Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why teachers deserve more money than CEO’s

Monday night…6:00…Tasby Lions are getting ready to play Rusk Middle School in football. The stands are almost empty (transportation issues, working parents, and the cost of the games don’t allow for most students to attend). Yet the full cheerleading squad of about 10 girls is going strong. Teachers by day, Ms. Cameron and Ms. Thomas, encourage and coach the girls; LCC teacher, Chief Brown, sits in the stands watching every play of the team and shouting words of encouragement; Assistant Principal Del Rio watches the game; three male teachers by day coach the team.

At halftime, I decided to move over to the girls volleyball game. As we walked in, the Tasby principal, Mr. Mays, was standing, cheering from the sidelines. The girls were doing well! Coach Fogelsong was standing, smiling, and mouthing the chants the girls had made up to do every time they scored a point. Ms. Dominguez, a TA during the day, was sitting on the bench right alongside, smiling and encouraging as well. Ms. Barnes, another Assistant Principal, came in during the second game to watch.
"So what?" you might say. "It’s their job." Right?

Not exactly. Their job is to teach. During the day. They get to work around 7:00 am…yet at 8:00 pm, they were all still going strong. I didn’t hear a word of complaint. Every single teacher I saw was excited, encouraging, and had a smile on their face. None looked exhausted or were grumbling, “I’m ready to go home!”

The other thing that struck me is that most of us have down time during our day. We may have clients to visit or meetings to attend. Many of us do have a lot on our plate. But think about teachers. They have about 100 clients that they see EVERY SINGLE DAY. They meet with their clients for seven (7!!) hours each day with *maybe* a 45 minute break to plan and prepare (or go to the bathroom or eat, whichever they prefer).

Of course, some meetings can be simply attended, but the meetings we are leading, we need to prepare for ahead of time. So when do teachers possibly prepare for these all-day, back-to-back meetings for over 100 clients?? (Did I mention that “the boss” expects them to not only conduct a meeting, but to actually move these 100 students forward by fairly significant lengths each day??). Well, it’s obvious that it’s impossible to prepare for those meetings during that seven-hour day. Preparation needs to be done before or after these seven-hour meetings.

Oh, wait… there are other meetings with the clients “attorneys” (aka: principals, grade level chair meetings, Site-Based Decision Making meetings, parent meeteings…) that must take place after hours because it’s impossible to have those meetings while meeting directly with the clients. And those "attorneys" often can’t meet until 6:00 at night because they have other obligations. Plus, those meetings must be prepared for as well.

So when does a teacher plan and prepare for the next seven-hour meeting? Oh…that would be after he/she finishes for the day…which is often after 6:00 or 7:00. And, as we saw at the ball game, those teachers were busy coaching, encouraging, and engaging the crowd in cheerleading for their school. I got home at 8:30 that night…and the coaches, teachers, and principals hadn’t even left yet.

Being an attorney, an engineer, or even a doctor may be a difficult job. But each of those jobs has factored in time to write notes and documentation, plan and prepare, and read and research for the next meeting so that they are properly equipped to help their client. We recognize the importance of that time. The teaching profession doesn’t have that same luxury…and is the only one I can think of at the moment that doesn’t allow that time.

As I watched those teachers and talked to a few of them during the game, they beamed with pride and reminisced about other students who had played at Tasby that are now in high school or college. They should be commended for their unwavering dedication and their smiles while doing it.

And yes, for what they do and how they do it, they deserve to be making more than top CEOs.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tip Maids for Service

Do you tip hotel housekeepers?

Marriott and Maria Shriver have teamed up to bring attention to the maids who clean our hotel rooms. They are [rightly] concerned that maids aren't receiving their true value. To demonstrate their concern, they have started a campaign to leave envelopes in hotel rooms so that the maids who clean our rooms are recognized and valued for their hard work.

On one hand, I'm all for it! We've become accustomed to it with restaurant servers. In fact, it would be very rude and wrong to not tip at a restaurant. However, in a hotel, I forget to do this all of the time. Part of it is because I'm not sure if we're supposed to tip maids and part of it is, in my hurry to leave, I just forget. I've worked as a hotel maid before. I know the work is hard. I want to acknowledge the people that do that hard work.

In a Think Progress article, they explain:
The gratuity guide from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry trade group, suggests tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, left in a daily envelope with a note. But Cornell University Professor Michael Lynn told the AP that his research shows that 30 percent of guests don’t tip. Housekeeping staff makes up the largest share of employees at Marriott hotels, numbering 20,000 in the U.S. and Canada.
Housekeeping isn’t considered a tipped occupation, so workers have to be paid at least the minimum wage. But the pay still tends to be very low. Median pay for all maids and housekeepers is $9.41 an hour. While some unionized Marriott housekeepers make $18.30 an hour, they’re an outlier: GlassDoor reports that their hourly pay is about $8.32 an hour, while a 2006 ranking said they make just $22,075 a year

But then another thought hit me...

"Wait a minute! Why am I being expected to pay the maids??" When I stay at a hotel, I pay the bill. The bill is what I would assume the company uses to pay the staff that it takes to support the hotel. But, it seems that, once again, the high level executives are more interested in maintaining their salary and pushing down the cost of paying their workers to the people who are making much less than them.

Yes, we're used to it with restaurants. Heck, most servers only get paid $2.13/hour! ...and that's a legal wage! I can understand tipping your hair dresser because theirs is usually a self-employed job. I feel similarly about cab drivers and any other profession where the person is working on their own to provide a service. But the industry (i.e. high level executives) has begun convincing us that we need to tip (aka: pay) airport skycaps, shuttle drivers, and anyone they don't want to so that they can maintain their own salary.

Somewhat different, but with the same result, are companies like Walmart as well, who don't expect us to tip their people, but is a billion (or is it trillion??) dollar company that pays their workers minimally, which then results in many of their workers applying for food stamps and government assistance. The assistance they receive (which is fully justified because of their salary level) comes right from yours and my paycheck in the form of taxes. Once again, the executives have pushed their costs onto us.

By all means, tip the maid. They deserve it. But don't get sucked in to Marriott or Maria Shriver's seeming empathy. True empathy and understanding would be holding the hotel chain accountable to paying their workers the pay they believe they deserve instead of expecting someone else to foot the bill.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Homework Help

School is back in session...

The professor goes over something quickly in class, assigns it, and lets you out of class early. Once you get back to your room, you sit down to do that easy assignment and then....

Wait!! None of this makes sense!! How the heck am I supposed to do this?? (call friend #1, #2, and #3...nope...they don't get it either).

But there's hope...and help! Watch the video and learn how you can get the help you need!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

College Application Fee Waivers

High School Seniors (and some Juniors)!! Very important!!

Seniors!! If you took the SAT last year, you will receive four (4)...just FOUR!!! application fee waivers! That means that if you apply to 5, 6, 7, or 10 colleges, you will NOT get fee waivers for any over four (unless the colleges themselves decide to waive your fees...which is a whole different entry). My suggestion...begin thinking now(!) about the top FOUR colleges you want to attend (1 safety, 2 target, and 1 reach school). 

There is no need to apply to a bunch of colleges and spend money you could use for college expenses. Save your money! You'll need it for books, food, and all kinds of other unexpected expenses in college next year. (And if your parents or others want to pay the money for the extra application fees, gladly accept their money and put it in a savings account so you'll have extra food and supplies next year. That $40 can go a long way!

Here is the email I received about the College Board process:
New method for providing fee waivers for college admissions applications!! The College Board will now provide 4 admissions fee waivers directly to students who took the SAT/Subject Tests and used a test fee waiver. These waivers can be used at participating colleges and on the Common Application.

Students will receive correspondence directly to them starting now that will provide the instructions about how to access and use the waivers. The Frequently Asked Questions ( document contains excellent information about the process. A few waivers will still be sent to school counselors this year as well. Students do not need the approval from a counselor to use the waivers provided to them. They will need to check the Participating Colleges listing to verify that the colleges they are applying to accept these waivers. The waivers can also be used by students using the Common Application with a few additional steps.

If students are using the testing fee waivers as juniors, they will receive their four college application waivers at the beginning of their senior year.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Creating a Homework Habit

Needing something to help your child (or yourself!) with that dreaded (for both parent and child) homework/work time? Think about creating a Homework Habit.

Read the article here:
Creating a Homework Habit

What are the take aways from this?

  • "Create a 'homework habit' by scheduling 10 minutes a day per grade on weekdays that will always be spent on homework or, if there is no homework or homework is finished early, on reading."
  • "Homework isn’t a punishment." Homework creates a structured, undisturbed time for learning that your child will be able to use throughout life and on into college.
  • "Parents need to step back from focusing on the outcome — the completed, corrected assignment — and focus on the effort.” Help your child by helping them realize they can do the work themselves.
  • "Set[s] a timer. And then — and this is key — when the time is up, if the homework isn’t done, you tell your child to close the books and walk away. This creates a sense of purpose for the time frame you've, it creates a sense of life balance as your child begins learning that work, work, work is not the only part of life (though, I would say, our society tries more and more to teach us it is.).
by: Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman Rebecca Jackson Robert Pressman 

Note: This does not just apply to homework and is not just for elementary children. The same can apply to college students, adults who take work home, or adults in college. Undistracted, limited time frame moments to get things done could be helpful to us all. 

(Making a mental note of this to myself!)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pretending to be a Mom

When I was 23 years old, I arrived in Dallas, Texas to start my first "real" job after college--a job with pay, benefits, and responsibilities. My job was running the food pantry at our non-profit organization, but with that also came an introduction to a wonderful church family. What doesn't necessarily come as any surprise, as I got involved with the church, I interacted with the kids.

I've always liked kids. For some reason, kids have always been intriguing and precious to me. Growing up, I would take the babies off the parents hands after church and play with them until the parents were ready to leave. I played with dolls until I was in 4th grade. I started babysitting at an early age. I started a small business of teaching kids piano lessons when I was in high school. Parents have always entrusted me with their kids and I've always felt this innate connection with them for some reason.

I always assumed I would have children. In fact, ask my mom...I had a complete wedding planned out and just knew by the age of 21 I would have my 2.5 kids (thank God that didn't happen! Twenty-one?! What was I thinking???). Life didn't turn out the way I had planned (does it ever??). However, as is always the case, what I didn't plan, but what God and the Greater Universe had planned for my life has been just as good...and most days, I think, much better.

While running the food pantry at 23, I interacted with the kids at church. I also moved into running our summer program and soon became the Director of Education, a perfectly suited role for what I didn't even realize was in my future. Yet, I never had kids.

Over the last nearly 20 years that I have interacted with kids, so many of them have allowed me to push them (figuratively, of course), give them advice, scold them, reprimand them, get so upset with them I couldn't see straight, do all kinds of things that parents do and so many things that parents shouldn't (like drive off and leave them to walk home because I was so mad at their actions...though, I *did* go back and get them after allowing them to panic for a while) and yet time after time, they continued coming back. My own mother commented to a friend of mine years ago after hearing me rant and scold our entire summer program of kids, "I don't know why these kids like her!" I have to laugh and wonder the same thing sometimes.

But they do. They call (most of them only when they want something...sound familiar parents??). They text Happy Mother's Day messages. They invite me to their graduations, confirmations, baby showers, weddings, and teacher appreciation days. They appease me and let me take lots of photos of them. They listen to my "life lessons" and often even remember them. They give me credit for helping them with things that I already know they could have done without me.

I know today is about mothers. It's about thanking our mothers. I appreciate my mother for setting the example of how to take people in and how to treat people. I thank her for opening up our house so many times to countless preachers, mission groups, baby showers, wedding showers, pool parties, sleepovers, and whatever else...and always providing home cooked meals and family dinners. And, yes, I did send her a card, donate to her favorite charity, and thank her for that.

But today I can't help but be grateful and even emotional for so many kids out there who have graciously allowed me to be their mother...even when they already had their own mom and family...and I thank their parents for allowing me to play a mom role, too. Not only that, both kids and parents/families often welcomed me in as a natural addition to their own family. For a person who loves to be in control and was pretty darn sure she had her whole life mapped out, complete with husband and kids, the non-biological kids in my life make me feel pretty special. They've made me laugh; they've made me cry (tears of pain and tears of joy)...yet every moment has been worth it.

So, today, I say THANK YOU. Tiffany, Gary, Slick, Whitney, Krista, Bre'Anna, Ruth, Maia, Sita, Pratiksha, Sarada, Aarati, Sharif, Monique, Nazareth, Gustavo, Fabiola, Karina, Leidy, Samantha, Deja, Beju, Janet, Tameshia, JC, Javier, Guillermo, Nalleli, Celia, Lucila, Lizbeth de S., Lizbeth F., Cristian, Candace, Carisse, Jessica, Maria, Phul Maya, Dezaree', Vanessa, Nathan, Deyanira, DaQwalon, Katrina, Lewanna, Lemone, Jordan, Anabeli, Monica, Alan, Juan Antonio, Juan Pablo, Bryce, Brandy, Star, Tara, Daniela, Reneishia, Ashley, Jessica, Robert, Kashia, Ravyn, Twasanna, Erika, Rocio, Jazz, D'andra, Alondra, Juana, Ana, Johnas, Bubba, Moo Meh, Eh Kaw, Jorge, Bidhya, Neema, Kieva, Jordy, Gabriel, America, Nguyen, Shatavies, Tracey, Erica, Tyree, Pook, Quinton, Lilia, Jazmine, Juan, Yuri, Htee Shee, Veronica, Belem, Massa, Sunita, Bryan, Sui, Joseph, Julia, Cocoa, ShaSha, Fredrick, Adrian, ...and, oh my goodness, so many more! I know I've left off many. Feel free to reprimand me if your name isn't on the list. I've tried to remember as many of you as I could. Plus, there are so many parents I could mention who have allowed me to be in the lives of their children as well: Imtiaz and Aisha, Sheri and Mark, Juany, Stacey, Georgia, Ama Fay, Griselda, Jessica, ...and so many more than I can't name off the top of my head.

The things you do...the people you've become...make me proud every single day. Thank you for allowing me to pretend to be a mother all of these years and enjoy those moments with you. I am forever grateful.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Thank a Teacher

I'm getting ready to head to Tasby Middle School for their very first "She Matters" conference for their middle school girls.

It's Saturday. The conference starts at 9:00. As a speaker, I know I need to be there by about 8:30 to make sure all of my stuff works and that everything is set up. I'm dragging my feet thinking, It's Saturday! I'll get there as late as possible. Ms. Small has assured me that she'll be there by 8:00 in case any of us want to arrive that early to get set up.

A week from Friday, there will be another event at Tasby. They're going to have their very first Career Day. Since it's their first year, they are starting small...with just the 8th graders. Ms. Childers, the librarian, is in charge of that one. She is recruiting doctors, nurses, scientists, and I can't remember the other fields, to speak to the kids in a hopefully engaging way. She has struggled to get people to commit. Many are "too busy." She keeps working...making phone calls, sending emails, asking for more contacts. Yet, with all of that, the other thing she is trying to do is to get someone to sponsor goodie bags for the speakers so she can thank them for coming. (the school doesn't have the funds to pay for thank you gifts)

As I thought about my lethargy on a Saturday morning, it then dawned on me... this makes for a 6-day work week for Ms. Small. Not only has she worked 40 hours/week teaching kids, for the last month or so, she's been also planning this conference for the girls. And it's not only Ms. Small who will be at the school today. Many other teachers will arrive (as they do every Saturday to teach Saturday school) to complete their 6-day work week.

I thought about how I've hesitated when Ms. Childers asks me to speak on Fridays (which is usually my day off) and how she's so gracious and apologetic when she really needs a speaker and has to ask me despite knowing it's my day off. Yet, she's the one going above and beyond to plan this out for our children...yes, OUR children...OUR future leaders.

Not only should I not be complaining, I should be taking Ms. Small and Ms. Childers thank you gifts for working so hard to provide OUR children with a vision for their future instead of expecting them to thank me.

If you're ever asked to speak at a school, I would encourage you to prepare well, make it engaging and enjoyable...and be sure to thank the teachers who invited you. Maybe even take them a gift card or something. They deserve it. They're working hard to make the world a better place for all of us.

P.S. And if any of you are interested in speaking...about your career, your pathway to college, your experiences growing up, let me know. I'll pass the information on to some teachers who just might want to utilize your experience one of these days.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Realizations of Cultural Isolation

I have one of the best jobs around. I have the privilege of working with middle and high school students from all over the globe. Almost every single student in our Eagle Scholars college readiness program speaks at least two languages...and many of them speak three or four. The large majority of our students are either immigrants or refugees.

I am fascinated by my job and honored by the experience of getting to learn from young people from so many different countries. I often think how blessed I am to have been put in a position that allows me such rich, cultural interaction.

But, the truth is, all of my infatuation with my job and the cultures around me does not take into account what they might be feeling...which might not be such elation.

The other night, we attended a performance in the arts district. I usually take 15-20 students to these performances and they absolutely love them. This performance was in the Performing Arts Center and we were all seated in the one-person seats on the edges (a little different from our usual seats in the Winspear that places us all together).

At intermission, one of my students decided he wasn't thrilled with being by himself so he moved his chair around (I never realized the back and side chairs were movable!) to go sit by some other girls in the group. They immediately told him to move his chair back to where it belonged and came and told me. I, of course, responded as I usually do, with a harsh, "We don't ever move chairs in a place like this!"

Let me step aside and give some background for a minute...

The student in this situation is, by my own uneducated diagnosis, probably autistic. He is absolutely brilliant in math and a super sweet kid who always has a smile on his face. I'm not sure if his autism or just his personality, but he's always wandering off. He's never quite gotten lost, but I am constantly having to yell out for him and ask where he went. He always saunters back with an expression like, "Yes, Ms. Janet?" as if he were standing there all along. His somewhat quirky behaviors often get him picked on at school. I've seen people say things to him. I've scolded our own Eagle Scholars for refusing to partner with him and made it clear that their behavior toward him would NEVER happen again. I know I can monitor it somewhat in our program, but it doesn't change what happens to him every other minute of the day.

He always shows up for our events and is very involved in our program. He ended up in the program by default, because one of the other kids chosen to be in the program didn't show up. I am constantly thinking how glad I am that we ended up getting him in. 

He is Vietnamese. The only Vietnamese student in our program and, if not the only one at school, he must be one of the few. He talks very fast and with a strong accent, which makes it difficult to understand his constant questions, which are sometimes relevant and sometimes not necessarily on topic. His mom is learning English but doesn't have the ability, at this point, to communicate really well. His dad does speak English and is an advocate for his son, but he works a lot. His family is super sweet. His mom makes and sends me sweets all of the time and is always so thankful when I take him home when his dad is still working late at night.

Back to the story at hand...

After I scolded him for moving the chairs, he asked if he could sit somewhere else. There were open seats beside myself and another student so I invited him to be by us. He left an empty seat in between. When I encouraged him to move closer, he shook his head and then I saw his face squinch together as the tears start to come. 

It was a painful cry to watch because it was obvious it came from very deep inside. The tears started to fall. I immediately placed my hand on his arm and asked what was wrong. He couldn't respond. I squatted down beside him and continued with a barrage of questions, "What is it??" "What happened??" "Was it what I said??" Maybe because I was persistent and maybe because he thought he might have a shot at me being able to help, he finally said something. 

Between the tears, the way he talks fast, and his accent, I couldn't understand him. I was frustrated at my inability to hear and understand inability to speak the language of each of the kids I work with every day. I asked him to repeat. I still couldn't understand. I asked one more time. Still couldn't. I started asking questions of what I thought he might have said. He shook his head, "no." He finally said,

"I'm sad."

My heart sunk. That was hard to hear. The boy who endures everything with a big smile on his face is hurting. He smiles through his pain. I knew this must be the case, but seeing it was one of the most painful things I've had to endure recently. 

"Talk to me," I explained. "What is it?" 

"I don't have friends," he told me. "I thought they were my friends, but even they aren't," referring to the girls who had made him move his chair away from them.

I sat by him and tried to listen to him and console him as much as possible. By this time, the girls had come back and were immediately concerned. "What happened?" they asked. When the time was right, I pulled them aside and explained to them, "He's a person with feelings, too. He may smile all of the time, but he gets his feelings hurt. I want you guys to be nicer to him. Include him. Not just now, but more often in everything. He needs friends, too." 

Since all of the girls were Nepali and are here through refugee status, they began to nod. One explained, "Yeah, I went through that in fifth grade. I know how that feels." Another agreed, "Yeah, me too." They're good girls. My hope is that they will show leadership. My hope is that our Eagle Scholars program can be the place where he finds acceptance of who he is. My hope is that he feels love more than rejection so it balances out the pain. 

What I began to realize is that while I love saying we have so many different cultures in our program, being here from another country can be terribly isolating and painful. Sure, being in the United States may ultimately offer them more opportunities. Sure, being in the United States provides them an opportunity at education. But think about this...

A family who comes on refugee status has to immediately find a job to sustain themselves. No one pays them to learn English first. Many of our parents work two or three jobs and have no time to learn English. The spouses who either don't work or take the time to attend classes still find it very hard (statistics show it's much more difficult for an adult to learn another language than it is for a child). The children do pretty well on picking up the language, especially when we consider that the schools bilingual programs are Spanish/English...not Nepali, Vietnamese, Somali, Burmese, Chin, Persian, or any other number of languages our Eagle Scholars speak. Despite the fact that the children are learning the language quicker, they are still children and need the adults in their lives to help them negotiate this new life. 

Consider the fact that yes, the refugees and immigrants coming here now have an opportunity at a better education than in their country (and, trust me, they are extremely grateful for that opportunity!), but what if they have some kind of learning difference such as autism?! The parents or even the teachers may not realize that it is something that can be worked with in a different way. The parents may not know how to advocate and the teachers may think that the child is just different because of his/her cultural background. Even if the parents think there might be something different about their child or even if they want to explain what they know, they can't because of the language barrier. If a teacher (or non-profit worker like myself) wants to talk to the parents to gain a better understanding of the child and figure out how they can help the parents help their child, again, the language barrier makes that truly difficult.

Being an immigrant...being a isolating. My prayer this morning is for people who feel isolated because their situation is difficult for others to understand. My prayer is that I (and many others) will recognize this isolation and do everything possible to break down those barriers...find to learn a different language or two...advocate in the schools...make the families feel welcome and accepted and find ways to communicate. My prayer is for the middle schooler whose pain came through in his tears. My prayer is that his good days outweigh his bad and that we can be a program of light in his life. My prayer is that he finds some friends...some good friends...who will support and accept him.

And as we say at my church, "Lord, hear our prayers."