Imagine This . . .

Dentist Canva

Imagine for a moment that you are a dentist.  You have several years of experience under your belt, and you know that you are very skilled at what you do.  You could make a lot of money in a private practice, but you decide to open a clinic to serve those who are considered at risk of serious dental problems and those who are disadvantaged and have not been receiving the services they need.  Although your clinic will be open to everyone, you know that people who are satisfied with the dentist that they have will stay where they are.  You want to have a diverse client base, but you have a desire in your heart to attract and serve clients who are somehow in need.

You enjoy working at your new clinic, but there are challenges that you did not face in your previous practice.  You are now struggling financially, which was never an issue before.  You spend a lot of time teaching people, kids and adults, why dental care is even important.  In your suburban practice in an affluent neighborhood, families could not get enough dental care.  They would ASK you for tooth whitening procedures and referrals to the orthodontist.  Now you are passing out free toothbrushes and toothpaste because many of your patients need them.  You replenish the supply with your own money each time you get paid.

You find yourself trying to think of new and creative ways to reinforce basic dental health to your patients.  You look for ways to entice your patients to adopt good habits because you know that if you can get them started, then they will eventually see the value of what you are asking them to do.  With better dental care, they will have better overall health, increased confidence, and more job opportunities in the future.  Many of them just don’t see this yet.  But they will.  You refuse to give up on them.

You know that many of your patients have very difficult and unusual life circumstances, so you have flexible hours to try to accommodate them.  Sometimes they have to bring their children to the clinic with them because they do not have anyone to help them with childcare.  Sometimes they cancel on you at the last minute because they work two jobs and cannot pass up an unexpected opportunity to earn some extra pay.  Sometimes, you come in early or stay for late appointments, and the clients just don’t show up.  Sometimes, you work really hard to help a family, and you can see at the next appointment that they did not follow any of your instructions at all.  It can be disheartening.

But some patients cry when you help them.  They cry because they never thought that they would get the help that they needed.  They cry because your clinic offers the understanding, patience, and flexibility that allows them to do what is best for their families.  They cry because you recognize their individual needs and respect their humanity.  Sometimes, you cry, too.

You feel really good about the work you are doing in this clinic.

Then one day an inspector from the state visits the clinic.  He looks very serious.  He seems unhappy.

He says, “You are a terrible dentist.”

You are horrified.  You ask him how he came to this conclusion.  He pulls out two charts covered with graphs and tables. One chart shows data from a wealthier suburban dental practice.  The other chart shows data from your clinic.

You are a smart person.  You are a dentist, after all.  You know this isn’t good.

“Our data indicates that the patients at your clinic have many more cavities than the patients at other clinics.”

“Yes, they do.  I serve many patients who have not had good dental care in the past, and some of them are not convinced that dental care is even important.  That is why I came to this clinic in the first place.  To serve these people.”

“You say that you are serving these clients, but the data shows that many of your patients are not brushing their teeth twice a day, even after they visit.  If this clinic were good, your patients would be brushing twice a day.  You are just taking their money.”

“Please remember that many of my clients were not brushing their teeth at all when they came here, and now they are brushing more than they ever did before, even if it is not twice a day.  I work very hard to find new ways to educate and inspire them to improve their dental health.  Plus, we do have patients who now have excellent teeth thanks to our clinic.”

“At this other practice, almost all of the patients brush twice daily.  Their patients also do not skip appointments.”

“I think our client base is not the same.  My patients are wonderful people, but a large number of them have serious medical or mental health conditions, multiple jobs, or other unusual circumstances.  Some of them are caring for sick family members or raising children with little help.  Some of them have been in and out of the criminal justice system.  Some of them have had very bad experiences with the medical profession in the past, and we are working hard to rebuild their trust.  We do experience more cancellations than other dental practices, but we believe that what we do is very important, and we do not stop trying to help people.”

“The other practice has a record of fewer cavities.  Therefore, it is an excellent dental office with excellent dentists.  That office and those dentists are much better than you.”

“But I used to work at that office.”

“You are not a good dentist.”

“When I worked there, you said that I was an excellent dentist.”

“You have really let yourself go since you came here.”

“Actually, I have learned a lot by working at this clinic.”

“I am going to recommend that your clinic is closed.”

“But what about my patients?  They will have nowhere to go.”

“They can go to the more successful practice.”

“No, no, no.  They do not feel understood at that practice.  They are tired of being treated like nuisances or outcasts when they ask for help or try to do the right things for their families.  They will fall far behind in their dental care because there is no flexibility.  Many of my patients really need this clinic.  I feel like there is a misunderstanding here.”

“I am sorry.  You are no good.”

 

This is what it feels like to be an ECOT teacher right now.

 

I will be the first to say that we need major education reform in this country.
BUT . . .
Please do not believe everything that you read.
Please think about what data actually represents before you jump to conclusions.
Please understand that newspapers are clearly showing bias and journalists are not doing their homework.
Please do not drag students, teachers, and families through the mud when your actual concerns are about politics and school funding.

You can disagree about politics and school funding without distorting information and minimizing the good that is being done for many kids, both in traditional classrooms and in the online environment, by excellent teachers!

 

My Top Five Post Picks

Wow!  Choosing my top five posts of the first year was harder than I expected!  The first three choices were easy.  There was no question what those first three would be.  But the last two picks were harder.   I wrestled with questions, like how do you pick a favorite child, anyway?  What makes one post better than another?  How did I feel when I was writing each piece?  How much of me was invested in each one?  Does the number of readers who liked each post matter, and, if so, how much?

There were several close runners-up, including this post about my nephew’s cute fishing story and this one about developing “real” relationships with our friends.   And then there were posts that started conversations and made a difference to people, like “A Letter To My Son’s Soccer Coach” and “Yes, I’m a Christian.  No, I’m Not Like That.”  However, the posts that I chose as my top 5 are posts that are so close to my heart that all kinds of hidden emotions start swirling when I read them.  You can click on the infographic below to go to the “live” version.  It has links that will take you to any of the posts that you want to revisit! (Aren’t these infographics FUN?!?!?)

top-5-favorite-posts-on-still-chasing-fireflies (3)

Now it’s your turn!  I REALLY want to hear about your favorite posts on Still Chasing Fireflies in the past year.  Please comment, here or on Facebook or both.  Let’s create a conversation.  Thanks for chasing fireflies with me this year!

~Mary Ann

 

Back to School Edition: Tip #9

Bus

First let me say that if you have read all of my nine tips in nine days, you are an overachiever, and, also, THANK YOU!  This “little project” turned out to be an ambitious endeavor, and after a few days I thought “What have I done?  This is too much!  No one wants to read my posts every day for over a week!  And how on earth will I keep up?”  But you surprised me, and you did read some posts, and you did send me encouraging messages and new ideas, and I did accomplish my goal.  Hooray for all of us!

In the process of writing these posts, I learned a some things about myself – because you can’t really explore an idea in writing without some deep self-reflection.  I am no expert on anything, really; any advice that I give is just advice that I am giving myself, first and foremost.  I hope that reading these tips led you to some self-reflection, too.

Before we end our series, the teacher in me wants to quickly revisit where we’ve been.  Here are the first eight tips with links in case you missed one or just want to review.

Tip #1: If your first impression of the teacher is negative, keep it to yourself.
Tip #2: Work as a team with the teacher, even if she isn’t your BFF.
Tip #3: Be open and honest about what your child needs.
Tip #4: Make your child’s school experience personal.
Tip #5: Never react too quickly.
Tip #6: Create a plan to help your child open up to you.
Tip #7: Teach your kids to have an optimistic outlook.
Tip #8: Invest time in what matters most.

Which leads us to Back to School Tip of the Day #9

Preserve the memories.  And what this really means is that you have permission to force your kids to (fake) smile for first-day-of-school pictures. In fact, they need to learn that life often requires us to do things that we don’t want to do in order to make someone else happy. Like making coffee for the boss. Or cleaning the toilet for guests. Or smiling so that your mom has a picture from every first day of school of your entire life.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, kids, so say, “Cheese!”

I’m exhausted, so that is all for today, but thanks again for supporting the 2015 Back to School Edition of my blog.  I already have ideas for some additional tips in the coming weeks, but my pace will slow now that my school year has begun.  Since today is the first day of school at our house, and that is like January 1 to us, we wish all of you, whether you have kids in school or not, a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

first day 2015
See, I made my kids do it!  Aren’t they handsome?
I won’t mention that they had to RUN so that they didn’t miss the
bus on the first day . . .  My fault . . .  We are a work in progress, for sure! 😉

 

A Message to my Students on the Last Day of School

Goodbye

Dear Students:

This year has been fantastic!  It is hard to believe that it is coming to an end.  On this last day of school, I want you to know that you and your classmates have amazed me in SO MANY ways.

I have talked to some of you often.  Some of you have avoided talking to me at all costs.  Some of you have shared your joys with me and made me laugh.  Others have shared heartbreaking experiences that made me cry.  Some of you have poured your thoughts and feelings into your writing.  Some of you have worked to overcome your fears so that you can begin to reach your dreams and goals.

Some of you have made me very proud this year.  Some of you have frustrated me, but only because I want you to see in yourself the potential that I see in you.

Some of you have found online school to be your perfect match.  Some of you are just learning what online education is all about.

Some of you have discovered yourselves this year.  Some of you have become leaders.  Some of you have excelled at helping others.  Some of you are still finding your unique place in the world, and that is okay, too.

All of you made progress in some way.  And that is what matters most.

Before you turn off your computer for the summer, write yourself a note to read on the first day of school next year.  Remind yourself how you feel RIGHT NOW.  Remind yourself what you did well this year and what you want to improve.  Remind yourself of a few rules that you want to set for next year – and WHY.  Remind yourself that Mrs. Ware believes in you.  Read your note in August, and then post it where you can see it every day.  Next year will come with the same distractions and temptations, maybe even more, so it will be important to follow your own advice.

Most importantly, believe in yourself.  I will miss you next year, but I know that you must move forward in order to accomplish the great things that your life has in store.  Stop holding yourself hostage.  Stop letting your fears hold you back.  LET YOURSELF do great things.  Give yourself permission to DO better.  Give yourself permission to BE better.  Give yourself permission to BE SUCCESSFUL, even if no one else is telling you that it can happen.

IT CAN HAPPEN.

BELIEVE IT.

WORK TOWARD IT.

And be sure to tell me what you accomplish!

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to teach you.  Thank you for a great year!

Sincerely,

Mrs. Ware

DoGreatThings

Some Moments Cling To You

*I wanted to write something in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, and here’s what happened.  I dedicate it to my student, and to all of the teachers who carry their work – the seen and the unseen –  home with them at night.*

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When I was teaching in brick-and-mortar classrooms, I lugged a heavy bag of books, lesson plans, and ungraded essays to my car every afternoon after school. And people noticed that bag. They couldn’t miss it, really. They would sigh or smile or shake their heads when they saw it, the evidence that my job was important, that my school day did not end at 3:00.

The books, the plans, the papers – those were conspicuous. Everyone saw them. But the invisible burden that I carried home as a teacher often weighed much more. The questions that haunted my quiet moments. The concerns that intruded when I lay down at night. The moments that replayed over and over again on the video reel in my mind. Had I done enough? Could I have done better? Were all of my students safe and warm and well-fed at night? Had I left any children behind that week? How could I be more and do more for my class in the future?

I remember one typical morning, now so many years ago. My classroom was abuzz with students, chirping greetings to one another, trading stories with loud voices and dramatic gestures before the first school bell rang. Teenagers surrounded my podium at the front of the room, sharing anecdotes with me while I mentally reviewed my plans for the day ahead.

“Mrs. Ware, I actually heard something about Edgar Allen Poe on The Simpsons last night! I’m not even kidding!”

“Mrs. Ware, I didn’t finish my homework, but, I swear, you will NEVER believe what happened!”

“Mrs. Ware, did you hear about the track meet yesterday? We did awesome!”

“Mrs. Ware, my mom is going to kill me if I don’t pass English! You have to help me!”

One by one, I addressed their concerns, and, one by one, they shuffled back to their seats, still chatting, organizing their papers before our day officially began.

And then the last girl, a quiet girl, a girl who normally avoided drawing attention to herself, was the only one left at the front of the room while her classmates talked and giggled in the background. I smiled warmly, wondering what had lured her from the safety of the periphery.

“How can I help you?” I asked her, but she seemed reluctant to answer, maybe a bit regretful, as if she had moved her pawn too quickly and now wished she could change course.

After a pause, finally, she spoke. “I . . . Mrs. Ware, I was going to tell you . . .”

And just before the words could overflow, she hesitated again. Her sweet face, staunchly loyal, kept her secrets – but her eyes betrayed her. There, pain twisted and danced in oily swirls. It was brazen, whirling, flashing, taunting, while her words took shape.

She summoned her courage and, softly but firmly, spoke the words that I did not expect: “Mrs. Ware, I have the same problem you do.

I looked at her, and I thought about it, and I had absolutely no idea what she meant.

The front of the room was suddenly a bit less comfortable, the air a little harder to breath, because I could not respond to her until I understood what our problem was. She could tell that I was struggling to answer, and she was uncomfortable, too, so she rescued me, or maybe rescued us, by offering a lifeline. Words were not her favorite, but her eyes were still talking, and I needed help, so I followed them. I watched attentively as they descended slowly from my face – to my neck – to my shoulders – to my big, round orb of a belly, firm and heavy and eight months.

“I have the same problem you do,” she said.

And those words that had been hanging, suspended in the air, now smashed to the floor and shattered like glass. And my heart fell, bruised and broken, with them.

Because I had been caught off guard, at this time and in this place, with a classroom full of students and first period about to begin and a bachelor’s degree in English that did not prepare me for this moment. Because her pain stabbed me, and it hurt, and I felt for just that moment the fear coursing through her veins. Because I wanted to fix things for her, for all my students, that I knew I could not fix. Because I imagined that Hardship had been her companion for a while now – and that he wasn’t going anywhere soon.

And because my baby, the tiny acrobat inside me, had been a prayer, a dream, and a plan, but never “a problem.” Those words stung. And I thought about how both of us had sobbed over a pregnancy test, but our tears had sprung from very different wells.

And because I was reminded that academics only matter to humans if we first meet their most urgent needs – and that is daunting – because every day in every classroom there are students whose needs are great, and only some of them will share.

At school and in life, most moments pass, one by one, with little notice or consequence. At the end of the day, you know that seconds, minutes, and hours elapsed, but in the whirlwind of planning the seconds, minutes, and hours to come, what is over is often quickly brushed aside. But, like the fine threads of a spider’s web, certain moments entangle you. They cling to your skin, and you cannot easily shake them off. They will not leave you.

That one moment, when a student and I shared all of the joy and the sadness and the fears of being human, will never leave me. It remains crisp and vivid on the video reel in my mind and still visits me when I am quiet. What followed that moment, however, is cloudy. I remember that she talked. I remember that I listened. Time passed quickly. My family grew. The school year ended.

And I never saw her again.

I don’t know if she remembers that moment when our lives collided in such a personal way, but I hope that she understands, now that she is all grown up, how deeply I cared. I hope that she knows, whatever I may have said, that she mattered more to me than commas and semicolons and sentence fragments. I hope that she knows how much I appreciate that she invited me in, that she allowed me to view the world, and my own experiences, through a different lens; it was a defining moment for me, a moment that shaped me as a person and as a teacher.

Most of all, I hope that she is well, that she is loved, that she is happy – but I accept that I will never know. Over a thousand faces have passed through my classrooms across different schools and different states, and it is impossible to follow them all. I often think of those faces and wonder about the adults they have become. I wonder how they remember our years together, whether certain moments cling to them, too.

So many of my memories are a blur, but some moments refuse to leave me. And for those ones, the ones that cling, I am grateful.

photo credit: common classroom via photopin (license)