The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March 2017

What roles do teachers have in creating kind and compassionate citizens?

Teaching is about investing in our future.

Teachers need to do more than teach content. We are so much more than knowledge transmitters and test proctors. We are human beings that have made it our life’s mission to improve the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

I became a teacher because I wanted to help children/teenagers become the best they could be. I had a few amazing teachers who changed my life, and I wanted to be that teacher for other people.

Teachers stand in front of the classroom and help a room full of people discover the beauty of knowledge, and discover who they are and who they can become some day. If teachers are not embracing the importance of their role, then they may be doing more harm than good. Whether we like it or not, we are role models; we are educational coaches and knowledge facilitators.

When I taught in the high school, I taught the whole child, not just my content area. I love English and everything in the curriculum: writing, grammar, literature and oral communication. But what I loved more was how the English curriculum lent itself to teaching my students life skills, particularly kindness, empathy, and compassion. I believe these characteristics are more important than content knowledge because they will help students become successful in all areas of life, not just in the classroom or with standardized tests.

As a mother, I am also a teacher and role model to my children. I am not the perfect parent by any means; however, I have been raising children for 30 years now; my daughters and stepsons are adults, living on their own, and enjoying happy, successful lives, through which they are contributing positively to society. Ian is thriving and making significant gains in school.

As I navigate through my parenting experiences, I struggle with many of the things parents and teachers are currently dealing with. I struggle as a mother on the other side of the desk with how my son is treated by teachers and students in the classroom. However, my experiences as a teacher have given me insight into my collaboration with my son’s teachers. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that if we all work at behaving as and creating kind and compassionate citizens, we can effectively help our children become happy, successful adults.

As important as it is for teachers and parents to model and teach kindness and compassion, students have a responsibility to engage with this part of their education as well. It is through the daily lessons, contrived or not, that students discover who they are and who they want to be. If we all work together, we will help students acquire the skills necessary to become civic-minded individuals who continue our work in improving the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

Much of this comes from the “Introduction” to my book, Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. I have changed a few parts to focus on the question at hand.

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: August 2016

diversityHow do you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? 

Acceptance and respect are best taught through example. As a teacher, I set the mood, tone, and pace of the classroom. If I mistreat any student in my classroom, it will give students permission to do the same. That old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” must have been coined by someone who didn’t understand human nature. If we want our children/students to accept those with different beliefs, cultures, etc., then we need to show them how it’s done. The number of teachers who have admitted to rolling their eyes, smirking, and/or belittling students in the classroom that they found weird or culturally different amazes me; then, those same teachers will complain about how nasty other students are to them or to other students. It’s easy to make the connection between the two situations, yet some teachers would rather blame children for the negativity rather than themselves. I know it’s hard to change children’s behavior in all aspects of their lives if their parents are modeling negative behavior, but teachers can impact students’ behaviors within their classrooms.

Not only do I model kindness and understanding in my classroom, but I also share with my students how every child/teenager/adult I have met and worked with helps me to grow. Every person that comes into our lives has something important to teach us. I’m always learning something new because of the diverse people in my life. While being exposed to a beautiful array of cultural differences improves my knowledge, it also improves my empathy—a necessary emotion that allows us to become healthy and connected human beings. Without empathy, we become selfish and in extreme cases, narcissistic and/or sociopathic. When we can look beyond skin color, clothing brand, religious symbols, and chosen paths, and care to hear the stories and see the similarities within each of us, we will realize that we have more in common than we think. Whether we know someone’s story or not, it’s safe to assume that everyone is struggling with something. Wouldn’t it be horrible to add pain to someone’s already difficult life?

The other important thing to teach children/students is the difference between opinions and facts. We are living in a society that believes in the validity of its own opinions. Although everyone is free to have an opinion, it doesn’t mean that every opinion carries equal weight, especially those opinions that have no basis in factual evidence. This is part of critical thinking skills, but it must be taught from the position of compassion rather than pure logic. Some opinions come from inductive and deductive reasoning, and others come from fear and prejudice. Regardless, all opinions are worn like a badge of honor. It is only through patience and informed discussions that we can help our children/students open their eyes to the biases that have formed those weightless, negative opinions. Through these critical thinking discussions, students will remember those role models and begin to practice empathy, learning to accept and work well with people who are different from them.

You can judge me if you want to

You can judge me if you want to, but before you do, know that I primarily stayed in my marriage because of my son.

Ian has been through so much in his nine years: He battled a cancerous brain tumor at four-years-old with his father right by his side, giving Ian the strength and courage to fight. Ian has battled children (and some adults) calling him names because they just don’t understand why he is different. At school, as his brain slowly heals, Ian struggles to keep up with a curriculum that is moving too fast for him.

Add to that the tears and arguing that would fill our house during the past two and a half years. Even though he didn’t know the reason behind it, he knew something was wrong. Ian would beg me: “Mommy, please don’t get a divorce. That would make me really sad.” My heart crumbled. How could I add more sadness when I knew the truth would eventually cause him immeasurable pain?

So when you judge me for staying in this marriage, know that I couldn’t separate Ian from his father until the foreseeable future did it for us.

You can judge me for standing by my husband, but before you do, know that I took my vows seriously.

When I got married, I wanted it to be forever, through good times and bad. I envisioned growing old with him and weathering the inevitable storms of life together. I have forgiven much over the years because I was holding onto forever. When this came up, I merely forgave again.

You may think I’m a fool for believing in forever. You may think I’m pathetic for forgiving a man who admittedly wouldn’t have done the same if the roles were reversed. You may think that I have displayed weakness through and through.

Even though there were times I let your labels cling to me, and I felt like a weak, pathetic fool, the truth of the matter is that my choices came from strength and conviction: I wanted to do what was right by my son because of the love I have for Ian; I wanted to support a man whom everyone else abandoned, no matter how many times I wanted to run away. Staying was anything but easy. Staying challenged every moral fiber of my being. I had my moments of weakness, but, for the most part, I stayed the course, following the path of love, forgiveness, and compassion.

I knew by staying, some of you would think I was in on it, even though what he did went against every philosophy of life I have.

However, what I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on me because of it–because you hated him for what he did; because it was easier to cut me out of your life than stand by me; because you didn’t want your names associated with mine in case people did to you what you are doing to me.

What I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on Ian because of it–because you thought my sweet, innocent boy must be ruined because of the choices his father made; because you thought Ian must not be raised correctly in such a home as ours; because you didn’t want your children to be treated the way you are treating mine.

What I did know is that some of you would callously talk about Ian and me because it gave you something interesting to talk about–because it made you feel better about your own lives; because you’d rather talk about me than to me; because you didn’t want people adding your name to the gossip you shared about my life. That’s why I sheltered myself from your shallow presence.

All of this has just made me appreciate the few who did stand by me from the very beginning, without judgment, even more than I already did. I am truly blessed by those beautiful few and their unconditional love.

So you can judge me if you want to for making the choices I made; you can add more pain to our already difficult lives. I can’t stop you. But before you do, know that you are being judged by the same measure.


Blessing 24: David

I’ve been counting my blessings for over two years now; it has helped me get through some difficult circumstances. Every time I’ve felt pain beyond belief, I’ve tried to find the things in my life that make me smile—the things I’m thankful for—so I can move away from depression and towards joy. Some days it’s been harder than others to find those things, but counting my blessings has worked beautifully: I’ve been getting through these difficult days happy and productive.

However, of all of my blessings, I’ve been painfully aware that I haven’t counted my husband as a blessing yet. Why? Because he has been the source of most of my difficulties these last two years. I haven’t been ready to truly look at how he has blessed my life because I could only see the pain he has caused.

However, it’s time. It’s time to remind myself of all the good things he’s brought into my life, so I can get through these next few days…months…years.

The best blessings he has brought into my life are our children. Carol Linn and Ian are two of the most important people in my life. They have brought so much joy and love into my world that I wouldn’t be the same without them. Thank you, David, for our children.

David married me, a single mother, and provided a home and a family for me and Nicole. Regardless of some of the difficulties in all of our relationships, he took on that responsibility when others did not.

David has also brought laughter to my life. He is funny and quick-witted. Even through some dark times, his sense of humor has been a source of great laughter.

Through Ian’s cancer battle, Dave remained strong and helped me find my strength, so I could be the mother Ian needed. I would’ve been over protective of Ian if David had not been around. David taught me to trust Ian’s instincts, so that Ian could be the strong, courageous boy he is today.

As we have gone through the years together, I’ve learned a lot about love. I have a deeper understanding of what love is now. I know the kind of love I’m capable of giving and receiving–of what I will and will not accept in my life. I know we love each other, and I can accept and give that love, regardless of the limitations that we both have had throughout our marriage. I have also learned that in order to fully understand how to love another person, I have to love myself first: I have become my own best friend; I have learned to ask for the things I need. I can now recognize when someone isn’t showing me love because I wouldn’t treat myself that way.

Through our marriage, I have also learned that I can love and teach and guide those in my life, but I can never change people or make them follow a path they don’t choose for themselves. It has freed me up to love unconditionally: I don’t just love the people in my life who do what I say or what I think is right. I love and support people who matter in my life. This understanding has also helped me identify the people who only bring pain to my life. I can love them from a distance, pray that they find their own healing path, and let them go.

Through loving David, I have discovered that I was an enabler and how damaging that can be for all people involved.  Feeling sorry for someone and making excuses for his or her bad behavior only hurts everyone involved. It’s been a slow process, but I have stopped making excuses for other people and have called them out, when they needed it, which is a more loving response then making excuses for them.

Through David’s presence in my life, I have also learned some valuable lessons indirectly because I stayed by his side these past few years:

I’ve had to dig deep and find my true moral compass: What do I believe is right and wrong? I had to stop listening to what other people were telling me to think and feel, and I had to stop making decisions based on what others wanted me to do. I was so afraid of losing family and friends if I made the “wrong” decisions. I have learned to trust myself and my reasons for the choices I make, regardless of who thinks I’m being ridiculous or weak or taking the “easy way out.” I may not have made perfect decisions, but they were my decisions for my reasons. I won’t make excuses for them or care who believes I did the right thing. I have finally empowered myself–a choice I could not have made without David in my life.

I have learned that trying to understand a person, without enabling and without taking on his problems, is what makes the difference in life. Every person has a story–David is no exception. We all come from a place that is defined by what kind of love we have and have not received in life. I have realized that I don’t want to be a person who adds to someone else’s negative cycle, but I also don’t get angry or feel insecure when someone doesn’t show me kindness because I know it has nothing to do with me. I can understand and love a person without my self confidence being affected.

I have also learned that who I am and the choices I make have to come from within me, have to be anchored in my belief system. I cannot react to stimulus, like a small boat in the ocean being carried every which way by waves and currents. I started learning this lesson a long time ago, with my father: I needed to be the daughter I wanted to be, not the daughter I thought my father deserved. My choices can’t be a reaction to someone else’s behavior. I have to be the wife, mother, teacher, and woman I want to be, anchored by love. Retaliation and revenge are destructive behaviors. I want to understand, love, and build up people, regardless of their choices and behaviors.

Finally, I have learned that running away from pain is never an option. There were many days I wanted to run away, but I needed to see this thing through–for me, for Ian, for David. If I ran away from this pain, I know it would have come back to me in worse ways. I had to learn these lessons in order to become the woman and mother I need to be now for me and my children. I faced everything head on, and I would not have this new-found strength if I made any other choice. I know I did everything I could. I have no regrets.

Red Rocks 2011I have learned all these things because of David. The push and pull of our relationship has made me a stronger, more loving person. I don’t think I could have learned all these things any other way. Thank you, David, for blessing my life.

Blessing #4: The Man, Not the Father


My father was a wonderful man, but a horrible father. Most of my childhood memories are negative. I know there are other memories besides the criticisms, the beatings, and the drunken rages, but I have a hard time accessing them. I’ll try to remember a nice family dinner—there had to be tons of them—but every time I do, I see the skillet flying across the room, intended for my mother, but hitting my brother instead. I’ll try to remember a time when we all laughed together—but then I’m reminded of his laughter as he kicked me while I was rolled up in a ball, protecting myself.

I don’t want these memories to have control over my life anymore. I know there was more to my father than what those memories tell me. Even though there are at least another dozen or so memories—some worse, some better—than the two I shared, I know my father loved me. I told myself for the longest time that he must not have loved me enough to stop himself from behaving brutally. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe he loved me as much as he possibly could. The problem was there was a disconnect in my father’s mind and heart; his own difficult life contributed to it.

My father was born in Macedonia, a former republic of Yugoslavia in 1934 or 35. I wish I could tell you the actual date of his birth, but records were not well-kept back then. He also lied about his age to enlist in the navy. I believe we celebrated his birthday in July for a number of years, then November later in his life. The funny thing is my father had forgotten the actual date of his birthday as well.

Other people have told me that as a child, my father was devastated at the death of his own father when he was a young boy. Dedo Vele (my older brother is named after him) was a well-loved and well-respected Macedonian patriot, probably one of the reasons my father enlisted in the navy when he was 15. Like all war veterans, my father must have been tainted by the cruelty of war, not to mention being exposed to them at such a young age. Later, my father illegally crossed the Greece border and was placed in a POW refugee camp for about three years. This is where he became a polyglot; he not only learned all the Slavic languages of Yugoslavia, but he also became fluent in Greek and Russian. (After moving to America, he became fluent in English as well.) When I became an adult, he told me how he became a boxer. When he was serving time, the guards took all his possessions and left him barefoot. The guards would have boxing matches with each other and prisoners for privileges and the stolen possessions. My father watched them fight for months before entering the ring, shoeless. The guards laughed at him, until he beat his first opponent. He won a pair of shoes as his first prize, but never wore them in the ring. He continued winning barefoot, but gave away his prizes to fellow prisoners. His philanthropic attitude made him a favorite with POWs, as well as the guards.

His philanthropy expanded beyond the prison walls. He always gave more than he had to family and friends. If someone came to the house and needed $100, my father would find a way to give it to him, even if it were in pennies. We seemed to have a slew of long-term visitors to our house as well. All they needed to be invited as a guest was to be Macedonian. I guess he gave what he didn’t have to his children, in a way, through the pipe dreams he filled our heads with. He really wanted to give us the pool and the vacations; I think he was more disappointed in himself that he never fulfilled those dreams than we ever were.

The one moment that convinced me of my father’s love was the day I told him I was pregnant and I wasn’t getting married. He didn’t yell at me or tell me he knew this would happen to me or tell me to get an abortion. He cried; he hugged me tightly; he said he was sorry for my pain through his own tears. He wanted to talk to the boy who did this, to make him marry me. I wouldn’t let him. It was that day that I found out about my half-sister. He had done the same thing to a young woman before coming to America. He had a picture of his other daughter and brought it out to show me. He cried some more. It was with this heart that he loved and adored his first grandchild, Nicole. He was a better grandfather than I could have imagined.

Twenty years later, I stood at his grave site. I was filled with pain and regret. I had stopped talking to Tato (Dad in Macedonian) for six years before he died. Ian was born about 4-5 years into that silent treatment. I never called my father to tell him that he had a new grandson. He found out about Ian through my older brother. My brother told me he cried. I remembered all those things as I stood at the fresh mound of dirt. I wasted all those years being angry. I could never hear his voice again or let Ian talk to his Dedo Johnny.

During this trip to Macedonia with my brothers, I found out a lot about my dad from my cousins. One story they told me was about his stubbornness. My father had a number of strokes later in his life that eventually led to his death. The second to last stroke left him paralyzed on his right side. Most people would have been confined to a wheel chair with this condition. Not my father. Tato sat, but behind the wheel of his car, and a standard car at that. After his funeral people told me about his treks around town using his left foot for gas, clutch, and break, and his left hand to shift gears and drive. I still chuckle whenever I think about it, and then wonder at how he didn’t kill himself or others while driving that way. He was so determined. People offered to drive him, but he wouldn’t accept their offers. He wanted to be his own man, on his own terms.

Another story was from a month before his death. My dad was at the casino, his home-away-from-home; a woman in the casino had walked by when my dad heard two men speaking Greek. They were being vulgar about the woman and my father told them to stop, in Greek. One of them asked, “Who’s going to make me? You old man?” My father must have looked old and frail with his paralyzed right side. Those men laughed at my father. Within seconds Tato had somehow gotten out of his chair, knocked the one man to the ground, and had the other by the throat. All my father could say between gasps of air is “Yes.” The security guys had to carry my father out of the casino because he could no longer walk, while the obnoxious Greek men stared in awe at the crippled man who just kicked their asses.

Jovan Galovski was a man who battled his demons publicly and privately. We had a difficult life with him as our father, but he infused us with qualities that made us who we are. I don’t regret my past, but I do regret my memories. I want to remember my father as the man he was–his spirit, his strength, his defense of the defenseless–not the father. I want my children to know these things about him because that’s what he would have shown them. He would have only shown them the best of himself. I’m sad that he couldn’t show me his best during my informative years, but it’s part of my life; it’s how I became me. I am choosing to take the best parts of who Tato was and prune the rest.

I am blessed by my father because I wouldn’t be here without him; I wouldn’t be me without him.