Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Remember

The dichotomy is odd, really. While our nation and the world mourn the senseless loss of so many innocent lives on this fateful day 10 years ago, I will be at work today being one of the first people the newest babies in our nation and world get to meet. They lay there, totally innocent and requiring our help in every way. They are the hope that anything is possible. They have not yet been tainted or ingrained with such deep hatred that our world can foster in some.

My prayers today are of course with all the families who were affected, but also, with these newest little ones. My hope is that each of them will be responsible for achieving something amazing and wonderful for our world and improve it in awesome ways.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day in the Life of a Pediatric Intern

In an effort to decrease the number of "Is it like Grey's Anatomy" questions I receive (no, we don't shack up in the call room after every patient), I will share what different days as a Pediatric intern have been like for me. I can't say there is a "typical" day because every day brings unique issues, families and new diseases. Plus, every 4 weeks we switch to a different "service" so we are always moving. So I invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy vicariously the adventure that is Residency!

A Day in the Life...on Night Float

Arrival Time: 630pm Sign out
Departure Time: Depends on how long sign-out takes, but usually by 7 or 730am

When we first arrive, we go to "Sign-out" room and receive sign-out from day team. This is where the Docs from the day shift present every patient on the Peds service to us, the night shift team. Once a patient is signed-out to us, the day Doctor is no longer responsible for the decisions we make as the night team. During the Day shift, there is a separate Doctor who covers the Newborn service, 5-Central and ER Admits (the Peds floor at CRMC downtown; can be 2 residents if we have a guest from Family Practice), and Neonatal ICU (actually 2 residents, sometimes 3 if we have a FP guest).

At night, there are only two of us - the Senior Resident and the Intern Resident - to cover all the above areas. Since we are "only" covering and not responsible for necessarily moving care forward, it isn't as bad as it seems. However, there are times when you have two babies born simultaneously, each requiring resuscitation, an ER admit and a regular newborn who needs screening and it all happens at the same time. That can be pretty hectic.

As the night Intern, I am primarily responsible for all Newborns who join our world at night and for any ER Admits and/or Consults that occur during the night. On some nights, this can consume all 12 hours. On other nights, not a single baby will be born, in which case we either read, sleep, snack, or round with the Senior resident on NICU. It must be noted that every senior resident I have worked with so far has been incredible. Patient, guiding, kind and smart. And every single nurse is always willing to help and offer advice or just a joke to help you smile and make it through the night. The NICU nurses especially are most kind and really know their stuff.

On my busiest night so far, I received 4 pages for newborns (yes, we still use pagers), one of my mommy's needed resuscitation and I handled a consult - all within the hours of 2am and 630am. It went from being a quiet night to suddenly non-stop action. And of course, two of my babies were from mom's who either a) didn't know they were pregnant until last week or b) knew they were pregnant, had good prenatal care, but had fevers going into delivery - something called "Chorioamnionitis", which requires that I treat the baby with antibiotics after delivery and observe for at least 48 hours to ensure that baby won't become septic. The clock ticks pretty doggone fast when you have to make lots of decisions quickly.

And then, after a night of carrying 2 pagers (my own and the Newborn one) and a "Vocera" (the NICU in-house walkie-talkie-ish phone), I get to hand over all but my own pager, sign-out all the patients to Day team, and go home and rest for a bit before coming back and doing it all again.

Stay Tuned for More "Day in the Life..."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wedding Bells Are Ringing!

Since midnight last night, Eastern Standard Time, folks in New York who identify as gay and lesbian have been afforded the legal right to marriage. A union between two people who love each other. One of the first couples to marry was a lesbian couple in their upper 70s and 80s - one using a walker, one in a wheelchair, who had shared their lives together for so many years, but not been recognized as a unified couple by the law.

Congratulations to all those who have been afforded the civil right to have their love for each other formally recognized by the State!

As a Doctor, I wanted to discuss this issue from the perspective of Medicine. Although it has been less likely to occur in New York, up until today Doctors and Nurses had a legal obligation to ask the "significant other" of a gay or lesbian couple to step out of the room when discussing the health issues surrounding the patient. Regardless of how many years the couple may have been together, the patient's loved one was not considered to have the legal right to make health decisions for him/her, unless they had the foresight to make a legal document naming each other as proxy to make health decisions. In a heterosexual marriage, it is assumed and legal that the patient's spouse has full legal authority to make health decisions for the patient if they are incapacitated. Now, with couples legally marrying, the same-sex spouse of a patient will also be afforded the legal right - and human dignity - of being in the room to make health decisions for their spouse.

No human being should have to spend their last few moments on Earth alone. What a blessing that this law will ensure that doesn't happen in NYC any longer for same-sex couples.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grade Inflation

Go to the link above - the NY Times has some AMAZING graphs on how grades have gone up, up, up over the last 40 years. It is staggering.

ONE possible explanation, in my opinion:
1. Private schools offer more 1-on-1 instruction and greater access to the Professors, therefore allowing students more tutoring access. They also have smaller class sizes, therefore allowing more evidence-based teaching methods to flourish and allow students to understand the material better.

That's it, that's all I've got and that only explains why private schools may have higher grades than public. Why grades have shot up overall is a study in the pressures Administrators place on Faculty to keep the numbers up...and that's a whole post for another day! For now, check out the startling evidence in the graphs.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I have come to the iPhone...

...and I LOVE it.

The phone is so friggin' easy to use. The designers obviously thought about the user experience and made something beautiful. I love my new phone and really am just wondering why it took me so long to purchase it!

iPhone 3GS (yup, I went with the older model because they are $49. And for me, 8 GB is more than enough memory space.

Otter Box phone cover. I really like the Otter Box because it doesn't add a ton of bulk to the phone, while still effectively protecting the phone quite well.

First App Downloaded: Epocrates. This is a medical program that helps me determine dosages for the various medications I prescribed.

Favorite App Downloaded: Words with Friends. It is addicting, although pretty frustrating that I have lost WAY more games than I have won!

Tip: If you can, but the phone somewhere OTHER than California (and I think NY) because these States apply tax on the original retail price! So tax on my $49 phone was more than the sale price of the phone. That stinks. In other states, the tax will be on the actual sale price.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lifestyle: Eating Healthy

There has been a lot of buzz lately on the government's new dietary recommendations. You probably have heard of the "food pyramid" - the confusing, practically gutted of all useful information, pyramid looking thing that you probably pretty much ignored. There were some good recommendations in there for a healthy diet (and by diet, I mean the food you would regularly eat on a daily basis, not a "diet" meant to lose weight, which often never works). But now, instead of a pyramid has been retired and the United States Department of Agriculture has introduced the "My Plate" - click here for the visual.

The new recommendations are presented as a dinner plate with sections representing the major food groups. Vegetables and grains take up over half the plate and Fruits and Protein take up the remaining sections. There is also a separate, cup-shaped section meant for dairy. You can click on each section for a listing of healthy foods that you should consume.

Some highlights to keep in mind:
1. they have fruit juices listed as an option. Don't get me wrong - I love fruit juice - but they are only slightly better for you than a can of soda. Slightly. It is MUCH better to eat the fruit whole as the added fiber and nutrients not lost to the squeezing of the fruit will help you digest it better and not turn it straight into a glucose dump on your body.
2. Whole grains are emphasized over refined/processes grains. This is critical! Whole grains maintain all the nutrients that are necessary for healthy eating AND they contain fiber, all things that are lost in refined grains (like white bread, white flour, the cheap pasta at the store, etc). Make sure to try to make almost all of your consumed grains whole.
3. Make sure to eat small, healthy snacks through out the day so you never feel super hungry. Research has shown that if you sit down to a meal when you are feeling ravenously hungry, you are going to consume way more calories than you need. You will probably also consume those calories with some of the unhealthiest food options available. To avoid this, drink lots of water and keep healthy snacks nearby through out the day.

Eating healthy CAN be difficult when you are facing a beautiful red velvet cake in the face. Being a fat kid at heart (and at the surface), I know how hard it can be. But if we make healthy choices the vast majority of the time and exercise regularly (something I have restarted doing), then it will be OK to have a red velvet as a treat on a rare occasion. The key is not to restrict what your heart desires but to make the best/healthiest choices to satisfy those desires.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Committing to Fresno with a Servant's Heart

The City of Fresno is an incredible place. That's right - do your double-take and read that sentence again and let it absorb into your mind. I said it. It needed to be said. Is it a New York City? Of course not - but I wouldn't want to raise my family in NYC, either. We have an incredible community here in the Central Valley, with great schools, nice parks, good people and, pardon my bias, some incredible healthcare facilities. As I count the days left in a classroom before I retire from teaching a second time to start residency, I am made that much more excited by the prospect of serving my community here in Fresno.

In that endeavor, however, I don't have to create the wheel, so to speak. Many amazing folks with a Warrior Spirit and a Servant's Heart (to borrow the phrase from Southwest Airlines) have come before and established some amazing programs for our Valley, to help those in need.

Check out the video below on one of the way Internal Medicine residents at UCSF-Fresno are giving of themselves to help those less fortunate in our own backyard. And God-willing, with the community's support, all residents of Fresno will be able to get back on their feet shortly.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Become a Morning Person

If you are like me, early mornings are treacherous. You are always terribly annoyed at the alarm and ultimately "in a rush" to get out the door and seemingly are always behind.

Over at the Huffington Post News, Dr. Tracey Marks wrote an excellent article on how to become a morning person. She writes,

"Are you one who rises early, but is slow to get started? Even though you may be physically awake and standing, you're not much use to anyone? You need a few hours to kick into gear and always feel like you're ten steps from diving back into bed.

The problem is, with this routine, several hours of your day have passed with little productivity. This may be fine if the only thing you have to do for the day is check your trust fund balance. But if you're like most people with an unrealistic to-do list, you have to fit the tasks in sometime. Where do you get the time? In the evening, of course...

If only you could gain a productive hour or two in the morning, you could help to put yourself on a healthier course and, ultimately, be a happier person. You can train your body to snap to attention and be ready to rock-and-roll first thing in the morning. This objective is attainable for most everyone."
Click here to link to her article and the suggestions.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quotes o' the Journey

Heard in my classroom 5/13/11:

"So, how are kids supposed to walk around the fountain? Do they suddenly become Jesus and walk on water?"

Student questioning another group on their landscaping proposal.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Teachers Should Cry, Get Mad, Resist, Do Something, ANYTHING!

Go to the following link, read the article and watch the 25 minute "60 Minute" Special. You will be touched for sure. And perhaps, just perhaps, you will be moved to realize how much we have stripped from our kids in their education and want to do something about it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Political Correctness: Every Student Can Do Everything

My students are currently taking the big California test, known as STAR. It tests students in Language Arts, Mathematics and Science. It is a grueling weeklong process that involves four hours of testing daily...not to mention all the exams I have given my kids to prepare them for the big day and ensure they are on track. In honor of this abuse we have institutionalized on our children, there should be some humor to get us back laughing instead of sweating with anxiety over such high-stakes testing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Latest Educational Pedagogy: Blame the Teacher

In less than one week, my students will take the big California test, known as STAR. It tests students in Language Arts, Mathematics and Science. It is a grueling weeklong process that involves four hours of testing daily...not to mention all the exams I have given my kids to prepare them for the big day and ensure they are on track. In honor of this abuse we have institutionalized on our children, there should be some humor to get us back laughing instead of sweating with anxiety over such high-stakes testing. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Testing Industrial Complex

In one week, my students will take the big California test, known as STAR. It tests students in Language Arts, Mathematics and Science. It is a grueling weeklong process that involves four hours of testing daily...not to mention all the exams I have given my kids to prepare them for the big day and ensure they are on track. In honor of this abuse we have institutionalized on our children, there should be some humor to get us back laughing instead of sweating with anxiety over such high-stakes testing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quickies: 200 Posts, 27 Days, 24 Hours

1. 200 Posts!
I don't know what a milestone counts as in the world of blogging, but I reached several milestones recently. On Sunday, I posted my 200th blog entry since entering the world of sharing my stories with anybody who wants to read them in the world. In the last week, I also surpassed 10,000 visitors to my website since I started. It is incredible to me that so many people are actually interested in my life...or that very few people visit my website that often! Regardless, thank you for all the support and for at least pretending that my stories are fascinating enough to earn your time and interest. I noticed that there is a new feature offered where you can take all the blog entries and turn them into a book! What a neat idea. I envision one day gifting such a thing to my children so they can see that I wasn't always boring and tired. (This is NOT a place for comment, AA - not the airline).

2. 27 Days
I don't often act spontaneously and I'm not sure I acted spontaneously in this case, either, since I have been talking about taking a trip for months. Well, with Spring Break coming up in 27 days the time has also arrived to make a decision about taking a trip. Flights are booking up, prices are high and in about 3 months when residency commences I won't have enough time to even tie my shoelaces. So, I took the plunge (corny pun intended as a hint as to what I did). One of my friends who also will be starting residency in June and I will be visiting some incredible places that I have never seen before as we set sail on the Carnival Legend for a 7 night cruise of the exotic Western Caribbean! We leave from Tampa and Port of Calls include the Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Honduras, and Belize. Add to that 2 fun-filled days at Sea on the ship and I am looking forward to one heck of a week. Now, I just need to find some airfare that is reasonably priced...

3. 24 Hours
The amazing debate and forensics teams from my high school (and through out the Central Valley) will be meeting up in Bakersfield this weekend for the National Qualifying Tournament. I am extremely excited for our kids and very much hope that many of them will earn a spot to Nationals, the most prestigious event in a debaters career. My debate partner and I from Edison qualified to Nationals our Junior year in debate and I qualified in "Congress" my senior year. As a result, I got to see Phoenix (way too hot) and Portland (amazing natural reserves!). I will be driving one of the vans full of our very talented kids and therefore will be out of town from Thursday to Saturday. Should be fun!

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Blog Design

Every so often I feel it is time to mix things up here on the blog. The old design I had started feeling stuffy and heavy. While I loved the outward lines of alternating patriotic beauty, the grays in the color palette started feeling too dark and dreary for my tastes. And the smaller than normal font on that blog design was starting to exhaust my eyes.

Enter this new design. I found it as one of the options, ready-made for those of us computer half-literate folks who like things ready-made, like peanut butter, sliced fruit, and blog designs. I loved it because it feels light, airy and exciting. It evokes movement and change, similar to how my life is moving forward and change is coming. It also feels more minimalist, something I have been striving to be as a way to declutter and simplify my life.

I have also discovered that I can make the font a bigger size and I have also added space on the screen devoted to the main text, allowing it to pop to the reader more easily.

I would love your suggestions and welcome you to comment on any changes you want to see to make the blog more accessible and easier to interact with. And as always, thanks for visiting!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flashback Friday...on Sunday

While working as a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore, I kept a journal of my experiences during my first year teaching. We didn't have blogs "back then" so I used to email the journal entries to a lengthy list of folks. As a blast from the past, I will repost some of my journal entries here on this blog on Flashback Fridays. Some of you will remember some of them and I hope you enjoy it as much the second time as you did the first. 

Today's Flashback is to my very first journal entry, ever. It seems so fitting as I go through similar thoughts and anxieties over what is going to be arriving very soon - the start of residency in a few short months.

"July 1, 2004:
            I have been on the East Coast now for about two weeks. We were in Baltimore for our Pre-Institute Induction ceremony. There were lots of neighborhood tours and a general overview of the program. I’m filled with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of what I will be doing. The children of Baltimore need dedicated people…LOTS of us. I hope I will be able to contribute my little part to ensure that systemic inequality is combated and EVERY child has an equal opportunity at changing this world. The question that was posed to us is very profound: If not you, then who?
            Well, we arrived in New York a couple days ago. We are staying at Fordham University here in the Bronx. This city is eclectic! It is alive – always awake and full of energy. This school is pretty nice, too. We are staying in the dorms, teaching during the day and attending various professional development workshops in the evenings. My dorm room is air-conditioned and has its own bathroom! WOW – we definitely didn’t have this at Whittier! However, I have a feeling they aren’t going to send housekeeping to maintain the bathroom, so maybe it was better to have shared bathrooms…
            If not you, then who…"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thank You God

This has been one amazing week! It started with an awesome 4-word email (see Monday's post) and culminated today in THE most amazing news that I have prayed for, for a very long time! I found out today that I "matched" (that means was accepted by) the UCSF-Fresno Pediatrics program to start residency. This means I will be matriculating at one of the top 10 Children's Hospitals in the nation, here in Fresno! And I will be part of one of the best known names in Medicine - UC San Francisco.

When I started medical school back in 2006, I was very depressed and didn't think I could make it through. Many self-destructive thoughts went through my head, like "I'm not good enough" and "I had to go to the Caribbean so that must mean I don't belong in this profession" and "no reputable program will ever want me" and "I will never become a good doctor" and on and on. Sensing my despair, God spoke to me through one of the online "Bible Quote" programs. I offer it now to help any struggling medical student or anyone struggling in life. Always remember to...

"Rejoice in Hope, be Patient in tribulation, be Constant in Prayer."
Romans 12:12

Monday, March 14, 2011

4 Words

Sometimes, the best things, including news, come in the smallest packages. Today I received an email from the National Residency Matching Program that simply stated, in 4 brief and incredible words:

"Congratulations! You have matched."

Thank God.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quickies: Prayers for Japan, Lay Off Notices, Residency Posting

Time for some quickie updates:

1. Prayers to Japan and all those affected by the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Friday. The power of Mother Nature is indeed awe-inspiring and should not be underestimated or disrespected. There are some absolutely startling before and after pictures that the NY Times posted on its website. The link is:

Also, there are lots of very well-written articles explaining how nuclear energy works to help understand the whole "meltdown" hoopla some in the media are trying to blow out of proportion. I highly recommend you read the article by going to my website for work then scroll down to the bottom of the screen where it says "Science Headlines".

The link to my class website is

2. Lay Off Notices:
I have been joking about my imminent lay-off for months, but at the moment on Friday when I was actually personally handed the envelope putting me on notice of my imminent lay-off at the end of this school year, I actually got emotional! I was hired as a "Temporary" teacher on a year-long contract (as all new teachers typically are in my district) so this isn't a surprise. I absolutely knew it was coming (State Law requires notice by March 15). And unlike Baltimore where they just put a notice in our teacher mailboxes, I actually met with the Assistant Superintendent for my School area and my Principal in his office, where we discussed options. As I have been saying to anyone who will listen, this District takes care of its people and prides itself on a culture that values its employees. And I love my current job and my colleagues and the awesome environment that has been created at my school for adults and kids. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to work at my school. My lay-off notice, however, does make Quickie #3 below that much more imminent!

3. Residency Posting: 
I find out about Residency very soon. I have suddenly gone from being quite content and calm to having some pretty major butterflies. "Match Day" is the culmination event of 4 years of ridiculously hard work, plus a 5th "bonus" year since I didn't graduate in time to start residency last year.

The Match email will say one of two things:
OPTION 1: Congratulations!! You have been accepted by a program for residency.
OPTION 2: We are sorry, but you have not Matched into a program for residency.

Obviously, I am hopeful for Option 1. Option 1 means I get to relax all week until they send the email a few days later letting me know at which hospital I was accepted to do my Residency. However, Option 2 means I spend the entire week in the "Scramble" - literally scrambling and calling every single program with a listed opening and begging and pleading for a residency position before the week ends.

This coming week will either be an extremely joyful and happy week (affirmative on residency), or one helluva depressing week (no residency AND laid off). Needless to say, my issue is absolutely nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters in Japan are going through right now, so please don't divert your prayers from them!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good Teachers Being Turned Bad?

I have always been passionate about the fact that as teachers, we haven't done enough to ensure that we are guiding the discourse on what we need to do to "improve education" in our country. As a result, a bunch of "Education Experts" with little to absolutely no experience in the field of education have been given almost unbridled access to the power-that-be to effect changes that are at best untested and unsupported by research, and at worst proven to be ineffective and plain out wrong!

In this article by Joel Shatzky, a retired English teacher who taught at SUNY (State University of New York), he shows how true "Good Teachers" are often rated as bad due to their willingness to actually fight for evidence-based good teaching. I am blessed to work at a District that actually does value great teaching, but even here we are faced with the testing industrial complex that has dominated all of the education field for now. Let us hope that this, too, shall pass in favor of what used to be an innovative education that placed more prowess on critical thinking rather than fact memorizing. Or at the very least, we have to start developing richer standards and evaluation tools that examine a student's true strengths and weaknesses more regularly and through more than just a paper/pencil multiple guess test once a year.

Click Here to access the article. It is a must read for any teacher and for anyone with a vested interest in their child's education. If we don't put a stop to all the crazy policies being floated around in education right now, we will be faced with an entire generation of kids who are incapable of doing basic thinking on their own.

Monday, February 28, 2011

2 Weeks and Counting

March 14 is the day that many Doctors-to-be are looking forward to with a mix of excitement and anxiety. It is the day we find out about Residency - whether we Matched (and in fact, the day is called "Match Day") to a hospital program or whether we are stuck scrambling for a position (and in fact, the rest of the week is called "The Scramble"). Most of the folks waiting are 4th year medical students who will graduate in May and then a short few weeks later, start the grueling process of on the job training that is so unique to our profession.

I am a bit more unique in this respect, as I graduated last year in August - too late to start residency last year, so I have been working as a teacher in a beautiful public high school while I applied for residency this year. It has been an incredible ride and as AA (not the airline or the program) likes to say, I have been "exactly where you are meant to be."

In two weeks when I wake up, I will open up an email that doesn't change who I am as a person, but does help guide where I will be going in the near future. Will I be staying in Fresno or going to New York? If I go to New York, will I go to the city or upstate to Buffalo? There are so many questions that I have started somewhat avoiding folks so I don't have to repeat the same answer 1,352,938 times - "I don't know." Nothing is certain right now. I have no control over where I go other than a "rank list" that a computer uses in its complex algorithm to ultimately assign me a position somewhere.

So, with that in mind, I beg all of you - please stop asking. I don't know starts sounding really annoying to a person who doesn't like saying it. I promise all of you that as soon as I know, I will let you know, so that we will all be in the know. Wow, that was a lot of "know" in one sentence.

Stay tuned this week: in an upcoming blog post, I will share all the dates that important information will be arriving about this that all of you will know exactly what I know, right now. Know what I mean?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday - The First Month of the First Year

While working as a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore, I kept a journal of my experiences during my first year teaching. We didn't have blogs "back then" so I used to email the journal entries to a lengthy list of folks. As a blast from the past, I will repost some of my more humorous journal entries here on this blog on Flashback Fridays. Some of you will remember some of them and I hope you enjoy it as much the second time as you did the first. What follows is an entry from the first month of my first year teaching.

September 29, 2004:
       Today was out of control. With one section, they became so unruly that I found myself saying, in a very quiet voice, that I would teach the lesson in that voice and people who wanted to listen but couldn’t hear, were allowed to move to the front. (AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION – how many people moved?) Correct - Nobody moved. (AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION – how many people stopped talking?) Correct - Everyone kept talking with the exception of about three. I kept teaching. It took every ounce of energy I could muster not to lose my cool.
       And that was only the first period.
Today was supposed to be a wrap-up day on the “Egg-speriment” that we were conducting to explore cell membranes. We were going to organize our data in nice graphs in order to better analyze it. Quick and efficient, right? Rather, it turned into part graphing and part lets-watch-Mr.-Artinian-as-he-goes-around-the-room-shaking-his-hands-and-repeating-in-a-flight-attendant-voice-stop talking-stop talking-stop talking-stop talking-DAY.
       Icing on the cake: University supervisor observing one class and my assistant principal giving me my first official observation in another. What am I doing here? I am nothing more than a behaviorist – an underpaid, under-resourced, under-appreciated, baby-sitter who spends more time trying, fruitlessly, to get students focused instead of on the exciting exploration of science.
Get me outta here!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good Enough

I often joke that my mom has forever tainted my thinking about what is "good enough". When my students are excited about earning an A, I ask why not A+? When they earn a 44 out of 45 on a difficult exam, I ask why it wasn't a 45 out of 45. It is a disease - but one based on love and jest (well, only half jest).

But when we read about what some of our nation's children are going through in some of the most challenging situations for a child to grow up in, we can see what a lack of hope can do to a child's psyche. I was recently reading an article in the Huffington Post (click here for the article) about Chicago Public School students for whom a new school was built but then due to a change of plans, the kids at the old dilapidated building were not allowed to move into the brand new school - across the street. What was the change of plans? I'm not even quite sure myself but I think it had something to do with not wanting the "poor-performing" kids from the old school at the new building and to use the new building as some sort of magnet school.

Here is a letter one of the students wrote, asking the so poignant and heart-wrenching question: "when will we ever be good enough."

In Baltimore, I used to remind the kids that they chose to come to school. They could have been the idiots who ditch, who go sell drugs and do illegal things because it is "more fun" than school - but that whatever comes easily can go easily. And whatever is earned through difficulty can't be taken away - like a college degree. Despite the challenges they faced, they came to school. And in a final desperate plea, I used to say "so PLEASE work with me and let's get you closer to a college degree."

And don't worry - if you are accepted to Yale, I won't ask, "why not Harvard?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blessed...But Still Stressed?

My mind has been moving a mile a minute lately, juggling between lesson planning, grading, reteaching, offering Coach Class for students who need extra help, coaching Science Olympiad, coaching Volleyball, running to meetings for special ed students, and going to games and special events for the students who tell me about their band performances, basketball games, swim meets, and debate tournaments.

My schedule is hectic, it's true, but none of it is stressful. In fact, this is all fun (well, maybe not the special education meetings, but the rest is a blast!) The best blessing of all is having students who are nice, care about the world, and mostly work hard.

But, as at every school, there are some students who seem not to care. I can't get them to do their homework. I can't get them to participate in group projects. I can't get them to break out of their shell and join in discussions, much less lead them. And some of them complain incessantly - Dr. A gives too much homework, Dr. A assigns too much classwork, Dr. A this isn't math class, Dr. A how do you expect me to do all that in 3 days (assignment: outline 6 pages from a textbook and answer the 5 questions). I stress "seem" above because deep down I know there is a way to reach even the seemingly most unreachable. I just haven't discovered it yet - but I will! I still have a couple months left to reach them!

But while trying to reach even the seemingly most unreachable, I'm frustrated by the lack of acknowledgment of how good it actually is at this school. Almost none of my students here deal with the same challenges as my students in Baltimore once did. I know "challenge" is a subjective term and we should be so thankful that not every child is going through the same struggles as the majority of my Baltimore kids went through. But when you have seen both sides of the coin - the blessed and the truly stressed - you can't help but remind the blessed that they truly are "too blessed to be stressed." 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Turkey Trot 2010 - Part 3: I Heart NYC...

...and NYC hearts me!

December was a challenging month, but before all the major challenges, I had the opportunity to travel to NY from November 18-25. Click to read about Part 1 and Part 2. The final part of the story, as much as I remember 2 months later, is posted below. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

NYC 11/22-11/25:
The gist of my time in NYC comes down to this: friends, friends, and friends. It was a time to reconnect with people and places. I arrived comfortably on JetBlue and took the AirTrain to the subway to the Upper East Side where my dear friend CP lives with her husband and two really fun and personable twin cats. Unlike Rochester where I had a pretty good idea of where I would be when, my time in NYC was much less structured. I sent a message to everyone saying I was in town and to book times to hang out and then just waited and explored the city. Well, not so much the city as Manhattan itself; I made appearances at all my favorite "classic" places (Times Square, Union Square, Columbus Circle, Central Park, Hell's Kitchen). And every night I had dinner with dear friends and chatted it up while gastronomically well-satisfied.

I spent the first night with CP in her living room but then got an amazing deal on Priceline to stay at the Millennium Hotel Times Square. The room was nicely appointed and had a partial view of Times Square. I say partial because, well it was partial, but it still was a great unobstructed view - and I still regret that I booked my trip back to California for the day of Thanksgiving because my hotel room would have provided an awesome view of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Oh well, it just wasn't meant to be this time, but there will hopefully be another opportunity. I DID, however, get to see the balloons for the Parade all aired up and ready to go the night before. Funny story: I was supposed to meet friends for this amazing experience...except we got separated into the massive crowds and the NYPD is very unforgiving about even letting you cross one street to get to where you have to go. Instead, you end up going, in some cases, 10 streets and 2 avenues out of your way just to get from 76th St. to 77th St. It is definitely an opportunity to practice patience so that you don't end up arrested.

HOTEL: Millennium Broadway Hotel - Priceline Rate $99 +taxes per night
  • PROs: Excellent location, fast elevators, nicely appointed room with super comfortable leather chairs and plenty of space to walk around (in fact, by NYC hotel room standards, this room was palatial), and a VERY nice bathroom - well appointed, big, and luxurious feeling.
  • CONs: The bed was not the most comfortable AND it was sparsely appointed; the comforter was the only "blanket" on top of a single sheet - I found that downright disgusting because I wasn't sure if the comforter gets washed regularly. Expensive internet so I didn't end up using it (just go to the Starbucks located next door and use the free internet whilst enjoying hot cocoa).
  • OVERALL GRADE: B- (would have been an A- with better bedding).
  • Would I Recommend This Hotel: Yes, IF the price is right.

Other Highlights of the Trip:
  • Took my picture with Santa Claus at the new American Eagle in Times Square. The picture was taken in the old MTV TRL studios overlooking Times Square - an amazing spot, especially looking down from the 2nd story corner windows. 
  • Forever 21 has a "Street Cam" that captures the street on Times Square right in front of the store. So you can stand and wave and see yourself waving back as a small dot on the big screen! I thought it was amazing. My friend NK, when we finally met up 10 minutes later, spoke scathingly about "the idiots blocking the street to wave at themselves on the screen...who would do such a stupid thing." Ahem, ya, who? And take a picture of it? I mean (insert nervous laughter) that would be so silly! I then showed him the picture of none other than ME doing what he just called stupid and a host of other synonymous adjectives. We laughed.
  • Two years ago I got to enjoy the Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Plaza from the comfort of one of the brokerage firms at 30 Rock. This year, I got to see the tree in preparation for its lighting. Then, we walked into the Lego store and saw a full Lego mock-up of the Christmas scene at Rockefeller Plaza, complete with lego people ice skating. I thought it was a pretty talented work of art!
  • I took a bath and sipped tea. That's right. I had 2 hours to kill one evening and wanted to just relax in quiet solitude so I drew a hot bath, made some tea, then just quietly reflected and meditated. I know it sounds cheesy but those moments of quiet reflection were wonderful.

I love New York and as you can see, this whole trip did not disappoint. I will be back in NYC January 15-18, traveling with none other than AA, so look forward to some more crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful and beautiful times.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Turkey Trot 2010 - Part 2: The Turkey in Rochester

December was a challenging month, but before all the major challenges, I had the opportunity to travel to NY from November 18-25. Part 1 of the series is located at this link. The rest of the story, as much as I remember 2 months later, is posted below. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Rochester - 11/20-11/22:
My trip to Rochester can be summed up in two words: family and eating. The trip started on Amtrak. I love Amtrak. On a gloriously sunny, but wintry cold and windy day in Buffalo, I packed up my things and headed to the train station. I had just stayed two days in Buffalo (click here for the full story) and was now waiting at a pretty decrepit Amtrak station - "Buffalo Exchange St. Station" - for the train. It arrived about 30 minutes late and boarded only through two doors - one for passengers going to NYC at the front of the train and one for all the other passengers around the middle of the train. It was pretty disorganized, mostly because you couldn't hear the conductor telling you which door to go to. And especially when compared to California Amtrak, which has nice new double-decker cars and you can board at any door, the east coast Amtrak experience, while more expensive, left more to be desired, as well. But once inside the train, it was amazingly comfortable, with really kind conductors and spacious seating. And my favorite part of train travel: the soft and gentle rocking that puts me to sleep. It is unavoidable - I will be sleeping on a train.

This trip to Rochester was an incredibly special one because it meant I would get to see eight very special people, some of whom I haven't seen in a few years. My two aunts (Agnes and Maida), my two cousins (Anais and Cathy), another "like" aunt/uncle (Frida and David), and two friends from Baltimore (Alex whom I taught with and her husband Jim).

I ate way too much thanks to my Aunt Maida who cooked delicious food, my cousin Anais who cooked an amazing pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner, my friend Alex who took me to a supermarket, and to my "aunt" Frida who took me to a really yummy Thai place.

I know, out of all the things I wrote above, you are all scratching your head about the Supermarket. Turns out that folks who live in Buffalo/Rochester area have an "absolutely amazing, super, wonderful, awesome, can't-live-without-it" supermarket called Wegman's. In fact, it was billed as a must-see place that received its own slot in my schedule for a tour. We went to their "flagship" store and yes, it is pretty amazing...BUT STILL A SUPERMARKET! What made it amazing was the fresh food they served; in fact, there is a restaurant on premises with fresh cooked everything right in front of you. The food they made was well worth the trip - especially the salad, with fresh vegetables and delicious dressing. But like I told Alex, no matter how amazing I try to make Wegman's sound back in California, all my friends will still look at me funny that we went to...a supermarket.

One must-see place that my cousin Cathy took us was the Genessee river. It is a 15 mile stretch of waterway that has boating (in more seasonable weather) and homes lining the water and a trail for walkers. The weather, while a bit nippy, was still favorable for a beautiful, fresh-air walk along the river. With the sound and sight of the water relaxing the senses and the nice crisp, fresh air to breath in against a gorgeous blue sky backdrop, it was a remarkable connection with nature and self.

My time in Rochester was way too short, but it was scheduled how I like to schedule all my trips - not necessarily overbooked, but busy and jam-packed with activities and time with the people I love. The trip did not disappoint. After having spent time with all eight of the people I love, it was time to go through security at Rochester International Airport and wait for a JetBlue flight to NYC.

Stay Tuned for the Last Installment: Turkey Trot 2010 - Part 3: I HEART NYC

Saturday, January 1, 2011