Weekly Inspriation 9/10

Image result for be the person you needed when you were younger

I am not sure how I have not seen this quotation until this week, but it definitely inspires me. I don’t know if it’s attributed to anyone in particular, so I can’t properly cite it. If anyone knows of its origin, please tell me.

What a fantastic edict to issue. Working with and parenting teenagers can make me feel rather helpless. I’d like to step up like a superhero, put my fists on my hips and strike a power pose. Then announce, “I am here for you, young person! How can I solve this for you?”

Of course, that would be nearly the worst thing I could do. Instead, living as a steady presence, being available, and taking the time to form a relationship with teens is a much better way to help them. If you’ve done that, you can easily step in and help in a crisis, since you’re trusted. Just showing up every day and doing something to say, “I see you there. I have noticed that you are here. You are not invisible.” makes a huge difference.

Go forth this week and be the empathetic, understanding, accepting, and kind person that you wish you’d have encountered when you were young. We’ll make the world better that way…

I found this image here https://www.creativefabrica.com/product/be-the-person-you-needed-when-you-were-young/ through a google search



How Are Teens Supposed to Transition to Adulthood?

Hi there! I haven’t been posting here at the Hippodilly Circus lately, I know, but I have been thinking, which is always dangerous. Recently, I’ve experienced something of a eureka moment, and has given me a focus for writing here, which I plan to do much more often.

In my work as a teacher and now librarian as well as my life as a parent of 20, 16, and 14 year old kids, I have been thinking more and more about the “culture of teenagers” and how Americans think about and treat teens. Most American adults think little of or about teenagers. One search on google of “Teens” returns results about drugs, pregnancy, crime, and prison. Teens in groups are nearly always seen as threatening and to be avoided. Teen’s interests: music, books, films, and activities are dismissed as frivolous and childish.

I believe that this systemic judgment of people just because they are too old to be considered children and too young to be considered adults is patently unfair and has real and damaging consequences for everyone.

This is the “big idea” that I want to address here on this blog. Having a kind of essential question I believe will focus my writing and research and help me process the frustration I feel about how teenagers are treated.


Here are some of my thoughts.


-There is no transition for teenagers in this country – formal or otherwise. Teens go from having no choices – in their classes, the way they spend their time, etc. no real autonomy, to having full responsibility for everything when they leave high school for work or college. If they do have any freedom as teens, in their time and where they go, there’s nothing for them to do. There are no “places” for teenagers. The “adult world” wants nothing to do with them and doesn’t even want to see them anywhere. With nowhere to be and not much to do, many teenagers get into trouble or break rules/laws to entertain themselves. Barring that, they isolate themselves from the adult world and relate and spend time only with other teenagers. Some turn even more inward and mental health, relationships, and their self esteem plummet.


Then, many teens are punished and judged for not having the skills and temperament to navigate and be successful in the adult world.


As far as I can tell, nobody really thinks about teenagers, except as consumers and test takers to be managed. Yes, that may be a severe way to put it, but I really think it’s true.. There is a great deal of research, time and money spent on education – i.e. content knowledge shoved into them and “managing their behavior” i.e. alternative schools, discipline, and forcible conformity. There really seems to be no effort or interest in the structures that teens have to operate within and how those structures are set up for their failure.


I mean, high school has nothing to do with life. There are no programs to guide students into managing their lives and themselves, just a list of rules and batteries of tests. Then, after graduation, there’s nothing – no outside support, no assistance with managing and navigating the world. In a society where most parents and guardians work and no adult is home full time, eighteen year olds are just expected to move out and have their worlds organized without much support and without transition time.


I also wonder if other countries or cultures have processes for transitioning their young people through adolescence. I’d love to find out.


I don’t know where this idea or interest would take me. It could be a book, a thesis, or a presentation. I don’t have any solutions, but I think that it’s important. There are likely a million different factors that have contributed to our view and treatment of teens, and I am interested in finding out about them. There are also people who fight for and with teens, and I want to find them and learn what’s working.


It’s a lot, but it gives me a focus. I can start researching and finding out what’s going on “out there” and advocating. I think it’s the rabbit hole I belong in for a while.


I would really like your input. Let me know what you think. Let me know of programs, ideas, or people who are working in this



School Year Crunch…

We’ve reached the crazy point.  Teachers and students feel it acutely. Family members of teens feel it, too, though they may not know just what they’re feeling. Teens are sulkier, angrier, and more sleep deprived than they’ve been all school year.

The end of school is coming.

In elementary school it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time of school plays, assemblies, field trips, and end-of-year field days and parties.

In high school, the end is nigh and none of it’s fun.

First, there are the grades. Grades are dependent on the end of term tests, state testing, and end of year projects. All of my kids seem to have roughly two thousand of these tasks due in the coming weeks. They are stressful and feel enormous. Kids learn fast how to BS to make the word count requirements, to read their teachers’ minds when the directions are painfully confusing, and to not get suspended for losing their patience with students who are supposed to contribute to their group projects.

Next, there are the outside of school activities which ramp up. Prom, which practically requires a bank loan and a full time event planner for some teens is stressful and a huge production. Then, there are after school rehearsals, practices, and other extra “fun” things like sports banquets and never ending awards ceremonies.

All of these activities and requirements, like seemingly all teen “milestones,” come with unreachable expectations for everyone. Teachers expect that their students will wow them with amazing research, presentations, performances, and writing. Parents expect that their children will take their opportunities to shine and make everyone proud. Teens expect to experience John Hughes’ film level “life changing moments” full of romance, best friends, bullies realizing their errors, and long held grudges – dropped.

We know what happens when the reality meets the expectation. There are all-nighters to finish projects and to study for tests. There are scrambles to retrieve forgotten concert attire to the performances. The sleep deprivation leads to everyone having greatly diminished coping skills and meltdowns. Nothing seems to go right. Everyone ends up stressed.

Except if they’re lucky, teens have families and friends who are ready to help them see the long game and celebrate the small momentary victories with ice cream sundaes for dinner or a movie night. They get to dance with their friends and sing on stage.  Their projects and tests may not set any new grading records, but they get finished. The school year ends, and we get to start again after the summer. Hopefully those without support at home will find a way. Hopefully they’ll find support somewhere or find the strength to push themselves through.

So, I’m reminding you as much as I am reminding myself. Nothing that happens in the next six weeks will determine the rest of a teenagers life. Give yourself and everyone else a break.

You’re doing fine, and summer is coming…


The Road to the Library Has Been Full of Thorns and Potholes (and it’s not over, yet)    


It’s been a hard-fought journey, folks. Initially, all I wanted to be was an English teacher. I had some amazing English teachers in my high school career who let me explore literature and make up my own mind about what I read and how I “analyzed” it. I became an English major because I loved to read and nothing excited me more than a good book.

After my kids were all in school, I decided to go back to school to earn my MEd. In Secondary Education, English. It was long and expensive journey, and student teaching was a truly horrible experience, but I made it.

Then I found it very difficult to get a job as an English teacher. My first gig was teaching one 7th grade remedial reading class, one 8th grade remedial reading class, one Peer Mediation class (for which I had no interest or background), one 7th grade remedial MATH class, and one 8th grade remedial MATH class. I was hired two weeks before school started and I was given no classroom. It was completely crazy. I hadn’t taken a math class since 1988 when I dropped trigonometry to take painting the next semester with Coach Mann. I was the only option for them and they were the only option for me, so I took it on.

I don’t know if I did a very good job, but I jumped at it and I really enjoyed the kids. I even enjoyed the ones who drove me nuts. The rest of the staff at the school were fantastic, and I made some great friends. It was a fun and challenging year. Each class I taught was only a semester long, so I didn’t get to know the kids as well as I would have liked, but it was great. The next year, I taught the remediation reading classes and three sections of a remediation writing class. It was great. I taught remediation reading full time for the next two years. Then, I decided that I wanted a change.

What nobody told me about teaching is how bizarrely lonely it actually is. Because I was a remediation teacher of electives, I was not able to attend any department meetings where I would have been able to talk to adults and compare notes on what was working or not working and how to do my job better. I didn’t have any opportunity to collaborate with anyone. I cycled between time with 15 frustrated, energetic, and entertaining teenagers to time in my classroom completely alone. Everyone in the building was so busy with their own classes and planning that I ended up alone, unless… I ventured into the library. Ms. McKnight was often there and not too busy to talk books, gossip, or just listen. She seemed to know what was going on in the building, she always had ideas for teaching, and she got to spend her days surrounded by all those books!

I left public school and spent a year working in a private school that I thought would be revolutionary and different. It was one of the hardest nine months of my life. The school had only sixteen students and touted “individualized” education. Our Head of School was dramatically and for fabricated reasons fired during the second week of school. The whole school year was an exercise in working for under horrible, terrifying, and destructive circumstances while trying to work with students and parents. By May of last year, we were told that the school was bankrupt and couldn’t pay us our last 3 months of salary. The parents all gave more money than was reasonable and paid us directly, and the School for Tomorrow collapsed.

I started taking courses for my Library Media Specialist endorsement last January through UVA Wise online. I took two classes in the Spring and had three courses left for the fall. I spent August through December of 2016 taking three courses, through three Universities using three different course platforms – Moodle, Blackboard, and Collab – as well as completing a semester long practicum.  So, I had to take and pay for fifteen credit hours on my own dime.

It was so much work.

I also managed to get hired at an Elementary School as their librarian. There is a shortage of qualified librarians in Fairfax County Public Schools. I was the school’s only option, basically and they mine. I began work and training as a new librarian, but soon there were complications.

Because the school is a Title 1 school, I had to be hired as a substitute because I didn’t have my endorsement finished, I am not “highly qualified” despite my MEd. In Secondary Education – English. I was hired as a long term sub, but soon figured out that I was being paid as a short term sub – $14.63/hour. That’s a pay cut of enormous proportions, and I still had to pay for my courses.

The fight began to get me paid as long term sub at $20.14/hour. It was confusing and long, but I am now paid at that rate, but of course only for the days we have school and for some reason I only get paid for 7 hours/day. My last paycheck was $495 because – Winter Break.

Anyway, so all of my paperwork for my endorsement (the additional license I need to be a librarian) has been sent to the Virginia Department of Education.  It’s been there for two weeks and it hasn’t been processed. I keep checking the website to search and see if they’ve added the endorsement to my license, but so far – nothing.

To say that I am frustrated would be a gross understatement. I want to be a librarian. I just want to work and be paid as a professional. I haven’t been able to do that for eight months now and I don’t know when I will be able to again.

It’s making me a little crazy.

Stay tuned.


Personal Achievements!

Work as an Elementary school librarian is never dull and is often hilarious.

One of the most “exciting” kindergarten classes came to the library today. It took me a while to get them to calm down and then I started reading a book to them. When I finished, I told them, “Wow, guys you did a great job. You really behaved well and you were quiet.”

One of the kids looked at me in shock and pointed his thumb at his chest and asked, “Me?”

I answered, “Yes, you too.”

He looked at his classmates ecstatically and said, “Guys! I was quiet!”


The lesson, take your achievements where you can, folks.


An idea so crazy it might work?

Well dear readers, it’s been a while. I’ve been working myself silly with starting a new job as an Elementary School librarian while at the same time, I’ve been taking three college courses from three universities which each use their own student work platform and I completed a 6 credit practicum/internship as a librarian. Suffice it to say, it was a stressful and a ton of work, but I have finished the courses and the endorsement paperwork is at the university and will hopefully be making its way through the Virginia Department of Education. Then, I will be a fully certified school librarian! Yippee!

Now that I have been working in an elementary school for many months again, I’ve started to think about preteens and kids who all become teens. In the past five years, I have been fully focused on teens as a unique age group with their own challenges and strengths.

The school where I work is a Title 1 school.  For our school, that means that 72% of our students receive free or reduced lunch and 54% are English language learners. It’s a diverse group of students in a diverse community. We have great programs that aim to help parents learn English, provide financial and counseling assistance to families, and soon we’ll have an after school program to offer enrichment to some of our students.

The library is right next to our Parent Liason’s office. She works hard every day to connect parents and students to community resources and coordinates a weekend food program for families to help them get the food they need over weekends and breaks when kids don’t receive free breakfast and lunch.

At the same time, I see parents who need more. Kids who need more support and more connection. Many of the staff at our school would like to do more to have students ready to read with a stable place to live, secure food sources, and parents who are financially secure.

What’s missing in much of this, I think is an intentional community resource. The Elementary school is where so many families who are new to this country learn customs and exchange customs with classmates and other families. It’s where some parents find help and others march on seemingly alone.

Why couldn’t our schools become centers for community resources? So many parents have to come to school to get help, ask questions, meet teachers, and other parents and even use our school based child care, wouldn’t it make sense to have a formal community center located in the school? I know that there are many resources throughout the community, but transportation to many places is so time consuming and difficult wouldn’t it make more sense to have one place that is at least a starting point to find resources? Wouldn’t that reach more families directly? It would build trust within the community and within the school community. I don’t for a second think I am the only one or the first one to think of this, but it did occur to me independently and now I can’t get it out of my head.

If we did this, we could then have similar services in middle and high schools. Resources to help families in financial need, but also to help with counseling, finding activities and mentors, and whatever else makes sense for the community where the school is located.

For one thing, many of these services already exist. One of the biggest obstacles is tracking down the information and then the people who can help.

Schools seem like exactly the right places to center family health and well-being resources. If it was the norm to go to a school to find the right help, stigmas might be erased and school staff and parents might see each other in a less adversarial way.

The more I think about this, the more strongly I feel.

We all need help. We can all offer help.

Sometimes finding each other is the hardest part.


Starting the School Year – As a Lively Librarian…

To quote a television show theme “It’s a Different World than where you come from.”

I have taught at three different schools in the last five years, so starting at a new school isn’t a foreign experience for me. I told my husband that I was working hard at making the adjustment and he just looked at me and said, “You should be used to it at this point.”

It’s not just the school that’s different. I’ve changed from Middle to Elementary school and from a classroom teacher to a teacher librarian.

The biggest adjustment is the schedule. Not even the schedule itself, but the fact that the schedule is very much a living and changing thing. I have realized that my best strategy is to slow down and make transitions mindfully rather than quickly. That helps enormously.

Another huge help is having a library assistant who has been in the school for years and is generous in her patience and in information.

I’ll admit that I didn’t feel so very lively when I headed home each evening this week. I was in bed by 9:30 each night!

There are some terrific highlights to share. The week was exhausting, but exciting.

  • The kids are so darned cute! Seriously, the kindergartners are still so little and have great enthusiasm and express all of their thoughts, which is hilarious at times.
  • The monarch butterfly caterpillars I took to the library are a HUGE hit. The kids find them fascinating. They could look at them all day. I can convince most kids to sit still while I read to them if I promise them time at the end to watch the caterpillars.
  • The students and the teachers view the library as a great asset and help to their learning. It’s so great to be a “destination teacher” in the school building.

Those are just a few highlights. The kids want books. They want to read. They love being there. Everything else will work out with some work and relationship building.

One book related highlight: During a Kindergarten lesson, I learned that one of the students in the class is named Kwame and is from Ghana.  I was able to tell him that one of my favorite authors is named Kwame – Kwame Alexander.  His face lit up and he was thrilled to know that someone with the same name as him has written books.

Here’s a slide show of some great moments from the week!

There are photos from our Back to School Night and a photo of the beautiful flower arrangement that my in-laws sent to celebrate my start as a Lively Librarian.

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