wear Dora shoes if they want.  See, it has Dora and Boots on it.  Dora is a girl and Boots is a boy – so anybody could wear these shoes.  Second of all, she is a girl…she’s just wearing a Superman shirt today because she likes Superman.”  The child seemed satisfied, if not a little skeptical, of his explanation, and ran off back to the sandbox.  Later, my husband admitted to me that he wasn’t quite sure what to say – and that he was taken aback by the notion that at such a young age, gender typing had been so heavily impressed upon this kid.

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    And already, my daughter has begun saying “That’s a girl pumpkin” or “That’s a boy toy” when checking out the Halloween displays at our local Wal-Mart, deciding the gender of items based on their coloring. She knows that girls talk with a high-pitched voice, and guys talk with a low-pitched voice.  (Although, imagine my chagrin when she pointed at a cashier and asked, loudly, “Why she talkin’ like Mickey Mouse for?!”)  She knows that girls generally wear dresses, and boys generally don’t.  This, however, doesn’t stop her from playing with Batman action figures, putting dress up dresses on her Daddy doll, or using a low voice to pretend to be Daddy or Grandpa.

    So what to do?  How do I teach my child to be comfortable with herself, and to understand societal norms, without convincing her that she must adhere to those societal norms to be “right”?  I think about all the hubbub that arose over Sandra Bullock allowing her son to play with a doll clad in a pink jumper.  And while I want to guard her from the sort of craziness – because that’s just what it is, craziness – that dictates what toys a child can and can’t play with based on their genitalia, on many levels, I want her to fit in!  Ultimately, I want her to be the kid who is comfortable being herself and who doesn’t judge the people that other playground denizens are.  I don’t want her to be the kid saying that boys can’t wear Dora shoes – but I don’t want her to think that liking girly things is bad.

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    It’s a tough balancing act, and I’m never sure that I’m doing “what’s right”, but so far, discussions have gone well.  I wasn’t sure what to tell her when she asked me if I had a wife.  I think I went with something like “Well, I have a husband, because boys are called ‘husbands’ when they get married, and girls are called ‘wives’.  If I married a girl, then I would have a wife.  But I married a boy, so I have a husband.  And Daddy married a girl, me, so he has a wife, ” and tried generally to avoid implying that only husbands-and-wives belonged together.  Besides that, I ask lots of questions about how she sees gender.  Why do you think that pumpkin is a girl?  Who’s cooking dinner in your dollhouse tonight, Mommy or Daddy?

    Gahhh.  Why is parenting so hard?

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    Public School vs Private School: The Dilemma

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    By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

    “I just cannot take my kid to that school!” my cousin declared.  She and her husband were working on their household budget – and private school tuition was on the chopping block.  Unable to return to her work as a preschool teacher due to her MS, and facing skyrocketing medical bills, something had to give.  Luxuries had already been chopped, but she and her husband could not reconcile themselves to sending the kids to the local public school.

    “Well, it’s not Cresset, but it can’t be that bad, De’Wana…” I began.

    “Have you BEEN to that school?  Have you been?!  Do you know that they’ve had the lowest test scores in the state for the past fifteen years?  FIFTEEN?!  Why haven’t they changed anything yet?  When we went to open house we found that over half the students do not speak English, even though the city is quite diverse.  The district has effectively re-segregated the schools using the ESL program as an excuse.  The teacher talked about what he would do for my kid “when” my child failed, as if it were inevitable!  They stuck my child, MY CHILD, in what was supposed to be a dual-language immersion class.  After a couple of days, we found out that only he was one of the only kids to switch back and forth between Spanish and English language classes, the other students didn’t have to switch.  He was an experiment!  Furthermore, they decided to “engage” my daughter, who is two grades above her classmates in math, by having her lead groups of students on things she’s known for years.  How is that supposed to help her advance? They didn’t give her more advanced work – and she’s gotten into trouble several times for reading and being off task after completing her work.  They want her to just sit there, bored, twiddling her thumbs!”

    She had a point. “That school” has only three out of ten stars according to Great Schools, a website where teachers, parents, and administrators can give star ratings and reviews to schools with which they have been involved.  Reviewers gave the school four out of five stars; however, the raves from parents and teachers weren’t the only factors.  According to the school’s North Carolina Report Card, the students are below state averages for reading (in all tested grades) and math (in two out of three of the tested grades).  And the scores are trending downwards.  While I don’t put a lot of stock into high stakes testing results (I mean, one could reasonably expect that a school in which nearly half of its students do not speak English as their first language would probably not do well on standardized tests given in English) it doesn’t look too good for the school, and it certainly didn’t do anything to help assuage my cousin’s fears.   After just a few days at sending the kids to public school, De’Wana and her husband decided to scrape together what they could to return their kids to the private school they’d previously attended.

    As a public school teacher, I felt bad and I tried to defend “the system” to the best of my ability.  I know what it’s like to be graded on how well students do on a myriad of standardized tests – both the kids who come to class and the kids who don’t, the kids who do what is asked of them and the kids who spend all class on social media.  Heck, I’m not even sure that the tests authentically assess student learning.  They do nothing to foster creativity, and it’s hard to see their connection to “real” learning.  And there’s always the question of whether or not the kid’s performance has anything to do with my ability to teach.  Furthermore, I know what it’s like for parents unfamiliar with “the way we do things” to feel uncomfortable.  I also know what it’s like to look at a class of thirty-six students crowded into a room that is only supposed to hold twenty-two and struggle to keep all the students engaged and appropriately challenged.

    “Surely, ” I said, “there have to be other schools – that are free – that are closer to your home than Cresset.  Maybe you could also save on gas, too.”

    “I petitioned to have them moved to the ‘better’ school in the area.  I even tried sending them to the charter school, but there were very few spots and they didn’t get picked from the lottery.  And I couldn’t sleep at night sending them back to that school, ” she told me.  Then she dropped the bomb.  “I feel like I have no alternative but to put them back in private school, and I might be glad for a voucher to help me do it.  I mean, what am I supposed to do?”

    A v-v-v-voucher?!  I mean, good question, but a voucher?!  It’s no secret that public education in North Carolina has…issues.  With no union, teachers and administrators don’t have a lot of bargaining power.  And teachers, administrators, and parents like my cousin have been up in arms over what they see happening in the public schools.  The NCAE’s “Top 10 Things Every Educator Should Know About the Budget” pretty much nails the most heinous complaints.  North Carolina has frozen teacher pay for the past five years, gutted educational spending (although, some will point out that they have “raised spending 4%” in actual dollars, NC is spending about 1.8% less than it had been), done away with a cap on charter schools, cut teaching assistant positions, tenure, and pay for advanced degrees – as well as commenced to phasing out a successful teacher training program which pays students for college in exchange for in-classroom service.  The legislature has done plenty to make all of us in the public ed world angry – amongst these things is setting aside $50 million for private school vouchers.

    And just how do we feel about private school vouchers?  Well – up until this conversation happened, my answer was quick.  A loud “NERP!”  Private school vouchers are an anathema.  Even the NC NAACP has written a pretty powerful statement on school vouchers and what they see as an attempt to undermine the constitutional right to a free and public education.  The very idea of decreasing a school’s budget, increasing the amount of time it needs to spend on testing and retesting students, watching it fail, and then taking more dollars away from that foundering school to fund a private school is abhorrent – especially if the state has no ability to ensure that a quality education is attached to those bucks.  (The “Dinosaur Test” is the first worry that comes to my mind.)  Is that private school going to take public funds and then simply kick kids out who aren’t “good enough” for their standards?  Further, some of the “best” private schools in the area run $20, 000+ a year.  During the first year, the vouchers, which have been labeled “The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program”, would go to families who meet the qualifications for free and reduced lunch.  A family of four would have to make less than $43, 568 a year.  The “scholarship program” would give these families a small slice to help defray costs – up to $4, 200 per student.  That would be a huge help if my cousin’s family qualifies, though as a whole, I question whether or not this money is going to help families like my cousin’s meet such high costs.

    As a teacher, I’m quite the skeptic.  But as a mom…well, I have nothing but sympathy.  Everyone wants to help change society for the better, but no one wants their kid to be an experiment – and it takes a very strong parent to send their kid, knowingly, into a difficult (or even dangerous) situation in order to improve the system.  (“Sure we should integrate the neighborhood pool, but is my kid going to be the first one to try it out?” was an issue my mother faced when I was a child – and was not at all keen on putting me in that situation.)  However, from her perspective, the state is already failing to do a good job with the money she’s been giving it.  She’s always been an involved parent, well-educated enough to understand the curriculum set out by her school, and it’s a curriculum that she likes more than the one she had to jump through hoops to find from the NCDPI website.  And she could really use that voucher money to send her kid to a school that she already believes is doing what’s best for her child – and as a well-informed parent, isn’t she qualified to decide what type of education is best for her child?

    So what is the solution?  What is she “supposed” to do?  Pulling kids and their involved parents out of public schools will not help those public schools succeed any better.  Pulling funds from those schools will be a detriment to the entire community in the long run.  The private school vouchers won’t do anything to improve standardized testing performance (which, again, I find questionable in the first place), and they probably won’t help the public school system in the long run – but they may help at least two little kids get the kind of education they deserve right now.

    Ladies, are you facing the challenge of selecting a school for your child? How are you making your decisions? Share your stories!

    Kinky Meets Curly: My Daughter’s Texture is Way Different Than Mine

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    By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com

    It took me twenty three years to come to terms with the kinks in my own hair.  Two years after that, I loc’d it up.  Loose natural hair (loose hair of any type) stymied me.  I’d been chided my entire salon-going life for being too lazy about hair care.  Locs were the perfect solution.  They were patient, they were kind, and most of all, they grew best when I left them alone.

    All was well in the world of hair.

    But then she came into my life.  Bald, pink, wrinkled, and completely adorable.

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    “I thought she’d be browner, ” my young cousin said.

    “I thought she’d have curls like yours, ” my MIL lamented.

    “I thought she’d look at least a tiny bit like me, ” I said.

    Given time – all of our expectations were met.  By her first birthday, three curls had appeared – one one top and one on either side.  By her second birthday, she had a fluffy halo of shiny brown curls.

    “You need to do something to it, ” my older cousin said.

    “You need to get it trimmed, so it’ll grow, ” my mother said.

    “At least she has ‘good’ quality hair, ” my step-mother said.  After everyone yelled at her and took the proper amount of umbrage, she amended her statement.  “I mean, at least it’ll be easier to manage.”  

    She had criticized my mother for relaxing and straightening my own hair when I was very young, but after spending twelve years on my sister’s unruly tresses, she was willing to give straightening a few thoughts.  (Just heat and and a little product, mind you.  Still no “chemicals”.)

    But her hair isn’t easy to manage – no more than my own kinky cloud was at her age.  It’s just different.  My hair, now loc’d, was thick and woolly.  Her father’s hair, stick straight.  But Petals? Her hair is fine, slick, shiny, and oh-so-curly.  But by the afternoon it’s dry, tangled, and, the top at least, is completely frizzed.  She has corkscrews in the back, and a cloud on the top.  Oh, and it traps things – glitter, lint, bugs.  Mostly glitter.

    And we have so many questions.

    • How often should we wash it?
    • What do we wash it with?
    • How do I moisturize it? (Do I need to moisturize it?)
    • How do I style it?
    • How do I trim it?
    • What kind of hair utensils should we use?

    So, the experimenting began.  Poor child.  Poor, poor child.  So far, this is what we’ve found.  When it’s dirty, we wash it.  Simple enough.  My hair moisturizing products (I say “products” like they’re cool.  It’s only olive oil… and maybe some watered down Twist & Lock cream.  I used to be a product junkie.  I’m reformed.) DO NOT work on her hair.  Her curls get weighted down and greasy.  Quite frankly, the result was a mess.  Jane Carter Solution “leave-in conditioner” for a light “daily” moisturizing DOES seem to work, however.  We spray it with water and brush it when it’s wet, then use some of the leave-in to de-tangle and comb at night.  Flat twists or a tiny braid work to keep it from tangling up over night.  And I can twirl it around my finger to separate the curls during the day.  Pig-tails or a “head bang” (fabric head band) work best to keep her hair out of her face (and out of the school’s glitter supply) when she’s out.

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    And it’s growing.  A ton.  Down to her shoulder-blades when wet, and around her chin when dry…so that must be a good sign, right?  I’m sure that I’ll keep researching and reaching out to other curly-heads.  Other than that… well…it’s a work in progress.