About Me:

Aloha! I'm Wendy Kennar. I'm the mother of a seven-year-old son and a wife living in Los Angeles. I was a public school teacher for twelve years until a chronic medical condition made it necessary to leave my teaching career.

I've always been described as "quiet" - really, I'm just biting my tongue. I've got lots to say, and lots of thoughts to share, I just prefer to write them. That's the purpose of this blog. Each Wednesday, I post a personal essay offering my observations and thoughts.

A few fun facts about me: I've wanted to be a writer since second grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Jones, made me a "book" with a yellow construction paper cover. I have never learned to whistle, have always preferred sunflowers to roses, and have spent my life living within the same zip code.

Through the years, my writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, United Teacher, GreenPrints, L.A. Parent, DivineCaroline.com, RoleReboot.org, XOJane, and Brain, Child Magazine. Additionally, my personal essays have been included in several anthologies, including: The Barefoot Review, Beyond the Diaper Bag, Lessons From My Parents, Write for Light, Being a Grown-Up: A User's Manual for the Real World, Ka-Pow!, How Writing Can Get You Through Tough Times, Breath and Shadow, The Grey Wolfe Storybook, and Sisters Born, Sisters Found.
I am a regular contributor at MomsLA.com, and you can also find me at Goodreads.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Feel free to comment and share my blog with others!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

Since becoming a mom, I’ve learned that inspiration, sleep, and alone time are all things that you take when you can get them.  And you don’t always find them where you’d expect to.
This week’s blog was inspired by something written on the back of our “Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Color Cracker” package.  
“Sometimes it’s the little things that make life more fun like blowing bubbles or playing ball.  If you stop and appreciate the little things you’ll probably find yourself smiling a little bigger.”
           In honor of those words of wisdom, I have created an acrostic poem celebrating all the little things I am thankful for.  

Turkey handprints.  My son’s hands take on a whole new level of cuteness when his fingers  represent turkey feathers.
Hug-a-bugs.  A full-body hug, with my son’s arms wrapped around me, his head resting against my shoulder, and I’m happily floating in our little hug-bubble.  Our own cheek-to-cheek dance.  
ABC’s.  One of the sweetest sounds I know is my two and a half year old son “spelling.”  Whether we’re shopping at the market, taking a walk in the neighborhood, or reading a book at the library, letters are becoming a part of my son’s world.  As a mom, a writer, and a teacher, I’m ecstatic that my son finds joy in words.
Night.  The house is quiet and still.  I have a few hours to grade papers, clean the house, and do some reading and writing before Mr. Sandman beckons me and it’s time to start a new day and a new to-do list.
Kisses.  On my lips or on Ryan’s feet.  A kiss is an intimate connection to another.  
Flowers, specifically sunflowers.  They are an eternally happy flower.  They are bright and sunshiney in summer, autumnish in fall.
Upside down cuddles.  When my son is in my arms, arching his back, looking at the world upside down, giggles are sure to follow as I kiss under his chin and along his neck.  Life is good, and the world is funnier when it’s upside down. 
Leaves that crunch under-foot.  Star-shaped, crimson leaves.  Heart-shaped, butter-colored leaves.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What If?

My life isn’t playing out the way I thought it would.  My life isn’t bad in any way; it’s just different than I imagined it would be.  I’m different than I thought I would be.  I haven’t studied in France, eaten gelato in Italy, or visited my pen pal in Japan.  I haven’t witnessed a space shuttle launch, driven a convertible, or lived alone. 

And in all fairness, I have accomplished things I had never imagined.  Riding six buses a day as I put myself through college.  Reading a personal essay on NPR.  Navigating the road to Hana in Maui.  Becoming married at 22.  

Generally, I am happy and content with my life’s choices.  But, there are lingering doubts, nagging questions of “What if?”.  What if I had made different choices along the way?  Attended a different college?  Traveled internationally?  Dated a different guy?  

I think of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” and I know exactly where the fork in the road occurred in my life.  It was during middle school and the year I didn’t attend Space Camp.  United States Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama - the place future astronauts go for a preview of life as an astronaut.  

When I was in fourth grade, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew.  One member, Christa McAuliffe, would have been the first teacher in space.  Although it wasn’t the way she had intended, she did teach and inspire me.  I decided I wanted to be an astronaut.  Space had intrigued Christa, but she wasn’t a military officer or a pilot.  She was a regular person.  She did it.  I could too.  I was going to be the first woman to walk on the moon; it hadn’t been done before, why not me?  I studied mission dates and statistics.  I knew the names of the seven Mercury astronauts.  I learned acronyms that astronauts use on a daily basis - EVM was an extra-vehicular maneuver and SRBs were the Solid Rocket Boosters.

I needed to go to Space Camp.  I needed to begin my training.  My parents told me if I wanted to attend Space Camp, I would have to pay for it myself.  For years, I saved my money until finally I mailed away my registration paperwork and a cashier’s check.  I bought a duffle bag and engraved luggage tags.  

I had months to wait.  And get anxious.  And get scared.  

My mom didn’t want me to go.  She was nervous and afraid.  Except for a few times at Grandma’s house, I had never slept away from home.  Traveling across the country by myself was a big step for me, and our family.  

I allowed the scary “what if’s” to get the best of me.  “What if my luggage got lost?”  “What if I didn’t make any friends during my week at Space Camp?”  “What if the week’s activities were so difficult and challenging, I didn’t enjoy myself?”  “What if I wasn’t smart enough or clever enough?”  “What if I didn’t have what it takes to be an astronaut?”  

So I canceled.  I got back most of my money, and to save face, I concocted a story that Space Camp had made an error in my reservation.  Better to blame them than myself.  Or my mom.

I cancelled my dream.  And I became someone I wasn’t proud of - a coward and a liar.  And to this day, I’m not convinced I made the right decision.  

What if I had gone to Space Camp?  Would it have propelled me to keep working toward my astronaut goal?  Would I now be actively involved in astronaut training in Houston, Texas instead of teaching fourth grade in Los Angeles, California?  Maybe I would have spent the week there and realized I didn’t want to risk my life by going into outer space.  Maybe I would have become a teacher anyway.  But at least I wouldn’t have this irritating, fly-buzzing-around-my-head feeling of, “What if?” 

I tried to console myself.  I didn’t need to go to Space Camp.  People became astronauts before a place like Space Camp even existed.  I would prepare myself for my future career by reading, learning, and studying.  

Then, during my junior year of high school, I volunteered in a fifth grade classroom.  I met a boy named Silas.  We sat together in the back of the room, working side-by-side on multiplication facts and writing complete sentences.  My work with Silas was monumental.  He became more respectful in class.  His spelling test grades improved.  His handwriting became neater.  And I remembered Christa McAuliffe’s words:  “I touch the future.  I teach.”  Maybe I didn’t need to go to space to make a difference.  

Once again I picked the safer alternative.  I am an elementary school teacher.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do Your Best

“Do your best.”  That’s what the sign says that hangs above my classroom door.  
I am a teacher who hugs, plays multiplication volleyball, uses tortillas to teach fractions, and reads aloud to my students each day after lunch.
I am a Los Angeles Unified school teacher with ten years experience.  I’ve been fortunate to spend my entire career at one school.  I’ve made close relationships with students and their families.  And I go home each day knowing I gave my kids my all.  I admit that I’m a better teacher now than when I started.  I admit I still have plenty to learn (why is it so hard to have children walk in two straight, quiet lines up and down the stairs?).
Teaching has never been just a job for me.  It’s been a passion.  Now, though, I’m tempted to call it quits. It’s not the money; it’s the blatant disrespect.  
The Los Angeles Times decided that the fault of public schools rests on the teachers.  We are the reasons our test scores don’t go up.  I’m here to tell you, no we’re not.  As I tell my students, those state tests are important, but they are not the most important thing.  When all is said and done, those tests measure a student’s performance during one week in May.  
This year, I have a class of inquisitive, spunky children.  Two speak very little English.  One has a terminal illness.  One has autism.  One lives with a parent who has a second grade education.  Many do not live with their fathers.  Five of them are pulled out for resource.  Five more are pulled out for reading intervention.  Ask me if they’re smart.  And I’ll say, “Hell yes.”  These children have challenging lives.  And yet, every night, they go home and complete their homework.  It’s not always right, but the effort is made each night, by each child.
I don’t post grades where my students can see them.  Work hung on bulletin boards is representative of each child’s best work.  They are competing with themselves, not each other.
They are trying to do better than they did before.  They are doing their best.
So am I.
The Los Angeles Times disagrees.  The Times decided to publish an online database listing teachers and their perceived effectiveness.  And The Times said I was a “least effective teacher.”  I read those words and the computer screen blurred and my stomach hurt.
How could anyone say that about me?  When my grade level’s test scores have been going up.  When my kids are making progress in all areas of their school life - grades, effort, attitude, and work habits. 
I firmly believe you cannot measure a teacher’s effectiveness based on students’ test scores.  There are too many variables over which I have no control.  I’m with my children from 8:11-2:35.  What is happening to them when I’m not around? 
Not every student is going to score “Advanced” on a multiple-choice language arts and math test.  It’s not how we’re designed.  
My job is to help each child succeed.  My job is to help each child believe in themselves.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

   I was a crier.  
   I cried during recess in anticipation for the upcoming fractions test.  Then I cried during the test.
   At that time I was “Wendy Fraser.”  And Wendy Fraser was a straight-A student.  “Smart” was “my thing.”  Acne had announced itself on my forehead.  I was picked last for kickball.  I had to keep up the standards by which everyone knew me and judged me.
   I threw away my cream-cheese sandwich.  I bit the sleeves of my shirt.  I perched above the toilet in the girl’s room, gripping my sides.  
   At night, I worried about the possible red markings I might find on my Women’s History Month report.  I worried about my report’s bibliography.  I worried about formulas for circumference.  My sister reached across the space between our twin-sized beds and held my hand until we fell asleep.
   Later, my class would learn about the Earth’s axis and the orbit of our planet around the sun.  I found it fascinating to learn that while it was hot chocolate weather in Los Angeles, in Australia it was lemonade weather.
   That's when I felt as if someone had yanked on my waist-length brown hair, the “ding-dong” had sounded, and I finally got it.  
   There were things bigger than me, bigger than anything happening in room 21.  No matter what happened on my social studies quiz, the sun would rise the next day.  And then set.  And rise and set again.  
   Nothing I was doing in Mrs. E’s class was significant enough or important enough to disturb the Earth.  
   I could breathe again.