Tag Archives: compassion

Why I Am Transitioning to Veganism

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I recently decided to become vegan. There were lots of reasons, a few of which I would like to elaborate upon. I don’t wish to offend anyone. I only want to explain my viewpoint.
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I went vegan because in my heart I could not reconcile slaughtering and eating a turkey with adoring and obsessively doting on my cats. How are they different from each other, except how we as a society view these animals (one being food, the other being family)? Many cultures, whether due to tradition or religion or necessity, eat different types of animals than people eating a standard American diet. Some chow down on cats or dogs or grubs or monkeys; others would never dream of eating a cow or a pig as they consider them sacred or unclean.
It hurt my conscience to know that I ate tuna fish from a can yet owned betas and guppies and other types of fish in tanks over the years. I couldn’t justify eating crab after owning and caring for hermit crabs. I’m a very principled person, and I couldn’t stand my own hypocrisy any longer. Just because I love my pets, it doesn’t mean they are in any way more valuable in the world than the cats people eat overseas. All animals are sentient beings who desire to live — they only want what I do, what my cats do, what all of us do: a long, full life, filled with days of no pain and no fear, and a peaceful end.
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I “mother” my cats, making sure they aren’t scared or hurt; why should I pay someone else to kill any other animal, who wasn’t “lucky” enough to be born a human or a purebred, papered, expensive Saint Bernard puppy? Until I became vegan a month and a half ago, I was in an ethical dilemma centering on whether or not I truly loved animals. As silly as it sounds, I cried the day I hit a pheasant while driving to work last year, yet fried chicken was one of my favorite foods for a long time. They were both birds, so I should, theoretically, feel fine about killing both or neither, right? But it wasn’t like that. I felt awful about killing one, and intentionally bought and ate the other. In my head, it made perfect sense, until one day it just didn’t.
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Plants have every vitamin and mineral necessary for a healthy life, without the health risks associated with eating meat (including obesity, Mad Cow disease, and high cholesterol, with its higher rate of heart attacks and strokes). The exception, of course, is Vitamin B-12, but most people don’t get enough of that whether they eat meat or not. Eating a plant-based vegan diet has been scientifically and anecdotally proven to have positive benefits, mentally and physically, for those who follow it.
The decision, for me, amounted to this: eat meat/dairy/eggs, with my family history of stroke, cancer, and other scary stuff, just because it tastes good, or save countless innocent lives and reduce my own health risks in the future by eating a full, well-rounded diet of plants. The choice was easy. I’m no longer emotionally conflicted. As an added bonus, I sleep better knowing I am “the change I wish to see in the world.”
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Peace and love.

Why Parents Should Attend Conferences

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The belief exists among many parents that conferences with their child’s teacher are unimportant. For one reason or another, parents can justify to themselves why skipping their scheduled time doesn’t make a difference in the long run: my child has a good grade; the teacher would call if there was a problem; I’m too busy to take the time off work. All of these reasons seem legitimate, and, despite their validity, I’d like to present a counterargument expressing why Parent-Teacher Conference Night should be highlighted on every parent’s calendar.

First, there are many reasons teachers need to speak with you, beyond communicating your child’s letter grade. We often need to express to you what your child’s strengths are, what areas they can improve, and how they can adjust to better succeed in school. We may need to address minor behavioral concerns that don’t warrant a phone call home. We might want to ask about your evening schedule or suggest ways you can help your child prepare at home. We also would like to get to know you, to better relate to you or feel more comfortable discussing problems as they come up. We would like to express, face to face, our joy at your child’s successes and our sadness in their struggles. In short, we want to know you, and we want you to know us.

Second, parents have a different perspective and deeper knowledge level of who their child, our student, is. That perception is often vital in helping us understand how best to teach each student individually. The more we know about your son or daughter, the more we can tailor our lessons to help him or her. You can provide insight into his or her life that we would otherwise be unable to see. You can explain to us about your child’s health, talk to us about signs or symptoms of conditions you are concerned about, and describe for us any social problems they might be having outside of school. Mental, physical, and emotional health has a huge impact on a student’s performance, and if you make us aware of those types of issues, we are able to better accommodate a child’s needs.

Third, it demonstrates to your child the importance of an open relationship with others in their lives who care for them. When we can converse at conferences, you can share with them how their teacher views their abilities and that lets them know they are individuals, unique and appreciated just for who they are. It helps to build a better support system between some of the most important people in your child’s life: you and their teachers.

Make talking with your child’s teacher a priority. We will be flexible about timing. We just want your input. Educating a student is a team effort, and you are half the team.

Peace and love.

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Why I Feel Everyone Should Read

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I truly and wholeheartedly believe the world would be a better place if everyone considered reading as essential as other daily tasks. I realize that not everyone likes to read; some, in fact, claim to hate it and refuse to voluntarily skim through even a few books a year after they have completed high school.

The result has been, over the last few decades, a disintegration of our civilization on multiple — alarming — levels. As a society, our refusal to read has had detrimental effects: many people’s comprehension, vocabulary, communication, and logical thinking has suffered; they lack basic spelling, usage, and grammar skills; and they have trouble interacting appropriately with others because they are unable to empathize or connect emotionally. Additionally, while people turn away from books and embrace television and Netflix, for example, they are abdicating any responsibility for deep critical thinking or personal growth, as is it common knowledge that binge-watching American Dad cannot replicate the benefits of a focused long-term plot or the in-depth character study offered in books. Furthermore, by wasting time so contentedly on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, people are allowing others to dictate their ethics, self-worth, and interests. “Likes” are very important these days, and young people, in particular, will do or say just about anything to earn approval from strangers online.

Being an optimist, I refuse to believe this change to our culture is permanent. I know that reading offers too many benefits to allow it to “go gentle into that good night.” I will continue to promote reading and encourage my students to engage in it regularly. Below are a few reasons why.

Reading serves many purposes. Historically, story-telling was a way to preserve a culture’s beliefs and to pass on its values to younger generations. (In my opinion, it can definitely do the same today.) Problematically, modern-day reading is mainly seen as simply a leisure activity, done with the intention of providing entertainment, and therefore viewed as a “huge waste of time.” A lot of people would just rather “watch the movie.”

Many times, though, people do not realize exactly how much they can take away from reading, in general. We can study a character’s true motivations and analyze the factors that drive their behaviors. We can pick up on clues that a character may be “unreliable” (and, therefore, untrustworthy) through subtle hints and indirect characterization. We can assess the results of a character’s decisions and actions, examining how it impacts his or her life over a long span of time. We can gain insight by familiarizing ourselves with characters from all walks of life, with varying interests, abilities, and personality traits. This can train us for daily interactions with those around us and help us to better know ourselves.

For example, reading a novel which includes characters who are greedy or selfish can subtly demonstrate the danger of such behaviors in our own lives. Similarly, lovable characters can cause readers to forget their own loneliness for a short time, or lead readers to recognize desirable traits that they can adopt for themselves. Sympathetic characters can ease a reader’s feelings of self-pity by opening his or her eyes to other forms of pain and suffering in the world. Heroes fighting against villains — whether successful in their endeavors or not — can teach readers the importance of standing up for what they believe is right.

There are many genres from which to choose, so with enough searching just about everyone can find a novel that suits their interests. Some prefer true-crime documentaries while others enjoy romance novels. Mystery novels are fun because they enable people to piece together information and attempt to make accurate predictions — they keep people engaged. Science-fiction, fantasy, and mythology can expand people’s imaginations while, often, encouraging personal moral decision-making or ethical soul-searching. Nonfiction selections in the self-improvement, history, or autobiography categories are meant to provide useful information and can help people understand themselves and the  world around them more clearly. A few relate best to poetry, as they find that it succinctly expresses their own feelings in unique or unexpected ways, which can be quite comforting. Someone might prefer to read classics, from which they can deduce that, while the world itself has changed greatly over time, human nature and emotions have not.

Reading, most importantly, opens our minds. I have smiled when my favorite characters succeed. I have cried when innocent or helpless characters are killed. I have raged over the injustices characters suffer at the hands of their society. I have been uplifted when characters are able to turn their lives around and make a positive change. I have gained wisdom, courage, and strength from reading about the struggles in other people’s lives. I have educated myself on concepts, ideas, and philosophies about which I had no other way of learning. Reading lets me see the world from many perspectives and experience things I never would otherwise. It allows me to be part of other cultures and travel through time. It helps me to not only visit other worlds, but to live in this one more fully.

Peace and love.11215807_10205957227265590_2406978983197072906_n.jpg

Why Teachers Get Burned Out

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In the fall, I will start my tenth year as a teacher, as unbelievable as I find that to be. I still remember the jitters I felt when my student teaching mentor told me she was going to have me take the reins at the end of September. I still remember the nervousness of starting my first job (in March — not exactly ideal) in a town I’d never heard of before, with only a few days’ notice. I still get that “first day of school” bubbly excitement and that “when will summer finally be here” longing. I still think about the mistakes I made early on, the struggles I’ve overcome, but also the victories and success stories that make my job worthwhile. I still love school, just as I always have since starting kindergarten at age four. But I am beginning to feel burned out.

We have, in America, a mindset that our educational system is failing our students, and, by extension, our teachers are failures. There are several widespread beliefs about teachers, none of which are flattering or even remotely accurate. The first is that teachers are exceptionally lazy — how hard can it be to be a full-time babysitter, right? Plus getting the summer off?! Some people think teachers are power-hungry dictators who like to throw their weight around or are only in it because they can’t make it in a “real” job. Everyone has heard the phrase, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Let me address these outlandish misconceptions. Admittedly, as with any profession, there are those who excel, those who are mediocre, and those who are ineffective. To paint all with the same negative brush is absurd. Did I have bad teachers when I was a student? Unfortunately. Did I have exceptional ones? Absolutely — and I feel blessed to be able to say so. But the majority of my teachers fell somewhere in the middle.

Most of the teachers I’ve known as coworkers are incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and selfless. Therein lies the problem. They are willing to come in far earlier and stay far later than is contractually obligated for meetings, for tutoring sessions, for correcting papers, for entering grades in the grade book, for writing improvement plans and newsletters for parents and reference letters for kids’ scholarship applications. They put in long hours of unpaid time, to spend their “summer free time” prepping and planning and taking extra classes and organizing their classrooms, because it is what is best for their students. They are willing to accept the criticism from outsiders who don’t know what occurs in their classes on a daily basis. They are willing to take phone calls right before bed from angry parents. They are willing to swallow the thinly-veiled insults on social media about how they are letting down America’s youth. They are willing to suffer personal attacks on their character or intelligence or ability level from strangers. They are willing to let go the insinuations of lawmakers that teachers don’t do enough to prepare students for the new world, the global economy, the military, college, or the workplace. They accept the blame that should be shared around.

Teachers are getting burned out because the expectations we have for ourselves and our students are already high enough without pressure from outside sources. We administer weeks of testing — state tests, national tests, tests that affect college and military entrance, tests in the form of surveys, tests that reflect the school’s “annual yearly progress.” Most of these tests don’t actually impact the students directly; if they don’t understand the tests’ relevance, many don’t take them seriously. But teachers do, because we have to.

Teachers are getting burned out because of all the other roles we play throughout the day. In addition to “educator,” I am supposed to be a mediator when there is an argument, or, more rarely, a physical altercation. I am a detective, searching for signs of abuse or neglect, and searching for “lost” homework and “misplaced” books. I am a counselor, discussing with students the many options for their futures. I have been a taxi, driving students to events I am chaperoning or coaching. I am a champion for encouraging new thoughts and ideas. I am a sympathizer for students and staff who are struggling. I am a cheerleader for those who lack self-esteem. I am an artist, coming up with new ways to teach that will keep students motivated, interested, and learning. I am a technology coordinator. I have been a nurse when students have been injured — one unfortunate nose-breaking incident far exceeding my first aid training. I am a guardian for children whose parents are, for whatever reason, unavailable physically or emotionally. I am a rock when I would rather be lax and laid-back, because I know that strength is what my students need. I am a role model, whether I wish to be or not.

Teachers get burned out because we are only human, but we are expected to be the perfect blend of the best qualities of all people. We are forgiving and compassionate. We are consistent and fair. We are adequate disciplinarians. We are experts in our fields, but we are knowledgeable about potentially “teachable” topics. We are “hip.” We are extroverts, who make new students and staff feel instantly welcome and cared for. We are in tune with our emotions and capable of reading others’. We are decision-makers and trust-earners and skills-builders. We are motivators. We are inspiring and memorable. And we do it all for some of the lowest paid salaries offered for professional careers.

But we do it because we love it. Or, at least, we used to. Please don’t make us regret it.

Peace and love.11058377_10205556576209564_1109540006035127487_n

Why I Love and Loathe Social Media

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Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Youtube, Instagram, WordPress — odds are good that most people have an account set up on at least one of these websites. I, in fact, have an account on all of them. So, why are we, as a society, so into social media? When did it become so popular as to include people all over the world, of all ages and cultures and interests?

The benefits of using social media are numerous. These sites enable people with common interests or purposes or beliefs to interact. I have had the pleasure of meeting several people online that I would never have been able to meet any other way. I can learn new skills, discuss my ideas, promote myself, and broaden my circle of acquaintances. I can support and encourage my friends, and console or commiserate when it is necessary. I can feel like I am a part of something big.

This is a detriment. Social media is, at least in my life, beginning to replace other interests or hobbies — there is not enough time in my life for everything I love to do. I check my sites several times a day, scrolling and commenting and liking and reading other peoples’ posts. I watch a video online, and it links to another video, and another. Time gets away from me. Playing my instrument, practicing my calligraphy, sketching a picture, reading a book, playing a video game, crocheting an afghan — all my other hobbies take a backseat to updating my status online.

It gets worse. Studies are suggesting that the longer one spends on social media websites, the more unhappy he or she becomes with his or her own life. It seems that people become envious of the lives they see presented to them (not to confuse this with the lives their friends are actually living, which, daily, are likely just as boring and uneventful as their own). In fact, many people are now, whether intentionally or unintentionally, dishonest about what they show on their sites, showing just the positives: they post pictures of their vacations or slim themselves down with photo-altering programs or write about their job promotions or update about how their husbands are the sweetest men in the world because they got roses for their birthdays.

By themselves, none of these things are a terrible misrepresentation of someone’s life, and I delight in the joy of my friends. The problem comes when one only posts about the exceptional things that happen to them, in an effort to make others think their entire lives are exceptional. “Look how skinny I am in my bikini in Aruba! I could afford this because I got a promotion at work, the day after my husband sent 32 long-stemmed roses to the office to celebrate my amazing and enviable existence!” See the problem? Sadly, social media becomes a contest, rather than a celebration.

The concept of social media site is sound: interact with old friends; make new friends; easily, inexpensively, and quickly keep in contact with people you love, even if they live across the globe. Unfortunately, in practice we see that websites dedicated to human interaction, unfortunately, are at the mercy of the humans who interact. They have become a safe haven for bullies and trolls, who enjoy spewing hate with few (if any) consequences. They have fueled a rampant case of widespread narcissism, where one’s self-esteem is now determined by how many followers/friends/likes/comments one has.  They have granted fanatics a sounding board from which to promote their controversial arguments, with little regard for the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of others. They have enabled people to post pictures of others which are unflattering or embarrassing, without their consent, sometimes even anonymously. They have, ironically, ended friendships.

In effect, social media is a double-edged sword. It is a fine balance between responsibly utilizing it and abusing it. It is an expectation that everyone uses social media, but it sometimes becomes a chore. Even when I am interacting respectfully, I am still constantly assailed by arguments, updates, and images that are snarky or untruthful or outrageous.

I can’t block out the negativity completely, but I can contribute positively by creating or resharing inspiring and encouraging messages. I hope that will be enough. Peace and love.

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The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

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mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his children to stand tall and proud. He leads by example; doing what is right is not always popular, but is necessary nonetheless. Even when his family is attacked, Atticus takes what he believes is the just and moral path, never growing bitter or regretful.

The unpleasant job of being Atticus Finch is the same in all times and all places: it is unpleasant to do what is morally and ethically right, even at the expense of one’s own security and happiness. It is unpleasant to defend the weak, the abhorrent, the defenseless. It is unpleasant to have compassion. It is unpleasant to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to, in essence, be despised unjustly. It is unpleasant to value truth and justice over tradition and expectations. It is unpleasant to be strong, when it would be so much easier to give up or give in. It is unpleasant to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Peace and love.

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