Lessons from Summer: Days as a Stay-at-Home-Dad

macklemore-ryan-lewis-stay-at-home-dadBy Nick McDaniels – I am very fortunate. I’m about half way through my third decade on this planet and my daughter is about half way through her first. And we are both half way through my first summer as a stay-at-home-dad. I’ve learned a lot, from her, about her, about teaching and learning, about myself. So here are eight things I learned during my eight weeks of vacation.

First: I am fortunate to have a job where I get to spend so much time with my daughter. I imagine there are not very many men my age who get the opportunity to spend eight weeks with their kid(s) without interruption. For this, I am grateful.

Second: Four-year-olds talk a lot! Those that know me, know that I don’t leave too much open air in a conversation, so I’d have a hard time claiming that she gets it from her mother. But Charlie’s language is just exploding with idioms and colloquialisms that never stop, but for the occasional breath. At every utterance of an “O Dear Me,” or “Heavens to Betsy,” “What in the world…” I wonder, one: who taught her to talk like my West Virginia grandma, and two: how amazing it is to watch personality bloom in children. I’m pretty sure last Sunday, she talked for about 14 hours straight. Perhaps I’m raising a filibustering future politician. Watch out Ted Cruz and Wendy Davis! Charlie may be able to talk you into submission.

Third: Teaching reading is very different than it used to be. I was not trained to teach reading per se, though in my job, I am probably called to do so more than I should be. But I learned to read simply by being read to, a lot. My daughter loves books, being read to, taking home 45 pounds of books from the library. She loves How The Grinch Stole Christmas more than anything, all year round, usually twice in a row. But she is not interested in sitting down with me and working through a book together as a reader. She’d much prefer to play learning-to-read games on her tablet to practice. I’m not sure if this is blessing or curse, probably both, but I am sure it is different.

Fourth: Physical activity is so important for children of all ages. On days where we’ve hiked all around the zoo (about once per week) because the giraffes, Charlie’s favorite animal, are the farthest from the gate, she is happier the rest of the day (and goes to bed earlier!). The same is true for the pool, where she is learning to swim on her own, an incredibly strenuous activity, learning to swim.

Fifth: I’m a firm believer that being a stay-at-home-parent is really challenging work and stay-at-home-parents do not get the respect, credit, or gratitude they deserve. Parenting is harder than most jobs. I will say this, having only one kid, it is easier than my day job, where I have 30, so I am grateful for the opportunity.

Sixth: Kids learn a lot from TV, the good and the bad. Charlie usually watches some television during breakfast and lunch. We don’t have cable, because like most people, we gave up our phone and TV subscriptions in favor of cell phones and streaming. I monitor which shows she watches, and the volume, but I don’t think it is the brain-rotting evil that I once thought it was. The other day, I said to her, “here’s some water, have a drink.” She replied, “If I don’t I will get dehydrated. Dehydrated is when you don’t have enough to drink.” Then she took the water and walked away. Doc McStuffins is the wise sage that instilled upon Charlie this little gem of knowledge. Not much to complain about there.

Seventh: Children need firm and fair discipline. We’ve experienced our first real bout of back-talking in recent weeks, as the terrible twos were pretty mild for us, which I think we’ve dealt with pretty well using the John Wayne model of parenting (don’t take any crap off anybody). But I can see how such issues can compound and compound quickly without firm structure and boundaries for kids.

Eighth: I will be a better teacher this year because, for the first time, I’ve spent a summer recharging, doing something out of pure love (not that I have not liked my summer jobs). Teachers need this more than most, particularly teachers with families, because during the school year, teachers burn the candle at both ends probably more than people in most professions, all while the days are short, and energy is low. I’m glad to have experienced this and I feel more ready and prepared to teach this year than ever before.

Troublesome Tantrums & Toy Cashiers: Lessons on Behavior Management

toy cashier for Lauren's blogBy Lauren Carufel-Wert — After my first day at the job, let’s just say I was not looking forward to the next one.

But I told myself I needed to keep going. I couldn’t quit on my first day. I thought, “It can’t get worse, it has to get better.”

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Each day that week seemed to get progressively worse. I found myself more often than not outside in the hallway with two students in particular that we’ll call Jack and Max. Both Jack and Max are African-American and marked as having disabilities. Their IEP’s also noted Jack and Max can be physically aggressive.

Unlucky for my co-leader and I, their IEP’s proved to be true.

Jack struggled with controlling his aggressiveness more so than Max. Jack got mad at the flip of the switch, taunted the other children, and felt offended quickly. At one point he threatened a kid, telling him he would punch and beat him up, and then proceeded to bark at the other child like a dog.

Shortly after this incident, he ran out into the hallway. I yelled to my co-leader where I was going and followed Jack into the hallway. I asked him what was going on and how he was feeling. He said some unsettling things for a second grader, the most worrisome being that he solved problems by punching things.

I tried to explain to him that punching things doesn’t solve anything; rather, it hurts another person and only fosters more fights and arguments. However, I could tell that he wouldn’t be changed that easily.

I finally had a breakthrough with him, and it came in the form of a toy cashier. We walked into an empty classroom where he found the toy cashier and began to play with it. He asked if he could go and buy items and started sorting the fake coins and money.

After a little while of playing with the cashier, he opened up and told me that he wanted to leave the room because he was mad. He asked me if we could come back and play with the cashier whenever he started to feel angry. I told him I couldn’t make any promises, but in the end I felt that I had possibly helped him.

I look forward to seeing how he will grow over the remaining course of summer.

Embracing the Unknown

iStock_000003898245XSmall_crop380w_crop380wBy Anna Concannon — As the new school year quickly approaches, I am beginning to realize how old I am.

I’m going to start my junior year of college. I’m about to move into my first apartment. I’m turning 21 in two months. I have three semesters of classes remaining before I start student teaching.

Two years ago, I entered college feeling scared about what was to come. Just four short years ago, I began thinking about college, feeling more freaked out than ever and not knowing what I wanted to study!

The past few years have gone by so quickly. I am getting older. But that’s life! I couldn’t be more excited about what this year has to hold for me.

I am starting a new job at the Service Learning Office. Through that job, I’ll meet new people, become more involved in the school and community, and acquire new skills that can improve my work ethic. I’ll be taking more education methods classes, many of which are very interesting to me, like Teaching Elementary Science and Math.

Yes, I am still a little apprehensive about the future. However, I learned from my trip to South Africa that I can’t be afraid of what is to come; rather, I need to embrace the unknown. So as I begin to gather my school supplies and prepare for the new school year, I have come to realize that I cannot wait for it to begin.

Soaking Up the Last 38 Days of Summer

school-supply-listBy Aubrey Murtha – My summer is more than halfway over at this point, and I must say, I am surprised about how much I actually miss Marquette University.

In elementary school, I think I looked forward to the start of the school year for one reason: it meant I got to buy fresh school supplies.  Although I loved my high school, the start of the school year was, shall I say, not highly anticipated during those four years.  School marked the beginning of an enormous work load, a tremendous amount of additional stress, and an endless number of commitments.

Until now, I was expecting that the latter half of the summer would fill me with dread and disappointment as I began to face the inevitable fact that I would have to return to school soon.  However, I am pleasantly surprised to feel a real sense of excitement!  I cannot wait to go back to Marquette and rejoin the academic community I miss so dearly.

Until then, I will enjoy every remaining day of summer!   All 38 days of it!

The Countdown to My Vesting Date: Teachers, Pensions & Gratefulness

dividing-a-pensionBy Nick McDaniels – There may not be many people my age really thinking about retirement.

And, the way I’m wired, I may never actually think about retirement. But that has not stopped me from counting down the days until I’m vested in my pension. On my first day of service in the 2014-2015 school year, I will be at that point.

Will I invite friends over for a BBQ to celebrate? Probably not (though I’m not ruling it out). But will I stop and say thanks for what is becoming dying form of retirement planning? Most definitely.

With the decline of unionism in America, and in turn, increased unchecked efforts by employers to shift the burdens of doing business to their employees, there has also been a decline in pensions. More and more employees have employer supported retirement through 401K plans and other similar investment plans.

How is a pension different than a 401K (technically, a 401K is a type of pension)?
A number of ways that I probably don’t understand and a few ways that I do. But, most importantly, a pension has to be managed by an employer, and in that way, has guaranteed benefit payouts based on a formula. 401Ks which are outsourced for fund management typically and have pay outs based on a number of factors like contribution and, scarily, the stock market.

Why am I glad to work in a profession where I earn pensionable income? Because every worker deserves the ability to retire comfortably, albeit modestly, without fear that the stock market will crash a year before retirement, forcing a person to work longer than they are required to (just ask anyone scheduled to retire in 2002 or 2009). The work I do is difficult, and one that does not pay extremely well (though well enough for me to be grateful). Part of the trade off for doing challenging and sometimes thankless work, is good benefits, and health insurance for a family man like me, and a good pension is extremely important to my quality of life.

So here I am, about to be vested, proving that teachers who stay longer in the classroom, as opposed to those who quit after two years, are more expensive. So here I am, about to be vested, and doing some of the best teaching of my career. So here I am, about to be vested, and worth every penny of it.

Summer Job: My Crazy and Chaotic First Day

chaos-standardBy Lauren Carufel-Wert – So, I made it through the training for my summer job.

But the first day turned out to be chaotic, crazy, and unexpected.

We were supposed to arrive before 11:30 in order to prep for the day’s activities; we had to double check lesson plans and put everything we needed in a tub with our group name on it and then put the bin outside the classroom. I remember in those 20 minutes before the day started we didn’t have any rosters of the kids for attendance and we didn’t know how severe the disabilities of six children in our class were.

Every group received a huge packet of all of the children’s allergies…. 5 pages later and cross checking with the list of kids, we found out that we had two kids with life threatening allergies to peanuts and eggs. Both my co-leader and I were surprised and frankly a bit upset that we were not given a heads up about severe allergies either. To top the whole day off, there were no walkie-talkies for any of the groups, which meant that if there were an emergency, we would pretty much have to scream for help.

I like to have back-up plans and be prepared, and on this first day, I felt like a fish out of water. But we kept going, the bell rang and the kids began to run up to us so we could check their names off; all were able to speak English fine so it was not a struggle to understand each other. However, after recess and lunch once we got the kids in the room we quickly discovered that our plans for the day would fly out the window.

Our class was obviously divided, there was a group of Hispanic kids who stuck together and would constantly talk in Spanish about inappropriate topics, and there were the African-American children who were easily upset by the Hispanic kids and believed they were the topic of their conversations.

Two of the boys who had anger issues were constantly egged on by their peers and because they were also physically aggressive I would be forced to break up fights. I had no clue how to properly break up the fights so I would just get in the middle and they would usually stop and then they would run out of the room. Since we only have one person trained to deal with behavioral issues at the school, I ran after the kids and talked to them in the hallway so that they could calm down enough to return to class.

That first day was so long and challenging, I was ready to give up, but I knew I had to stick with it for at least a week to see if things would improve.

I’ll let you know how things go.

South Africa: Takeaways for a Future Teacher

wil2By Anna Concannon – While studying in South Africa, I had the opportunity to help out with 3-5 year olds in a preschool classroom, which is an age group I did not have much experience with beforehand.

Being at the school gave me some insight about how the education system works there. I also learned a lot about how to be a good teacher.

Unfortunately, I saw a lack of instruction in this particular class, so I thought a lot about how I would improve the teaching.

On my first day at the school, the teacher/principle gave me ideas about various activities to do with the kids and played with them all day. On the subsequent days I was there, she stayed in her office almost the entire time, leaving me alone to keep the kids occupied, and she did not speak with me very much.

This was disappointing to me; it seemed like she was showing off her enthusiasm about teaching the first day to give off a good impression. Another explanation could be that she took advantage of having a helper in the classroom by using that extra time to do paperwork. Either way, there was not enough supervision of the kids. And they were a handful.

Overwhelmed at first, I learned to control the class and keep them occupied as my time there went on. Something valuable that I learned is the importance of transitioning. It can be difficult to motivate kids to clean and line up, so what made that easier was singing songs while we did it. At this young age, I discovered, kids love to sing.

Additionally, I recognized the significance of following a schedule. I am a very organized person, and many teachers I know are. To my dismay, the teacher I was helping was not at all; she just let the kids play all day. On my very last day at the school, I noticed there was a schedule of lessons on the wall that I never realized existed because there was no order of daily activities. The schedule included implementing math and writing skills into every “period” of the day… and I never saw that happen once. I did try doing this in some of the activities I led, which was successful.

Lastly, I learned to relax and let the children have fun. I sometimes get stressed out when kids misbehave, but after a while I learned to step back a little and the kids would fix their problems with each other without me asking them to do so. This helped keep me content during the long schooldays, and I will remember this when I have my own class someday.

Even though there was a language barrier between the kids and me, the school had really few resources, and the teacher did not supervise the kids enough, I fell in love with the kids at the preschool in South Africa. I have a new-found appreciation for teaching the younger ones, and I feel that it could be a good fit for me.


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