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, February 27, 2013

Oscar Excess

   I didn’t watch the Oscars on Sunday.  My husband and I haven’t seen any of the nominated movies, and I was too busy - busy being mommy, cooking dinner and giving my son a bath, and being teacher, lesson planning and computing report card grades.  But, like many women, I do enjoy viewing what the female celebrities in attendance wore for the big event.  So I did the short-cut version; I browsed through the on-line slide show, clicking away at dresses and tuxes.  Of course, I don’t quietly observe - I comment and critique, I down-right criticize.  But my criticisms remain in my living room and so I feel no harm-no foul.

   I was pleased to learn that Helen Hunt wore a dress she already owned.  She was quite proud of the fact that she wore a dress out-of-her-closet.  Of course, I always associate her with her character from Mad About You, and it makes complete sense that  Jamie Buchman (Hunt’s character on the esteemed television series) would be practical enough to wear a dress she already owned.  Helen Hunt was trying to make a point about the effect we have on our environment, and she used her influence to get a message across.  

   But, I read further, to learn that she accessorized her dress with almost $700,000 worth of jewelry.  My jaw dropped, and I still can’t get that number out of my head.  Who needs to wear that much jewelry?  Why does such jewelry even exist?  How many meals could be delivered to hungry families?  How many jackets purchased for cold children?  How many new pairs of shoes?  How many dental visits?  And how many gallons of clean drinking water?

   All of a sudden, her “recycled” dress seemed a bit hypocritical when worn with jewelry than is worth much more than many years of my salary.  But, when taken in context with the ceremony at hand, I guess it makes sense.

   For all intents and purposes, the Oscars are all about excess.  The amount of media invested in one night, the people who will camp out for hours in front of their television sets.  And it seems to me we get away from the whole point - to acknowledge achievement in film-making.

   So, there I am - a mommy and a teacher, and never one who will wear jewelry equal in value to some houses.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The A to Z List of Things I'm Grateful For

   We know we should constantly express gratitude for the big things in life - health, safety, sound structural buildings, running water.  Additionally, I think it is the “little” things that make teaching easier and more manageable; yet these little things don’t often get the recognition they deserve.  Hence, my list of A to Z Things I’m Grateful For.

A Air conditioning.  On scorching days when my students cannot play outside we remain comfortable and cool within the air conditioned confines of our classroom.  

B Books.  There have been a few years when school has started before all our textbooks have arrived.  It makes teaching infinitely more effective when there is an adequate supply of necessary textbooks and workbooks ready for the first day of instruction.

C CDs.  It is infinitely easier to cue up a specific song using a CD rather than fast-forwarding an audio cassette.  Likewise, showing my students one scene from a video is an easy task when I use a DVD compared to the video tapes I still own.

D Digital Cameras.  I have immediate feedback, and can see if the photo I snapped of my students on the first day of school is clear.  Did the child blink or look away?  And, if one student happened to be absent the day I took photos, I can easily take the missing picture the next day and print it out, instead of waiting to finish a whole roll of film.

 E Erasers.  Erasers for pencils, for dry-erase markers, for certain pens.  Erasers make my life easier as a teacher.  And as an added bonus, they are manufactured in such cute shapes and designs!

F Four-day weeks.  I’m a firm believer that most people would work more efficiently and more effectively four-days a week.  Three-day weekends always seem to leave everyone in better moods, ready to come back to work, and really work.

G Google.  When the internet is functioning, Google is a wonderful, instantaneous tool.  When my students are engaged, are questioning and probing for further information, it’s great to be able to send a child to the class computer to google a picture of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or to gather more information about the United States Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

H Heat.  On a rainy day, with a blustery wind blowing outside, a working heater creates a more comfortable room environment and lets my students and I focus on our lessons instead of the weather.  

I Ink for our printer.  Computer?  Check.  Printer?  Check.  Ink?  Not always. And without ink, what’s the point?  

J J. K. Rowling and Jeff Kinney.  These two authors created books that some of my reluctant readers want to read.  These students now believe books are a source of entertainment and that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a chore.

K Kleenex and paper towels.  There have been days when our classroom is devoid of these essential paper goods.  On several occasions, I have carted boxes and rolls from home, just to make sure my students and I were equipped.  

L Laminator.  As an elementary school teacher, I think the laminator is an ingenious device.  How helpful that a machine can quickly adhere a plastic covering over a piece of paper.  That plastic covering allows me to reuse charts year after year and puts the finishing touches on Mother’s Day bookmarks and Father’s Day cards.

M Macaroni.  One noodle - so many uses.  A decoration for picture frames and tissue boxes.  A key component of handmade necklaces and bracelets.  Inexpensive and effective - a great combination for a teacher.

N Neighborhood.  My school is located in a safe, residential neighborhood.  I would not hesitate to enroll my son at this school.  We are not a school that regularly experiences lock-downs due to unsafe, criminal behavior (either within the school or the surrounding neighborhood).  

O Other activities.  Teaching in an elementary school classroom means I must be all things to all the children in the room.  It’s exhausting, switching from writing summary paragraphs to converting fractions into decimals.  I am grateful for the changes in our daily schedule that give me a break.  The grandmother of a former student who reads to my class once a week in our school library.  The visual art teacher who is a fantastic teacher, making my students engaged, productive, and eager to participate in his lessons.

P Power.  I have taught without power.  The neighborhood was without power, so we did our best.  We opened blinds, using whatever light we could.  And I always prefer to have working lights when walking up and down stairs, using the restroom at school, and teaching easily distracted students.

Q Quiet.  I choose to eat my lunch alone, in my classroom.  By the time lunch arrives, I’m craving some quiet.  And I am always especially grateful for an uninterrupted thirty-minute interval when no one needs anything from me, and I can just eat my lunch and read my paper.  (It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, I say “thank you.”)

R Rain-free days.  Rain, and its side effects - wet playground, slippery asphalt - mean students are required to spend all day inside.  Some students don’t mind rainy day schedules as it gives them an opportunity to play our indoor games.  However, teachers mind.  Our kid-free breaks are drastically reduced, and after a while, a room-full of children who haven’t had a chance to go outside is bound to create a bit of a cacophony.

S Scotch tape, double-sided.  For years, I would make posters including pictures of our class on a field trip, celebrating Halloween, enjoying a Thanksgiving feast.  Double-sided tape makes it so much easier, and faster, for me to adhere the pictures to the poster.

T Tennis balls.  My dad slices the tennis balls, and I pop them onto the bottoms of my student’s chairs.  Viola!  The chairs are now quiet as students push them in and out.  I gratefully accept all donations of used tennis balls that may not work as well for the court but do the job in the classroom.

U Ultimatum.  Sometimes an ultimatum is what it takes to get a student performing at the level I know he/she is capable of.  A parent’s threat of punishment, the possibility of losing one’s phone or video game console, is a great motivator and often results in better classroom behavior which then translates into better academic performance.

V Volunteers.  Volunteers that come into the classroom to help me and not merely to socialize with other parents.  I appreciate parents who step up, see what needs to be done, and do it (especially during high-energy days like Halloween or a cookie-decorating party before winter break).

W Wipes.  Baby wipes are incredibly useful.  They wipe off our large class whiteboard and the students’ individual whiteboards.  They clean off stray markings on desks.  They wipe off dried spaghetti on a student’s face and paint after we’ve painted our handprints. 

X Xerox machines.  How much easier my teaching life is because I have the convenience of typing up something once and having a machine generate thirty copies of it.  A machine that produces copies without turning my fingers purple (unlike mimeograph machines of the past).

Y Yesterday.  However challenging, however difficult, however painful - I am thankful for yesterday.  Because that means I’m here today.  

Z Zip it.  My students know I mean their mouths and not their zippers.  Sometimes, disruptive behavior doesn’t need a whole lot of attention, just a curt acknowledgement that it was noticed and will not be tolerated. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


bias, lied, dead, bled, deal, leads

These are the words that spontaneously came to mind while lying on my acupuncturist’s table with fourteen needles in my back.  They are words formed from the letters within the word “disabled.”

It’s a word I’m thinking about more and more as I prepare to leave my teaching career.  It isn’t a temporary leave, it’s not an extended absence.  It’s a resignation.  Retirement due to disability.

So, here’s the deal.  I can’t plan everything, I can’t control everything, and I can’t change everything.  I need to change.  And starting in March, I’ll be changing the way I spend my days.

It’s two-and-a-half years now that my legs have been under siege.  And as unfair as it may seem, as upsetting and infuriating and terrifying as it may be, it’s time for me to admit it - I am a woman with a chronic disease.  Not a life-threatening disease (thank God), but a medical condition that necessitates some life changes.

But, I don’t like the word “disabled.”  Because, honestly, regarding someone as disabled unfortunately leads to bias.

My grandmother was disabled.  She didn’t drive herself, and my grandfather was always rightfully infuriated when he couldn’t find an available handicapped parking spot near the entrance to the market.  My grandmother’s car had a blue placard granting her access to these specially reserved spots.  And she needed it.  Rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, and strokes made physical movement difficult.  My grandmother usually had my grandfather push her in her wheelchair.  When she did walk, it was slow and laborious, and reliant on her cane.  

She was disabled, and she looked disabled.  

Truthfully, for most of my life, that is how I have viewed disability.

And that’s not me.  

Although within the last two-and-a-half years, I have spent time dependent on a wheelchair, and I have relied on a walker to get from point A to point B.  Thankfully, those days are done.  The wheelchair was returned to my doctor, and my walker is folded away and stashed in the closet (where I pray it remains).

    I am learning that there are degrees of disability, and that not all disabilities are apparent the first time you look at someone.  While I sit and write, bystanders might think I appear fine.  If they looked closely, they might see me squirm in my seat as I try to find a comfortable position for my leg.  If they followed me home, they’d see the bottles of prescriptions lined up on my kitchen counter.  If I rolled up my sleeve, they might see the bruise left from my most-recent blood-test at my bi-monthly doctor’s appointment.  And if I pulled up my left pant leg, they might notice that my calf looks rather hard and tight.  They might see the scar left from a muscle biopsy.  They might see the trail of veins snaking around my legs.  

Now, I am forced to acknowledge that I am disabled, as in unable to do certain things.  For two-and-a-half years, I have been going along, trying to ignore the pain, trying to work through the pain, waiting for the pain to go away.

It’s not going away.  All I can do is try to control it better, try to manage it better, try to spend my days not doing things that might exacerbate the pain.

So, March 1st, I will go to school as a classroom teacher for the last time.  I will say good-bye to the only school I have ever taught at.  I will say good-bye to my students, my co-workers, my profession.  

And for the first time in a really long time, I will start putting a lot more energy into myself.  

My disability enables me to do that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The A to Z List of Things I Never Thought I Would...

    Teaching is never boring, for the simple fact that you’re dealing with human beings who are often unpredictable, irrational, and impulsive (and I mean my students and their parents).  In my teaching career, there have been several situations that have occurred, when later I am shaking my head, still in disbelief that I had to say/do/behave in a certain way.  Here I share the A to Z List of Things I Never Thought I Would...

A Attend a talent show that made me blush.  One year, the term “talent show” was used very loosely.  Instead, a parent choreographed dance routines that I was embarrassed to watch.  Young girls singing about the size of the “rock” they received, shaking their hips and pelvises in very suggestive ways.  

B Buy my own - paper towels, pencils, crayons, paper, printer ink, kleenex, and antibacterial soap.

C Clean up dog poop.  One year, a kindergarten student unwittingly stepped into dog poop before walking into our classroom.  During our morning carpet lessons, we were all very aware of an unpleasant stench.  The poop was on her shoes and had left a bit of a trail  on our carpet.  The custodian cleaned the carpet; I cleaned her shoes.

D Discard a book.  Books are sacred and should always be passed from one reader to another.  Except when a book has been on the receiving end of a glass of orange juice.  Then, there’s really no way to repair the damage, the book is soiled, and must be thrown away.

E Educate a student’s parents on the importance of spelling and learning multiplication facts.  One parent endlessly tried to make excuses for her child.  Her child didn’t need to know how to spell the fifty states and capitals - that’s what spell check was for, after all.  Her daughter also didn’t need to master her multiplication facts because she could use a calculator.  Except, students don’t use any of those tools on tests.  And, I’m hoping to teach my students not to be reliant on technology but instead, to learn these basic facts so they are well-informed and well-educated.

F Fall in front of my students.  For the last few years of my teaching career, I have taught with daily pain in my left leg.  An autoimmune disease has left me with legs that aren’t as strong as they once were.  And one day, while my fourth-graders were taking a Language Arts assessment and I was walking around the room checking on them, I fell.  My leg gave out, and I hit the floor with a thud.  Thirty heads popped up to see what had happened.  All I could do was try to hide my pain, encourage them to not mind me, and get back to their tests. 

G Get excited about office supplies.  Funds are tight in public schools, and teachers often buy many items with their own money.  However, when a stapler or a box of dry erase markers is delivered to my classroom, I am super-excited (and appreciative!).

H   Hoard.  School supplies are hard to find.  When I first started teaching, veteran teachers taught me the value of hoarding.  You always grab more than you actually need, stash the surplus in your classroom closet, and you’ve got yourself a back-up.  Because, inevitably, there will be times the school is short of orange construction paper (usually at Halloween), tissue paper (usually in December when students need to wrap handmade gifts), and green paint (usually in March).

I Ignore my students.  In September 2012, the space shuttle Endeavor flew through the Los Angeles skies.  My students and I were on the yard, hoping for a glimpse.  The flyover was later than we had originally been told.  They got impatient, and began playing.  I stayed, eyes riveted to the sky.  Most of my childhood was spent dreaming of becoming an astronaut, and this would be the closest I had ever gotten to see a space shuttle live and in person.  I was the child, screaming and pointing, hollering and clapping, and completely ignoring my students while I marveled at the sight.

J Join my students in cheering when our rainy day schedule was cancelled.  I always thought I’d be more professional, more reserved.  But, truth be told, I was just as excited as they were that they would be eating and playing outside, and not cooped up, with me, in our classroom all day.

Keep a low profile.  There have been moments when I 
am grocery shopping or out to eat with my family, and I don’t want to be recognized as “Mrs. Kennar.”  In those moments, I am Wendy or Mommy, and I don’t want to go into teacher-mode.  So, I have changed my route in the market, and really examined my menu all in hopes of keeping me hidden from a student. 

L Label myself a human shield.  The longer I’ve taught, the scarier our world has become, with violence infecting all areas of our lives.  My students and I have discussed the horrors that have occurred in other schools.  They know the procedures in place at our school.  And I have reassured them that, heaven forbid, the situation arose, I would be the human shield - someone would have to get past me to get to one of my kids.

Miss the joy of teaching.  Sadly, the longer I’m teaching, the less joyful it has become.  There are days when I don’t feel I’m teaching as much as I am preparing my students for an assessment.

N Neglect to remember - a former student’s name and the number of years I’ve been teaching.  I entered teaching truly believing I would always remember a child’s name.  Not so.  And in the event I can’t remember, I use a standby; as in “Hi, sweetie!”  And after twelve years of teaching, three different grade levels, and four different classrooms, I can’t always remember how long I’ve done what or in what room.

O Obey a rule of silence.  A very irate parent once yelled at me, with students within earshot, calling me a “lazy ass.”  I asked him to calm down, suggested we set up a conference with the principal since he was obviously very upset, but because I was at school, I could not react the way I might have if this exchange had taken place out in the world.  I needed to control myself because yelling back wouldn’t have solved the problem and certainly wouldn’t have calmed this parent down.

P Pray for a student’s life.  Two years after she was in my fourth grade class, M. was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition.  She spent months in Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, awaiting a heart transplant.  My class and I sent her notes and cards and little gifts.  I kept her name inside a heart on our whiteboard; she was always in our prayers.  (She did receive a heart and is recovering).

Q Question my career choice.  There are many parts of my career I like.  I regard teaching as a tremendous honor; the opportunity to introduce children to new ideas and concepts.  However, the longer I teach, the more I question my career choice.  Many days I feel my efforts have been in vain, and I wonder if I have gotten through to any of my students.  I feel un-supported by parents, by the administration, by the district, and I admit defeat when I say there is only so much one person can do.

R Remind a student about the purpose of scissors.  In kindergarten, I have a big discussion about scissors and safety.  By the time students are in upper-grade, that conversation shouldn’t be necessary.  However, I once had a fourth-grader cut his hair with a pair of scissors.  That’s when I reminded him that scissors are only for cutting paper.

S Sit on the hallway floor.  One year, I had a student with severe behavioral issues.  He has strong anger and didn’t know how to control it or demonstrate it appropriately.  One day, he was so angry he was spouting evil desires, ways to hurt some of his classmates.  He allowed me to sit with him, to talk with him, let him vent, and try to calm him down.  

T Teach in a “wild kingdom.”  At least, that’s how it’s felt (and I’m not talking about my students).  One year a bee flew into my kindergarten classroom, another year one landed on my sweater and had to be gently swatted away.  A few times some rogue birds have found their way into our school’s main building.  One year, my classroom was invaded by rats who found their way into my classroom closet.  Traps were set, and I returned from winter break to find that the traps did work.  And another year, we learned about insects.  For within a short time span, my students and I dealt with an ant invasion, bees in the classroom, and roaches crawling on the walls and floor.

U Use a walker at school.  I once had a muscle biopsy performed on my left calf.  I wanted the surgery done during my winter break so it wouldn’t interfere with my teaching. But because of the holidays, the only day the surgeon was available was the last Friday of my winter break.  He had told me I’d probably be okay to go back to work on the following Monday.  I wasn’t.  I stayed home for a couple of days, and returned to work with my walker. 

V Visit the dressing rooms at the Hollywood Bowl.  One year, my students and I were fortunate enough to take a field trip to the Hollywood Bowl.  Some of the highlights included visits to the dressing rooms and the opportunity to stand on stage.

W Wrap presents, blindfolded.  In an assembly.  In front of several classes.  As part of  our fundraising kick-off assembly, two teachers were selected to participate in this “fun” activity.  I was one teacher.  My gift wrapping wasn’t attractive, but it was an honest effort.    

X Exchange learning the alphabet for learning to write five-paragraph essays.  I was a kindergarten teacher for five years, and each year, I enjoyed my job more and more.  Year six I was moved to fourth grade, a move that was out of my control due to my low seniority at my school site.  I exchanged happy faces for actual grades, weekly show-and-tell for weekly quizzes.

Y Yell and scream, asking to be rescued.  Early one morning I became trapped in the school elevator.  I felt infinitely better once some of my co-workers knew where I was.  Still, it took forty-five minutes and a 9-1-1 call to the fire department until I got out.

Z Zone out.  I confess, I’m not always listening attentively.  I don’t always pay complete attention when some of my students are recounting their lunchtime drama or their success on the latest level of the video game they just played.  Likewise, I don’t always listen when some of my co-workers are complaining, again.  Complaints don’t get us anywhere, unless they’re followed by actions.