Tag Archives: wisdom

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

Ways We Can Improve Our Society: Part Two

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Check out part one for more ideas!

Thankfully, the number of potential candidates for the Presidency has dwindled slightly. Unfortunately, most of those who remain are the loudest, angriest, and most arrogant.  If I actually believed politicians would be willing to listen to the desires of the people they claim to represent, I would offer them the following suggestions for how we, as a nation, might grow and change. Instead, I am relying on the people to change what we can, provided we can stop insulting and berating each other on social media for how our political policy beliefs differ.

To begin, I believe our country (our world, in fact) would be a better place if everyone was required to give another human being a genuine compliment every single day. I’m sure there is a government bureaucrat out there somewhere who is tired of getting paid for reading magazines and pretending to file paperwork. Let him be in charge of tracking how quickly general happiness, self-esteem, and optimism skyrocket under the new Renee Fornelli Love agenda. There’s some type of computer program that can make graphs and pie charts, I assume. He could even create a survey — and we all know how important polls are these days — and build data. There would be so much more paperwork to “file” (and, by file, I mean lose/shred/stick in a box in a warehouse)! What an exciting job for that formerly bored government employee!

Next up, we can easily improve our world through the utilization of recycling centers. Last summer, my husband and I decided to make regular recycling a part of our lives. I organized a small corner of our home to store paper, cans, and plastic bottles. I have a couple pictures of my bins below. It takes, maybe, twenty minutes a month to gather up and drop off all the items that, previously, would have gone towards filling up our landfill. Instead of having companies make new things, they can refashion and reuse old things. Isn’t that “shabby chic” idea all the rage right now? Please consider making a better effort to go green. I was surprised — pleasantly — by how little effort recycling actually takes. Save our planet — it’s the only place we have to live!

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Last on the agenda today is the need and desire for our society to consider pet adoption. Statistics show there are many benefits to owning a pet. They can help to lower blood pressure, ease depression symptoms, and detect an owner’s serious illness, for starters.  Cats and dogs, especially, are excellent companions for children and adults, and offer a wide array of services to offset any minor inconveniences that go along with pet ownership. Dogs provide protection and a sense of security to people with disabilities and those living alone; they also learn tricks and make for great exercise buddies. Cats are useful for killing rodents and are particularly good snugglers. For example, my cats are great foot warmers in the dead of winter, though they do often steal all the blankets and fashion a nest for themselves, leaving me to shiver uncontrollably through the night. Be that as it may, I know they love me because they show it in other ways. They meet me at the door when I get home from work. They lay beside me and purr when I’m sick. They “sing” with me and often answer when I talk to them. They “pet” my hair and give me kisses. They leave fake mice in my purse if I leave it unzipped, and I often find toys in the toe of my boots when I slip them on. They are content to lay in my lap for hours. They fill my heart with joy and happiness.

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So, to all of you petless people, I will encourage you to go to a shelter and adopt a pet. You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to buy one from a dealer or a pet store. Often, people give pets away for free. Pets provide comfort, acceptance, and companionship to lonely people. They give entertainment and add excitement to daily chores. They offer unconditional love. People with pets are almost always happier because of them. That’s why they fill your Facebook news feed with so many pictures of them.

So, if we can change our attitudes and behaviors, we can change our world for the better. I’m willing to give it a try. Are you?

P.S. We don’t actually need the government telling us to compliment each other. Just do it on your own. It feels great for the recipient as well as the giver. Make each other happy today!

Peace and love.

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Ways We Can Improve Our Society: Part One

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As election time rolls around and debates separate the wheat from the chaff and political ads slander opponents mercilessly, it becomes apparent (particularly on social media) that everyone in America knows what is best for the country and if you disagree you are a worthless pile of fool. To add to the “excitement” of another 11 months of campaigns, here is the first stage of “making America great again,” and if you disagree, you are a worthless pile of fool.

First up, budget cuts. I hear about this concept of “budgeting” and apparently it means “planning for a fiscally sound future by not buying so much makeup,” according to my husband’s line of thinking. What it actually means is balancing income and expenses — in other words, allotting an adequate amount of money to each area in order to responsibly pay bills in a timely fashion. The following are some ways I think the local, state, and federal government could increase revenue or cut needless expenditures, or improve our society as a whole.

First, when an individual is caught speeding, he or she should be required to pay a fine of no less than $50 for every excess mile per hour an officer clocked their speed. (Bonus: the main roads will be much safer, as compulsive speed demons will likely stick to back roads — I’m not convinced they can change.) That money can be earmarked for educational funding, including a newly required defensive driving course for all caught recklessly risking their own and others’ lives by cruising along at 75 in a 65 zone.

Second, why do prisons provide cable television? Many hardworking, law-abiding citizens can’t afford such a luxury. My cable bill each month is astronomical (particularly after adding an additional box) and increases semi-annually. Felons don’t need cable, they need to sit and think about what they did wrong. If they get bored with repenting, they can pick up a book and read. Our world would be a better place if everyone in it read a book a month. Rather than setting up convicts with expensive entertainment, force them to watch local channels and, when they tire of that, to educate themselves. I know, the option of schooling already exists in the joint, but I feel more people who are incarcerated would put forth the effort of seeking an education to better their lives on the outside if it was the only option available during their free time (and by free time, I mean the time they don’t spend lifting weights and fashioning shivs out of toothbrushes). Admittedly my knowledge of the inner workings of life in the clink is limited to, ironically, what I have viewed on cable networks. What would the government do with all the funds they freed up by making the pen “hard-copy only”? They would redirect that cash to fuel public education. By funneling more money into our children’s schooling, we could hope there would be fewer ex-cons in the long run — and wouldn’t that make for a brighter future overall?

Third, hire only highly skilled and professional construction companies who will work on one mile of road at a time, from dawn until dusk every single day until the job is complete. The longer that stretch of patch work takes, the more road rage I suffer. The citizens pay taxes to fund quick, sound reconstruction of the roads, not to hire a bunch of sweaty, chain-smoking sign holders. When I drive by at 10:15 in the morning, I know they cannot possibly be legitimately still eating breakfast. So why are they just sitting in their trucks, laughing at my aggravation? Why do they tear up twenty miles of the interstate at a time if they have no intention of fixing it that week? Why must I slow down to twenty-five miles an hour when workers are nowhere to be found? Why doesn’t the foreman insist they remove the “reduce speed ahead” signs before leaving for the afternoon siesta (which is the only logical explanation for why machines are sitting empty in the ditches when I drive home at 4:30 in the afternoon)? Why is my tax money paying for months of unnecessary inconvenience to travelers and a lack of oversight resulting in lazy incompetence from poorly managed road crews? I’m becoming suspicious that maybe they intentionally take so long because they get paid by the day. Government officials, do some reference checking on the companies you pay with my money, or I will vote you out.

Check out part two here.

Peace and love.

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Success Series Part 2: Drive

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Check out part 1 here.

We have all been asked the question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. I have a difficult time with this question. I guess I don’t even know why people bother asking, since they don’t truly expect honesty or answers like, “I’m incredibly lazy and won’t do anything productive without prodding” or “I often stay out unbelievably late at night gambling and drinking, so I will frequently show up late — if at all.” The expectation of future employers or college entrance officers is that we will effortlessly spin our flaws into benefits, like, “I’m a perfectionist so I spend way too much time getting everything exactly right” or “I often become so consumed with tasks that I bring work home with me — I just can’t stop thinking about it, even in my free time” or “I take on too much because I am overly eager and a real go-getter.”

My conscience is far too inconsiderate to allow me to ignore my true failings. My answer when posed this question often goes a little something like this: “One of my best qualities is my determination. I am tenacious. I am headstrong. And, fine, I will admit it: I am bordering on stubborn. One might even call me obstinate. If I feel I am justified, I dig in my heels — admittedly, being inflexible is possibly my worst quality.” And then I blush. I’ve never really learned to quit when I’m ahead.

So, let me see if I can spin this quality back into a positive.

I am proud of my ability to set a goal and work to reach it single-mindedly. It is my perseverance that has enabled me to get good grades, graduate from college, pay off most of my student loans, quit smoking, and lose a considerable amount of weight. (I am not discussing the impact of having a loving family or strong support system here — while those, too, are keys to success, they are so important that they will be in a separate blog post.)

Even though it hurts to acknowledge that being strong is often seen as unattractive or undesirable, I can’t allow that to intimidate me into being weak. I am a principled person, and when I am relentless or tough, it’s because I feel I must be. I stand firm when I believe it is not just the right thing, but the only thing, to do.

Despite being called “unyielding” and “unreasonable” by both loved ones and strangers, I find that it is my rigidity that has enabled me to survive hardship, bullying, and many new beginnings. I don’t let obstacles prevent me from doing what I need to do to find happiness. I go over, under, or around whatever is blocking my path to success.

Sometimes, that blockade was put in place by me. Sometimes, it was left by others. But it is my willpower, my unwavering desire, my belief that I CAN, which has allowed me to clear those hurdles one by one. It is my steadfastness that has let me heal from rejection, unfairness, and tragedy.

It is my dedication, my diligence, my drive that has led me to the life I have today. How can that possibly be a negative?

Peace and love.4332_1149745819631_369708_n

Love Is in the Air

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I love weddings. I should clarify that: I love the idea of weddings.

I love the idea that two people, despite the odds of divorce, which are ever-increasingly stacked against them, believe that their love will last “until death parts them.” I love that two people are willing to commit themselves, fully, completely, voluntarily, to only one other person for the rest of their lives. I love the idea that each person in the marriage is willing to sacrifice their own desires, needs, whims, hopes, dreams, or plans, if it means the other will find fulfillment. I love the idea that they trust that their love is stronger than their independence, stronger than their recklessness, stronger than their irresponsibility, for they are willing to exchange all of those traits for a lifetime of partnership, forgiveness, and accountability. I love that, while they each lose their individual freedom, they gain a comfortable security. I love the idea that they both desire only the best things in life for the one person they adore above all others. I love that both people in the marriage promise, on entering the union, to value, trust, support, care for, and respect his or her partner until the end of their days.

I love that a wedding is the beginning of a marriage.

I love that there is a friendship so strong between two people, one they fear losing so greatly, that they devote every thought and action of every day to keeping that friendship stable and healthy and balanced and, most importantly alive. Relationships take work or, much like the cactus in my kitchen, they die slowly, a little at a time, until, unfortunately, they are unable to be revived.

Marriage, at its core, is a long-term inside joke between two best friends. A culture develops for the two people inside the relationship that others simply do not understand.

A wedding, in effect, is a statement that each partner will create a life-long secret world shared only by those two people. No one else is invited in to explore. No one can board a plane and vacation there for a while. Though there are always outside observers staring over the fence, no one else fully gets the couple’s world. No one understands their special language. No one was there for all the memories the pair created. No one has seen all the arguments, the laughs, the slow-dances, the tears.

Nobody else gets the joke. Nobody else needs to. Don’t you just love weddings?

Peace and love.199400_1027251397347_5685_n

Success Series Part 1: Happiness

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People are always looking for the “key” to success. I am by no means a “life expert” — a term I’ve heard thrown around but don’t actually fully understand. How does one become a life expert? By living? In that case, all who are currently alive would qualify, technically. I digress. I am just going to do some thoughtful analysis (let’s call it creative and active thinking because it has an acronym of CAT) in a new blog series.

What determines whether someone is “successful” in life? There are far too many variables and opinions to give a definitive answer; that being said, a point on which most would agree is “achieving happiness.”

What makes one person happy would, however, not necessarily be fulfilling, exciting, or satisfying for another. I can state with complete certainty that I would not be happy as the ring leader of a rodent circus; someone right at this moment, though, is elated that they have finally realized their lifelong dream of dressing up, training, and touching rats all day long (I just can’t even…oh my word).

Unfortunately, people often rely on others to make themselves happy. They “need” a boyfriend or girlfriend, they “wish” they were popular, they “can’t live without” their cell phones, and they “would just die” if they were publicly humiliated. This type of mindset is detrimental to true happiness, which can only be found inside oneself. Other people’s opinions of my life are not something I care to lose sleep over; I do what makes me feel good, and surround myself with like-minded people. I wasted a lot of time in the past, trying to please everyone else (which, as has been famously said by one far wiser than myself, is an impossibility), and my personal happiness was often placed as the lowest priority. That, I realize now, was a mistake.

I am not attempting to say that one should always thoughtlessly choose his or her own desires over others’ at all times. That would be selfish and narcissistic, and would inevitably lead to unhappiness in the long run. I am saying that, in general, the things on which we should focus the most time and energy are the things which provide not just short-term happiness but will also lead to contentment and satisfaction over time.

Let me elaborate a little on this point. To use an analogy, I love cheesecake (I am pretty sure it loves me, too, but is afraid of commitment). Eating it makes me happy. Imagine this scenario: I choose one evening to eat an entire cheesecake for dinner, blatantly refusing to share any with my husband. It is fulfilling and full of creamy deliciousness right away. But it makes me sick when I attempt to sleep, and my husband is tossing and turning from hunger. The sicker my body feels, the more I regret the cheesecake; the more tired my man grows, the more he resents me. We end up divorcing. He moves on with someone who (begrudgingly) gives him a sliver of her cheesecake. I turn to cheesecake for comfort. I continue eating cheesecake for dinner every evening of my long, lonely, self-centered existence, because I know it makes me happy in the moment. I rue that decision every night, like a vicious cycle. My clothes stop fitting. I stop combing my hair. I can’t understand why I have no friends and am unattractive, so I drown my sorrow with more cheesecake to make myself feel better, if only for a few minutes. Even my many, many cats eventually leave me, refusing to watch me destroy myself. I can’t grasp the reality that something that makes me so happy (cheesecake) causes me to be so unhappy.

Through my long-winded explanation, it is clear that there are many different types of happiness, and even some emotions are mistaken for happiness when they are actually something entirely different. So, how can one avoid the pain of a “false” or “temporary” sense of satisfaction and focus on legitimate, lasting contentment? Henry David Thoreau once stated, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Put simply, honestly self-analyze and figure out what will make you genuinely happy and healthy, and do it as much as you can.

I believe that planning one’s future is essential to his or her future happiness. I don’t mean plan out every last detail down to the exact date (I was supposed to be independently wealthy three years ago, by the way). I mean, one must know what types of things will bring future happiness and what will not. Then, keep focused to make the good things happen and eliminate the bad. We must actively tend the metaphorical garden of our lives: plant our goals on the sunny side, water the dreams daily, fertilize the passions regularly, pull the destructive weeds as soon as they crop up, and watch your happiness bloom.  531553_3963563483314_1887143721_n

One final vow: I will always share my cheesecake with my husband. He makes me happier than all the cheesecake in the world.

Check out part 2 here. Peace and love.404285_2799947473641_945394804_n

To My Students: What I Want You To Know

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Dear Students,

I am writing to explain a few things I feel you should know. I realize that it is sometimes hard for you to understand things from my perspective, so I hope this helps to make my views clearer.

I want you to know that I believe that my job is one of the most important in the world, but also one of the most difficult. It is mentally and physically taxing. It is often so stressful that it makes me an emotional wreck. Meetings with coworkers, administrators, community members, and parents, and even meetings with you, often make me feel like I could and should be doing more. I walk away feeling inadequate and unappreciated. I want you to know that I am doing the best that I can. I know how much your learning depends on my being adequate. I want you to know that I know your future depends on my success.

Being a teacher means many long, unpaid hours spent planning, correcting, and reflecting. I want you to know that I do it so I am prepared for you each day. I also want you to know that when you say my class is “boring” or the story we are reading is “stupid,” it makes me feel like I should have prepped better or tried harder to reach you — in essence, I take those comments to heart. I want you to know that it hurts to hear you hate me.

I want you to know that I care about you. I care about what you learn in my classroom, which will, I hope, be more than just the formal rules of grammar. I want you to learn how to be a kind, compassionate, deep-thinking adult with a realistic view of the world. I want you to know that I secretly hope that, as you grow, you will be an optimist, because having a positive view leads to a long, happy life.

Finally, I want you to know that I am here for you, to help when and how I can, to cheer you on, to lend support. I hope I can motivate and inspire you. I want to make getting an education fun for you, so you will recognize the importance of learning throughout your life. I want you to know that if you make the effort, I will make it worth your time.

Peace and love.IMG_20150210_081406_717