Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mid-Life Crisis or New Chapter?

So I came home from my ride Thursday night to this:

No, I hadn't won a race.

I had reached a finish line of sorts. After 20 years of teaching, I have retired.

I don't think I've been in love with teaching for several years. John Marzion, Clint Weishaar, and a lot of great relationships with kids kept me going.

In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to teach kids with special needs and learning disabilities in the city. I typically liked to work with kids who struggled.

So five years ago, I earned my special education license and started looking around for the right school. I found it in Milwaukee College Prep.

I fell in love with the place. Every staff member, from the principal to the security guard and custodian was completely dedicated to working with inner city kids in a positive, academically challenging environment. It was everything I could ask for.

There was only one problem: I wasn't a very good special education teacher! The position required a great deal of discipline work, and a huge amount of paying attention to minute IEP detail, neither of which I was very good at.

I still created some positive relationships with the kids, and a lot of good relationships with the staff. But as my principal wisely said, I had spent 20 years training to ride a bike a certain way, and this job required a different bicycle and a different way of riding.

And I couldn't make the change, I didn't have the skills. So the job became more and more of an emotional struggle since I was trying to fit the proverbial round peg into a square hole. At some point this winter, I knew I was not going to be back next year. And at some point I didn't think I could make it through the year.

So this winter, I sat down to figure out what I might do. I wrote out a job description of what I'd like to do in the bike industry. I wanted to get more people on bikes, I wanted to develop cycling in the city, and help people learn how to ride better. I wanted to support clubs, create a team. I hoped to make a bike shop the hub for cyclocross, riding instruction, and safe commuting. I wanted to work with the Bike Feb, the city of Milwaukee and other communities to help build infrastructure. I hoped to work with kids to get more of them on bikes

I gave the job description to Vince at Ben's Cycles, and he thought it would be a good fit.

So Thursday was my last day at MCP. I got all the IEP and testing finished and felt I could leave early without big guilt.

I will miss the people in my teaching. I will miss the relationships. But I will build new ones.

This is a new chapter in my life. I've always loved bikes. My passion for teaching changed and evolved. Now I get to use my passion for cycling to help others.

It's going to be the start of another adventure!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day(s)

    It's odd, really.
    Why do we have a single day where people buy flowers, cards, presents, make meals, share food to honor their mothers?
    The work that mothers do is nothing short of amazing.
    I'm not writing this to be gratuitous or score points with moms. I am amazed and humbled by the women I know who run their households, at the women who care for children.
    So many of the students at my school are raised by single moms or grandmothers. Having a "life" of your own and raising a child are usually mutually exclusive.
    The mothers at school have their own challenges, and then do their best to raise children in tough environments. They do the best they can with what they have.
    They are never thanked enough. No, thanked is the wrong word.
    They are not recognized and respected enough for what they do.
    I think of former students, now women in their 20s and 30s. Some are married and have young children. They post pictures and happy comments. But we know how challenging their lives can be, and how drastic the changes the children bring to their usual existence.
    One former student in particular got married and had a child with the best intentions. But the husband has left the scene, the couple divorced, and she's on her own and struggling. She's doing the best she can.
    Kate always talks with such normalcy that what she does as a mother is just what is needed. No big deal. I look at that in complete amazement. Her strength, courage, and selflessness will be an example to her daughter in the future.
    A woman I know does not want to go to her church this morning. All the mothers stand up and are recognized by the congregation with applause. But what about the mothers who are divorced and raising a child on their own? Will they willingly stand up with no husband by their side?
    What about the gay women who want to have children? What about the women who desperately want to be a mother but physically can't?
    And I consider my own mother. She has been a rock throughout my life, supportive and loving. I credit her for every adventure I've taken in my life. She support the adventure, offers her love when the journey is more challenging than imagined.
    This spring, she hired a career counselor to work with me, now 50, to create a resume. After a lot of talking and thinking, she completely supports all of the recent changes in my life, fully embracing Kate and Sarah as well as the career change.
    Many people will say today that one day is not enough to honor our mothers.
    One day is not enough to honor all the women who raise and care for children, their own and others.
    One day is not enough to recognize and accept the selfless work they do every day to make someone else's life better.
    On June 3, July 18. Random days. Random times. Bring your mother or woman who cares for children some flowers, bring them a meal. Let them sleep in.
    Just because. Tell them thank you every day. Tell them you love them every chance you get.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Every Year I Taught the Same Story

May 2, 2014

Every year I taught the same story to my seventh graders called "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto. 

It's a beautiful story about seventh graders finding their way through the first day of school, with boys trying to look tough, and the main character trying, with embarrassing results, to impress a girl he has a crush on. 

At the end of the story, the boy, crushed by humiliation, is asked by the girl if he would teach her the French he really doesn't know.

The teacher, sitting nearby, has the perfect opportunity to say something but refrains when he remembers himself as a kid. 

The boy agrees to help her, and the story ends on a hopeful, positive note as he runs to the library to check out French books. 

Every year I tell my students that I hope to someday be the teacher who keeps his mouth shut and lets the boy take care of what he had to do. 

Finally, in what is likely my last year of teaching, I was finally able to be like this teacher. 

One of my students has a severe Emotional and Behavioral Disability. She's been hospitalized several times this year. When she's here, sometimes the meds get in the way of her functioning. 

But she's a sweet girl and pretty bright. This year, she was noticed by a young man for the first time. A little romance blossomed. 

Yet somehow there was a misunderstanding and my student was told the boy had said something about her. I know the boy well enough to doubt the things he was supposed to have said. But my girl lost her mind for a little bit, swearing and talking about how she'd poke out his eyes. (How many of you women have felt that!)

We walked around and talked. The women in the office gave her awesome female advice, which mirrored my own. We talked about heartache and how people hurt others unintentionally. I told her that even I, the amazingly awesome Mr. Warloski, had hurt people deeply without meaning to. 

The boy then wrote a beautiful apology note, which I gave to the girl. She read it and she wanted to talk with him as she calmed down. We practiced and rehearsed what she would say. 

The boy was in my office since he was being kept from the weekly school assembly to consider what he had done. She came in nervous, and with some prompts told him she was hurt. "I need some time because you hurt me," she said.

But after his apology and him telling her he had been worried about her, I asked her if she really needed time. No, she said. And she smiled. 

At this point, I thought of the teacher in the story. I left the room for a moment to "get something" and as I started to return, I could see them talking in my office. I turned around to find something else to do. 

Finally, we spent the rest of the assembly time in the computer lab where they sat side-by-side in the back, and I sat far away from them while they got some work done and continued to talk. 

It was so sweet. And I felt pleased beyond measure that this girl had found a way to calm herself and find a strategy to steer her away from the anger she feels so strongly. 

It's about as good a moment as a teacher can have.