Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yoga time!

First real class I get to sub for today.  Very excited, and I think I'm prepared.  Had to add some extra poses and music to my sequence.  I hope that people find it relaxing and enjoyable!  We're doing a serious of poses on the floor, given that it's gentle yoga.  Hopefully it will bring some relief to the lower back and hamstrings, as well as open up shoulders and bring some flexibility in the back.

I have to say that I'm a little nervous, but I think it will be fine.  I'm subbing for a super awesome teacher though!  I know I'm not her, but hopefully I'll bring my own nuances to the practice.

I hope I'll be picked up for more subbing in the fall and winter, I think that the more I do it, the better I"ll get, the easier it will be for me to create sequences and provide a good range of practices for all people.

I'm also preparing the art/yoga curriculum.  Hopefully we'll bring it into the final stages this week and will have it all ready to try out in a couple weeks.  We start the after school program at my school on September 11th, and run it for 8 weeks.  Then we'll take a break for the holidays and come back and do another 8 weeks session in the spring.    I'll probably teach on my own too, but probably not until the spring.  My time through December is thoroughly booked with other things.  Once I get my re- certification for my teaching license out of the way, I'll have more time-- in general...

I hope everyone is having a relaxing Sunday out there!  If you want to do one thing to relax yourself before going to bed.  Take your legs up the wall.  It calms the nervous system!  Seriously:

1.  Sit with the left or right hip next to the wall
2.  Carefully lower your torso down to the floor
3.  Bring your legs  up the the wall so you are making an "L" shape with your body. You're looking up at your feet.
4.  Arms relax beside the body, breathe deeply.
5.  Stay there as long as you like.
6.  Coming down bend your knees and roll to the side.
7.  Come back to a seated position slowly.

Friday, August 24, 2012

So glad it's Friday

It's been a week.  A busy one.  Still getting back into the swing of things, but not quite there yet.  Hopefully I can get into a groove soon.  This year just seems like it's going to take a bit longer.

I think one of the reasons I might feel this way is because of where I work.  It's a stressful place, obviously.  There are loads of personalities to deal with, tons of passive aggressive behaviors, endless interruptions, lots of sounds all the time.  And that's not even pertaining to the students.

I need an imaginary suit of armor to work there.  Some days it seems to go by a little bit easier, but most days it's a challenge not to want to let out a primal scream (imagine how the kids feel).   In the past I definitely felt like I had armor.  I was more likely to let the behaviors slide off my backs and just not take it personally.  Now, I'm having a harder time with that.

It's a shame.  I guess I'm slowly building up my work armor, but it's not quite there yet.

In other news, my students made their first pieces of art this week.  I'll post them this weekend.  That is certainly a positive, and I KNOW they feel good about what they've done.  It was challenging, and it turned out pretty good!

Next week we have a bunch of district stuff to do, so I really won't be seeing any of the kids in class until September 4th.  Strange how we start and stop, start and stop in August.  If we're trying set up consistency, why are we doing that to our kids?

Humm... just another question that we'll keep asking.

Happy Friday EVERYONE!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Conferences are usually good, in my opinion.  At least the ones that I've been to.  I usually attend art ones, so that may be a reason.  However, this past week I was required to attend a conference for State Operated Programs in Education.  It was actually really good, exciting, and hey-- I actually learned something.  The theme of the conference particularly had to do with brain research.  And I had never really even taken a class on the brain.  Yeah, I've taken tons of undergrad and graduate classes in psychology, but this was different.

One of my favorite topics of the conference was "The Brain and Trauma".  I knew a little bit about the research from my own reading, but I had never been introduced to it quite like the presenter.  Obviously its a serious topic, especially for anyone who works with incarcerated youth -- or any youth for that matter.  Or any one who comes into contact with PEOPLE!

One of the most horrifying statistics I learned was that it only takes 10 minutes of stress for 5 days to alter your physical brain.  Our brain stops making neurons when were still babies, basically, but our brain continually makes dendrites to get information to the neurons.  Stress or trauma makes the dendrites shrink so you can't pass information along.  The one thing I did learn however, is that dendrites can reemerge, they can grow.  So if stress and trauma are handled, we're all good.

However, that's not what happens in the D-home.  If anything, stress is recreated and re-traumatizes my students regularly.  Not that all kids are, but there is a difference between giving a kid a direction as opposed to yelling it at them, or being passive aggressive.  Or leaving them in their room for 24 hours, or not dealing with any issues they may have.

Do you realize there is not one psychologist in the building?  There are 2 1/2 time counselors.  And they're doing what they can.  But they can't do it all, and they especially can't do anything if the kids are there for a few days, gone for the next month, and then returns for 30 more days.

So think about it, our goal for the education department is to be as consistent as possible, to give students a feeling of normalcy.  The detention part of it is thinks everything should be punitive.   How can these work together to let the child thrive, or not damage the kid even more?

I think we all need more training in this arena.   Of course teachers are trained to recognize abuse, and handle behavior modification in a way that doesn't alienate kids, but the detention staff isn't.  Some of their knowledge and background comes from "scared straight" tactics.  And "scared straight" has been proven that it DOES NOT WORK -- in fact, it creates more delinquency.

So what do we do?  We try to offer a more normal "school" environment, we suggest that units don't be combined because of the size (they were starting to combine students because one unit has 4 and the other has 9-- never mind that one group can barely speak English and needs a different kind of schooling completely).

It's a diservice, to not account for the child's background in any situation.  But why are most juvenile detention homes trying to recreate environments that prevent healing, skill building, and knowledge.  The kids have a right to as much as anyone to a stress free environment.   If we do that right, then we have the power to let change happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another Monday

Just so you know, I'm not looking for this blog to be come pages full of rants.  I keep trying to find a theme for my blog, but I figure, it should just be about what is going on.  I'm not good at keeping 3 separate blogs.  Besides, it's not my job to blog.  I only get paid to teach art.

So what the heck am I teaching?  Well, I had a pretty successful week teaching art and yoga last week for enrichment.  Enrichment is a period of time at the d-home, where it's not school.  It's something else.  Our goal was to offer lessons in wellness, and how can they apply it to their own life.  Basically giving my students tools they can use on their own.  So I thought.

It was my idea, and I encouraged everyone to be aware of the different problems that our teens face in particular:  drugs, sleep deprivation, sex, obesity, and stress.  That's a lot of different things, and of course I didn't expect that math teacher to talk about sex, but those issues are what out students are most concerned about in their daily life.

It didn't really happen like that.  We all kind of teamed up with another teacher.  Some classes showed an awful lot of videos... That to me, totally missed the point.  No matter what you wanted your theme to be, the point was to get the kids to be active.  DO something.

So next time, if there is a next time, I will remember to put down active learning as a goal for the enrichment program.  Meaning:  if you have to show a video, please don't use up the whole class for it.

My part of the program was pretty good.  It was thoughtful, definitely active, and left some kids asking me when could they do yoga again.  Mission accomplished.

Despite all the interruptions, I think it did end up having a positive effect on many of the students.

So now, there is no more enrichment.  We are our on our way to a State Operated Programs conference about 4 1/2 hours away.  I leave tomorrow.  It's weird that we'll have this hiccup in the enrichment program, but I guess that's what we'll have to.

At the conference, I'm thinking all that's really going to happen is that we're going to get spoken too.  I mean, I think there will be a few moments where we'll break down into our curriculum areas, but mostly there will be speakers.  Which I have to say, seems kind of wasteful.  Oh well.....what can you do?

In the mean time, the kids will do nothing, watch tv, play cards, sit, sleep, and go to the gym for an hour.  What a way to waste a day.  I mean, if I were in charge (and I won't ever be), I'd have those kids so busy with stuff to do on their down time, it would make them wish for school.  But no, idle time.  Lots of it.

In the mean time, I guess we'll find out soon if we have a principal or not.  I don't think we do, but I don't know for sure.  We were supposed to find out by last Wednesday.  I don't actually think we need one, to be quite honest.  However, we do need someone, who's job it could be to advocate for us.  Because, if we don't have that, i think the D-home people will make out lives miserable.

Always look on the bright side of life, right???

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ahh, Sundays...

I love Sunday mornings.  I can hear the coffee brewing (not for me, but for my husband), the tea kettle warming up, and Lhotse waiting ever so patiently for pancakes.  It's a nice way to start a sunny Sunday.    Then it's off to do some yard work before it gets too hot.  (But I gotta tell you, I'm not really looking forward to that.)

Hope you're having a great day wherever you are!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Friday morning I go to work, prepare the room and myself so I can do a small meditation session with each of my classes.  They're up for it, I've been preparing them all week so they could be able to sit for at least 7 or 8 minutes without talking or moving, and focusing on their breath.

I explain the concept and what we do, and everyone was ready to go.  So I turn out the lights, and we begin.  - Find a comfortable seat, relax your body, feel your breath...all that.  Close your eyes and just notice.   Notice the sounds, notice the temperature.... good... all that is happening.

No one is laughing, shifting, making sounds. It's going well.  Then about 6 minutes in (which can seem like a really long time if you're meditating or a teenager, the FIRE ALARM goes off!

And I just think to myself - typical.  So very typical.  I almost start laughing, but I maintain composer.  The kids kind of just look at me like, "What's going on?"  So I tell them they have to line up, the staff tells them to line up, and they just go.  No talking, no attitude.

It works!  This is the best I'd ever seen any kids line up for a fire drill!.

The funny thing is, it just happened to interrupt meditation.  If it's not one thing, it's the other.

It was a challenge to do this with my students in all the classes.  Countless interruptions by adults coming in and out of my room.  DO YOU NOT SEE WHAT WE'RE DOING HERE?  I mean come on adults--- grow a brain?  It's like it's completely unfathomable that this would actually be good for you too!  I mean, I know they have to keep an eye on the kids, and be safe.  However, why are you trying to ruin the experience for the students?

It's the mentality that kids who are in correctional facilities don't have rights! They don't have a right to education, or knowledge.  They don't even realize that creative outlets, yoga, and meditation have a profound effect on the brain.  It has a huge effect on behavior, stress, and anger.  One of the things that I reminded the students about is that this is in their control.  They already feel like the lost control in many other ways.  But they have control of their bodies, their breath and their mind!

So, this week has been full of those little lessons.  And they're lessons to me too, because I've let myself get upset about some things that have happened in my classroom--- which wasn't student related.  It's a fact of where I work.  And it won't ever change.  I am constantly reminded that the D-home's job isn't to rehabilitate, care, or encourage.  It's too inflict consequences in a very irregular way.  It's a holding tank until they leave and come back again.

Until this attitude changes, our kids will gain nothing.

I guess what I worry about is that, I try to maintain consistency in everything.  I work really hard to make that happen in my classroom, but the truth is-- it doesn't happen.  And I have to let it go.  I can only show up and offer what I have to give, and hopefully, most days I can succeed in trying to give my students an environment where it is safe.  Safe to think, safe to create, and safe to let their guard down.

When that happens, it's the best day.

It's sad to say that our typical days are full of interruptions.  There is no way we can combat that.  However, if there are always going to be interruptions, can't we trying make them in more of a consistent respectful way?

Like knocking, or asking the teacher first... not just calling out.  "Johnson, we need Johnson, right now".    How about taking a little more time and saying at least,"  Excuse me, Ms. Fitz, we need to take Johnson."

Anyway, I'm hoping that this week has been my reintroduction into d-home life, and I'll be back to just letting it roll off my shoulders.  I have to remember that I can let it go.  Too bad that seems typical too.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

First full week back, not full.

Well, it's already started.  The first cancellation of part of a school day.  I didn't expect it to start this soon.   The detention center basically thinks that school is an inconvenience.  They cancelled the last hour of school today because they had to make a transport.  I'm sorry, but you couldn't have waited for one more class to be finished?  You couldn't have held on to that transport for one more stinking hour?  I mean where does that kid have to be?  Right?

It's one of those things I'm probably going to be keeping track of the rest of the year.  They have no consideration for what we do there as educators.  Yesterday 2 staff had personal "whispering" conversations in the back of my  classroom while I was trying to maintain a quiet environment for a yoga practice with 10 students.  And these aren't regular students.  They're already all over the place and it's hard to maintain their focus.  Instead, the students were constantly turning around to see what was going on between the 2 adults.  RIDICULOUS!

I was distracted, myself!  Every time I looked up I saw them whispering, I'm trying to give directions and demonstrate at the same time, and the kids are trying to listen to their whispers.. not me.

It's really a job that requires a lot of patience.  And I have a lot of it, but on the first week back it seems like patience is already on overload.  If this is already happening in the first 4 days, I predict that it will happen regularly throughout the year.

The only thing I can do is take deep breaths.  I can't control other adults and what they're told to do.  It's just a shape that no one but the educators seem to care about the education.

Ahhhh!!!!!! Primal Scream.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A chuckle for you today...

If you're following the Olympics this might make you laugh... especially if you had a day like mine.

Check it out.  She's just not impressed.

Full week back

Wow, am I tired.  Waking up at 5:45 am is not a normal thing to do.  And even though it happens regularly throughout most the year I still never get used to it.  Part of me likes waking up while the house is still very quiet.  I sit and eat my breakfast, drink some tea and check things on the computer.  It's a really very quiet time.  All I can hear is the hum of a fan, some crickets, and my fingers typing on the keypad.

But- I'm still tired.

It's been a good week back to far at the D-home.  It's "enrichment" week, which mean it's not "real" school.  We have 4 classes that are each an hour long, and we decided on a theme to teach from.  It was my job to basically pick the theme:  wellness.  The tag is "Mind, Body, Character".  Of course that works for me pretty well, since I'm doing 5 days of art/yoga with kids.  The rest of the teachers, well, I'm not really sure what they're doing.

For some reason they had a hard time with the topic.  2 teachers get to team up, and decide what they wanted to teach with the theme.  I felt like it was a pretty open theme, I mean I can think of something in every subject can relate.  I even gave them sub topics for each subject area (English, Social Studies, Science, Math, and PE).  We'll see. It's supposed to be fun, engaging, and way for students to interact in a different way.  To feel active in their learning, because most of the teachers here, teach in a very old fashioned way.  Plus, students are limited.  They're not really allowed to get up, use dynamic group setups, etc...

My classes are going well.  Monday we did a little introduction to yoga and a self-portrait collage with positive adjectives.  Kind of like a "who am I project".  They haven't finished the collages yet, but hopefully they'll get a chance to finish them today.  Yesterday they did a Kundalini style yoga practice, but we stopped after each particular exercise to mark down sensations we felt on an outline picture (they're turned out interestingly, I'll post pics later).  Today we're doing a full vinyasa flow which is sure to make kids sweat a little... and tomorrow we'll restore with some gentle yoga.  Friday we'll do a short meditation and a mandala art project.

It makes me want to teach like this all year long.  I think they would benefit so much from yoga and art on a regular basis.  My friend and I still plan to have our after school sessions this year, but that's only once a week, with one group for 6 weeks.  For it to be truly beneficial, I feel like it needs to be at least twice a week - on going for the whole year.

But, you do what you can.  I'm tired from this week so far, and it's only Wednesday.  I've done small practices at home, but haven't made it to the studio yet this week. I'm going to try and go today.  It's definitely hard to maintain your practice when you have to teach.  Of course I already know this from teaching art!  It's the same thing.... If you teach what you love, I think sometimes, your personal exploration of that subject takes a back seat.  It's tough to balance it.  At least for me, it is.

On another note, I'm just about finished reading David Byrne's book... There was a nice little portion about art last night in the book.  He went to look at "outsider" art in San Francisco, and that sparked a debate in his mind about who decides what is outsider art?  And is it more authentic or not, then a trained artist?  And why is there a separation?  And most professional artists concern with making art that talks about the art world, while outsider artists create art that is more emotional, and deals more with exactly what is going on with them in their own world view.  Why is the value of outsider art driven down from that of professional artists?  All good questions.  There is an art museum dedicated to untrained artists in Baltimore, it's called the Visionary Art Museum.  I haven't been yet, but it's one of the places I really need to go.  I heard it's absolutely amazing, and maybe it would help me answer these questions....

Alright.  I gotta get going, must prepare myself to teach 4 Vinyasa classes in a row.  I don't know if my shoulders are prepared for that!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Go Serena!...and 4th place medals

Just saw Serena Williams crush Maria Sharpova in the tennis gold medal match.  It was amazing.  She played so well.  I hadn't seen her play so well in the last two years, I was kind of shocked.  I'm happy when my favorites really get what they set out to accomplish.  Serena had been getting a bad rap lately. People saying she wasn't taking tennis so seriously..well take that!  She did seem rather emotional on the court when I've seen her play the last few times.  But this was amazing.  So much fun to watch her in a good match.  She makes it look so easy.

OK-- so here's the next thing.  Last night I was listening to the radio, NPR.  They had a story about a British guy who's having medals made for the athletes that come in 4th place in the Olympics.  He doesn't make them for all 4th place finishers.  But picks people that he thinks should have gotten a medal.  Then he wraps them up and sends them to the Olympic Village.  He doesn't expect anything back, and he is doing it out of complete kindness and recognizing the athlete.  He realizes that some athletes may take offense to it, but he also realizes that some who get it may very well appreciate it.  Here's a link to this really cool story...  Love his accent.  And I do LOVE his sincerity.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Oh yeah, we went to the zoo.

And I still don't like them.

I went because my husband begged me to go.  It's free to go here, so I caved in.  He wanted to go see the new cheetah cubs that were born.  He assured me of their cuteness.  However, we got there, and they're only for viewing certain hours.  But we decided to walk around anyway. It wasn't sooooo hot.

But I really dislike zoos.  I just don't.  If I ever have kids, I'll probably take them, because there are these amazing beings that you can see.  It's just not their own habitat.  It drives me crazy to see the elephants, lions, monkeys, and pretty much everything else confined to these extremely small spaces.  There is no roaming, there is not climbing, there is not catching ones own food.

At least this zoo has come a long way.  And I'm taking about the National Zoo.  It's been on one of the worst lists in many times in the past, which was one of the reasons why I refused to go.  It is better.

So I snapped a few pictures while we were there.  I meant to bring my zoom lens, but forgot it.

Little Sloth Bear...he wouldn't come closer.

Wake up sleepy head!

Otters are probably the cutest animal ever, I saw a bunch of them in the sea when I was in Alaska a few years ago.

Having a snack.

Not really much space to roam for this elephant.

But I think they're taking good care of them.

Little Red Panda, taking a nap in the heat of the day, behind glass.

Check it out, my hand.  These guys use the hole in the wall to go in between rooms, giving them a little more room to move and play.

Two little guys taking a nap together.

This little guy was so lonely, they had to give him a stuffed friend. 

Meerkat taking in the rays.

Beautiful blooming lotus.

Taking in an afternoon snack of rabbit.

Ok here's the story.  Big lion guy over there walked away from the food.  Little lion guy getting some snack for himself.

Big kitty roars at little guy, and comes back to hover over the food, but not eating any.  He stays there guarding the morsels for a few minutes.  Pacing back and forth.

Big kitty walks away, turns his back, and little lion checks to see if it'll be ok for him to get some food.  Bug guy paces back and forth for a few minutes.  Little guy waits for the right moment.

Little guy goes for it.  Big guy observes.

Big guy observes VERY closely.....
It was interesting to watch the lions.  That was something I got to experience in Tanzania.  There is a clear pecking order, even in a zoo, where a lion doesn't even have to hunt.

I really hadn't been to this zoo since 1996.  Or any zoo for that matter.  I do think I'll be going to another zoo for a while.  I'm glad it wasn't as bad as I remembered.   It does make you think about how important it is to preserve the land that these animals actually live on.  Their real habitats cannot be substituted for these fabricated areas.  Every living being needs to live in the environment that is suitable for them.  I realize that over thousands of years animals have adapted to the variance in the environment (dinosaurs = birds).  However, the environmental changes that have occurred over generations of humans inhabiting the world have been caused by us.  We are the ones destroying the rain forests, creating roads that go through the Serengeti, poaching animals, drilling for oil, and driving automobiles, genetically altering and producing food out of want, not need.

I don't mean to get on my soap box, to some-- a zoo is just a zoo.  You get to see things you wouldn't normally see, it's an educational experience. It is that.  But, it's also a wake up call.  This may be the only way to see some animals until they all disappear.

And it's already begun

217 more work days to go for the the next summer break!  Wow, that sounds like a really long time.  It's kind of already intense at work, and yesterday was a just a teacher work day.  People already getting up in arms about the little things.  Just take a deep breath.  Really.

I hope this isn't what is to come for the rest of the year.  The stares, the eye rolls, the random banter that keeps people doing what they actually should be doing.  Oh and lets not forget about the detention staff who don't like us having school in the d-home because they hate doing transitions.  I mean really?  Hey staff, you do realize that education DOES make a difference in the lives of kids, right?

Seriously, it's like that, and that's the way it is (run DMC).

It's a place of no change what's so ever, I have to remember to be thankful for the little ones that come into my life.  Be it the girl who shows me pictures of her little baby, or a kid who loves to create.  It happens, but even in smaller increments.

As for the school staff, we're holding it down.  Except for a couple of them.  Did I mention the secretary already lost it in front of all of us yesterday?  Pounding her fist into her hand over and over again, as she said,"  I don't cause problems, I just try and fix them."  Umm... well...

So today is another day, I'm gearing up to teach yoga and art next week.  It's not "real school" (what I said to a student yesterday), it's "enrichment".  Our theme is wellness.  So I'm going to do yoga, meditation, and art.  They like it, however, we have a whole host of new students that weren't there last month, and I'll have to go slowly.  So tomorrow we'll spend some time on rules and creating a safe environment.  Some of theses kids might get silly, and I don't want that to be the cause of some problems for some individuals.  So we'll be taking it slow.  Especially since I don't know some of these kids.

It doesn't really feel like a Friday, truth be told, so I'm happy that tomorrow will really be the weekend. Yesterday I already made it to bed early, and could barely keep my eyes open to read a little bit.

Oh well, one day down!  Many many more months to to.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


It's time to go back.

It's hard to wake up.

Back to work.

Back to the crazy scheduled weeks.  Week after week.

Summer is over.


(yep, I'm a little depressed, and grumpy)