Wise Friends

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I have gotten to tell you about many of my lovely friends here in Salinas. Today I had dinner at Gino’s Italian Restaurant with one of them, my former colleague and former Principal, Anne Crawford.

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Anne Crawford and me

I met Anne about 20 years ago (without all my school yearbooks, I can’t be sure) when she was a new teacher at University Park. She was teaching what was then called Primary Introduction to English, or something like that. It was a class specifically designed to teach newly arrived  students English. She struck me as having great empathy and understanding for her students and a desire to broaden their horizons.

Having always taught at University Park, when it was a mostly middle class  population, I had never thought of using school to provide what I thought of as normal “kid” experiences. But Anne’s students had never been to the ocean, never gone to a play, never talked about the news. Anne was determined to give them those experiences. I watched and learned, and I’m glad I did.

As our school’s population changed to more lower income students, I began to see the wisdom in Anne’s approach. Not all of our new students had yards to play in, family vacations to remember, or books in their home. I remember the first time a student told me they hadn’t done their homework because they didn’t have a pencil at home, I thought it was the silliest excuse I had ever heard. But they didn’t. And I had to re-think homework.

A few years after I met her, Anne got her Administrative credential and moved to a different school to be their Principal. A few years after that, she returned to University Park as our Principal. What a homecoming!

Now Anne was leading our merry band of teachers, and school went from being good to being great. If you have never been a teacher, it is hard to explain how a Principal who knows exactly what it is like to be in a classroom all day is a golden gift. They understand the importance of little things, like pencil sharpeners that really work, and how important it is for students to see the Principal RIGHT AWAY when there is a problem.

Anne brought her concern and wisdom to all our students, and was a fine Principal, even in the hard times of tight budgets and increasing micro-managing by the District Office. But after her many years of working in the public schools, Anne hit a wall with parents who wouldn’t parent and kids who had no limits. She retired.

Of course, as we now understand, retiring is just the beginning of a whole new life. Anne had new grandkids to look after, dinners to hostess, and beaches to walk on. And, like today, friends to buy dinner for. AND, she’s coming to my retirement party on Friday!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Pink Shirt Day Irony

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This past week we had Pink Shirt Day at school. Pink Shirt Day is a day where we wear pink shirts and have programs and lessons about not bullying other kids. It was started years ago when a boy wore a pink soccer shirt to school and some other boys bullied him about it. Some of his friends went out about bought a bunch of pink tee shirts and they all wore them. The bullies had to give up because they were out numbered and bullies only like to pick on one person at a time.

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Me and Olga’s very pink shirt

So, on Pink Shirt Day, I borrowed a pink shirt from Auntie Olga and wore it to school. The Student Leadership group brought small paper shirts to the classes and showed us a video about working against bullying. It was good to see my students come up with so many ways to stop bullying! “Stand with kids who are being bullied.” “Ask new kids to play with you.” “Tell a grown-up.” Kids who defend those being bullied are called “upstanders”, because they stand up for the kids. It is good to be an upstander!

The irony is that in the middle of all this focus on not bullying, two of my boys were teased very cruelly by their friends…. and their friends were in Student Leadership. Apparently, knowing how to stop someone else from bullying doesn’t keep you from being a bully.

It started when a friend thought of something clever, but mean, to say to my student. He said it, and his friends laughed. My student didn’t like it, but these were his friends, so he laughed, too. Then everyone was saying it, because it made them laugh, and all of a sudden my student had half a dozen kids saying the mean thing over and over, and laughing. It felt awful. He came back to class crying.

Fortunately, we have good grownups at our school who saw what was happening. They called the kids aside and talked to them, and had the kids talk to each other. The kids who had been mean saw that they hadn’t been playing, but bullying. Playing is when everyone is having fun. Bullying isn’t. Apologies were made and friends, mostly, were forgiven.

By the next day, it seemed that everyone was friends again, but it was a real lesson about human nature. We need to practice kindness everyday until it becomes our natural response. We need to practice on our children, teachers, parents, pets and house plants. We need to nurture and care for each other, not say things that will hurt others, and hold on to the connections between us.

It’s always been true, but more than ever, that teaching is less about curriculum and more about growing good people. It’s hard work.

Love,

Grandma Judy