Don’t Feel Sorry For A Teacher

I run an immediate risk with teaching colleagues with such a title caught in the eye of the storm that is COVID-19. Our lives and the students we teach are forever changed, anyone, anywhere in the world will be impacted more directly than indirectly by this virus. We will all have to adjust to the new normal until a medically healing vaccine will be discovered. I speak of teachers because in my world most of us still have our jobs, and before this pandemic, there have been history books written on the scrutiny of teachers and the lack of respect for all of their work in the classroom with ‘your’ children.

I would be remiss if I didn’t first speak of all of our civil servants, our police, our fire workers, our EMTs, our service workers, our medical teams who put themselves directly in line with the contagion. In addition many people have the opportunity to still work from their homes. We have become a necessarily adaptive society using our online social network at an alarming rate. So let’s get back to teachers shall we? Without discounting the incredible numbers of unemployed I want to speak of our opportunity as educators in this unique time.

A couple of years ago, in the district I teach we went one to one with technology. No one in their right mind imagined our current peril to be the reason. The planning committees across the world with research to back up their findings would suggest that students can go further with their learning using online resources. Our school district created a system of keeping academics in focus on what was once known as a snow day. The idea didn’t take the entire day of freedom from students at home, but it did offer a limited array of academic tools to keep students on track. This system was imagined to compensate four or five days of lost education in a winter bound region of the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the rules. Students need their education, they need to move to the next level. Students across the world need to be able to achieve a current level of education in order to hone theirs skills to live formative futures that lay ahead. Students in post-secondary also face the same challenge. For the sake of this writing, the focus in on elementary through high school, and primarily on senior classes whose graduation walk are now hanging by a thread. This does not even speak to the extracurriculars – athletics, fine arts, business, etc.

When this virus first began to impact education, we were told we would have a week and a half before our spring break to begin implementing tools to provide students distance-learning for the rest of the school year. It would appear we may not enter the classroom through graduation. I remember hearing a colleague one day suggest that maybe teachers will gain more respect now that parents are forced to stay home from their jobs in order to care for their children. I cannot imagine what parents who need to work and cannot are going through in respect to their children who are dependent upon their love, compassion and care in home. During our ‘shelter in place’ or ‘stay at home’ mandate in nearly every state in the country, every country in the world, our children are left living uncertain and vulnerable times.

I personally don’t believe this gives teachers a better opportunity to gain respect. In fact, it increases our responsibility to move students forward. It demands that as a teacher we find a way to inspire and support students to continue moving to the next level of their education. The COVID-19 virus is a mandate on education, and we as teachers need to embrace this opportunity in the midst of crisis.

Now more than ever teachers cannot manifest the identity that allows the general public to believe we may take ownership in lesser stressed occupations than workers in many capacities across the country. Teachers need to step up and create online classrooms that will capture the imagination of students across the world. In the classroom, we as teachers are asked to provide students with a safe environment for learning and coping in a dynamic and fluid world. More than ever, as we reach into student homes we need the parents to feel confident their children are not being ignored and not being forced to move in rampant fashion into negative aspects of such remarkable free time in their lives.

As a teacher, we need to reach our students and not let them believe at an ever increasing and alarming level that we do not take stake in moving them forward and giving them the tools to continue to hone their academic skill set. As a teacher, we need to continue to be a student mentor. That is what we signed up for. That cannot change.

Be safe everyone – keep your distance – wear your masks – love each other.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2020

Thoughts in a Covid-19 World

I haven’t felt like writing for quite some time, but today I received the inspiration I was pleading, and so it goes that I want to talk about this Covid-19 crisis that we will seemingly endure for quite some time. It will change our world, our lives. The number of positives today reach 169 in Minnesota alone, not to speak of the enormous numbers across the world.

Our lives are impacted as we all get used to this self-quarantine in our homes. The temps outside are just shy of my desire to take my bicycle out, though newly tuned, I am thinking at least a short ride in the late afternoon when the temperature peaks. That would seem a freely healthy move inside this isolation.

I am a coffeeshop guy and I went through early withdrawal with the words of our Governor shutting down any inside seating. It makes frightening sense to me now as I watch the numbers and their daily rise. It is important to recognize these are real people and not simply numbers. People’s lives across the world are changed, forever. People have lost loved ones like a germ warfare attack throughout Europe and now having reached the states, it is clearly an epidemic not seen since perhaps the Polio outbreak.

I’m a teacher so I don’t have to go into work. We are planning to go online with our courses in a couple of weeks, not only finishing a quarter but perhaps completing the school year online. I haven’t wrapped my head around that. At the same time I appreciate the time off to get my head straight with my own personal life, I realize our work, as experimental as it is, so vastly impacts the lives of our students. I hope to give them a solid foundation for their education in both core and elective classes.

I run a  theatre program that will shut down for the spring if these effected lives do not begin a downturn in the weeks ahead. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. As I sit here with a mild cough, I get nervous, and wonder about the thousands of lives in Minnesota already infected. Again, I’m only focusing locally, because really that is all my brain can muster right now. Looking out my window, I know that on everyone’s mind outside that walks by, is the virus. We are living a summer blockbuster. The only difference is it is real.

I think as a teacher, someone said recently, maybe now our profession will be appreciated when families are stuck at home rather than sending their children to school. Well then I would say all of those people in all professions need to be respected for the impact staying home has on their livelihood, and then don’t forget the medical personnel in all capacities who are dedicating their lives to curbing the spread of a virus that they cannot even clearly see a vaccine that will brings this to a halt.

My car has 12 miles of gas left in it before empty, and I am not in any huge hurry to go fill the tank. There really is no need, unless I decide to just take a drive and never get out. That might be in the near future if the temperatures don’t rise and my bicycle remains hanging in the garage.

I wish everyone peace during this very difficult time. I hope you may all hold your family and friends near your heart and soul. I hope those alone don’t feel completely invisible to our society and world, and realize there are many in the same circumstance. I hope people may find their peace of mind within themselves and use faith and prayer, your chosen method of processing this incredible violation upon the human condition..

On a lighter note, I hope Netflix does not shut down.

Peace everyone,


@ Thom Amundsen 3/2020

A Difficult Month

I have experienced loss this month, not simply grief of losing a loved one to the natural course of life. More presence and banishment. Not hostile as much as confusing. Many aspects of life have been exposed, many others kept in their dark holes of quiet solace from revealing my greatest fears. And yet there is the heartbreak of our lives that we always keep close to ourselves in order to find some sanity in our day to day.

I have known love on so many levels, and now I am being asked to love alone, without any recourse beyond knowing in my own seeming understanding of God or some spiritual entity that love does exist and continues beyond the mechanical or physicality of the human condition.

My belief is in God. I have kept that tucked away for many years because parts of our society do not accept the reality of some of our own ways to find personal strength in ourselves, in our lives. I remember a time over a decade ago when I was struggling and when finally coming to terms with whom I was in the moment, I sat in a chapel, looked at an altar and began to feel the tears stream down my cheeks. I didn’t hold back, I just let them fall, and the memories began to flood my mind. I thought immediately of my cousin Billy, who I miss so much, and my parents, and my childhood, and like a film reel my life ran its course of recall and redemption. I realized that morning that I could be okay with whatever decision I make in life because it is my own. I believed that day, that God was looking over me, and offering forgiveness. It felt unique in contrast to the many times I would on my knees or in a fetal position pray that God might take me out of this miserable life. That day God held my hand.

Recently I have returned to the church and it has offered me a unique peace. Though I still walk through my days with questionable motives. I have very good friends, a support system that is just short of phenomenal, but are we ever completely satisfied? There is a void in my life that I created on my own, that I find troubling because I fall into patterns of neediness that won’t allow that to be fixed. I have made a choice in my life that I could not possibly regret because moments do teach happiness and truth.

Today, my words gradually become more revealing. I hope they might speak the truth in what I feel, not simply words to fill the page and find reader’s eyes, but words that would somehow tell a story that when other’s hear, they have their own quiet ‘yeah’ moments. My mother always called them ‘aha’ moments, so I save her mantra for myself because I do love her and miss her dearly. With my dad the two taught us as a family how to live with one another no matter the struggle. We used to spend hours in debates with all of our family around the old oak table – freedom of thought without judgment. Something I miss dearly, but in writing we can find and use that venue to our own advantage to help define our thoughts.

So it has been a difficult month. I have returned to work in a capacity and the students are clearly my life blood. I see them throughout the day and their smiling faces is all a person needs in the moment. It is the hours afterwards that I will continue to struggle to find my own space, my own identity, my own truths.


© Thom Amundsen 2/2020

A Doll’s House – Part 2

Doll's House 2

For years I have been compelled to perform Ibsen’s A Doll’s House on a high school stage. The message, a premise of marriage along with inevitable and familiar failings speaks incredibly well to a society a century later still struggling with the concept of a union between two people. In my own interpretation of Ibsen and motive, I felt that Nora was no longer intrigued by Torvald Helmer’s rule of thumb, and as  a crusader herself for a ‘woman’ well before a time of authenticity in judgment, she made a choice that shook the family, if not certainly that auspicious society of marriage at the time.

In the original play, Nora Helmers walks out on Torvald and her children and there the story ends, the audience is left only to speculate her demise or future. What Ibsen does with this beautiful piece is speak clearly to a concept of marriage and unity, pitfalls and survival, that exist still in today’s modern society.

In Lucas Hnath’s contemporary revision, A Doll’s House – Part 2, the next chapter to a classic story, Nora returns to the home she departed from 15 years later, now a successful woman with a dilemma placed upon her identity. Under the direction of Joanie Schultz, the characters demonstrate an exercise in futility that remains a running theme from the moment Nora’s shocking return upsets the house nanny – Anne Marie. The encounter of the two both stark with worry of the other’s reaction is a comical way to dive into a work of serious consequence. Why has Nora returned after 15 years is Anne Marie’s most pressing concern.

The story unfolds to discover the legal documentation of Nora & Torvald’s divorce was never filed. Torvald refused to file the papers. Nora is now left with a successful writing career yet the possibility of being exposed and character destroyed because of this seeming ‘oversight.’ In the midst of this literal jigsaw puzzle several scenarios are part of an excruciating dialogue where every character including the now adult daughter of Nora begins a diatribe of blaming one another for the failure to come to terms with  marriage dissolution. What happens in the process of Nora & Torvald coming to terms with a difficult decision is exactly what our society today still nurses with a walking on eggshells fear of communication. The inability to be genuine and real with one another no matter the consequence.

The Jungle Theatre does an exceptional job bringing this consequential story to the mind of everyone in the audience. For me the play was exceedingly relevant in its ability to show everyone that despite the struggle, no matter the disparity, there is an outstretched hand of love that cannot possibly ever go away.

The only constant is Nora’s ability to again, depart.


© Thom Amundsen 2/2020

An Observation In Absence

MLK JR.

Martin Luther King Jr.


The other night I attended ‘Just Mercy’ at our local theater complex. It was a late showing, but still I was struck with wonder about the emptiness of the room. I was actually the only person in the theater, it was a rather surreal experience. Now I’ve been to shows with limited audience in the past, shows of little consequence, a comedy that has run its course, the latest version of Die Hard or Transformers after a several week run at the theater house. However, the lack of eyes on this show about Brian Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative upset me on many levels.

In theaters nearby, people poured into the late night showings of Star Wars, and 1917. I wondered to myself, as I gazed around the empty space on a Saturday night, is this really due to the content of the film? ‘Just Mercy’ is receiving rave reviews, and it opened ten days ago on the 10th of January. Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and I have thought about this movie’s impact on me all weekend long.

Brian Stevenson began the Equal Justice Initiative in the late ’80’s to defend the false imprisonment of the incarcerated on death row. He has dedicated his life to this cause as executive director and founder of EJI. “Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned” (eji.org). His central focus is to give a voice to those whose lives are marginalized by bigotry and social injustice. Do not for a minute believe he is wanting to release a criminal to the streets, that would be the short answer to defend injustice. His voice is meant to defend the innocence inside a legal mindset bent upon maintaining systemic atrocity in our society.

The movie is focused upon his commitment to releasing several prisoners, namely Walter McMillan, a falsely accused black man who was sent to death row a year before his eventual trial and conviction. Stevenson managed to get the case reopened through avenues only he could challenge as a young black attorney walking directly in the fire of a racist prosecution in Alabama. His case eventually won the attention of a 60 Minutes expose that revealed the truths of McMillan’s plight in a closed door, self protective, small-minded community filled with hatred and denial.

‘Just Mercy’ focused on the familiar haves and have nots, a poignant moment being when at the start of a heated hearing, the sheriff and his deputies refuse to allow McMillan’s family and friends to enter the courtroom until the room is filled with white community members leaving little space for additional seating. The scene that follows is compelling. While all the seats are taken the room is filled with a community who stands together in strength and courage despite living their lives in fear and injustice.

The poignant message in this movie speaks to a familiar issue in our society today. The color of your skin will have a demonstrable impact upon the treatment and respect received in a confused and racist society. Today, in social justice there is a new mantra being heard that would suggest we practice being anti-racist. The idea of being non-racist no longer being enough. I believe that was the central argument in ‘Just Mercy’ not only creating another intriguing and frightening appraisal of the horrific treatment of blacks in a white dominated region of our country. More important is the implication of not stepping forward, not feeling a need to speak, not recognizing our responsibility to be human beings rather than misguided classes of distinction.

Today on MLK day, I try to celebrate the truth, and the timing and message in ‘Just Mercy’ cannot be denied. For years I have had to work on this day, and always struggled with not being able to focus upon the spirited and remarkable nature of Martin Luther King Jr’s amazing legacy. In the background I’m listening to an MLK celebration at the Apollo Theater with responsible and outstanding voices, including moments ago, Brian Stevenson, speaking not to a movie made about his life, more specifically about his continued journey with EJI. I miss Maya Angelou today.

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the message of MLK Jr.

Peace.

 


© Thom Amundsen 1/20/2020

My Issue With Vaping

Recently, I presented a collaboration with colleagues on the dangers of vaping. Alongside we also explored rhetoric in advertising. An examples was a fifties picture of a pack of Viceroy cigarettes, with a dentist promoting the idea of using filters to protect our teeth and body. The premise was meant to identify safety in ingesting tobacco. We live in that time again of false representation, or we might easily acknowledge the practice has never gone away.

I remember as a child, or young teen, cigarette ads were banned from television commercials because somewhere along the line, someone with influence managed to convince the producers this method a dangerous precedent, especially given the impact on teenagers.

I was a heavy smoker from my late teens until around 15 years ago. There have been many gifts to my life that have occurred because of my decision to stop smoking. I can breathe again, without rasp, without a chronic cough, without the fear of blackening my lungs. I had a medical procedure nearly a decade ago. I had quit smoking a few years before hand, and so during the testing I feared they would find spots on my lungs. I was fortunate to live with the resiliency of our body’s capacity to recover their full health. Certainly not always the case. No spots, no memory of years of cigarette smoking.

So what does all of this have to do with vaping in today’s society? In my own personal life I feel fortunate to have quit smoking years before the trend began. Had I been a smoker I would have been one of the first to buy a vape device. I’m a trend junkie, and it would have been the right transition because it might have seemed and looked rather cool. I feel fortunate as I read the increasing evidence of its damaging impact on society, people, our teens.

I write about this today, because I came across a picture of this young woman laying in a hospital bed with tubes, diagnostics and oxygen at her nearby. The commentary to follow the photo is sad, supportive, hopeful and at times cruel. The idea of a person in a hospital clinging to their lives as being weak is reprehensible. The very nature of what we do not know about vaping and its unknown ingestion of chemicals just in simple terms scares the hell out of me.

So, two things pop into my mind about this picture. One, my immediate compassion for this young woman’s welfare. The very fact that even if the picture is photo-shopped or exaggerated, the truth is there are people in her position in hospitals across the country experiencing her condition as we speak. The evidence exists. This cannot be considered weak, it needs to be understood as dangerous and fact.

The other piece even more frightening is the practice of using pot, or THC to be hidden inside the wonder of a Juul. People laugh about it – they can walk anywhere and hit their Juul without being detected. The reality their body is impacted matters far more than a hidden treasure in the midst of a public audience.

So today, as I watch this phenomena in its still early stages, not even peaking with intrigue, I think of the young people whom are so easily drawn to the dangers of vaping. We know lung cancer is what it is, rather than directly connected with smoking or not. Imagine what will become common knowledge or memory for the lives of so many people caught up in the seemingly safe and potentially life threatening rave that is vaping.

Yes, as much damage as cigarettes did and do over the long term, vaping in any regard frightens me to no end. Those that have lost their livelihood, their health due to such an unidentified habit, my heart goes out to all and I only pray for their strength to overcome the medical consequence that may lay ahead of them.

We just don’t know.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

juulclaims.com

 

 

Ric Ocasek – Drive

Another rock and roll icon passed on today. His legacy with a certain genre of music caught my eye in the eighties. Most every song has purpose, in lyrics, in rhythm, the Cars were able to take us on a journey. There is one particular piece, has always stuck with me.

In ‘Drive’ the video I suppose makes it that much more powerful. I see a woman struggling with her own sanity, four walls around her protecting her own impulsivity, and the lyrics are haunting,

Who’s gonna hold you down,
When you shake?
Who’s gonna come around,
When you break?

I worked in mental health for a couple of decades, and in that time, I observed many struggling human beings in isolation. Our job, my job was to maintain their safety, to watch and make sure they didn’t try to harm themselves, but in that isolated space, they might find a calm, and return to the general population.

Some took hours, even overnight, some needed to be strapped to a gurney, rather than do damage to themselves. I always felt a certain compassion for their helpless nature in the throes of a psychosis. I watched tears, and I was in no position to offer them any professional solace, except one human being to another making sure they knew I was there to keep them safe.

So when I reflect on ‘Drive’ I realize the vulnerability of our lives, when we do become so lonely, there seems no solution. We make choices that we later regret, or haven’t a chance to regret. I think about an artist’s genius in what in their mind is just cutting another album, and part of the whole – sounds good in a mix, looks good in a visual, having really, sometimes, no idea the impact it might have on their audience.

I leave it to you to get through the ads, and watch the Cars speak to the frailty of the human condition, and yet plead for some common welfare to be found that will expand the possibilities of the human spirit.

 


© Thom Amundsen 2019

RIP – Ric Ocasek – The Cars