Thursday, February 26, 2015


"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:12

"Gip," I groaned, "I just c-a-n-'t touch," I spluttered. I huffed in disgust. I was centimeters away from this beauty.

I had far surpassed all the other qualifying marks except for the sit and reach. This task required stretching a distance beyond our toes (while the soles of our feet were against a walled box) to touch a certain point on the meter stick and hold it for 2+ seconds.
"Gip" as we affectionately called our P.E. teacher who also coached us in various sports and through life, shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know Teres, you slam dunked every other event. You must meet all the requirements. The red patch isn't so bad."
"Unacceptable Gip!" I countered.
My friend Robin chimed in, "What if I push on her back?"
"NO WAY!" I had bumped hips on the blocks beneath the basketball hoop enough with this girl to know her pushing on my back may very well result in the sproing of not one, but BOTH of my hamstrings. Then came the voice of my gentle angel of physical redemption.

"I will do it Teres."

Yes! Nechia would be the ideal candidate to provide just enough of a nudge to stretch me to my toes, victory, and the BLUE first presidential fitness award. She delicately placed both hands on my shoulder blades. I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as I strained towards my toes. By Gip, we had CONTACT! Nechia released her hands, I gritted my teeth and HELD IT until Gip barked out, "Okay, GOOD!" 
As I released the stretch, admittedly it sent me to the John Cougar Mellencamp realm as it "hurt so good." However my tensile task was complete. The award, certificate and accomplishment were all mine. Well sort of all mine. When I couldn't do it on my own a "second strand" of a comrade came along side of me (or in this case behind me). This wasn't the first or last time Nechia came through for me either. I thank our "Third Strand" Father for her friendship and placing her on my life's path. Good friends to share the journey are one of God's greatest gifts. These people push us to stretch to the greatest length and end our bodies, minds and souls can reach. When first moving to Hanoi I had a great group to expand and stretch my physical strength in Amy, Rahan, Francisca and Kiley. Mentally and soulfully I have been stretched by Pete, Nechia, David, Mary Jane, as well as my students past and present. And sometimes we are fortunate enough to share a bond with beautifully rare people who stretch us in all three realms like my running partner Jill and some particular PLN friends who know just when to nudge me.

Here is to breathing the Spirit through the push to take us to ends we could not imagine or stretch on our own!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monkeying around with Monikers 🙈🙉🙊

From childhood on I was taught to be polite. I was consistently reminded to use the best most respectful title when speaking of folks or addressing individuals. For example garbage men should be called "sanitational engineers." I should never call an adult by their first name (even if it WAS their given name). I learned in Sunday school that the Israelites held so much honor and respect for God they would not speak the name YHWH (Yahweh), but instead use Adonai. One teacher along the way even had we catecumins learn all the variance names of God based on attributes. I have grown up knowing that language, from addressing folks to naming entities, matters. One realm in which I had NOT considered this though was the nomenclature of HOMEWORK. During #AsiaEd slow chat this week we have been considering discussing, and debating homework. When the question was volleyed to me as to what alternative name teachers could use for homework I struggled. "Learning extensions?" (Kinda sounded like an alternative hairstyle) "Development opportunities?" (Am I teaching or persuading my students to purchase land assets?) I finally decided I would ask the experts--my students! 

In the final few moments of fifth period today I enlisted the help of my seventh and eighth graders. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I need your help with a real world problem." I explained the Twitter conundrum. I then asked them as an exit pass to send me an email with their ideas as to what homework should be, and what teachers should call it. I requested tweet reinforcement. What I received, while too long to tweet, was captured candor, wit, and more food for thought. I had to capture it correctly and that demanded a post. My wonderment and joy with this group never ceases to amaze me. As I read and re-read their thoughts certain literary quotes sprang to mind as categorical matches.

"'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself thou...O! Be some some other name? That which we call a rose by any other name smell as sweet?" 
       Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Act II, Scene II line 42 & 46-48

Juliet is in turmoil. Why must Romeo bear the surname abhorred by her family? What IS a name anyway? Call her man something else! He is still HIM! Some of my students had Juliet mindsets. Let us think deeply (or lightly) as we consider what is IN a name. Homework is homework. These students felt the flower of homework, while remaining true to what it IS, could be called differently like perhaps:

"Home study because study sounds better than work." 
"Autonomy, because it is a student's responsibility to study his/herself."
"Homework should consist of a 'learning extension' which means by my definition means that homework should be a series of fun activities that develop our brains. I think it should be like an extended lesson that you did in class. So, yay, more fun time in school! There should be a limit to how long it should take. Like work 30 mins on it and if you don't finish it just show how much you did in that time limit."

Another literary quote category students fell into was stating that there is a power or persuasion (maybe even a connotation) inherent in what we call homework. How teachers package and promote the homework counts.

"Names have power." -Rick Riordan, The Lightening Thief

"I think homework should be called something different because homework is just depressing. You say homework and the whole class groans. Honestly I don't think homework should exist, because at home you have more distractions. I think we should call homework 'extra work' because it is extra from the classroom and extra work sounds better and more exciting in my opinion."

"A specially written set of challenging questions for each and everybody."

Still other students were more inclined towards Dumbledore's beliefs in their thinking about homework. Address the phenomenon directly. Not naming it head on will only evoke terror and perpetuate fear.

"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"It is homework. That is what it should be called."

"Work at home."

"Extra work."

"Homework shouldn't exist--doodey." (Not to be confused with duty).

"I don't think changing the name of homework will change anything. It is pretty self explanatory. It is work you do at home." 

"I think we should call homework 'painful experience.'

"I would rename homework 'no-game-time-tonight-for-you-kids-I-am-evil-also-sleep-late-and-don't-grow-tall-work.'"

"I think it should still be called 'homework,' or else teachers will be plain out lying to us poor, poor students. I thought we agreed not to do that Mrs. Winterstein."

Lastly the students who implored teachers to not hide behind higher purposes when assigning homework.
If we, as teachers, stay true to the intent and "higher calling" of the homework imperative all is well, but don't pretend homework is for student betterment if it is mere busywork.

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under he shield of law and in the name of justice." 
-Charles de Montesquieu 

"I personally think that homework should be related to the matter and change us to evolve in our knowledge and wisdom by the time we get through with it. Homework should teach us something fun in a concise way. I will call homework 'Excruciatingly Tiring, Long Work of Humanity.'"

"I think homework should consist of the least amount of work possible that still can help me get at least marginally smarter. I think you should call it: Basically Everything You Learned At School-Home Edition (Torture Expansion Pack included)."

It is easy to see why despite the fact I am NOT a morning person, waking every day to set out on the continued learning journey with these students is a joy. So what did I take away? The continued dialogue is essential. Not just dialogue teacher to teacher, but most importantly teacher to student. Additionally one may use the moniker "sanitational engineer," but at the end of the day that individual is still hauling the refuse. It is what it is...however the saying also goes that, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Therefore I will do my best to ensure my students are learning engineers hauling treasure in their backpacks as opposed to the alternative.

Afterword: While I impress upon my students to cite accurately I have omitted names attributed to specific quotes in order to honor each student's honesty while protecting their privacy. All quotes were as thoroughly represented as possible, and derived from my grade seven and eight social scientists to whom I am incredibly thankful.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Perfect Imperfection

Tears welled up in his eyes as I asked, "What's wrong?" 
"We are just so BEHIND!" 
My son was diligently researching the Terracotta Warriors. Hailed as a wonder when they were founded by a farmer in 1974 while digging for a well, the 6000 life-sized terra cotta soldiers guard Emperor Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum. The discovery revealed amazing advancements in ancient Chinese metallurgy and craftsmanship. ( 

I was caught off guard by his current upset as he had been so excited about the research. So I decided to ask some more questions. "What do you mean you are behind? It seems like you have a lot of information in your presentation."

He then launched into the telling of his tale. He explained in detail how he and his partner planned to have a visual of their own clay crafted warriors. Then he punctuated his story with, "Well, my partner and I decided to make some clay models of the soldiers, but it put us behind." I jokingly told him that they shouldn't be so hard on themselves as historians estimate it took about 700,000 workers about three decades to craft the original army ( Of course my son was not receiving this joke well and just shook his head with disgust. Finally he blurted out, "The problem was their heads! They just kept falling off! Then the whole soldier would fall over! We kept trying and we wasted time that we could have used for more research." 

I asked if he and his partner had kept the clay artifacts. "No," he snorted in disgust, "They didn't work mom! We threw them out."

"Don't you see son? The models were perfectly imperfect!? By structurally failing the clay models served as a great example showing the difficulty of LIFE-sized clay figures and how impressive this army really is!"

My boy shook his head in that "mom you are CRAZY" way and returned to working on his slideshow. This got me thinking as a mom and as a teacher. I often tell my students that, "Life and science rarely work out the way we initially think they will." Am I creating an environment that considers "failures" and "mistakes" as doors to opportunity; or do I allow my children and students to quickly sweep them under the proverbial rug as though nothing can be gained from them? Am I venturing to try new endeavors as a teacher? Creative risks have the possibility of yielding mistakes. Morihei Ueshiba says, "Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." Am I modeling that much can be garnered from things not working out as one had planned? Creative risks also hold the potential of advancing us further than we could ever imagine. Taking risks requires an environment of trust. How do we support one another through the trials and errors? How do we foster an environment that allows students and teachers to forge creative territory and take learning risks? I believe this must continue to be the vision for each classroom and school. For as J.K. Rowling warns, "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default." Here's to successful failures that are perfectly imperfect! 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Magic in a Moment

My family and I are suffering from dog deprivation. While sharing life with a canine companion is not one of Maslow's basics, it has been essential for the past several decades for me, my husband, and then our children. Our children were born into a household that embraced our Cleopatra Marie (our black lab/golden) and Cecelia Francine (our black lab/German Shepherd).
My first middle schoolers participated in a democratic voting process to name my first puppy. At the time my husband and I were barraged with the typical, "So WHEN are you two going to have kids?" We boldly announced that we would see if we could care for, and keep the dog alive first and then kids--MAYBE. Two years after Cleo, I rescued Cecelia and the sisterhood of the furballs was born. Cleopatra grew into her name. She was a princess. Regal, proper and delicate she lightly padded about our home, could run for hours, assisted as a track coach, and swam with ease. Cecilia was a delightful corpulent canine who charged at life like a bull in a China shop (which was possibly our fault for gracing her with a name meaning "one who is blind.") Both dogs believed the children belonged solely to them and loved and tended them as such. This past December, at 13 years of age, Cecelia died in her sleep lying protectively between the kids' doorways. We fretted that Cleopatra may waste away of a broken heart without her sister, but after two days of mourning and moping, it was as though her fifteen year old dog self had amnesia. She continued to grace our home with regal love until March when living became too much for her, and we had to say goodbye. The house was quiet; too quiet. The silence splintered my heart every time I returned home and did not hear the padding of paws, or the excited whines of greetings.

The kids begged my husband and me for a dog, but we refused, knowing we were moving to Hanoi, Vietnam in July. Our new apartment was nice, but we rebuffed our kids each time they would ask for a dog. We just couldn't imagine a dog living in an apartment. 

A few weeks ago one of our friends let us know his dog had puppies, and we were welcome to come play with them. I firmly explained to my children that we would NOT be adopting a puppy, and our visit was just to soak up some puppy love. 

Oh did we soak up sweet puppy goodness! As our puppy park visit was nearing an end there were two little girls hesitantly observing. I asked them if they would like to hold a puppy. My daughter and I (somewhat reluctantly) handed off our pups to the arms of the little girls. Their mom strolled over and asked some questions of our friend. From there events developed rapidly. Soon our whole party was walking the family, now one puppy larger, to a nearby veterinarian's office. 

It isn't every day one has the honor of playing a supporting role in a "happily ever after." My daughter was being a good sport, but I could see the longing in her eyes. Our friend mentioned that he suspected his female dog was pregnant, but was not positive. My negotiating daughter quickly struck a deal with our friend and sealed it with a "pinkie swear" if his dog was indeed to be whelping. So for now we wait, still basking in the magic of that moment while awaiting our own.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Last week the sixth grade math group with whom I share learning, encountered what has been the stickiest point in our time together to date. Slope Intercept formula. As I printed out with Expo, in my best writing y=mx+b and explained rise over run, change in y over change in x and walked the class through several examples with little stick people moving various unit steps, little by little the almost inaudible utterances of "ooooh" and "uh huuuh" began to stir about the room. As the students worked through their practice problems, one of my quick thinkers in the back posed a question. "What if the line is up and down, you know; like vertical?" I shared a sketch on her paper and explained mathematically we call that undefined. "Good question," I complimented. She smiled, shrugged her shoulders and continued her math work (quite possibly sorry she had posed the question in the first place.)

It reminded me of another discussion my seventh and eighth grade scientists had shared a few weeks earlier. Some questions were posed about wormholes and "wrinkles" in the time/space continuum. Another student asked if anyone believed time travel was possible. This lead to the discussion of time. How does time exist? Could we pause and rewind? I asked the scientists if perhaps time could be infinite and we, as humans, create boundaries to understand our temporal experiences better. We attempt to capture the undefinable with our limited understandings. "Hmmm, maybe," was one response as the scientist peered off into the beyond. Everyone seemed relieved that it was time to head to lunch. Often the parameters of time are an entity for which we can be grateful, I suppose.

As I loped down the stairs to lunch I considered the conversation and thought back to Aristotle and his endeavors to categorize the world and phenomena around him. In attempts to neatly organize and understand the world around him he dubbed categories. The hierarchy of what things exist were tangled or attempted to be untangled by language. Does language reveal meaning or does it obscure it? Does how I choose my words clear the water to insight or muddy it to confusion? Some people and experiences seemed to be quantitatively and qualitatively captured and represented, while other seemed to be uncategorizable. What to do with demonstrating experiences via language and writing? 

So many occurrences in my life from extremely beautiful and moving to horrific and excruciatingly painful, defy my understanding or demonstrating through language, and lurk somewhere in the shadows just out of my verbosity or pen's illuminating reach. Having experienced firsthand these phenomenon I should have the knowledge to articulate and explain, but I lack the demonstrateable epistemological ability. A revelation may peek at me taunting me through lyrics, a poem, a quote in a book, or perhaps even a personal journal entry, but hitting the bullseye is rare.

Have I hit an Aristotelian wall? Have my experiences exhausted my categories? Would a lens of hylemorphism bolster me to better understanding and articulation? Perhaps queries of my substantive being are preventing me from explaining my being in relation to my context. Since moving to Vietnam, my writing life has waned considerably. Occasionally I will stop to wonder why this is. Have I reached an undefinable moment in time? Is it the scrambling to string together words to capture where I am physically...mentally...emotionally...that is tiring my mind to the point of inertia? My life is the vertical line existing on the coordinate plane; undefined.