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, May 25, 2011

Driving with Betsy

Her name was Betsy.  Betsy, the station-wagon.
Betsy belonged to Pam, my pre-school teacher.  I remember riding in Betsy when Pam drove our small group to the Hollywood Bowl.  And I remember thinking it incredibly strange that a grown-up would not only name her car, but talk to her car.
Until that time, Pam was the only person I knew who named their car.  (I was four years old, so, granted, my world was rather limited).  Pam fondly petted Betsy’s dashboard and reminded us all that we needed to be kind to Betsy and keep her clean.
When my husband and I bought our first car, I knew we would name our car.  I named our houseplants, a car seemed like a logical extension.  Our first car, was my dad’s old car.  A reliable Honda Accord, and we were lucky to get it.  Hence, the name “Lucky.”  My husband and I referred to our car by its name, as in “Did you put gas in Lucky?” or “When is Lucky due for an oil change?”
When we bought our second car, we knew we were fortunate to be able to pick out exactly what we wanted.  And we did.  We specified the color and our request for a moonroof.  And we were so, so happy to have achieved the level of financial independence that made this new-car purchase possible.  We were happy to be a two-car-family.  And now, we were fortunate to drive our two cars, “Happy” and “Lucky.”
Of course, whenever we spoke of our two cars, we were reminded of the expression “Happy-Go-Lucky.”  And in a way, that fit.  We were so happy, so lucky to be able to travel in a car; in our car.  Having relied on Los Angeles public buses for years, we were constantly reminded of the little privileges that made driving in a car so much more comfortable - No other sounds, smells, or conversations invading our space; a place to seek refuge during a break at work.  
When Lucky turned twenty, we realized it was time to retire her.  My husband and I were expecting our first child and knew we needed a car that wouldn’t need several minutes to warm up each morning.  Lucky still drove, but we wanted something more comfortable and more new.  We would be luckier to be a two-car-family with two new-ish cars.  We were lucky to be in a financial position to afford undertaking the expense of car payments and increased insurance payments.  Our second car was aptly named, “Lucky 2.”
Our cars’ names are not public knowledge.  Generally, naming a car is a private endeavor, in direct opposition to naming a child.  When our son was born, the first question we were asked was inevitably, “What’s his name?”  With our cars, its questions about gas mileage, price, and added features.
And while we are constantly answering our son’s questions of “What’s that?” we haven’t taught him the names of our cars.  Yet.  For now, it’s either the Black Car or the Blue Car.  Later, we’ll teach him their true names.
I wonder what Pam would say if she knew how fondly I remembered Betsy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Less Tests

My students and I have just survived the CSTs (California Standards Test).  My twenty-five fourth graders endured four days of testing - two days of Language Arts and two days of Math.
When I was an elementary school student, I didn’t like taking the standardized tests.  As an elementary school teacher, I don’t like administering the standardized tests. I wish someone, with some power in the way our schools run, would realize the inconsistencies involved in these tests.  I spend all year teaching the tested subjects, as well as Social Studies and Science, yet by only testing these two particular subjects we have given our students the message that those are the most important subjects.  (Not that I’m suggesting our students need additional testing).
I have spent many hours in professional development, being advised on how to teach to the “whole student.”  I am well aware that my students have different backgrounds - academic, cultural, religious, socio-economic, and I do my best to teach in the most varied way possible.  Which is why we cut up tortillas when studying equivalent fractions, go shopping with grocery store ads when discussing the addition and rounding of decimals, will complete a Mad Lib when practicing the parts of speech, rub balloons on our hair to demonstrate static electricity, and play multiplication volleyball.  I am praised for the ways I allow my students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a concept.  However, after all my year-long efforts, it comes down to how well my kids take a multiple choice test.
And let’s be honest - some kids don’t test well.  They freeze, tense up, lose focus, and just don’t function as well as they could.  Sitting silently, for about an hour and a half, no movement and no sounds allowed, is in direct opposition to how my class normally functions and how my students’ bodies need to behave.
Some of my students just don’t care.  They haven’t yet made the connection that what they are doing now, as nine and ten-year-olds, is important.  They haven’t yet mastered the concept of self-pride and doing your best on something because it is a representation of you.
But that’s the most frustrating part.  These tests are not just a reflection of my students.  They are a reflection on my school and my teaching.  An unfair reflection, but a reflection nonetheless.  Today’s society has gotten quick to point the finger at “least effective teachers.”  Where is the finger-pointing for least effective parents?  I provided "brain food" (a.k.a. healthy snacks) for my students during each day of testing, knowing that some of them will come to school without eating breakfast.  I encouraged my students to go to bed by 9:30 the nights before testing, knowing that wouldn’t be the case in all their homes.  And then there are my students who are shuttling between homes, students whose parents are in the process of separation and/or divorce, students whose parents are remarrying and are inheriting brothers and sisters.  There is no way to compare a student’s academic behavior from one year to the next and insist that all factors remain consistent.  Factors don’t remain consistent.  We are human beings and things change.  Lives change.
The Los Angeles Times can print what they want about me; I know I do my job with a passion that not all teachers share.  My administrator may consider my previous years’ scores lackluster, but I know that I am educating children; children not robots.  Children who are not being suspended for fighting like they were last year.  Young ladies and gentlemen who are working on areas of self-control and self-respect.  
But that’s who I am.  That’s how I’ll teach.  And that’s how my students will learn.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just Published!!!

   Dear Readers,
   One of my essays is included in a new book, titled Beyond the Diaper Bag.  The book is a collection of stories about motherhood and childhood.  All authors' proceeds from the sale of the book benefit an organization called "The Mommies Network."  Please, pass the word on: it's a great book and the sale of each book benefits a great cause.  I'm honored to be a part of the project.  Here's a link with information about purchasing the book:


(If you're buying multiple copies - hint, hint - Lulu.com is offering a promotion, MAYBOOK,  for 20% off up to $25 which is good through May 31)

Wendy the Writer

   At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books I walked over to a booth advertising self-publishing.  When I took a flyer, the attendant asked if I was a writer.  
I answered, “Yes.”
And for the first time, I really believed it.  
I’ve been asked before, and I usually give some faltering answer of, “I like to write” or “I want to be a writer.”  This year, it was just “Yes.  I am a writer.”
A writer is a person who writes.  And I do.  Thanks to this blog, I have a self-imposed deadline of a posting a week.  My own column in cyber-space.  Thanks to this blog, I make a concerted effort to write.  And re-write.  And send out my writing.   
I used to hope to be a writer.  Someday I’d write something, someone would love it, and it would lead to some sort of writing job.  Well, I’m 35, and things didn’t work out that way.  So, I’m writing every week.  I’m submitting my writing to various publications (at least once a month).  I’m putting my writing out there because I can’t be “discovered” if I’m not writing.  And I’m getting published - an essay in L.A. Parent Magazine, an essay at DivineCaroline.com.
I’m a full-time, working mommy.  I don’t have much “free time.”  And, until I started blogging, writing was at the bottom of my daily “to-do list.”  Not any more.  Let’s face it; I’m never going to have free time - at least not until I retire.  The only thing I could do was make the time.  So, now I set writing dates for myself - an hour after-school.  A mocha and my laptop.  It’s my “Wendy time” to write.  
I write in the bathroom, because I often get ideas in the shower.  I keep a pad of paper and a pen in my purse, my car, my son’s diaper bag.  I stop and I write - a phrase that catches my attention, a snippet of conversation, a word I like, an idea that the muse has dropped into my lap.  I write them down.  Small abbreviated versions.  And later, on my writing date, I will write and develop the idea into a blog.
So, yes, I am a writer. 
And readers, thank you for reading what I write.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The A to Z's of Mothering and Teaching

I am the mother of a three-year-old son, Ryan, and a Los Angeles public school teacher for ten years.  
I can’t do one without the other.  Can’t mother without teaching, can’t teach without mothering.  Here, I offer my A to Z’s of mothering and teaching.
A - All or nothing.  There is no half-way, sort of, or kind of.  I mother and teach with 100% passion.
B - Books.  Each student receives a new paperback novel, as a December holiday gift and an end-of-the-year gift, and my son receives books for every occasion.
C - Chocolate.  Sometimes for the kids, sometimes for me.  Things don’t seem quite as challenging when you’re savoring something chocolately and licking your fingers clean.
D - Demanding.  Physically, emotionally, mentally.  By the end of the day, I’ve given my all to my loves, both my son and my students.  I am a teacher doing my best to keep my students on task and engaged.  I am a teacher who keeps a notepad in the bathroom at home to jot down ideas and reminders for the following day.  I am a dancing-singing Mommy;  a mommy who calls home at lunch to check on my son.  My jobs as mother and teacher have no breaks and no “off time.”  I never stop planning, never stop worrying.  
E - Exhausting.  If I’m up late with Ryan, I return to work tired, lacking my usual energy.  If I’ve had a difficult day at school, I come home to Ryan tired and spent, feeling guilty that I’m counting down the hours until it’s bedtime.
F - Fortunate.  I wanted to be a teacher, and I am.  I wanted to be a mommy, and I am.  
G - Games.  Children love games, and sometimes playing a game is the best way to reach them.  Vocabulary bingo, MadLibs, and multiplication volleyball are some of my teaching techniques.  At home, we “race” to see who cleans up the fastest or gets to the dinner table soonest.
H - Hugs.  Hugs to comfort and soothe my teething son, a student who is missing her mother, a child (my son or my student) who doesn’t feel well.
I - Influence.  A parent is a child’s first teacher.  And as a teacher, my students are watching me and listening to me, and not just about the California Missions.  They notice what I eat and drink and what I say (lots of “love,” no “hate”).  I teach my son and my students by example.
J - Joyful.  There is no greater feeling than my son’s arms wrapped around me, his hands patting my back while we hug.  Nothing that compares to my son saying, “I love you, Mommy.”  There is an exuberance that comes from a student demonstrating growth and progress.
K - Kisses.  For my students, it’s kisses on the tops of their heads and air kisses from across the room.  For my son, it’s endless kisses, everywhere.  
L - Love; it’s the reason why I’m a mother and a teacher.  I don’t love everything I have to do.  I don’t love meetings or paperwork or nights of teething distress or arguments about bath time.  I love who I am doing these things for.  
M - Musical.  When I taught kindergarten, songs were an integral part of our day.  As a fourth grade teacher, I incorporate music as much as I can, including singing the national anthem daily.  As the mother of a toddler, singing is a given - “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Wheels on the Bus,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  
N - Natural.  I have learned my most important lessons on the job and in the moment.  No one taught me how to answer questions about divorce and death in a child’s family.  No one taught me the best way to soothe my crying son during a nightmare.  The longer I teach and the older my son becomes, I’m relying more on my instincts, trusting myself to do the right thing.
O - Original.  What works today, whether I’m teaching equivalent fractions or bathing my son, may not work tomorrow.  Children have likes and dislikes, moods, and preferences.  Sometimes what I want to do, or what I have to do, simply does not interest them.  So, I have to come up with original ideas that convince my kids (both my students and my son) my plan is a great one, one we need to do.  Now.  That might mean I carry my son upside down to his bath or bring in tortillas and plastic knives to teach equivalent fractions.
P - Privilege.  Not everyone has the opportunity to mother a child or hold a teaching position (especially in today’s economy).  I know I’m lucky, and I am eternally thankful.
Q - Quiet.  Sometimes, I long for quiet.  Crave some time when I don’t have children needing anything from me.  Then, there are instances when things seem too quiet.  While Ryan sleeps I peek in, just to make sure he’s okay.  And when my students are testing, the room feels too quiet.
R - Ryan.  My son is the center of my life.  My desk at school not only houses bulletins and reminders, but framed pictures of my son.  His handprints and drawings adorn my kitchen cabinets.  And when my students and I are discussing the many spellings for an ending “L” sound (twinkle, hospital, hotel), I naturally share with my class that Ryan’s rendition sounds more like “Twiddle, Twiddle Little Star.”
S - Smile, be silly, and laugh.  Laughter is sometimes the only thing that will get us through a tough time.  Laughing at how silly mommy is singing and dancing around the kitchen.  Laughing at how many times I’ve dropped the same stack of papers at the front of my classroom.  Children will be silly.  And it’s okay for us all to laugh together.
T - Time, or lack of.  I end all school days thinking there were many things I didn’t get to.   At home, time is on fast-forward.  I get home by 5 and suddenly, it’s 11:00.  
U - Understanding.  Understanding that my student is distracted by her cousin’s hospitalization, and hugs and patience are what she needs, not another math assignment.  Understanding that sometimes my son is going to get upset and frustrated, and I have to give him his space.
V - Very.  “ I love you very much,” “I am very proud of you,” and “You tried very hard.”  Those sentiments apply to my son trying to zip his own jacket as well as my students trying to master long division.
W - Wearisome.  Children are not boring.  Sometimes, though, the things they want to do may be.  After a while, a mommy can only read Goodnight Moon so many times.  But I do it, with a smile on my face, even if I’m mentally composing my grocery list.  
X - X’s and O’s, infinitely!
Y - “You.”  For my students, it is “you” not me; your responsibility for writing a name on each assignment.  For my son, it is “you” not Mommy.  Ryan must put his toys away in his toy bin.  
Z - Zeal, a synonym for “passion,” “love,” “enthusiasm,” “gusto,” and  “intensity”.  My aspiration - to mother and teach each day with zeal.