Teacher Professor

April 19, 2016

Growth in the Classroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 3:15 am

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Friends and colleagues! Please participate in/pass on this survey I am doing as part of my Fulbright- The goal of this project is to determine how educational psychological growth principles are translated by educators and to determine what educators perceive as the context for these principles in their schools- in a cross-cultural comparison (higher ed professors welcome as well!). Your participation and the participation of your colleagues is voluntary but incredibly valuable to educator training and professional development! It takes about 20-30 minutes… I SO appreciate your help… 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/growthprinciples

April 14, 2016

“Blue” is not a Greek word (although everything else is!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 2:56 am

Despite having seas this color

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And skies THIS color

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apparently, the ancient Greeks did not have a word for “blue”.  In fact, there is some evidence that they did not even perceive blue, despite working with lapis lazuli, turquoise and the aforementioned seas and skies.   Homer mentions the “wine-dark sea” and refers to the “bronze sky”.  Sheep were bronze as well, and honey was green. In fact, “blue” was not a word in ancient China, Japan, Hebrew or other ancient cultures.  Only the Egyptians had a color for “blue” and they were the only ones for centuries with the ability to create the color through dye.  What the Greeks had were words for “light” and “dark”.  Color was less important than the depth.

Which is FASCINATING to me, because the ancient Greeks had a word for EVERYTHING!  One of the phrases that travelers will share with each other with great humor is the Greek tendency to tell you, “_____ is Greek word.  You know this word?  Is Greek!”

Click here for Youtube clip of My Big Fat Greek Wedding- I show you how the root is Greek.  

The pride with which the Greeks inform you that your language, your perceptions, your way of thinking, started HERE is palpable.  A phrase from Mary Stewart’s book “My Brother Michael” that I recently read had a phrase that says, “There’s your own country, and then there’s Greece“.

A short listing of words gives you an idea:

anarchist, ambidextrous, anatomy, androgynous, archaic, architect, autograph, ancient, amphitheater, antiseptic... and that is just the As!

Their legends, their concepts, their ideas of things have formed the foundation of our language and our way of understanding the world.  Our sense of ourselves as individuals, not parts of a collective;  our belief in “one person/ one vote”; our aesthetic sense of balance and justice- these are rooted in Greece.

The impact of Greece is far bigger than the country itself.  In land mass (50,000 square miles), it’s smaller than Louisiana (51,000), but slightly bigger than Mississippi (49,000).  Much smaller than my home state of Georgia (59,000).  Yet, Alexander the Great was the first empire to dominate the world, and he was the last (the LAST) person to conquer Afghanistan.

Greece is studied by third graders in Georgia as part of the “Ancient Greece and Rome” unit where they study the impact on our design, our language and our democracy.  Kids made models of the Acropolis, dress in togas, and get a vague understanding that we are where we are because of the works and thoughts of people long ago past.  They read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series with a vague understanding that it’s based on ancient stories.  For most American children and adults, Ancient Greece is a story, a backdrop- along with fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

But here, it’s personal.  They see themselves in all aspects of the world.  They see how their culture is so much larger than their country.  There is a significant pride in their past, their art, their poetry and their impact.  They see themselves as a treasure and the source of all that is Western.  Their thoughts formed how we think.

Which is why is was such a shock that they did not have “blue”. did not know “blue”.  For a country whose FLAG is blue and white…

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In an article about “Blue“, Wikipedia notes that blue was a word from Middle English derived from the Germanic tries, who would paint their faces blue in war.  It became the color of Christianity when the Byzantine Muslims world chose green as their “Color” and Christians had to wear the color blue to identify themselves.  Blue became a war color again and was adopted by the Greeks in their centuries-long battle against the Ottoman Turks.

So- blue is not a Greek word- and apparently, wasn’t even a Greek concept.  I had no idea of the history and cultural references that a single color, one that pervades this country, could have.

 

April 12, 2016

Amazing Teachers Everywhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 8:25 am

“Hello, I’m the crazy teacher.”

“Oh?  What grade do you teach?”

“Sixth.”

“Oh well, that explains why you’re crazy!”

And with this exchange, I established an immediate connection with a fellow teacher here in Greece and had a wonderful laugh that only people who have taught sixth grade can share.

I had the great joy of visiting two schools today- a school for preK-elementary aged children with special needs and a general education public elementary school.  In both schools, I was welcomed and reminded of how universal good teaching is- and how kids are kids no matter the language or the culture.  My most sincere thanks to Dr. Ioannis Dimakos who toured me around, providing translations and explanations and who shares a deep love of children.

I was welcomed by the principal of the special school and was reminded once again how important it is to have a strong, visionary principal.  She showed me around and I got a chance to hug children, and see all of the various therapies that are offered with an emphasis on real-world skills, even with very little ones.

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I shared my pain of writing the Greek alphabet with one child and observed how teachers would adapt reading instruction for the varying levels of the children.  These are children who, despite having limited legal protections, have strong advocates in their teachers and administrators.  A school is only as good as their teachers- and I saw the dedication, strength and humor that is the hallmark of strong educators.  The school had a very small student-teacher ratio, and I never saw a child “lost” in the melee of the classroom.  All were engaged either in small groups or directly with an adult.  Except for the one child who was having a melt down, and even he was in a pile of pillows and sponges where he could see and hear the rest of the classroom.  Alone, but not isolated.

What is your name?

Where are you from?

How are you?

Questions I was asked when I was mobbed by a group of seven-year olds who wanted to welcome me and to try out their English.   I was vastly entertained because my Greek extends to the same questions they asked me:

Πως σε λενε;

Απο που εισαι;

Τí κανεις;

Do you feel famous?”  asked my guide- Anastacia, 7 years old, who speaks English very fluently and was a student in Ms. Resvani’s classroom.  Vasiliki Resvani is a second grade teacher who is one of the most amazing teachers I’ve seen (and she happens to be married to Dr. Dimakos!).  She helped her students learn English, practice handwriting, and prepared for an upcoming field trip to the main Plaza of Patra by having students prepare a “Welcome book” for me.  The children were to practice their English writing and include their drawing of what they wanted to share about Patra.

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I am pretty sure I did an exact copy of this picture when I was seven… complete with hearts.

IMG_5401I particularly love how the rain clouds look like the octopi in the sea.

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This kid likes flags.  I love the inclusion of the US and Greek flags… although I’m not certain what flag the boat is flying.  Ghana? Ethiopia? Mozambique?

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What I love about this one is that his/her work was included as well.  This work was just as valued and appreciated as everyone else’s.

Good teachers everywhere love their children.  Great teachers everywhere work to include and value every child.  I was humbled and honored to be able to be reminded that great teaching is not limited to a particular culture, a particular socio-economic level or even a particular language.  I was reminded that great teaching focuses on helping a child communicate to a broadening world.

I will treasure my book.  It will remind me that while so much can be different, great teachers are universal.  Even if they’re “crazy”!

March 14, 2016

Adjustments

Filed under: Fulbright,Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 1:57 am

The following is not intended as “whining”, but a humorous look at how this experience is shaking me out of my complacency. 

While there have been many, many wonderful things about this Fulbright experience (the freedom to study and write! The strawberries!  The people!), I have had to make a few adjustments…

Alphabet:

It’s one thing to learn a foreign language.  It adds a whole level of complexity to learn a new alphabet on top of that.  I am at about a 4-year level of the alphabet right now.  Last night, Mother and I ate at this restaurant and we literally gave each other high-fives when we decoded that it says “George’s”.  Standing out in the middle of the street squealing that we could interpret it.  I have so much more sympathy for tourists.

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We stand for minutes at a time at the grocery store, trying to decipher what things are.

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We assume that these are Ritz crackers.  Big squeals when we found them.

Not big squeals with I learned that this….

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Is NOT cream for my coffee.  Turns outs it’s buttermilk.  That was NOT the way to start the morning…

Toilet Paper

 

I’m carrying my own toilet paper.  The university has a cleaning woman on staff, but no money for cleaning materials, so everyone brings their own toilet paper, and chips in to contribute bleach, hand soap, etc.

And the worst of all… the toilet paper is non-biodegradable.  Which means that you put it in the trash can after you use it.  No flushing of toilet paper.  I find myself getting used to almost everything else.  At this point, I would sell my soul for Charmin.

Cold

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That’s a radiator at my office.  That doesn’t work because while the University has central heat and air, they have no money to pay for heat.  So, no heat or air conditioning.  I work in my office with a coat.  Students attend classes in sweaters and coats.  Normally, it’s ok, but we’ve had a cold spell this week.  I am now making tea to warm up my fingers so I can type. Spring is around the corner…

Fizzy orange juice/ fizzy apple juice/ fizzy lemonade/ sparkling water

They like beverages fizzy around here.

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I do not.

Laundry

Because I am in a hotel apartment, there is no laundry.  We walk our laundry down to the laundromat a 1/2 mile away.  It is not like a US laundromat- they do it for you.  At first, we were like “Yay!”, until we learned they take 4-6 days to turn it around.  Until we learned that they wash our clothes in cleaning solution.  Which smells.  Horribly.  Like dry cleaning solution.  And until I got someone else’s t-shirt and my favorite black pants are gone.

This is our new washer/dryer.  Which is me learning a whole new set of skills.

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Transportation

Getting from point A to Point B is complicated.  I live a mile from the University, so I walk (uphill) in the morning, downhill at lunch to spend time with my mom, back uphill in the afternoon and back downhill in the early evening.  My colleagues have offered to pick me up, which happens when it rains, but I am enjoying the walking!  Nothing like a fitness routine because you “have” to.  But it does mean that I’m not thrilled at the idea of walking the two miles down to the sea- and back- or to the coffee shop a mile away.  Navigating without a car is literally something I have not done since I was 15, so it’s challenging, especially when you don’t speak the language.

Getting to Athens or Delphi involves the KTEL bus.  Which has seat numbers. I am very grateful that the word “seat” is in English.  Finding the seat number on the seat itself was challenging and involved lots of hand gestures from other people.

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Animals

While some Greeks have pets, there are an awful lot of animals hanging around.

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Dogs in the main square of Athens- well-fed, but roaming.

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A pair of pigeons apparently live in the bakery across from us.  We see them every time we visit.

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Lack of sidewalks

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Makes for an adventure every time I go out.  The footing is always exciting as we pick our way down the street.  Parking appears to be random, but polite.  If people are hemmed in, they honk and someone comes out to move their car.  No big deal…

Earthquakes

Never lived in California.  Last night, the bed shook as if the dog had gotten up on it.  I got a little freaked out…

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And…

There are so many things I am getting adjusted to that I am going to miss.  Fresh orange juice.  And I mean FRESH.

IMG_5309Just the fruit itself could be whole ‘nother blog…

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One think I’m amazed at is just how kind people are here. Store keepers laugh and clap at our feeble attempts at communication.  They enjoy that we are trying and there is no sense of mockery or irritation.  Colleagues offer to pick me up when it’s raining.  Students want to come talk to me.  The hotel people tell us of good places to eat. Despite my settling-in challenges, there is truly a warm sense of kindness and support here that is like nothing I’ve seen before.  This I don’t mind adjusting to.

Disclaimer: These comments are NOT slights or insults to my very kind hosts here in Greece.  And many of these comments have nothing to do with Greece itself, but my own adjustment to altered living conditions.  They are statements to share how easy it is to get complacent where you are.  And I am also aware that I am VERY fortunate to be living here at all- especially compared to the Asst. professor from Syria who is a refugee at the border of Greece and Macedonia  (A story I read in a translated Yahoo page that I can’t find now..). 

March 10, 2016

Sisterhood of the Traveling Teachers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 2:53 am

IMG_0151Two of my teacher candidates from CCGA are coming to see me! When I first heard about the Fulbright, I could not imagine doing this without sharing it.  I asked all of my students if anyone was interested in coming to visit.   After getting lists of folks, there ended up being two who had the time and the interest to come.  “Ivy” and “Jennifer” are teacher candidates, about to graduate and about to face their own classrooms.  They are coming to visit during their spring break, and neither of them have ever been out of the country.  I feel responsible to keep them safe, show them education in a foreign country, and help them get impressions so that they can share with their students.

Understanding the world today has never been more important. Much of that understanding comes from what we learn in school. Students look to their teachers for knowledge about a world that is not yet part of their own lived experience. By spending time abroad teachers gain fresh perspectives that deeply enrich their students’ learning and global awareness.”- GEEO.org

Dear Ivy and Jennifer,

I’m getting so excited about y’all coming!  It will be fun to share this- and to be amazed at how similar and different it is… Here is the schedule and some random thoughts.

Ya’ll leave on Sunday from Jacksonville.  Connect through Atlanta and then a long flight to Paris.  Charles de Gaulle is tricky- LOTS of walking.  You will go through the passport control line here in Paris.  We accidentally got in the EU line- which is for the European Union.  You should get in the non-EU line- and they are not very nice about telling you that you are in the wrong line.  When they ask, do NOT SAY that you are studying here- they will want to see your visa. Just tell them you’re on a short vacation.  They should stamp it and send you right through.  Depending on circumstances, you might have to go through security again- it’s a long line and it’s a tight connection.  Everything IS marked in English, you just have to keep following the signs.  It looks like a bunker.  Just get through Charles de  Gaulle.  It is NOT Paris, except that the women in the airport look spectacular.

When you land in Athens, you will walk a distance and collect your luggage, you do not have to go through passport control again.  After you collect your luggage, go through the doors marked NOTHING TO DECLARE.

Monday- 4:30- I will pick y’all up at Athens Airport right outside of the Nothing to Declare doors.  We will stay at the Holiday Inn near the airport that night.

Tuesday- We’ll go to Acropolis via the X95 bus.  The Acropolis– where I cried on the steps at the power of being at the beginning of Western Civilization.  Leave bags at hotel.  Come back and get them.  Catch the X93 bus to the KTEL bus station.  Catch the 4:00 bus to Patra. Arrive Patra 7:30pm.  Go to Hotel Castello apartment where I live.

Wednesday- Go visit schools with me and Dr. Dimakos (he’s my sponsor here) a school for children with special needs and an impoverished “regular” school.  A teacher just got written up for having a first grader stand up in front of the class and say “I am nothing.  I understand nothing.  I am trash”.  In front of the class.  Parents are up in arms.  Emergency PTA meeting.  It may have settled down, but it was an interesting place to be a teacher last week.  A teacher’s desire to take out their frustration on children is universal, I’m afraid.  So is good teaching, as well! I hope to show you the good part of teaching…

Thursday- Work with me on research in the morning. Coding responses- yay!  That afternoon, there is a lecture on something about Greece in English for Erasmus students.  Erasmus is a program for university students where they can study in another country for a short while. Most colleges are free to students in the EU- they just have to get in.  There are limited slots and everything depends on their high school exit test.  I’m in a “Learn Greek” class with two girls from Italy, a boy from Portugal, and a boy and a girl from Hungary.  The class is in English- which means that they are translating from Greek to English to their native language back to English back to Greek.  They already understand better than I do.  Last Tuesday, after sitting there for two hours, and getting lost after one hour in, I felt very stupid.  (Note: Now is NOT the time to tell me you know how I feel…!)  

Friday- Help me present in a class in which I am coteaching (NOT what I’ve taught you is  coteaching).  I chime in speaking English every now and then.  Dr. Dimakos talks in Greek, and although he is very gracious at including me, I try to look like I know what he’s talking about (Note: This is again NOT where you tell me you know how I feel!).  We’re going to be presenting on ADHD and anxiety, something you know a lot about at the end of your program.  However, this is for students who want to be teachers- so bring examples and stories about children.  And speak slowly.  They have studied English since first grade, but are not used to speaking English.  Also, they do not hear the difference between Southern and “regular” English- we’ll see if they can hear Jessica’s accent!

Leave for Delphi on the 12:40 bus.  Arrive Delphi 4:00ish. Stay at the Amalia Hotel.  .

Saturday- Tour Delphi- the “Center of the Universe“.  Maybe the Oracle will speak to you!? Catch the 4:10 bus to Athens.  Spend the night at the Holiday Inn.

Sunday- Up bright and early to catch your plane back!  The longest afternoon EVER…

Just so you know- there is a Worldwide Caution out for US Citizens.  I was concerned until I read it- and it covers Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East.  Truly, the whole world- there are no specific alerts or warnings.  We will be avoiding large crowds and not be stupid.  You DO stand a much better chance of being killed by a cow, Tylenol, or taking a selfie than a terrorist. Greeks love Americans- we bring money, which they desperately need. And they are just incredibly hospitable and kind.  They really will try very hard to help you!  Almost all Greeks, especially the younger ones, speak some limited English.  Do NOT be freaked out if you hear about the advisory… it’s just a precaution.  And yes, terrorism is a threat.  Just like tornadoes are at home.  You know one could come, but they don’t directly threaten us often.  Just don’t be stupid.  And pray a little- just because.  Many Greeks look Middle Eastern, but Greeks are Greek Orthodox Christians and they are way more upset at the threat than we are.

Jet lag is a real thing.  Greece is 7 hours ahead of home.   I have found that for me, I cat-nap on the long flight and basically hit Greece exhausted.  Eat a light dinner, drink TONS of water, and fall in bed.  Bed time at 9:00 is 2:00pm at home, so convincing yourself to go to sleep is hard unless you’re exhausted.  Getting up at 7:00 am feels like getting up at midnight, so that alarm clock is rough!  Only if you’ve had some solid sleep that first night, will you be able to survive it.  Water and sleeping on their schedule makes it go away.

What to bring?  Clothes, shoes and a smallish suitcase you can haul around on and off of busses.  The weather is almost exactly like it is at home- although this week is chilly.  There is snow in the mountains behind me.  Normally 60s and 70s with lows in the 50s.   LOTS of walking.  I walk to work every day- which is a mile uphill.  And back for lunch and to visit with my mom.  And back up the university again. And back to the apartment again.  I’m walking on average 5 miles a day.

Regarding clothes- there is much less emphasis on clothes here.  Many Greeks do not have dryers and many will handwash and dry in the sun.  My laundromat is a half mile away, takes five days to clean things- so I’m learning to handwash and re-wear things.  Students wear what students everywhere wear.  Black leggings and tunics. Teachers wear comfortable clothing as well.  Because of the horrific price of gas, most people use cars only for significant reasons, so there is lots of walking and lots of public transportation.  Those who do drive do so very fast, or very slow. After watching my husband drive the two lane road (due to a highway expansion project) from Athens to Patra, I decided that we would all die if I drove- so hence the use of public busses.

I’d advise you to bring what I’m pretty much living in- A pair of jeans.  A pair of black stretchy, knit, pants/ leggings. Underwear and socks for every day (although these can be washed out). 3-4 long-sleeve t-shirts.  1 cardigan sweater or sweatshirt.  one pair of walking shoes.  You will not wear cute shoes.  You can buy an umbrella if it rains.  No one appears to  wear dresses except the elderly and the professional business women.  A scarf to wear if it’s cold, you’re in a church and want to cover your head, or just to dress up an outfit.  No swimsuits- too cold.  &#X02639

The food is yummy! The desserts are even better.

If you have any extra room, bring toilet paper.  Their toilet paper here is non-biodegradable, so you have to put your used toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet. I now carry wet wipes with me and I’ll have some for you.  It’s the one part of this adventure I’m having a hard time getting over.  Busses?  Fine.  Walking? Fine.  Handwashing clothes?  Fine.  Language?  Fine.  Bathrooms? Not fine.

Any questions? Looking forward to it!!! &#X1f60a Remember, kids are kids- no matter where you are.  The immigrant children will break your hearts…

Dr. Claire

March 3, 2016

A Tiger by the Tail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 12:52 am

I am attending the European Council on High Ability conference in Vienna. The topic of the conference, chosen a year and a half ago is “Talents in Motion: Encouraging the Gifted in the Context of Migration and Intercultural Exchange“.  I don’t know if you’ve been watching any news recently that doesn’t deal with the American election, but the EU is going through a crisis around the issue of refugees right now.  Refugees are washing up on the shores of Greece, and Greece is asking for help in relocating and resettling them.  There are thousands of homeless refugees wandering around Greece.  I was talking to one man I met in Athens, and he was on his way to the port of Piraeus with two suitcases full of shoes that his community had collected- one suitcase full of shoes for children, the other for grownups.  Shoes.  It’s a crisis.

 

So, this conference is timely.  I wonder if the organizers predicted the timeliness of the topic. I am not nearly as up on my foreign affairs or the state of immigrant crisis as many of my colleagues at this conference or in Greece, but even I can tell when a conference theme has a tiger by the tail.  “Tiger by the tail” is an idiom that means: “To have become associated with something powerful and potentially dangerous; to have a very difficult problem to solve”.  


IMG_5171Which means that I was terribly, terribly impressed when Martine Reicherts- the EU General Director for Education and Culture, the Austrian Secretary of State (whose name I missed), AND Cardinal Christoph Schönborn all spoke in the opening ceremony.  That’s pretty “tall cotton”, as my Southern grandmother would say.  I can certainly say I’ve never been in a room with a Cardinal and a Secretary of State before.  And while the Secretary of State talked about the “need to develop the talents of all and the challenges inherent in integrating these people“, the Cardinal clearly stated “If you are not interested and do not care for other people, you should not be a leader… What a chance for our country and what a promise of talent we have from these refugees“.  Martine Reicherts stated that it was critically important in developing ability to learn from and with people who do not think like we do, believe like we do or look like we do.  It reminded me of the President of CCGA, Dr. Gregory Aloia, who often states that people only differ in the 4Ds- Dress, Diet, Deity, and Decorum- and that there is an underlying humanity and value in all people.  I am not aware enough of the political context to understand the subtle zings or various stances that might have been taken tonight.  But I knew that they were being taken. I could feel the breath of the tiger…

Bad joke from our tour guide this morning-  “The last time we had a European Union, we called it the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  This one seems like it will be as successful as the last one”.  (Which is to say not successful, since the A-H Empire is no more). 

I came to this conference because I want to look at how teachers can help students develop their abilities and develop resilience.  I want to look at the cultural impacts and teacher mindsets.  This venue is a wonderful way to look at how teachers and education professionals are helping students and schools dealing with the challenges- and the possibilities- of students and families in transition.   It is impressive to watch politicians, educational leaders and professors come together to wrestle this tiger.

March 1, 2016

Xenia – Welcome

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 4:28 pm
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Peter Paul Ruben – Jupiter and Mercurius in the House of Philomen and Baucis

Greeks are known for their hospitality.  In some cases, this can cause problems, such as when they welcome refugees that other countries will not help with.  Their hospitality is more than mere courtesy- they even have a word for it- Xenia- which, according to Wikipedia, is the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and to welcome guests as friends. The tradition dates from the times the gods walked among the people and they never knew if a god was going to appear and be hungry.  Clearly, this is similar to the Bible’s admonishment in Hebrews 13:2- Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hospitality is important to Greeks.

I have been the object of this warm welcome during my first week- this xenia- and it has been so appreciated.

At Work
IMG_0128IMG_5061I was given an office. An office with my name on it, and a note that read, “Welcome to the Department of Primary Education, University of Patras, your new academic home for the next few months.”

 
IMG_5060And not just any office … An office with this view – taken, literally, sitting at my desk. I hope I can get work done. Phoenicians sailed there. Romans sailed that sea.The Ottoman Turks and Venice fought there.  The Germans and Italians bombed there.  The Greek War of Independence started there.  Right there.  And I get to look out at this blue, blue body of water and admire it- like so many have for thousands and thousands of years.

IMG_0273Dr. Ioannis Dimakos introduced me to his Special Topics class. And, he asked me to “speak Southern” to them and I pulled out my best “Y’all’s” and drawls.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they could hear the differences that are so particular to the Southern US and my poor jokes fell flat. They smiled at me kindly, however.  They would not want me to feel unwelcome.


Welcome Dinner

IMG_5090On Friday night, Dr. Ioannis Dimako invited me for dinner at his apartment.  His wife, a full-time second grade teacher with two small children, put together this dinner. And, dessert.

And brought out her “dowry” of tablecloth and napkins – hand embroidered with roses. And her crystal and silver liqueur glasses.

IMG_5084That were filled with Notos Tentura – a local Patra muscatel wine mixed with cinnamon, cloves and allspice.  It is an amazing taste and I am bringing back as many bottles as my suitcase can hold.  This is local welcome.

IMG_5091Tired, replete, a little tipsy and full of good Greek welcome, I found my way home.  And resolved to be as welcoming back.

For the true lesson of Xenia is not just the expected hospitality of the giver.  There is an implicit contract that the “givee” will value the welcome, not take advantage of it, will work to help the giver of the welcome when they need it- and will welcome the next traveler they may meet.  It is a wonderful example of the Golden Rule, “pass it forward”, and the development of a community.  Can you imagine if we all welcomed each other with Xenia? This world – and schools – would be places of welcome and celebration.  I am honored to join the community of the Department of Primary Education at the University of Patra. (And I really, really want the recipe for the lemon chicken!)

This blog seeks to entertain you, seeks to educate you, and most importantly, seeks to make you welcome.

February 13, 2013

hAPPy- Please vote!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 9:08 am

I am a finalist in a national contest that asks people to invent ideas for apps for children with autism! The contest is sponsored by Autism Speaks, one of the major autism advocacy groups, and the “winner” will have the app designed for use. My colleague at Vanderbilt University, Lynnette Henderson, and I came up with the idea of “Homework Super Hero“.

The winner is determined by voting on the Facebook page of Autism Speaks and the competition ends on February 17th. I want to emphasize that we get no money from this- just the deep satisfaction that we might have helped some parents and teachers and kids…

Please vote! THe link to vote is: Autism Speaks http://www.facebook.com/autismspeaks?v=app_306225262780703&rest=1&app_data=essay%3D133034

APP DESCRIPTION: Homework Super Hero could be an app that encourages children with autism to organize their thinking and to reduce anxiety related to homework issues. It would help students to metacognitively determine how much homework they had and in what areas, linking to a notebook thta gets filled in during the day, in which students log their homework and estimate how much time it will take to complete the homework. As they activate the Homework Hero, the app asks questions that the child answers in the affirmative- Do you have a place to work? Is it quiet? Do you have the sound the way you want (quiet or low music)? As students answer, they are given their ‘superpowers’ that they can then use to ‘combat’ the game. As they complete their homework, they log it. The homework app keeps track of the time and compares it to the time that the student estimated. The child tries to not only ‘beat the clock’ but come close to their estimated time. They get points for completion and more points for having gotten close to their estimated time. They then get even more points when the homework is graded and the child logs in the grade. Points lead to levels which can then be tied to rewards that the child can preselect. If the estimated time is over 20 minutes, the app can break the actitivity up into two or more sections- each no more than 15-20 minutes long. The clock can be programmed to call the student back to attention after a 10 minute break. In addition to the homework focus, the app can have features that are appropriate for students with autism. Halfway through each homework assisgnment, the app can stop and ask the child to click on a visual icon that describes their frustration level from 1 (low) to 5 (about to blow). If the icon is above a 3, the app can provide some support through a set of scripted stories- ‘Tell yourself you can do this. You can remember doing this in class. If you need to ask a question, use your resources….’

COMMUNITY BENEFIT: The app is designed for three different audiences- the student themself, the parents, and teachers.

The app should benefit the student by taking a stressful situation- homework- and turning it into a visual and interesting electronic game. The game is structured to help students with executive functioning challenges learn how to moderate their response to homework situations, estimate, and take control of their homework. By providing emotional support, the goal is to focus homework, stress management and emotional regulation in one location.
The app is also designed to help parents who must work with a child during homework. By taking some of the “structuring” of the experience off of the parents’ shoulders, the parents can focus on actually providing content assistance. In addition, the parents can review the homework provided by the teacher on one app, instead of checking a sheet that the teacher completes and that the child may or may not have written correctly. By providing “points” for correct homework, the child can be motivated to document and do homework. Doing homework with a child with autism can be stressful for everyone. This app is designed to help students with autism and their parents focus on the academic component, while providing structured emotional management as well.

Lastly, the app is designed to help teachers document a child’s homework and to provide feedback to parents about grades, progress, etc. The app could be linked to IEP goals and encourage the child to become a “Super Hero” to work on IEP goals.

May 10, 2012

Education Always for Everyone

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 12:48 pm

The following is a poem that my daughter wrote in her Language Arts class.  I had no part in the writing of it, and didn’t even know about it until just now when I was going through her weekly folder.

Education Always for Everyone

By “Elizabeth”

Together we learn

Forever in our brain

We all can be different

in many ways

Smart we will be

Without it it’s hard

We learn differently

Together we will be

Open the gates to education

*******************************************************************

She gets it.  She really, really gets it.

Listen to the things she’s saying:

  • We can all be different in many ways– Respect for others and appreciating differences
  • Forever in our brains– Importance of education and the impact that it has on our minds and our way of understanding
  • Open the gates to education- It is critical that we make good education available for all, for everyone, especially those who need it most
  • Smart we will be/… Together we will be.  We learn best from others and from others who are different than we are.

She IS the daughter of a special educator, and has dealt with issues of differences herself and with her brother, but even she knows that our educational system needs help.  I’m so proud and touched and humbled at the understanding of my child- of all children.  As I wipe away the tears, I am reminded of why I do what I do- and I know that she too, will make a difference.

Education Always for Everyone

Mama’s note: Please keep in mind that she’s in 5th grade and has high functioning autism- Language is not her natural element.  Maya Angelou- maybe not.  But Maria Montessori– your legacy lives on…

April 12, 2012

Underneath the Water- Or Why I Don’t Blog Like I Used To

Filed under: ADHD,Autism,Home Things,Tourette's Syndrome,Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 11:39 am

Ray’s guidance counselor described it perfectly the other day as we were determining the need for a 504 Plan for him.  “If you’re working this hard to keep everything ok, perhaps we should document it.”

There’s a phrase that goes something like this “Be like the duck- Calm on the surface and paddling like hell underneath“.  Yes.  And oh yes.

Here’s the thing- things ARE “ok”.  Ray is getting Bs in school,he’s got a few really good friends, and life is not a series of dramatic challenges.  And we’re working really, really, really hard to manage the environment so that he’s doing all right.  When I describe how things are, I get a lot of “Oh, that’s him being 9!… Sounds like he’s being a boy!… Ease up on him, Mom!…”

I have come to realize that his anxiety disorder has created one in me.  Every time we leave the house- to go to the movies, to go to eat, to go to the beach, it’s resistance.  He doesn’t want to leave the house.  Ever.  If we force him, however, he goes.  He doesn’t throw a screaming, hysterical fit.  What he does do is get mean and ugly and “irritable”.  But he goes.  He either relaxes and we have a good time or he doesn’t, and manages to ruin it with his “hmphing”s and growlings and nasty comments.  Until the next time we leave the house again and it never gets easier.  Never.  My husband and I have discussions “Is this worth the fight we’re going to have?”  Every single time, it’s a fight.  And the simplest of errands becomes a battle of wills.

We pick our battles carefully, because it’s important to be consistent.  It’s important to win the important ones, “Yes, you have to go to your cousin’s wedding.. yes, you have to eat three pieces of spinach” and give choices in the unimportant ones, “Do you want to go see ‘The Return of the Titans’?… Do you want spaghetti or tacos tonight?”.  And then there are the “Is this worth the scene it’s going to cause?” issues.  Should we force him to do a sport?  Should we ignore the incessant dribbling basketball in the house?  Should we provide incentives for him to sleep in his room when he wants to sleep in the living room or at the door to our room?  Should we …?  Every thing we do, we have to plan out with the forethought of a general- “What choices can we provide?  Is this worth the battle it’s going to be?  What is causing this resistance and how do we work with this?”  We have to steel ourselves to being stronger and more positive than he is going to be.  Every time.  Except when he’s not.  And we’re tired.  We’re so tired.

The thing that gets me is that these issues are not unique to Ray.  I know 9-year boys.  I taught 9 and 10-year old boys for years.  They are contrary, wonderful, on-the-brink-of-teenagers-but still rational and snuggly.  It’s not the types of challenges- it’s the intensity of challenge that he poses.  I often feel like a whiny, paranoid parent, because these are not unusual issues.  I constantly have to judge- “Is this MY problem or Ray’s problem?”

But then there are the “Things are just not right” moments.  Today, as I took him to the doctor for a bronchitis diagnosis, and I watched him with his arms wrapped completely around himself, rocking with anxiety, avoiding eye contact, and growling at me when the doctor or I tried to talk to him, my heart broke a little bit, but I feel validated that “No, it’s not just me”.  There’s a strong-willed child, and then, there’s… this.  When things are not “right”, he retreats into his own area of misery, rocking and growling and losing his language.  And getting things right is constant juggling, balancing, paddling like hell.

I haven’t been blogging about this because I’ve been very carefully constructing his environment and planning the battles.  He’s hanging in there.  He’s getting Bs because he gets 100s when things are well-balanced, or he gets 20s when something is off.  He has a few friends and their families tell me how sweet and nice he is.  He’s polite.  Teachers tell me they don’t see any real behavior problems other than he’s a little active.  He’s not aggressive and has never hurt himself, anyone or anything.  But I haven’t been able to blog because it feels like it would be a continual litany of “This is so hard… this is so hard… this is so hard…” and I can’t go there.  I can’t let myself sink into the morass of sadness and frustration and depression that lurks- under the surface of “Everything’s ok”.

But I’m tired after this year of keeping things as even as possible, as managed as possible and as positive as I can be.

To hear the guidance counselor support the work that we’ve been doing felt good.  I cried when I heard someone recognize that although things look calm on the surface, we’re paddling like hell underneath.

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