Posted in ebb & flow, education, motivation, parenting

Allowance, housework, and The Kid

We recently implemented a three-part economic system with The Kid.

Part 1: Allowance

He gets a weekly allowance. It’s not as a reward or payment for anything done. In our thinking, it’s a means of teaching money management, and it gives him some autonomy in a world where most of his decisions are made for him.

Each week from his allowance, he has to save $1 in the bank. That’s long-term savings for the future and is not available for anything any time soon. I keep his weekly dollars in a marked envelope; we don’t go to the bank weekly to deposit $1.

Each week from his allowance, he has to donate $1. We talked about some of the places he could give money (also not typically in $1 increments, but those dollars can be saved and donated in larger pools). He has chosen to keep his dollar in the car to give to panhandlers. Maybe not what I would have chosen, but his dollar, his choice.

The remaining dollars are his to do with as he pleases. Right now, he’s saving for a LEGO kit. (Those savings don’t go in the bank—they stay separate from long-term savings.)

Part 2: Jobs to do because you live in a house

He has jobs (chores by a less negative title) he has to do regularly just because he is part of a household. All three of us have work around the house we have to do. Many of those tasks are specifically delegated; some are “whoever gets to it.”

Right now, he is responsible to clear his dishes from the table and, if the dishwasher is dirty, rinse and put his dishes in. He needs to sweep the area under his seat after each meal as needed. He sorts his dirty clothes and folds or hangs and puts away his clean laundry. He empties or helps empty the dishwasher if he’s around when it needs to be done, and for dinner, he needs to either help with preparation, set the table, or clear the table.

Part 3: Jobs for extra money

He also has the opportunity to do extra work around the house for pay. Most jobs pay $1, though a few pay more (and a few are broken into smaller $1 pieces).

Each of these jobs is written at the top of a notecard, and the rest of the card details how to do the job. This way he can make sure he’s done all of it before asking one of us to check it.

The cards are hung on a board with a clothespin and are divided in two piles: “available” and “not available right now.” So when a job is done—regardless who completed it—it gets moved to the not available side until it comes around again.

There are things that need to get done that aren’t on any of these lists. The rule is that he helps with other tasks as requested. We will tell him ahead of time if it’s a paid job or not. No need to ask—it will be laid out.

He also can’t complete paid jobs if his “because I live here” jobs aren’t done.

The whole thing hasn’t been in place for all that long, but it’s working well so far. He can do extra work when he wants to, choose work he’d rather do (or money he’d rather make—the best-paying are often the least desirable) and I don’t need to nag.

We’ll see how long it takes for him to earn what he needs to buy his Saturn V…

Posted in education, know better do better, mental health, mindset, parenting

Shaming isn’t useful

A few years ago, I bought a course by Brené Brown through Udemy. The course is no longer available for purchase, but I still have access to it and go through part or all of it from time to time.

At one point, she said (paraphrased), “85% of adults interviewed remember something so shaming from school that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”

That’s a lot of power. “Forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”


I know more people than I’d like who were explicitly told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing. My mom was told to stand in her spot and lip sync.

That horrifies me.

People discouraged from taking certain classes or career paths, regardless of content or grade level. (I know stories kindergarten through grad school.)

(There are just as many stories of people who were totally lifted up, inspired, or saved by teachers as well. And there’s a difference between “these are skills you need to work on and it’s going to be a lot of work” and “you’re not good at this and shouldn’t bother.” The second is both mean and pedagogically lazy.)

Of course, it’s not just teachers. Parents use shame all the time. There are awful (and, unfortunately, widely celebrated) videos of parents publicly shaming their children.

Culturally, shame is a national pastime.

The thing is: shaming is not an effective means of punishment. It doesn’t work—not the way we do it. And it’s strongly connected to addiction. (Coincidence that we have an enormous addiction problem in this country?)

My therapist told me once that we’re the only animals who shame their offspring and don’t follow up with love. The shame becomes internalized. We learn that this failure is who we are instead of something we did.

Unless you’re feeling secure in what that love follow-up ought to look like, bypass shame as an intentional attempted motivational technique.

What people feel shame about varies; different people feel shameful about different things. Your family of origin is typically where those seeds are planted, though as we just learned, school can do it as well, or really anywhere/anyone influential in childhood. So something that doesn’t seem shaming to you could feel very shameful to someone else. (There are oodles of cultural examples of this, no? Ask people if they change by their locker at the gym…)

As teachers, as parents, as people in a civilized place—skip the intentional shaming. We’ll all be better for it.


Posted in ebb & flow, education, parenting


A year ago, I was just beginning my extended school year as the result of a six-day teacher walkout in Arizona.

Those days (the walkout; not so much the make-up days) were overflowing with so much emotion. Anger. Sadness. Worry. Emotions I can’t name. For example, being one of tens of thousands of people marching through Phoenix, nearly all in red T-shirts, in plenty hot weather. (Last May was not as kind as this May was.) I can’t name that emotion, but it was powerful.

I want to share with you two pieces I wrote during the walkout.

Of course, I am a teacher, so I have that angle.

I’m also a mom, and I want The Kid to have good public schools to attend.

I also live in a society where it benefits the majority of us for the majority of us to be educated. Not all college-educated, but all with basic reading, math, and critical thinking skills.

It’s easier for people in power to control an uneducated populace.

On a more local level, we want businesses to make their homes here, because it benefits us economically. But they’re not going to do that if we can’t provide a good work force…

So. Support your local public schools. Not happy with how they’re being run? Go to board meetings. Find out where you can get information. Read. Talk. Learn. Speak up. Vote.

Throwing money blindly at a problem doesn’t solve it, but neither does taking money away.

With that, here were my thoughts prior to leaving the house on the first and fourth days of the walkout. The first day included a march. (From Chase Field to the Capitol, if you’re familiar with Phoenix.) I have not edited them.

But I did make note in the second one about the band. We got the instrumentalists together. We got music to play—either music in the public domain or music that had the copyright donated—and we played and played and played. We contributed to the atmosphere. Helped keep energy up. Were wildly popular.

It’s not often that the band kids are the popular kids.


I’ve read some beautiful narrations about all that’s going down today, many of them by people who don’t share much of their interior life on Facebook.

On the other hand, I, who am usually overflowing with narrations, don’t have any coherent paragraphs about all this.

I have stood in a pack of tens of thousands of people, full of nervous energy.

But today, we are not running a 10k.

Today, we are finding the energy, after a 10-year marathon, to stand up and say ENOUGH.

You can call us names. You can make up your own truths. You can pretend that public education doesn’t matter. We are not delicate flowers who wilt under nastiness.

People, we teach junior high.

I will never understand how people demonize teachers, and then send their kids to be in our care all day every day.

How people complain about having their kids home over breaks but have no empathy for those of us who have dozens of them at once.

Today, together with tens of thousands of my colleagues, in Phoenix spring weather (read: 100 degrees), I will walk. I will chant. I will sing. I will play. I will talk. I will stand as tall as my little body stands.

There is a small handful of things that I have this conviction about. Creating and maintaining a flourishing public school system is one of them.

See you in Phoenix.

(And it turns out, I did have a few words.)


I have so many thoughts. They don’t all flow. Hang on for the ride…

I’m getting ready for my 4th day at the Arizona Capitol, protesting that our government isn’t properly funding education.

We’ve been writing, calling, voting (though not enough of us…) for a decade. There have been lawsuits that the government LOST and still, here we are.

And still here we are, demonized by so many for being selfish and greedy. People whose opinions we have to just let roll, because they don’t understand us at all, and they don’t want to.

People who don’t understand and will have a conversation? Will ask questions and listen to answers? THOSE are the people we need to talk to. Not the people who already agree. Not the people for whom we have never done any right. The people who are trying to learn. We are teachers.

In the classroom, we’re responsible for everyone’s learning. Right now, we’re not. Teach the teachable. Let the others go.

Years ago (2008? 2009?), I sat in a faculty meeting where my colleagues and I were asked to vote on whether everyone should take a 3% pay cut, or if instead they should cut band, art, and library. Not only were they asking about whether I and my fellow special area teachers should be employed, but they were asking if these subjects were more valuable to students than our salaries.

We (collectively) voted to take a pay cut. Greedy, selfish teachers.

The whole situation is surreal. Why is education political? How is it that we’re so divided on creating an educated population? (I know a lot of the why behind that. It’s just so … crazy that we’ve gotten to this point. That money and greed—real greed, not “greedy teacher” greed—has brought us here.)

And then…AND THEN… to say that the only way we can fund education is to cut funding to other programs … to pit the “have less”es against each other. As if there’s NO POSSIBLE OTHER WAY. (And we’re not the have-nots, because ultimately, this all still falls under “first world problems” … but if we let it continue unchecked, that’s not going to stay the case…)

I walk around at the Capitol. I talk to people. I play with the band. And I think … I’m supposed to be teaching right now. Yet here I am, because the people in charge of taking care of us are not doing their job. They’re actively hurting us.

Playing with the band …

There are a lot of posts going around by non-music people about how amazing the band is, how much energy we bring to the event and to the people in it.

This is (part of) why we have music education. Not because music makes you smarter. Not to raise test scores. Not as a feather in one’s cap for college applications.

Music for music’s sake.

With that, the Camelbak is full, snacks are packed, the red shirt is on, and I’m headed back to Phoenix. Hope to see you there.


Posted in ebb & flow, education, gratitude

Out with the old; not yet in with the new

Teaching has some qualities about it that are unique.

Today—for better or worse, as with every year before—was one of those unique-to-teaching days.

The kids left.

They’re not coming back until July. (We’re on a modified year-round calendar in my district.) The oldest ones aren’t coming back at all.

Every year, the clock starts on the first day and runs relentlessly to the end. TV timeouts only. No stopped play for fouls, for rule book consultation, for rowdy fans.

Sometimes, you had a great school year with this crop and you’re sad to see them go.

Some years, time can’t run out fast enough. The mix of personalities or the way you and they work together (or don’t) can make even the simplest of tasks grueling.

But every year ends, whether happy or sad, and in a handful of weeks, we get to start over, to try again, a little bit wiser than we were before.

We get “new years” twice a year—once by the calendar and once by the school year. What a privilege!

My brain is busy with ideas of how I want to start the year next year—the beginning is critical because it sets the tone—and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to try again.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, mindset

Free time isn’t free

I’m a teacher. Years ago, I had an excellent assistant principal who said, as the year wound down, “Free time isn’t free. Someone always pays for it.”

The message was: keep kids engaged and learning all the way to the end. Most of the time, the teachers are the ones who pay for the free time. Not always the teacher who gives it. (Every now and then there’s a class that can have some free time, behave appropriately, reengage when it’s time, and not continuously ask afterwards when they’re going to have free time again. Those classes are rare indeed.)

Do something meaningful with the time, as often as possible.

We so often kill time then later lament that it’s gone. Even if it’s not always in the context we’d prefer, use it while we have it.

At this point in the school year (for me, four student days of school left), we’re not playing instruments any more. We’ve gotten them all cleaned (whew!), we’ve gotten them all accounted for (whew!), and there’s time left. (So much better to have time left than to run out of time.)

We play music-based games. I’ve done the 90-second rule meditation from the Calm app with some classes. We do self-reflections and planning for next year. There are other things we could do if there was even more time, but we’re rarely that efficient at inventory. Some things that used to be end-of-the-year fun are now part of my regular curriculum.

We (teachers) spend a lot of time complaining that we don’t have enough instructional time. (And we don’t, based on mandates. That’s a whole separate train of thought that I won’t tangent into today.) Here’s some time that’s unaccounted for. Use it to do something interesting and fun that The Standards don’t permit the rest of the year.

Keep kids engaged. Keep yourself engaged. And may the force be with you.