Butt Wiping 101: Potty Training My Coworker

As a recovering people pleaser, it pains me to have to say sometimes you just have to make people mad at you for a good cause.  Last week I made a coworker mad at me by simply stating facts that were true, and while painful, if she had just been a little more proactive in her job approach, things would never have gotten to this point.

The old saying goes “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  I’ve always thought that was incredibly unfair.  It made more sense to me that the wheel that never gets squeaky because someone was proactive enough to make sure they took great care of their wheels should have grease before any other wheels running around being squeaky.  As it turns out, those that are excellent at caring for their own wheels run around this planet greasing other people’s wheels too because they are too thoughtless or lazy to grease their own.

I’m not speaking about those that need occasional help.  I’m hardly perfect, and I will ask for help from time to time.  I’m talking about habitual squeaky wheels.  Those kind of people that run around complaining about whatever at that moment needs fixing are exhausting.  It seems they are never happy.  Someone’s inadequacy or sheer laziness prompts them to look beyond themselves for a solution to their problems and that usually means a person that is a professional problem solver.  The issue with that is that means the professional problem solver is now doing two jobs: their own and the problem maker’s.

The inspiration behind this piece smiles widely all the time while spewing poisonous myriad issues. She has a job, doesn’t know how to do it, and instead of figuring out how to do super productive things like download her own attachments, she chooses to yell like a toddler that needs their rear wiped.   I’ve discovered that people enjoy making her shut up so much they do the unthinkable.  They wipe her butt.  I’ve done it.  Those in charge have done it.  Those that work in her team do it.  The reason they do it is simple.  Her butt is dirty, and we are horrified at the fact she is unable to do her own job effectively.

As toddlers we are eventually potty trained when we get old enough to understand that there is a cause and effect situation going on with our body.  Steps are taken to ensure that we know how to use the toilet.  The last step in toilet training is learning to effectively wipe our own butt.  Otherwise, disaster ensues and there are bigger messes to clean up than originally were necessary.  At work, this translates to someone who doesn’t know how to wipe their own butt has two choices: find someone to do the job or walk around with turd butt.  Those of us that understand the fine art of butt wiping are horrified by the later, so we inevitably do the former.  That is ridiculous.  Adults should wipe themselves.

When someone is getting paid for a job, they should do it.  They don’t have to like it, but certain things that aren’t negotiable.  Just because they don’t like one aspect of a job does not mean they should get to neglect it or find someone to do it for them.  Some jobs are dirty.  Some jobs have things that are not fun about them.  We don’t sign up for just the fun part of a job.  We sign up for the whole thing.

There are problem makers and problem solvers.  Everyday I encourage students to be a problem solver, and not a problem maker.  I do it because I don’t want to live in a world with a lot of people that can’t solve basic problems themselves.  If we don’t allow people to wipe themselves the problem doesn’t go away.  Poop happens.  You can wipe it, but odds are, the problem is going to happen again.  Without learning how to deal with the problem, the problem maker is going to keep on making problems forever, and that is a perpetual problem in and of itself.

So, what would happen if everyone stopped wiping people’s butts?  It would be messy for a while.  Yes, when we train a toddler we take a risk, and when we do this with a coworker, it can be just as risky.  What if they fail?  What if they do something wrong?  In the end it is a much better solution than just continuing to do your job and theirs too.  There comes a time when you have to remove the help they depend on and allow them to have ownership over their problems.  In a world where Google exists, is there much they can’t figure out when dealing with most jobs?  I doubt it.  Let them get messy.  Let them yell.  I bet that eventually they will figure out the solution.  If they don’t, at least they are finding someone else to clean up after them and it doesn’t always fall to you. And that? That’s one less problem for you to deal with!

Ashes For Beauty

 After a school year spent sitting in other people’s chairs, I was eager to have a chair of my own as school started this fall.  After a roller coaster where I thought I had a job and then I realized I did not, now I am back sitting in someone else’s chair again in an interim position next door to a classroom I thought might be where I’d spend years.  Then last week the school I was non-renewed from 14 months ago had a few spots open and I decided to apply. The principal was no longer there, and I felt like I had great relationships with the people left there.  I knew it was a risk, but I decided to do it anyway.  I could tell you this really long story about how I had an army of people behind me, amazing recommendations from principals, and a fantastic interview, but I’ll just get to the point and say about the time I was listening to Journey sing “Don’t Stop Believing” in a T-shirt shop the size of a postage stamp in a tiny village in the North Georgia mountains my phone rang with bad news. Despite all those awesome things, the job was not mine.  Once again, I was not enough.  I’ve come to live with rejection so often these days we need bunk beds.  (With my dumb luck, rejection probably snores and sleepwalks.)

If you are going to have really bad news thrown at you, the best human to drag on a road trip with you is a guidance counselor.  She can talk you through it, help you laugh at yourself, and drown your sorrows in a river when she takes you tubing.  So, on our adventures the next day we decided to zip-line off a mountain, and we saw a pottery shop as we left where we thought you could paint pottery.  As it turns out you can no longer paint pottery, but we took a look around.  We saw this set of mugs on the shelf and the lady told us those mugs were really special for a big reason.  They were wood fired.  This made little sense to us, so she explained further.

Wood fired pottery is special as the process is not only time consuming, it is labor intensive.  Few people use wood as a fuel to fire pottery.  It is hard to produce identical pieces because where each piece is placed in the fire creates the results.  It’s chaotic in nature, and though it can create beautiful pieces, most potters would rather have a consistent result.  Fire will have a range of temperatures throughout the kiln, so each piece will be unique.

The mugs she showed us were created identical, but the mugs were not all exactly alike.  She explains that there was no glaze on the mugs at all.  The fire created the glazed look as the flames hit the surfaces.  Flashing is the name given to where the fire hits the piece directly and in the places where the fire touches the unglazed pieces those places are the prettiest.  So, if you are a piece of pottery, you want to be directly in the flames.

She directed us to another shelf where two bowls were.  She showed us they had the same markings, but they were completely different.  One bowl was amazingly beautiful up close.  The sister to this bowl was okay, but not shiny at all, and would fetch less money.  The only difference in them is how much the fire touched them.  She took the beautiful bowl down and showed us the inside.  It has this amazing looking interior in the bottom and she explained that that was ash glazing.  This type of firing made even the ashes beautiful.  The ashes get so hot in the kiln, they actually turn into glaze and glass.

I was amazed by all of this and then I had this striking thought. Sometimes life burns us when you expect one thing and get another.  Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into something you think is going to be amazing just to be disappointed.  Then there are times that we realize that on the other side of the intense heat we feel, we will be better.  I guess I’m not ready to leave the fire just yet, but on the other side of this I will be stronger.  I will have marks where the fire touched me, but they will be beautiful.  Even the ashes will have purpose.  Even the ashes leave beauty.

Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

Thinking Deeply about Thinking Deeply

Metacognition can be a dangerous activity.  Thinking about other people’s thinking  can be even scarier.  I’ve had the unique experience to have spent time in various classrooms in the past six months ranging from 2nd grade with 7 and 8 year olds, to 5th grade with 10 and 11 year olds, to 9th- 12th graders who can be anywhere from 14-18.  They all have something frightening in common.  They are all used to getting an easy answer.

I think the greatest problem students face today is the lack of struggle. The greatest reward comes with hard work.  The struggle makes you stronger.  A butterfly builds a cocoon for itself, only to have to tear that same cocoon apart after it completes metamorphosis.  What would happen if someone tore open the shell and let the butterfly out?  It dies.  It won’t be able to fly because it has never had to fight through the material to gain freedom.  Are we cutting open the cocoons of students and standing there in disbelief when they just give up? Are we handicapping them for the world they will live in and things will not be easy?  What will they do when they can’t google every answer?  Technology solves a lot of problems, but it creates as many as it solves.

My feelings on this stem from the time I have spent in the classroom.  It does not matter what the age group, the questions students ask are always the same. The most disturbing questions I’ve heard are ones that I would have never thought to ask my teacher.  “Do I have to write the sentences?”  “Do I have to show my work?”  “Can I use a calculator?”  Most people would think, yes, but I asked my teacher those same questions back when I was in school, but there is a big difference in that now students are used to not having to do those things, and when asked to do them they act like you are trying to kill them.

I know that most people will claim my education in the late 80’s to early 90’s by all rights was sub-par simply because we only had one computer in the back of the classroom, and we only used it to play Oregon Trail.  Sure, we were taught in units about dinosaurs and Native Americans.  Do I remember everything I was taught?  Absolutely not, however, I gained something valuable from this kind of learning.  I learned how to research without the benefit of typing something into a search engine.  I learned how to glean important information and throw out what I didn’t need. I learned proper sentence structure when I wrote those 300 book reports. I was forced to not just read to do a book report, but I had to think about that book.  I made models of volcanos, Native American villages, and cells.  We collected bugs, leaves, and wildflowers.  We labeled, we followed rubrics, and we didn’t have a clue that we were doing anything of substance because it all seemed kind of fun.  But, even with all the fun we had, there were no easy answers.  We had no Google.  We had World Book Encyclopedia and whatever the card catalog had for us to use, IF we could in fact figure out the Dewey Decimal System.

Students of today rely heavily on technology to do their work for them.  If you don’t believe me, just ask them.   The local high school is full of classrooms where students spend all their spare time on cellphones, or other mobile devices, and they are traumatized if you ask them to put it down for a few minutes to actually talk with them in person.  Their only thoughts during class in the local high school are when can they can get their phones back out to play music, take selfies, and text their friends. Coupled with this problem there is the other  issue that has nothing to do with technology.  It has to do with a mindset that this access to technology has created. Because there is always an easy answer, they do not know what it is like for a problem to take many steps and time to solve.  We know that in the real world the jobs that we have are not likely to have answers waiting for us on google.  Students that are in today’s classrooms, getting ready for tomorrow’s job market need to understand how to think. Right now they are used to letting a computer do most of that for them.  What does this mean for our education system?

The reality is students might not remember all the finer aspects of geometry, Spanish III, or chemistry.  They will remember working together to solve problems, and what is the most important to remember?  Sometimes it is healthy to give a student a problem and let them work through it. We should be asking them hard questions.  We should ask questions that may have more than one answer.   We should teach them to question things and not just take things at face value.  We need students that struggle, and are given time to struggle.  We need to stop letting students google answers, and instead ask them to dig deep, think deeply,  and embrace the struggle.  Let these students figure out for themselves how great it feels to accomplish something they never thought they would ever be able to do.  If we are truly going to prepare students for jobs that are not created yet, we have to change the way we educate them so that while technology is used, it is not the focus.  If someone had focused on technology when I was in school I would only know about cellphones the size of an infant, a computer without a mouse, a dot matrix printer, and an overhead projector.  Those were all great, but they weren’t the focus.  The focus was on what I needed to make me an educated member of society.

We can’t predict the future, even as teachers stand with the future in front of them everyday.  We don’t teach subjects.  We teach students.  What do the students of today need to know to be a well rounded person? We know they will figure out the technology, but will they figure out how to embrace the struggle before we have a country full of CEOs that are looking for the easy way out? Struggling makes us strong.  Teaching students to think and ask questions trumps showing them how to find the answers.  Answers will come, questions require digging deeper.

Sitting In Someone Else’s Chair

I remember the day I got the key to my first classroom. I was shocked someone trusted me enough with a key to something I saw as so valuable. That key represented I was part of something bigger than myself. It was acceptance. To some people that key was a paycheck, a duty, or stacks of papers to grade. All I could see was the difference I wanted to make.

Today, in sharp contrast, I waited for an assistant principal to unlock the door of the classroom where I was to spend the day in someone else’s chair. I thought about the lack of a key, and how locked out I feel right now. The difference I wanted to make does not go away with the absence of a key. Without a chair of my own it would be easy to feel not quite a teacher, and not just a babysitter either.

What makes you a teacher? What makes anyone what they are? Is it the key that fits in the lock where they work each day? Is it the chair they sit in? What about the papers on their desk? All of those things I no longer can call mine, but I still feel like a teacher. I still hold teacher credentials. Are those the key? But I’m reminded of the months I was still in school to get my teaching license, and I was an intern at a local elementary school. Even then I felt like a teacher. So, a teaching license doesn’t make a teacher a teacher either.

I think what makes you a teacher can’t be tangible. I think of Jesus sitting on mountains, roaming around with followers. He had little with Him. He needed no Promethean Board, paper clips, or red pens. He didn’t need a textbook or a list of important words hanging on a wall. He had followers, or students, because of the example He gave. He taught with kindness, loaves and fishes, and a fisherman’s net. He taught with stories, ones that made you think. He never held a teaching license, never had a key to a building, never graded a stack of papers, and never had a chair to call his own. His teaching was nomadic, but clearly effective. I have to wonder if He knew the difference He was making. I’ve always heard that if a student didn’t know how much you care, he won’t care what you know. I’d say Jesus probably understood this better than most.

So I guess I am left having to take a note from what Jesus never said, but instead did. I’ll travel from classroom to classroom sharing a chair with some great teachers. My message is different, and not as important, but it is what I am supposed to do. I’ll do it with a willing heart knowing I don’t have to have a key on a key ring, a red Swingline stapler with my name emblazed across the top, a bookshelf full of curriculum, or a chair to call my own. After all, the greatest gift a teacher can give his or her students is to never stop learning. So far, I’ve learned a lot about teaching from students, content that I normally don’t come into contact with, and about myself.

Who needs a chair? Real teachers never sit down anyway.

Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.