5 things to do if you witness an accident

A man stands beside the passenger side of a a white truck that has its front end smashed with debris surrounding it on the road.
A few minutes after the accident.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a terrible accident on a farm road that I travel on. I found out later that the driver was a 19-year-old young lady that was on her way to work. It was a Friday morning a little past 9:00 a.m. There was a heavy mist in the air and not many people on the road on the long stretch of a two-lane road. This road is well traveled and very busy during peak work hours as it borders a chemical and petroleum plant. I was humming along to my favorite 80’s music when looking straight ahead to the white pickup truck in front of me, it dipped slightly forward, a spray of debris confettied into the air around it and then almost simultaneously the back end shifted to the left and bounced to a stop. Did I just see what I thought I saw? I swallowed hard in disbelief.

I witnessed a terrible accident.

My day began late. I was due to meet some students at the archaeology lab at the university to go over an archive project. As I neared a large intersection where the county road crosses a divided highway, I noticed a white pickup truck pull up alongside me to my left. We both were at the front of each of our respective lanes at the stop light. This is one of the only places the farm road is three lanes as there is also a left-turn lane. Right after crossing the highway on the farm road, the two remaining lanes merge quickly into one. It’s here, when I am short for time, that I have sped up to pass vehicles. It is not unusual to get stuck behind a lumbering 18-wheeler truck for over half an hour as the next major connecting interstate highway is over 30 miles away. The last thing I remember saying out loud to myself was “I’m picking my battles today.” When the light turned green, I slipped behind the truck as the lanes merged. I noticed that the truck was the same model truck my son has, except his is silver.

We passed another traffic light intersection and I decided since I was late anyway, I wouldn’t rush. I paced myself about a football field’s length behind my driving companion on that lonely road on that misty morning. I tend to ‘buddy’ behind vehicles on this long-stretch of country road as it is narrow and it can be unnerving as cars zoom past you going the opposite direction. I am used to feeling my car wiggle when air drafts push it as large industrial semi’s whoosh by. It’s also easy for drivers to get antsy and pass up slower drivers by using the oncoming lane as a passing lane. This is a risky maneuver that I admit I have nervously done before. On this morning, I could tell that the road was a little more desolate as very few vehicles were coming from the opposite direction. I decided to tune into my favorite internet radio station. I was singing along to Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby?” It’s funny how you remember details like this.

And that’s when I saw it: like a large bag of trash exploded up ahead of me. I don’t really recall at what point the white pickup caught up to the large dump truck, but I do recall that they were in front of me for some time a little ways ahead. What remained on repeat in my minds-eye for the next week was the impact: as if the white truck in front of me hit a wall.

I quickly realized I was the only witness.

A few seconds later, I came upon the scene of the wreck. I couldn’t see the opposite side of the oncoming lane, so I pulled off the side of the road on the grass, with two of my tires still on the road. I ran to the passenger side and I immediately saw black debris everywhere. I yelled out to no one “Did anyone see what happened?” and my eyes were drawn to a man running from across the road to the driver’s side. I averted my eyes as I was unsure if I would see carnage at this point, so I moved quickly towards the back of the truck and around to the driver’s side where the man was at. By then, I noticed a couple of vehicles slow down behind my car. Then another vehicle going in the opposite direction pulled over. Two men began trying to pry the driver side handle and door open to no avail. I was dumbstruck and I looked in horror at the mangled wreckage. Another man ran up with what looked like a large tubular tool or pipe and with a quick heave swung at the driver-side window only to have it ricochet. I could tell by the strain on his face that the tool was heavy as he swung again only to have the thick pipe spring back again. He aimed next for the rear driver-side window of the crew cab and the glass shattered immediately. I heard a high-pitched scream.

There were shouts between several men at the scene about getting her out. I cried out “Hurry! The truck could catch fire.” Another man said he smelled gasoline. I also yelled out in the chaos “Are there kids inside? A baby?” I saw a figure in the back seat move, but it was one of the men that got in from the other side. The driver’s side doors were not budging and the situation was getting desperate with every passing second.

There were two women standing near me at this point that were in the vehicle that pulled off going in the opposite direction. They were both on the phone. I found out that they did not see what happened, but simply saw the spray of debris. I quickly realized that I was the only witness.

Sarah, the young lady driving the truck, was pinned. The front of her truck was completely gone. She was alone in her truck. The dump truck in front of her stopped to make a left turn. She rear-ended him. She doesn’t remember the impact and it is a miracle that she lived. She broke her femur, the strongest bone in the human body, as well as fractured her hand and clavicle pretty severely. Her screams were from the men trying heroically to get her out.

It took the two sheriffs about 15 minutes to arrive as we were out in the middle of a sparsely populated area. Until then, a man that arrived shortly after I did, took control of the situation with a calm resolve unlike anything I have every witnessed. He called out for a blanket and I gave him one I had in my trunk. He stabilized her head with it. He was in the back seat standing up and hovering over her from behind her head rest talking to her calmly as he cradled her head with his hands on either side of her ears. She was, understandably, in the throws of hysterical agony.

I did get out of my car eventually and took a photo on my cell phone of the front of her truck – but only after they removed her.

By the time the emergency vehicles arrived, the situation changed quickly. One of the sheriffs instructed me to go to my car and wait as they wanted a statement from me. I now had a front-row seat to the unfolding rescue drama in front of me. A fire truck pulled up alongside my car and several firefighters put on the rest of their gear as they simultaneously opened up large bags of absorbant that they quickly spread over the fluids around the truck. Another firefighter unfurled power cables that they connected to the jaws-of-life. I had not seen one before, but I immediately knew what it was.

The sheriff gave me some instructions as he gave me a clipboard with a form and a pen. I was to fill out only what I saw and avoid how I felt, he instructed. He said to write everything I saw and persons I remember seeing as best I could.

It took the emergency personnel another 15 minutes to get her out and placed onto a gurney. I did get out of my car eventually and took a photo on my cell phone of the front of her truck – but only after they removed her. It was this shot that I shared with her family the following day as up to that point, they didn’t have any details of what happened to Sarah.

This is a lot of story to share before the “5 Things…” but there are some practical things you can do in a crisis like this one. I made sure to make note of the things I learned from that day.

1. Stay Calm

This goes without saying. My initial reaction was horror. Adrenaline kicks in during stress and I could feel my heart racing. David, the man that took control of the immediate situation, was very calm and almost peaceful. It turns out he was a former EMT. He was trained in trauma response. I felt helpless, but I quickly followed his lead.

2. Call 911 immediately

I left my cell phone in the car, initially, when I ran out as the first person at the scene. The women that pulled over called 911. We all were experiencing high levels of stress, but these women did the right thing within a minute of the crisis. If there is a traumatic event, it is also a knee-jerk reaction to respond with heroics as the men did because we understand when a life is at stake. The best thing to do, however, is to call for help immediately especially if there is a need for medical intervention.

Conjecture has no place during crisis.

3. Listen to law enforcement directives

My emotions pulled me near to where the young lady was trapped. I heard her screams. I wanted to comfort, yet felt helpless. I knew I had an important role as the sole witness, but I needed to let the emergency personnel do their work. Sometimes we don’t realize that tense situations can also be dangerous. We were uncertain if the truck would catch fire and initially, I didn’t know if someone was alive in the wreckage. There were many variables that could easily escalate within seconds. If emergency personnel direct you, obey. I went to the safety of my car when the sheriff said so.

4. If you are a witness, state the facts. You can cry later.

It’s real easy to get swept up in crisis of traumatic events. When stating what you saw, it is best to leave emotions aside when sharing your narrative of the events. Conjecture has no place during crisis. It wouldn’t help if I had been saying things like, “that trucker wasn’t watching what he was doing and slammed his breaks” or “she was swerving like she was distracted”. I really didn’t know why the accident happened. I only saw what I saw; and that’s what I wrote on the form. Take deep breaths if you need to, but tell law enforcement the facts as you saw them. You can break down later, if you need to, which is what I did later at home with my husband.

5. Know what your role is and stick to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

We all want to help as best we can because as humans, altruism comes naturally to us. We are quick to assist when our brother or sister are in trouble. Altruism aside, we each have a skill set for moments like this. On this day, strength was not my forte and I certainly don’t know anything about trauma response. Unless you are a trained medical professional, you can do more harm than good. Remember driver’s education training? For some of us, this is a very dim memory. One of the main things we were taught is not to move a person after an accident! Although the men desperately tried to open the driver door and break the side windows, the man that stabilized Sara’s head was the true hero. He was a former EMT that knew better than to move her. Was there a risk? Absolutely. We all didn’t have a clue what would happen during those precious minutes. My sole role at that moment involved giving him a blanket and later, getting in touch with her family.

I had some heartfelt conversations with Sarah’s family since then. I checked up on her the following week as her grandmother graciously shared her cell number with me and welcomed me to call if I wished. I haven’t met Sarah and I am respectful enough of people’s privacy during difficult situations that it won’t be necessary. I emailed her grandmother the photo I took of Sarah’s truck. There were some personal items at the scene that I turned over to the sheriff and the family said Sarah received them. I am at peace knowing I did all I knew to do. Sarah’s family texted me a happy photo of them surrounding her wheelchair in the hospital. Sarah was smiling and her long dark hair was braided down the front of her shoulders as she held her bandaged right arm. They expressed their gratitude for assisting Sarah and filling them in with details. This was a precious gift to me.

A few days after the accident, I ordered a window breaker/seat belt cutting tool and shipped it to each of our immediate family members. I bought one for each of our sons and our daughter. I put one in my car and my husband has one, too, now. I continue to keep a blanket in my trunk. I cannot say enough about items like jumper cables and first-aid items. Whatever you need to put together so you can ensure quick access to emergency items, do it. You may be the only person that has that one thing (like a blanket) for your one role in a crisis.

White truck after an accident where the front end is mangled and destroyed.
Sarah’s truck.

It’s time to move after two decades

After 24 years of living in our current town South of Greater Houston, TX, we decided to move closer to the metroplex. We are getting our home ready to put on the market and we are house hunting.

This has been an interesting process this time around. We are moving to an area we don’t know much about. How the heck do you choose where to live next? We had the luxury years ago when we were in our late twenties that my sister-in-law lived in the town we would eventually settle and raise kids in. We were pretty familiar with the area from past family gatherings and holiday visits. My husband was fresh out of college with an electrical engineering degree, so we made our move to this small-ish town (it does have a mall, though). We packed all our belongings and traveled with our young children (one toddler and a 3-year old) towards the great unknown. Now, the house is emptier. Our oldest lives and works in the Dallas area, and his brother lives and works in Austin. Since that brave adventurous move, we added three more children, two boys and a girl. We have two sons still at home. Our daughter attends university in Austin.

We are practically empty-nesters.

I feel the urge to be closer to family. We don’t want to move to Austin. We did live there once. It is expensive. My husband has also built a career as a Reliability Engineer in the chemical industry. Not to mention, we have come to love the amazing city of Houston. It boasts an international port and it has one of the largest petroleum and chemical hubs in the nation and maybe the world. It is a global city that has a skyline that captivated me the first time I saw it in my teens. Houston is us. We are staying in this area.

So the house hunt has begun for us. We are focusing on a city that is now part of the Houston sprawl. We are using the lates apps that feature everything from property lines, birds-eye views, tax reports and even crime reports. It’s really much easier in some ways to have this information at your fingertips. You can make informed decisions regarding potential home locations.

It’s overwhelming, too. Looking and sorting through homes and seeing pictures online. Good realtors take great photos with wide-angle lenses that augment the size of a living room or a small yard. We have also seen poorly lit homes that frankly, look scary due to poor photos available. With these things in mind, we have been surprised. Some homes have underwhelmed us. Some homes have completely impressed us. You really need to see a home in person. It’s the try-before-you-buy concept.

And much like clothing looks better or worse on the hanger, homes need that closer in person inspection.

Teaching blues

It happened last Thursday.  A few days away from Halloween.  I pulled a 7th grader aside – non-English speaking and told him (in Spanish) how disappointed I was in his behavior.  He had changed from the first day I met him – and I told him so.  He is a transplant from Ecuador, where his parents emigrated from to make a new life in the U.S.  On the first day of school he was naturally timid and extremely respectful.  Six weeks down the road and he is hanging around a not-so-good peer group and the next thing I hear is that he is one of the most loathed kids in teacher’s circles.  Seriously?  When did this happen.  On one of my required teacher observations, I went to a homeroom to observe an experienced teacher.  She is bilingual and this young man and his compadre were in the class.  I found out later that they pair the ESL (English as a Second Language) students with a Bi-lingual students to help them assimilate and learn.  His buddy “Henry” is a joke.  He thinks everything is a joke.  And this day I observed her class, I could not take my eyes off of “Emilio” because of how disrespectful he was being.  On his very first day to school I helped him find his classes and I really haven’t had any interaction with him since.  Both he and Henry laughed straight at the teacher when she would tell them to put away their phones or to sit down.  They tried to leave class, too.  They laughed not at each other like teens do when they play around, but mocking her.   They disobeyed her at every turn.  I asked her if she sent Emilio to the office.  She replied that it’s a battle every day and it’s just best to ignore him and let him think he isn’t getting to her.  But I could tell she was fuming by his actions.

So, I pulled him out of the class next door into the hallway and told him that I was so disappointed in how he had changed.  I told him that I knew his parents would be upset with how he acts.  The boy I was looking at now wasn’t the neatly dressed kid with collared shirts, jeans and tennis shoes.  I was now looking at the ‘thug’ in the T-shirt with the newly added gold chain around his neck that he proudly wears now along with carrying his cell phone.  In Spanish culture, respect and honor to elders is paramount.  Respect above all else is a cultural more.  I came at him from this angle.  “Where is the respectful Emilio I got to know earlier in the year?” I asked him in Spanish.  “You’ve changed.  I am so sad.”  I could tell he was affected.  He looked at me soberly.  I don’t know if I made a difference.  But I had to tell him.  “All the teachers talk about you and how you’ve changed.  They all talk about how bad you have become.  This is not good at all.”  I left him with this thought.  He hung his head as I walked away nodding my head in disgust.

Then I went to the bathroom and cried.  I cried hot tears of emotion and a sudden realization that it was the end.  I have only experienced this one other time: when I quit another job at a church where I was on staff.  It was a ‘lifting’ so to speak of responsibilities and worry.  Done. I gave teaching a shot.

The last few weeks have been non-stop high pressure; stress and worry.  I have been losing sleep over this job like I have never done before in any job.  I feel alone with no support and lots of criticism, evaluations of my abilities and much meeting attendance.  Meetings for this, for that.  And that doesn’t even cover the test that I am required to take before I finish the school year – the pedagogy test.  My so-called mentor? Not much help.  Her idea of helping me is telling me how easy I have it – she’s been through hell and high water during her first few years.  She has earned a badge that I am far from achieving any time soon.  “You’ve got it easy…” “I hate you… (meaning she hates my life of easy teaching)” “That’s nothing, when I was a first year….” It’s always laced with sarcasm and negativity.  How is that supposed to help me? Okay, let’s say I do have it easy, why not encourage me?  I don’t have it easy, though.

I dread my third and sixth period classes.  They are a zoo.  The kids don’t listen.  I have behavior and some special ed students in my third period class.  How am I supposed to teach when I am constantly bombarded by these kids need for attention or by the students that I have to make special allowances for?  I have thrown my hands in the air and given up.  I don’t care anymore.  I am at the end of my patience and learning curve. There is not learning curve anymore: I have flat-lined as a teacher and I don’t think I will make it to the end of the Spring semester.

How did this happen? I really think I am just not cut out for teaching.  Teaching is a culture.  Like other careers, there are certain earmarks and characteristics that teachers have that I don’t.  Take for instance, the proverbial ‘classroom management’.  I don’t have this gift.  At the last most recent new teacher morning ‘circle’ the other new teachers were enthusiastically sharing how they do this-and-that method to keep kids in line.  I sat there like a cow at a new gate.  Am I the only one?  I guess I am. Everyone else has their shit together. When the time came for me to comment on how my class observations had gone and what I learned, I said with a lump in my throat, “I learned how amazing they are and how I utterly fail every day.”

I had my classroom observed no less than three times in the last 2 weeks.  One of the observers, from my training program, told me that I needed to get my class in line. I needed to carry around a clipboard and put check marks next to their name, etc. Basically, I needed to police my class.  This is the part of teaching I loathe.  This just isn’t my style.  We have laptops in the class that I spend all my time taking away because students just want to go to non-approved sites.  Most are blocked by the district, but the ones that aren’t are visited en masse, by the students when we have computer work. I’ve tried positive reinforcement: when they are done with their work, they can go to approved sites. Nope. They always go off-track to look at pictures on Google pics or other sites. I spend my energy picking laptops up and handing out textbooks.  I give out D-halls for disobedience.  I send students to the office when they continue to disobey.  I am Officer Newcomb.

Currently my coach from the training program wants to do another walk through.  I don’t need another walk-through.  I had no idea how much was demanded from teachers.  There is so much required to teach, I spend only 10% of my time actually teaching – the fun part. The rest is studying, planning and attending meetings.  This simply isn’t what I expected and I have become disenchanted.

I hope I’m making even the tiniest of difference in these privileged teens…

So, today, I lost it for the very first time in class – albeit one of my smallest classes of only girls.  I teach a fashion design class (a euphemism for sewing).  But seriously, I came into this job with the desire to teach teens about more than just sewing.  I’ve had them make design sketches as well as sew some projects.  My advanced or level 2 fashion design class consists of all 8th graders.  One of these classes is in the morning and it consists of five great kids (1 boy, too) who have surprised me with how quickly they took to sewing on the machine.  The only other class of level 2’s is the very last period and this class consists of all girls.  As a teacher, I take into account kids backgrounds as I get to know them.  I can say that this particular period is unique because the girls are all of the ‘popular’ variety.  With the exception of one of them, they all live in neighborhoods where the houses are estates.  They dress in expensive fashion.  They are beautiful and they know it.  They are privileged teens, plain and simple.

Today started the unit I am calling “Green Fashion”, where the students will be watching the documentary “The True Cost”.  This movie is a documentary about unfair wage practices that have occurred globally due to the growing fast fashion industry.  So, today I started off with an introduction that included a slide show that I worked really hard on. I also passed out handouts announcing a fashion swap for Friday.  The early period was on board. I was unsure how the last period girls would feel.  They are a fickle bunch, mostly because they are young teens – some not even 14 yet.  These girls mostly spend their time talking about all things boys; music; hair and much gossip.  Today was no exception.  One of the girls was braiding another girls long blond tendrils.  Amidst their chatter, I passed out the Fashion Swap handout and began to explain how it was all going to work as I referred to key points on the paper.  Half of them were talking to each other and like I normally do when teens don’t listen, I said, “Hey, guys, pay attention.  This is important information.” They did for about a second and resumed their discussions with one another.  I tried a second time, “Are you paying attention to what I just said, ladies?”  I got some half-hearted yesses.  Then they all (with the exception of the student nearest me) kept chatting completely oblivious to me.  So I continued roting off and added nonsense like “So, I am here talking to myself and no one is listening because this is definitely not important. I really like talking to myself, etc.” They were clueless. And just like that my temper flared. In a much louder tone, I exclaimed, “You know what? You all are rude.  Really rude.  Seriously.  You haven’t heard a lick of what I have been saying and you are wasting my time.  Do you even care?”  I told them I was definitely angry and that they had ‘pissed me off’ – boy do I feel bad that I said that after I saw their bug-eyed looks.  I could have kicked myself.  I lectured them for about a minute regarding how this is an easy class and how I don’t ask much from them.  I ranted about all I ask in return is that they listen when I talk.  I don’t ask for much.  I turned around only long enough to see the cheerleader (in her uniform) roll her eyes and mouth the words “Oh-my-God” in a gimme-a-break sort of way. I looked right at her and said, “Yes, I am mad. I’m really angry.”  One of the girls earlier had defiantly announced to me that she was not going participate in the swap no-way-no-how. She said she would rather take a zero.  When I pressed her earlier about why, she simply said “because, I don’t have anything to give away and I don’t want to give away something to someone else.”  I gave her some ideas, like maybe she could bring a pair of shorts that are her brother’s or sister’s.  No. She said would take a zero.  Well, after I told Miss Priss that I was really mad, I turned to Prima Donna and told her that “You will participate in the swap.”

The hush that came over that room at that moment was somewhat rewarding to me. I felt good, I admit.  These girls had taken enough advantage of me, and they were going to listen.  With the exception of the ‘pissed off’ comment I blurted out, I felt justified. I am dreading the phone call from that parent telling me off, I’ll be honest. I’ll take the heat. I made a mistake there.  So, they listened after that. and I presented my introduction slide show and they listened attentively and asked questions.

I know what got to me: their privilege.  I know it isn’t their fault.  They haven’t a clue.  I also know that social justice is also a very near and dear issue that I am passionate about. I am also a post-modern feminist.  This week’s topics focus on the women and mothers that get paid dollars a day to work and sew our fashion.  I’ll be honest, there is a part of me that wants to burst their rainbow bubble of ease and comfort.  I want to open their eyes.  The truth is, most may not care, but if even one young lady feels a tiny bit of compassion, I know I did my part.

New teacher angst and kind words

I may be fresh out of college, but I am certainly not a Spring chicken.  I have raised 5 children and worked for over 20 years as an office manager and administrative assistant before that.  I am very experienced.

Yet I find myself failing every day as a teacher.  Or, so my colleagues would have me think.

Deep inside I know that what I am doing is the right thing, yet I get chastised left and right for the pettiest of things like allowing a student to use a phone to call their mother.  Also allowing my last period sewing class (10 middle school girls) to bring a healthy snack to class.  In both instances I made educated decisions based on my ethics primarily as a mom and then a teacher.

In the first incident, a student came to me upset and it was evident they had been crying. The student asked if they could go to the counselor’s office.  When I pressed a little bit to find out what was going on it was because they were being harassed by some other students who were spreading false rumors. I let the student go, pass in hand only to have them return because the counselor was busy with another student. They asked to use my phone to call home.  “Mom always helps me calm down and feel better,” they said. I let them make the phone call as I took roll and settled down a rambunctious group of 7th graders for their class assignment of the day.  Over lunch I mentioned to my lunch colleagues (one of them is my assigned mentor) about the incident certainly not expecting the response I got.  Instead of being student-centric as we are taught to do in training, they focused on my infraction. It was an enormous no-no.  Never let students use the teacher’s phone I was told.  It is too huge of a liability for the school.  I was somewhat dubious, but I told them that I would remember this for the future.  Yet, deep inside, my mom radar was going off: if this was my son/daughter I would have appreciated the call from them if the counselor wasn’t available.  I wasn’t asked once how the student was doing.

The other incident was immediately after the bell rang one morning. I have a very small sewing class of five students.  They are well-behaved and industrious with their work habits.  One student asked if they could eat a snack they brought.  They showed it to me.  They added that they hadn’t eaten that morning and they were hungry.  I thought for about a second and said ‘ok’.  The mentor teacher came by and asked to speak with me. I went out into the hallway.  She said that the student could not be eating in class.  I took full responsibility for my decision and added that I was making this decision more as a mom.  The class is a very small class.  I felt all was copacetic.  The teacher nodded emphatically that this was an enormous no-no. I took a deep breath and told her that I understood.  It wouldn’t happen again.

These are only two events.  I fail daily.  And I am getting the heat and feeling absolutely horrible.  Did I make the right choice to be a teacher? I was a teen last time I was called on so much for things I shouldn’t do.  My ego has been bruised: I have managed over 50 people before! I have hired and fired. Does this person even realize how they are making me feel?

Yet, I take the higher road daily and decide to just do as I am told because I am the type to obey and serve. I respect authority to a fault. I am being graded after all as a first-year teacher. I just didn’t know every single move would be judged.

This morning in the middle of the night, I had an epiphany. How was my mentor chosen? I decided to inquire.  There is a coordinator (and former teacher) for the district mentoring program who has been in contact with me on a weekly basis since the school year began.  She has sat in and observed my classes.  I have used her techniques and found them to work without a hitch. She has also been available for me at a moments notice when I have questions. “How are mentors chosen?” I asked her today. She told me that they were assigned by the principal. I am a professional, so I know better than to throw people under the bus irregardless on their unprofessional behavior.  I stick to facts.  The fact is that I haven’t relied on my mentor. I teach another class across the campus and I have been seeking help from another wonderful teacher who has a classroom adjacent to mine.  She and I hit it off immediately.  She was a former policewoman and she has the most calm demeanor. I look up to her immensely.  She is a little older than me and has years of experience as a teacher.  Since most of my classroom management problems arise from those classes that I teach in that wing, she has been a great source of encouragement. She and I are also breast cancer survivors. I mentioned all this to the coordinator.  I asked her if mentors could be reassigned because I would really like to have this teacher as a mentor since I have connected with her – that’s if this teacher would even agree to take this on. I have a feeling she will. The coordinator is going to look into it. She told me that they have done this before in the past.  I felt hope today!

The take away in all this is: don’t feel bad for what you feel is right despite legalities. Go with your gut. Also, use kindness and take the high road no matter how difficult.  Do not stoop to people’s levels of criticism.  Rely on your ethics; your heart; and your spirit to guide you.

I should add that I wrote the counselor an email and copied the assistant principal regarding the student who called mom for encouragement regarding the rumors from the bullies. I had a one-on-one requested by the assistant principal who took great interest and care regarding the incident. She had the student scheduled immediately for an incident report and counseling with her the following morning. I also was approached by the counselor. She pulled me aside and said, “you know, you asked regarding what is the protocol in the future if this happens.  I don’t really know what the protocol for this is. If a child needs to call their parent for help, let the child call their parent! You did right,” she said smiling. I choked up as she told me this and I thanked her for saying this.

Never doubt the power of a kind word.

‘Older’ in the teaching profession; some thoughts

I received my Bachelors of Science in Psychology this past May.  It was a culmination of sorts – just having come through as a breast cancer survivor.  Two of my sons graduated also: one from college with a degree in Physics and a minor in Business; and the other son graduated from high school.  There was much celebrating in our home.  I spent 2014 in bed; my body weak from chemotherapy.  I went right into surgery by October for my mastectomy and then right into radiation therapy by December.

I had made plans to go to graduate school, having already applied and waiting for my acceptance.  Right after graduation, something didn’t feel right.  I didn’t have peace inside about graduate school.  I though long and hard about this and decided I should go back to work and I gave myself a timeline for August.  I had one more surgery to go through (reconstructive) surgery, so I figured this would give me enough recovery time.

This is how I fell upon teaching – or teaching found me?  I had not really considered it other than childhood confessions of ‘one day’ being a teacher.  It happened over a conversation I had with my aunt who attended my son’s college graduation.  I knew she was a principal for many years.  She shared how teaching was a higher calling and how it was hard work, but one she does not regret.  She was a teacher for many years also prior to being a principal.  I have much admiration for her.  She is retired now after 40 plus years in education – wow!  That was when the seed was planted.

So, I looked at an alternative certification program and enrolled over the summer, convinced after listening to some personal testimonies from people who were like me: older students who got their degrees and now were successful teachers.  I finished my program by late July – all online.  I took my content examination in Family and Consumer Sciences and passed.  I applied to my local school district.  After an interview and a few weeks of nervous anticipation since the school year was right around the corner, I got a phone call that changed my life.  I was actually the alternate choice and the job was offered to a more experienced teacher – which I knew would be my only caveat, since I had no experience.  I originally left the interview feeling confident.  That teacher accepted the position and then backed out.  So, I was called the day before teacher inservice – which is a week-long preparation prior to school starting.  I missed the new teacher orientation, so I simply attended the regular inservice.  I have been running ever since.

To say that I am swimming without a paddle is an understatement.  But I knew this before accepting the position.  I knew I was coming in at a disadvantage.  I was a ‘newby’ for one; I have never taught in the public school arena.  I have over 20 years of work experience as an administrative secretary.  I have organized meetings, events and stood in front of people.  I have conducted meetings and training.  I have been an office manager for a primary care physician.  I have dealt with hiring and firing.  But nothing prepared me for teaching.  I am swimming one handed right now and doing my best to stay afloat.

I love teens.  I always have.  I am a much better parent to my five children as teens than I was when they were children.  I knew it when I was raising them.  I simply have a God-given affinity for the hormonal years for some reason.  I don’t understand it, so I just ‘go’ with it.  Our home also attracts teens.  So, I am now teaching 7th and 8th graders.  They keep me going right now.  But they also have given me moments of challenges.

It is much like parenting: it is the best job you will ever love – you’ll just be so exhausted.  I am older – well into my 40’s.  I am coming into this profession with much wisdom from having been ‘around the block’ and raising 5 kids.  I have lots of work experience.  I’m simply a novice at teaching.  It has tested my resolve and I have learned much.  Here are some things from the first few weeks so far:

  1. There is a frequency level for this age group that is different from elementary and high school.  Boys’ voices are beginning to deepen, but some boys still sound like girls.  Girls giggle and yell.  Boys do too.  I am going to lose my hearing soon.
  2. Boys are active.  But I knew this since I have four.  Now it is just multiplied exponentially.  Boys horse around and make weapons and balls from anything.  Paper just might as well be called “paper: aka ball, spitwad, airplane, basketball”.
  3. Teachers call out on teachers like they do the kids.  It’s in their makeup.  I don’t take this personally.  They are always in reactive mode.  “Don’t do this.” “Hey, you need to do this and not this.” “Stop!”
  4. Teachers are in a hurry. Time is precious before and after school.  The copy room and hallway may be areas to congregate, but that is a luxury.  It’s best to keep moving. There is simply too much to do to get ready for the day.
  5. If a teacher walks by and doesn’t smile and say ‘hi’ to you, it’s simply because they are on a mission.
  6. The best feeling in the world is when a kid calls out your name for the first time.  “Hey, Mrs. Newcomb!”  or “Mrs. Newcomb! (frantic waving)” Melts my heart every time.
  7. Know how to ask questions because you need to figure things out on your own.  Everyone simply has their plate full and it’s called SCHOOL.
  8. Your best helpers are your students.  Get them to carry stuff and pass out stuff for you.  Have them deliver and pick up things from across the school, too.  They love to help!  Every time I have asked “who would like to volunteer to…” at least 5 hands shoot up immediately with more to follow.  They wave frantically “mememe!”
  9. Some of this kids are talented.  There was a girl drawing these amazing caricatures that were Disney quality.  She did them all free-hand. I complimented her.
  10. Girls may be into boys at this age, but not all boys are into girls.  Lots of the 7th grade boys sit around in the morning cafeteria area and play games on their phones.  There was a big group the other day playing on a gaming site all together.
  11. The students LOVE it when you attempt to learn a dance they know.  They just want to see how silly you look, but they really, really want you to learn what they know.  I am learning the “Watch Me” dance currently.
  12. Drawing and colored pencils are your friends. Enough said.
  13. Music is your friend, too.
  14. Employ classroom management tools like attention getters (cowbells, squeak toys, etc.) or you will blow your voice out.  I have come home hoarse on more than one occasion.  An veteran teacher suggested this to me and it has been a LIFESAVER. Plus the students love my squeak toy stuffed animal.
  15. Ask parents for things like tissues, ziplocks, and candy.
  16. I have to bring my A-game every day, or the students will trample all over me.  Classroom management is one of the biggest topics in teaching and rightly so.  Preparation is essential.
  17. I have learned to buy things like colored paper, and desk essentials because state budgets can be tight.
  18. Most of all, my backbone has gotten even stiffer.  I was a general sometimes with my kiddos. But now, I am even more resolute in my orders, but laced with lots of love, too.

My head hurts by the end of the day lately, but it’s because of the incredibly steep learning curve I am on and the fire hydrant of information coming my way.

God Bless Teachers.  I simply had no clue until now.

Pinkwashing public awareness and the private disease of breast cancer

Charlotte Elliott wrote in 2007 about “Pink: Community, Contestation, and the Color of Breast Cancer” in the Canadian Journal of Communication in regards the commodification of the color pink and the “pinkwashing” of the disease that has occurred in places like the United States as well as around the world.

Elliott wrote about how “pinkwashing” has happened in public worldwide spaces such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Niagara Falls.  She calls into question what message these monuments are trying to convey.  Elliott also questions the ambiguity of the message given by those who wear the pink ribbon: do/did they have breast cancer; is it for a loved one who has it; is it for the cause?  Elliott also brings to light the engendering of the color pink and breast cancer – as a female disease.  Pink has been  long associated with females thanks to slick marketing of post-World War II to females at home and the ever popular Barbie Doll.  Pink brings thoughts of peace, and relaxation.  Elliott surmises that pink is simply red lost of its power.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer (and upgraded to 3 after surgery revealed lymph node penetration).  I was overwhelmed with pink sentiments from friends and families.  I adopted wearing a pink “Fight like a girl” wrist band (it was the only color available).  In fact, I have a horrible admission to make: pink was my favorite color up until breast cancer invaded my body and my life.  I now like purple – neither blue nor red.  My whole perception of pink changed when breast cancer occurred in 2014.  I agree with Elliott that there is a pinkwashing that occurs of the disease and on corporations that adopt a stand-for-the-cure mentality.

Corporations become softer with pink when they support breast cancer awareness.  I also have to agree with Elliott that awareness is not activism.  It is passive and this is what the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other monuments do when they turn pink: they are passively acknowledging breast cancer.  That’s it.Lochlann Jain went a step further in “Cancer Butch” and asked that her dead body be dumped on the steps of BMW if she died of breast cancer. Jain had a mastectomy and eventually lost her other breast. A self-proclaimed lesbian “butch” she found herself in the whirlwind of breast cancer and all the attachments that come with it: her identity; the breast cancer movement; the corporate sponsors/awareness; what strength really means in relation to cancer.  Jain took off her shirt in a yoga class once and immediately wondered if it was okay: was being shirtless taboo because she was a women or because she had breasts.  She didn’t have her breasts anymore, so this shouldn’t be a problem, right?

There is also a dichotomy of strength when it comes to breast cancer.  As Elliott mentioned, “Awareness is public; the disease is private.” Fighting cancer; cancer survivorship; battling cancer: these all bring up images of a battle – an engendering that Jain feels is not fair.  While, well meaning, the battle against cancer is unfair due to its unpredictability.  It is “fought” with toxins – as Jain pointed out.  I know this because one of my drugs was euphemistically called the “red devil”.  It is known to cause heart damage in some people; eventual death in others in later years.  Why make it “cutesy”.

Jain test drove a BMW at a local dealership that boldly proclaimed “a dollar for every mile” test driven.  Corporate America has adopted pink willingly because it translates into dollars.  I visited the website Breast Cancer Awareness (www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org) where “think before you pink” is their motto.  They are avid supporters of breast cancer research and the disease.  BCA cautions consumers to think before they donate.  How much of their donation actually is research dollars and not marketing dollars?  Pink translates into green for companies.  More money is made because supporting breast cancer and “pinkwashing” a corporation means they care.

Pink is a business’ way of gaining customers because it shows they care about a cause.  Wearing pink only draws attention to a killer disease: breast cancer.  Activism, like Jain’s shirtless event in yoga class tells more: it forces us to see something we would rather be forgotten.

Cancer isn’t pink.  It is ugly.  Jain mentions that she would rather breast cancer be represented by a dented car, where pictures of scars and tumors are pasted around it and blood trailing from the exhaust pipe.  This is an accurate picture.  It is also one that people do not want to see.

Searching for God in modern day church

I am finally back after a much long time off of wordpress (not at my liking).  I had a difficult time logging in and after changing passwords a few times and figuring out what the heck the authentication is, I finally got in.  Yes, I know, passwords are a necessary nuisance – like confetti thrown at a celebration – there is just too many.

I celebrated a year since my very first chemotherapy April 4.  I feel great. My energy is maintaining and I am carrying on with life.  I graduate in May with my Bachelors of Science in Psychology. I also hope to get my acceptance into graduate school soon.  I am taking a grad course right now, which the university allowed since I was within 6 hours of graduating.  It is a course titled “Gender, Culture, Power” and it is an anthropology course for my Master’s degree in Cross-Cultural Studies (an anthropology Master’s program).

It had been a very long time since I had attended church – January of this year (and several months prior to that).  2014 I spent in bed recuperating from chemotherapy treatments and then surgery followed by radiation.  We didn’t attend church.  My husband dropped out of the worship team as my treatments were encompassing 24 hour care for me; I was very sick and weak. We have teenagers still at home and they needed taking care of also.

I am disillusioned with the state of the current evangelical church at large.  There is a scary trend of performance and grandeur that has inhabited the houses of worship that seems to work for a segment of the population – one that seeks to be entertained.  Don’t get me wrong, I am the very first to say that I think the arts need to be redeemed in the church once again where they began hundreds of years ago.  I have been a music department director and worship leader.  I understand the ins and outs of leading a group of creative people. I love drama sketches on stage, dances and music.  What I don’t like is the week-to-week visit to the Christian version of House of Blues.  This is being forced down our throats.  For example, I visited a fairly large church last week for Easter.  It’s known for its hipster feel and young Millennial families that attend. It has the requisite coffee bar as well as older people being put to work by greeting as they hand out bulletins.  The lights were down, concert style.  We eventually found a place to sit in the standing room only auditorium during the opening worship. They had to bring extra rows of chairs in.  Our kids found seats in different sections.  It was just that packed.  By then the worship was over, so we sat.  The lights remained dim and a large floodlight filled the stage above a woman in her 30’s dressed in skinny jeans and a trendy top.  She started announcing something and I truly do no recall what she was saying because the video screens began moving again but with a movie of a forest that flashed and moved in slow motion.  Paper fragments were everywhere on the video and words were scribbled on them like ‘anger’ and ‘hate’. In the end the papers joined on a tree in a smooth effect as if they flew there (reverse motion photography).  Ah, the words formed a cross!  At the same time talking lady spoke in crescendo and stopped.  The lights went off.  Then the video cued up again for something different.  It was an older man’s voice that narrated a video in personal documentary style with faded and saturated tones.  The camera filmed from the passenger side of his vehicle as he drove and then pulled into a shop.  There were close ups of his hands at work with various tools. He was telling a story about how he came to know God and come to this church.  The video ended.  The lights came up on the stage and the pastor stood there and delivered an encouraging word from the book of Leviticus. He lasted all of 15 minutes and then the lights dimmed again.  The man in the truck video was up again.  He ended up his story smiling, holding a bible in his shop – leathery hands clutching the Good Book.  His story concluded and the video cued up again with the papers in cross formation.  (Ah, I got it: they were working backwards now.) The spotlight again came up with the lady talking in prose, but I didn’t know what she was saying because I was transfixed on the visual.  The papers fell one by one to the ground.  What was going on? The cross is falling apart! But wait. The papers are catching fire and where the papers once hung stood a cross where the tree was!  The presence of the cross burned the papers! The music swelled and the lady’s voice became louder until at the same time it all ended.  The video went to black.  Her head was down and you could tell she was breathing heavily from emotion.  This elicited claps, yells and whoops from the audience.  She looked up and smiled then walked off.  The stage then was filled with color and patterns; and the canned lighting above moved in rhythm.  The long 20 ft screen at the back of the stage was flanked by 10 ft or so screens on either side on the walls.  The long screen in the middle had a rich colored moving graphic while the words to the worship song were projected.  The side screens had a complementary colored – but not the same – moving graphic.  The 30 foot walls surrounding the 10 foot screens had a moving graphic that was dimmer, but also complemented the theme.  This graphic moved too.  It was spectacular.  It was amazing.  It was beautiful. This is how the worship pretty much goes here week to week.  I lost count at the number of light cans and sub-woofers hanging from the rack above the stage.  A church did this?  I left not knowing really what to think.

I led worship during the time when electronic programs would project words on the screen.  Our church bought two canned lights to sit on the floor to illuminate some curtains that our pastor liked.  That was it.  In fact, he wasn’t too happy about having to buy the lighting to begin with.  Our screen background patterns were static with words projected on them.  Our church had bought two expensive projectors.  Prior to this, our church was in a different location and we used a transparency projector on one screen.  This involved a person needing to operate the projector to change transparencies for each worship song and they were usually situated at the front of the congregation to accomplish this job.

At the expense of sounding like an old fogey, let me say that I like being on-point and in trend as a person.  I keep up with current events and pop culture news and stuff that is relevant.  My question is this: does church need to be trendy?  I’m not talking about equipment like microphones or hardware that needs to be updated.  I mean trend as in the latest greatest methods used for performances.  Is this necessary to delivery God’s message?

I recall a story from over 15 years ago about a church in England that Matt Redman was a part of leading in worship.  It was attended by a 20-something demographic.  They didn’t have computer visual technology like now, but it is safe to say that they rocked the house during worship time.  Matt Redman is one of my very favorite worship ministers.  He was very influential in my worship style and delivery.  The story goes that things got really exciting during worship week after week, and Matt approached the leadership of the church with concern that the message was getting lost in the excitement.  It was a concert with dancing and loud singing, but were the people really engaging and worshiping?  He came up with a radical plan: the following Sunday, with no announcement, there would be no music during worship.  They would welcome the people in and let them sit down in silence.  What happened next became worship music history and ushered in a movement: the people came in and began to read the Bible.  They prayed with one another.  They wept and reached out to one another.  From what I understand, this went on for a few more Sundays and then things resumed as normal.  Out of that experience, Matt wrote one of the most heart felt worship songs in evangelical history called “The Heart of Worship”.  To this day, it is sung in churches all over the world.  It is treasured as a song of vulnerability and surrender before God.

When the music fades/ all is stripped away/ and I simply come/ wanting just to bring/ something that’s of worth/ that will bless Your heart/ I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is more than You have required/ You search much deeper within through the way things appear/ You’re looking into my heart…I’m coming back to the heart of worship/ and it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus/ I’m sorry Lord, for thing I’ve made it/ when it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus…

I realize that we live in a society that allows for individual tastes and interpretations, which is why we have so many different factions in Christianity.  But something needs to be said. Coming from this background myself, I will say it: it’s time for the church to come back to the heart of worship and say “I’m sorry, Lord for the thing we’ve made it”.  It’s time to cut out the entertainment – pare it down and save those things for events and where it’s appropriate.  I go to church not to be entertained: I have a computer and smart phone for that.  I have cable.  Some may argue that “why can’t the church have good things like the world has?”  I’m not saying we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I’m saying we should take a look inside what we are doing in church.  Historically, spectacles draw crowds; and crowds bring money.  This was the foundation of the World’s Fairs held at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  The church is turning into a world’s fair of sorts each having their own peculiar spectacle and flair to draw people in.

I am reminded of the Bible story about Elijah.  He was down in the dumps and depressed living in a cave for sometime after being run off by the wicked queen Jezebel.  God was calling out to Elijah:

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain; it was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his scarf and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.And a voice said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

God is all powerful and amazing and wonderful beyond what we can ever imagine. But His communion with us, His reaching out to us is a gentle whisper.  When I speak to my children and desire to reach them, I don’t entertain them and dazzle them with all kinds of excitement.  No, I speak to them gently and one on one.  We become closer when everything is broken down and simplified.

Can evangelical churches do the same?

Meninism and the ball buster are different sides of the same coin

We studied women in Wall Street a few weeks ago in my graduate class on Gender, Culture and Power.  We have been discussing the wage gap.  For those who are curious, it is the pay discrepancy between women and men that averages around 75-78%.  Texas is on the higher end at 80%.  This means that for every dollar a man makes, women make 75-78 cents.  Women simply have to work that much harder to make up this difference as compared to men.  Traditionally, ‘men’ refers to the white male, that sits on top of the social heap globally.  This isn’t to be demeaning, but this has historically been a fact.  Also, to be fair, the wage gap discussed here is in the United States.  It increases, not surprisingly, around the globe.

“Meninism” is a recent buzz word that has stirred the hornet’s nest of public discourse lately.  Flaming, trolling and offensive banter aside, the truth is that feminism is a serious subject. The “meninism” claims were intended originally as satire: “why men need meninism…” while holding up the lens against the strong male sexual archetype.  I get what the joke aimed at.  But it also poked fun at why we need feminism.

In her book, Wall Street Women, by Melissa Fisher, she discusses the often misguided efforts of corporate America to feminize the workplace – and this is not referring to gender equity at all. She proved how some big corporations changed when a woman was at the helm: slogans, mottoes, goals and the like featured words like “care, caring, looking out for, team, home, family” just to name a few.  A man as CEO on the other hand brought out words like “vision, power, aiming high, upward, crunching” value words.  Fisher hit on the issue of men as risk takers and women as nurturers.  It is part of the corporate group think.  On the other hand, when one female corporate magnate took risks she became the “bitch” or “ball-buster” or had a “swinging dick”.  Conversely, this same leader, when wanting to take maternity leave was accused of “wanting to have it all”.  In other words, she should just be a man and work (or take an abbreviated leave and come back to work).  This is not gender equity, but a request to conform to preset gender rules: the male kind.

The question I ask is this: why should she be like a man? Can she not be a worker and take the necessary family leave?  (This is what it is called, by the way). What happens if a man wants to take family leave?

A woman does not need to “grow a pair” to be risky any more than a man grows a “vajayjay” to care at work.  I have heard this kind of talk in both male and female circles in the office hub.  We need to put an end to this type of engendering in the workplace and allow all opportunity (especially women) to work – and to lead. And for the sake of families, allow all who want the chance to have family leave.

The first step is wage equity.  The Department of Labor and Statistics were the ones who recorded the wage gap.  Numbers don’t lie. If anything, this only proved what women knew all along: that her work is less valuable than his.

Feminism isn’t about man hating. It isn’t about becoming a man. There are always persons on the lunatic fringe that inflame, discriminate and take things way out of context.  Somewhere down the middle is – no pun intended – equity.  Also, it should be noted that women wanting equality does not mean that men are emasculated or women are “butched”.  Equality in the workplace does not mean gender-less either.  It means you and I (male, female or otherwise) get an equal shot, equal pay, equal treatment.  This is justice.

“Meninism” was a bad joke that sounded better in someone’s head.  They should have kept it there.