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, March 27, 2013

Birthday Buddies

My son, Ryan, shares his birthday with his grandma and Vincent Van Gogh.  

He also shares his March 30th birthday with Norah Jones, Celine Dion, M. C. Hammer, Paul Reiser, and Eric Clapton.

It’s an eclectic list.

Like Norah Jones and Celine Dion, my son can sing with passion and fervor, as he belts out powerful renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and ”The Wheels on the Bus.”  

My son is happy to dance and “bust a move” like M. C. Hammer.  It doesn’t matter if his audience is mommy or the neighborhood, as he dances on the sidewalk in front of our home.  He’ll walk backwards and try to moonwalk.  He’ll shake his tushie, reach his arms to the sky, and dance with his whole body.

Like Paul Reiser, my son likes to make people laugh.  Sometimes it’s overtly - a tickle to Mommy’s feet.  Sometimes, it’s a look, a tilt of the head, a scrunched up nose, or closed eyes as he attempts to wink.

Channeling Eric Clapton, my son picks up his toy guitar and strums a tune like his life depended on it.  He doesn’t play with merely his hands or his fingers, but with his whole body.  A chord is played and my son’s feet move, his back arches, his head sways.   

Like Van Gogh, my son loves to express himself with vibrant colors.  Purple-grape sidewalk chalk to adorn our back patio with Ryan’s name.  Blueberry-tinted marker to draw a portrait of Mommy.  Red-strawberry construction paper hearts to cut out and give to those we love.

And, like Grandma, Ryan has an infectious laugh.  A laugh that most often leaves him in hiccups afterwards.  A laugh that makes everyone around him smile and join in.  Ryan, like grandma, is big on displays of affection - arms flung around my neck or blowing air kisses over the phone.

  And though my son may share traits with all his “birthday buddies,” he is most certainly his own person.  A boy who sometimes doesn’t like to receive a kiss and will instruct me to “take it back.”  A boy who, unlike his Mommy, will  put down a chocolate chip cookie to eat carrots instead.  A boy who will put his left pointer finger to his cheek, tilt his head to one side, and says, “I think...”

With each passing year, I am more in awe of my son.  Almost five years ago, this little boy wasn’t here.  

With each passing year, I’m more and more honored.  I get to be “Ryan’s Mommy.”  

On March 30th, Ryan won’t be the only one blowing out candles on a birthday cake.  But he’ll be the only Ryan.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The A to Z List of My Unconventional Teaching Methods

   I hope I’m not like every other teacher.  I hope my students, and their parents, realize that in my twelve-year teaching career, I was trying to do something special in my classroom.  Trying to create a safe environment where children grow - their bodies, their minds, their emotions.  I didn’t solely rely on textbooks and worksheets.  I prefered to implement some unconventional methods to reinforce a particular skill or concept or invite more student participation.  Here is my A to Z List of Unconventional Teaching Methods.

A   Arbor Day Picnic.  When I taught kindergarten, I had more time to teach my students about lesser-known holidays, including Arbor Day.  For Arbor Day, my students and I would discuss the importance of trees.  Then we would venture out to our school garden, spread a blanket, and enjoy a picnic consisting only of foods that were grown on trees.

B   Birthdays.  I acknowledge each child’s birthday.  My kindergarten students received a birthday crown and a small wrapped gift.  My upper-grade students receive a certificate and a pencil.  And my students with birthdays during the summer months are celebrated early, before school is dismissed for the summer so no child is excluded.  

C   Cosby Show episodes.  When I was growing up in the 80s, The Cosby Show was one of my favorite television shows.  Almost twenty years later, my students enjoy watching the Halloween episode, the episode about the first day of school, or the anniversary episode where the whole family lip synchs a song for the grandparents’ anniversary. 

D   Desks.  My students walk in on the first day of school with their desks supplied with all their materials.  Their textbooks are stacked, and they are also given a folder, a spiral notebook, and a binder.  They each have a pencil box, which includes a pencil cup holding two pencils and a green pen, a bottle of glue, scissors, and a box of crayons.  Attached to their pencil boxes are name tags.

E   Endearment.  I refer to my class as “my loves.”  The term applies when I’m praising them, “I’m so proud of the sincere letters my loves wrote to President Obama,” and when I’m disciplining, telling the principal that one of my loves was drawing pictures of guns during class.

F   Family photos.  Since I began teaching, I have accessorized my desk with personal photos (something I noticed many teachers don’t do).  First, I began with photos of my nephews.  After my son was born, more and more desk space was devoted to him.  My family photos served as both my inspiration and my conscience.  They were reminders of what was at stake each day - a child’s life.  Would I want someone speaking to my son and treating my son the way I was treating my students?

G   Good morning.  Each day, teachers are required to take attendance.  In most classrooms, teachers call out a student’s name, and the student answers, “Here.”  In our classroom, I take attendance by wishing each student a Good morning, as in “Good morning, Ryan.”   

H   Hearts on the board.  I always write page numbers on the board, within a heart.  During a test, I write the numbers my students are expected to complete, and I draw several hearts around that.  The more important the test, the more hearts.  I tell my students that I am sending them love to help them do their best.

I   Incentives.  Sometimes, kids need an incentive to do the right thing, to behave a certain way.  (Who are we kidding?  Teachers don’t mind incentives either.)  For my students, we use “ding dings,” little reward stickers.  Their name is inspired by the “ding ding” sound often heard on television game shows when a contestant wins.  

J   Jeopardy.  We play a class version of Jeopardy as a way to review science concepts, including the types of rocks and the properties of magnets.  Students must correctly phrase their reply as a question for their table team to earn the point. 
K   Keep records from the prior school year.  There was always a box in my school closet containing my students’ files from the previous year.  It was my way of verifying the grades my students earned, in case their next teacher had any questions.  

L   Library corner.  In my twelve years of teaching, I have occupied four different classrooms.  In each room, I have established a designated library corner.  A rug.  Lots of pillows.  Some small chairs.  Shelves of books.  Baskets of books.  Stuffed animals.  However, I notice that many of my colleagues do not offer their students this cozy reading corner, that for me is a necessity.

M   Music.  When I taught kindergarten, I routinely visited the public library to borrow CDs.  When learning about St. Patrick’s Day, my students listened to traditional Irish music, and when learning about Cinco de Mayo, we listened to traditional mariachi music. 

N   Notebooks.  Each summer, my mom and I would shop at local office supply stores, stocking up on enough binders to provide each student with one on the first day of school.  These notebooks, or binders as we referred to them in class, were then assembled on the living room floor.  Colored sheets of paper were designated as dividers, labeled with each subject.  Behind the dividers were sheets of notebook paper.  My students were now equipped with a notebook, enabling them to take notes during class, use the notes to study, and be taught an organizational system.

O   Out-loud dislike for weekly meetings.  Most Tuesday’s, students go home early so teachers can attend “professional development.”  A fancy term for meetings, most of which are either telling me I’m not doing my job well enough or are providing the same information I’ve already heard, and which may not apply to my students.  My students know I don’t like these meetings because I tell them.  But I also tell them I’m still respectful, cooperative, and participatory in my meetings because it’s my job.  So even though they may not like doing spelling definitions each Tuesday night for homework, they will because it’s their job.

P   Pencils.  I provide my upper-grade students with two pencils a month, one at the beginning of the month, and one at the middle of the month.  I try to provide seasonal pencils, commonly found at my neighborhood dollar store.  

Q   Quizzes.  At the end of each math chapter, my upper-grade students take a multiple-choice quiz.  For each quiz, I would select a problem I thought was more difficult or worded in an ambiguous way, and allow my students to skip that problem.  If I couldn’t identify a question like that, I would allow the week’s star student to randomly select a number, and that question was the one our class was allowed to skip. 

R    Red pen.  When I correct papers, I do so with any color except red.  Psychologically, I have been taught that some students regard red on their papers as “blood.”  So I don’t use it.

S   Snacks.  During tests, we call it “brain food.”  It’s popcorn during a movie, Smarties on the first day of school, some gummy fruits just because.

T   Touch.  In the twelve years I’ve been teaching, I have heard more and more not to touch my students.  I break the rule everyday.  I hug my students, pat their backs, tousle their hair, share a high-five.    

U   Unlocked cabinets and drawers.  On the first day of school, one of the first things I discuss with my upper-grade students is the necessity for trust and honesty.  I don’t lock anything in our classroom.  The drawer where my purse is stashed is unlocked.  Our class incentives (marbles, ding-dings) is located at the front of the room.  And I’m proud to say that In twelve years of teaching, I have had only a couple of issues with theft.  

V   Vomit comet.  Technically, it’s the KC-135 that astronauts would fly in to simulate weightlessness.  But, I am a teacher who was a girl who wanted to grow up and become an astronaut.  So I know that astronauts dubbed this vehicle the “Vomit Comet,” and when learning about space flight I pass this bit of trivia onto my students.

W   Weekly Student of the Week.  Our school encourages teachers to select a weekly student of the week from each class.  These students are then acknowledged at our school-wide assembly Friday mornings.  Most teachers make their selections Thursday afternoons, and choose a student who scored well on an assignment, performed well in class, or turned in homework each night.  I select our “star student” for the next week on a Friday afternoon before dismissal.  Each child’s name is written on a slip of paper in a box.  I shake the box and randomly select a child’s name.  I tell my students that they now have to maintain the honor for the coming week.  I tell my students that I believe they are each capable of being a student of the week and I have faith in them.  Students are required to follow rules, complete homework, and set a good example for their classmates.  A child who doesn’t follow these guidelines will lose their honor and no one from our class will be acknowledged at the school assembly.

X   Xerox weekly spelling and vocabulary words.  For my upper-grade students, I provide a typed list of each week’s spelling and vocabulary words.  Some teachers believed I should have insisted my students copy the words from their textbooks or the board, but truthfully, I had more important things for us to do.  Like learn the words, and use the words in our spelling and writing.

Y   Yellow paint.  In kindergarten, I painted my students’ feet.  They chose the color, and I painted their feet to create a billboard explaining we were starting the year off on the right foot.  In fourth grade, my students painted their hands six times, using the colors of the rainbow.  We talked about six handprints by themselves not being incredibly significant, but put together, our handprints created a large, beautiful rainbow.  There was beauty and strength when our class worked together.

Z   Zero.  The amount of student grades that are on public display.  My students‘ grades are their business.  Any project or assignment that is hung in our classroom is done so without a grade attached to it.  My students receive their grades individually, and it is up to them if they choose to share their grades with their classmates or not.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trying Too Hard

   I try too hard.  Anything I do, should be done the best that I can.  My biggest, most important responsibilities include mothering and teaching.  Those endeavors naturally always receive a great deal of exertion.

   But the silliest waste of my efforts occur each morning, as I try too hard to fix my hair.  I’m a no-frills, no-make-up-except-lipstick kind of girl.  My beauty regimen (such a militaristic term) is limited.  I shower, shampoo, and condition my hair each night.  It’s part of my multi-tasking.  My hair can dry while I sleep.  

   Each morning, I dress, and brush my slightly-above-shoulder-length brown hair.  Then comes the decision.  Part in the middle?  Part to the left?  Part to the right?  Which hair clip will keep my hair out of my eyes?  Sometimes my “parting” decision is made for me.  Sometimes I wake up with my hair already doing its own thing, already parted on the left.  Easy.  Problem solved.  Except then I try to secure my hair with clips and the clip on one side is higher than the clip on the other.  Sometimes, my hair poofs up after a clip is fastened.  Then I accept defeat and know that my hair won’t be contained by a barrette.  It’s time for me to try a different tactic.

   My best ponytails are the ones I do sans mirror or brush.  The ponytails of necessity, as I’m busy around the house, about to cook and want to keep my hair out of my dinner.  Without much effort, my ponytail is done, and done well.  I try to make a ponytail in the morning, using my brush, looking in the mirror, and suddenly my ponytail is uneven.  One side of my hair looks decidedly higher than the other.  I’ve inadvertently created a mini-mohawk.  I need to get out of the house, want my hair up and out of my face, and I simply cannot do it.  Or do it as well as I’d like.  I take my ponytail down, try again.  I’ve now got what can only be described as a wanna-be-cornrow on the top of my head.  

   I see styles on women in movies and television shows, try to re-create the looks, and can’t.  Hairstyles that look relatively easy to duplicate, and yet try as I might, I can’t do it.  I see co-workers (women I know who don’t have the advantage of professional hairstylists creating their look) with their hair up or brushed back.  And try as I might, I can’t do those either.

   Looking through pictures of myself through the years, my hair doesn’t vary all that much.  Sometimes my Hershey-bar colored hair was a little above my shoulder, sometimes a little below, sometimes hanging down to my waist.  I look at those pictures and realize my hairstyle is just an added detail.  Nothing important.  And it still isn’t now.  

   I’ll remind myself of that tomorrow morning when I’m trying to do my hair.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 1st

   March 1st was a big day for me.  It’s the anniversary of the first date I shared with the man who is now my husband.  Sixteen years ago, I began a new adventure, drinking a cafe mocha at a local Starbucks, enjoying our conversation, and feeling an initial  connection with the man I have now been married to for fourteen years.

   This year, March 1st, took on an additional significance.  March 1st, I left my teaching career.  I didn’t just leave schools, or take a leave of absence; I permanently resigned under my doctor’s advice.  

   Being a teacher wasn’t my initial dream.  Back in the day, I had my hopes set high, literally.  I wanted to be an astronaut.  Then I took a class in high school called, “World of Education.”  Four days a week, I left campus and spent the rest of the day volunteering in a nearby elementary school classroom.  I was the teacher’s assistant grading papers.  I was the interventionist giving extra help to a child struggling with long division.  I was the tutor, reviewing flashcards with a child learning English.  And I was the one-on-one assistant for a special boy named Silas.  Silas wasn’t easy to work with, for many reasons.  But we made it work.  I got through to him.  And he got through to me.  I decided I wanted to teach.

   I was fortunate to have spent my entire teaching career in a small, neighborhood, public school.  Because it was the only school I had ever taught at, leaving was that much harder.  Teaching was never just my job; it was my passion.  My school, my classroom was an extension of my home.

   And now I was being told I had to leave.  That I was no longer able to do something I had chosen to do.  

   My emotions and conflicted feelings aside, I really didn’t think most of the school would be impacted by my departure.  I knew my students would be saddened, and concerned - who would give them “brain food” during tests and tell them they were loved.    But, I had erroneously assumed that school would go on.  After all, teaching is largely a thankless job.  For twelve years, I had worked to provide my students with a safe, nurturing environment for them to learn and grow.  Each day, my number one goal was to keep them each healthy and safe.  And I did it, day after day, for twelve years, most of which went un-thanked.

   I taught with my heart and soul because I believed that was the only way to teach.  I was being entrusted with other people’s children, after all; a responsibility I did not take lightly.  I taught with 100% dedication because it was the right thing to do.  I did it without fanfare or acknowledgement.

  Until March 1st.  For the first time in my teaching career, I really knew how much I had touched others.   School-wide, I was acknowledged and celebrated.  Flowers and generous gifts, hugs and tears, kind words and thoughtful thank you’s.  I was humbled, and overwhelmed, and truly touched.  

   Teaching was never easy, and truthfully, seemed to become harder and less pleasurable each year.  Yet I never would have left if not for my doctor.  

   I may not have left the way I would have liked, but I left knowing I had succeeded - I had made a difference.  

   March 1st is now another new beginning, a new adventure awaiting to start.  It was an ending, but also a beginning.  Change can be intimidating, my medical condition scares me, but I know, undoubtedly, that I am loved and appreciated and those feelings will support me on this new adventure of mine.