How do You Define Success?

In July, the boxing gym I attend (K-Fit in Minooka) posted a July fitness challenge, which you can see below. Because I am in love with all things K-Fit, I decided to take on the challenge. But I knew the following things before I even started:

  • Some of the exercises I knew I would not physically be able to do.
  • I would not be able to do this every day for 31 days in a row.

But none of that stopped me.

I added the following exercises to make up for the ones I could not do:

  • Regular plank
  • Regular push ups
  • Push ups from knees

When I started on July 1, I had to break exercises up into 3 sets of 10. I could hold a plank for 30 seconds. By the time I was at July 31, I could do most exercises in sets of 30 or sometimes in 2 sets of 15, and I could hold a plank for 90 seconds.

Here is a rundown of what I did in July:

  • Basic squat: 771
  • Russian twist: 488
  • Sumo squat: 570
  • Bicycles: 500
  • Mountain climbers: 360
  • Narrow squats: 570
  • Squat, hop, feet in: 330
  • Flutter kicks: 541
  • Plank jacks: 37
  • Plank twists: 30
  • Push ups from knees: 400
  • Regular push ups: 62
  • Regular planks: 14

That means I did a total of 4,673 activities in July — not including my boxing classes or running.

I fell well short of the 10,000 activities, and I couldn’t actually do all the activities on the list. Did I fail the challenge?

Hell no.

Because I have a sneaking suspicion this challenge wasn’t about doing 10,000 things — it was about being as healthy and active as you personally could be. So that means success.

I was able to see my improved endurance when doing these exercises. So that means success.

I was able to do some exercises at the end of the month that I couldn’t do at the start of the month (plank jacks, plank twists). So that means success.

While in the ring with my instructor during one class, she said to me, “Your arms look great! Have you been dong push ups?” (SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!) So that means success.

It’s easy to see something and say, “I can’t do that,” and not even try. It’s easy to give up when you fall behind. But it’s not easy to try things you don’t know if you can do, and it’s not easy to keep going when you want to give up. But by persevering, you experience success, and it looks different for everyone.

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I Earned This

I got an email this morning from TRS (Teachers’ Retirement System). Here is what it says:

In recent weeks, a new website identifying 30,000 TRS members as a “$100,000+ Salary & Pension Club” has been circulated via social media and several news sites.

The website was created by the OpenTheBooks.com watchdog organization. In Forbesmagazine, the group said that Illinois is home to “the most out-of-control” and “corrupted… education pay-and-pension systems…”

However, a closer look at the numbers shows that membership in this “$100 K Club” was the exception for Illinois teachers, not the rule.

TRS provided the group with records through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 30,492 active or retired TRS members in 2017 who either received a salary or a pension of $100,000 or more.

But here’s what OpenTheBooks.com chose not to mention:

  • There were a total of 268,608 active and retired TRS members in 2017. Therefore, the $100 K Club comprised just 11.4 percent of these TRS members. In other words, 88.6 percent of active and retired teachers in Illinois were not members of the $100 K Club.
  • School districts throughout Illinois paid 18,760 teachers a salary of $100,000 or more in 2017, out of a total of 160,488 active members.
  • There were 11,732 retired members receiving a pension of $100,000 or more in 2017 – out of a total of 108,120.
  • The average active TRS member salary in 2017 was $71,773. The average TRS pension in 2017 was $54,180.
The website created by the OpenTheBooks.com enables anyone to search a map of Illinois and pinpoint all TRS members who received either a salary or a TRS pension of $100,000 or more in 2017.
TRS did not provide OpenTheBooks.com with any member addresses or other personally identifiable information, but was required by the FOIA law to sort member salary and pension information by the school districts where active members were employed and by the last districts that employed retired members.

I didn’t see the post on social media or see the article in Forbes, but I’m willing to bet the point of it was to demonize those people in the $100,000+ range.

So, not that this is any of your business, but it is public information since my salary is paid using taxpayer dollars, I’m going to give you some salary information about me. My current salary is in the 90’s. There are 2 years left on our current contract. I am currently in the master’s + 15 column and on step 29. I have 18 hours beyond my master’s degree. The next column on the salary schedule is master’s + 30. I’ve set a goal to be in that column when we start the final year on the contract. I’m taking a grad class this summer. I’ll take one this fall. I’ll take one in the spring. And I’ll take one next summer. That will get me the 12 hours I need. Why do I want to be in that column so badly at step 31 (which means number of years of teaching experience, BTW)? Because at step 31 in the column where I have a master’s degree and 30 graduate hours beyond that degree, I will hit the $100,000 mark. Which means I’ll be part of that “club” that is apparently the root of all financial evil in Illinois. I call BS. I’ve earned that salary. I’ve worked diligently for literally decades for my district and I’ve developed myself professionally to get to that point. Nobody can shame me for that salary. I deserve it.

Now, the pensions? Well, let’s operate from an assumption that those retired teachers got those $100K pensions through high salary bumps and double dipping instead of hard work and dedication. Loopholes in the laws allowed those high salary bumps and double dips. When offered a loophole, were these teachers supposed to say, “No thanks”? Would YOU? You’re five years from retirement and someone offers you a legal way to noticably ramp up what you’ll get when you retire, do you say no? If you don’t like the loopholes, fix them. Find the laws you don’t like and pressure your legislator to change the laws. Some loopholes have already been fixed, like salary bumps. Not sure about the double dipping, though. I’ll do my research, though, and you can, too.

Ultimately, I know this blame game is because the pension system in Illinois is the hottest of hot messes. Again, not the fault of the teachers. We’ve paid faithfully into TRS every paycheck of our careers. The pension funds were raided by the state itself. But somehow the teachers keep getting blamed. It’s ridiculous. I am so sick of being seen as overpaid, underworked, pampered, and privileged because I’m a teacher.

I EARN my salary. And when I retire, I will have EARNED my pension.

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That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Ever since I saw the musical Hamilton, I’ve started thinking a lot about my legacy. The mark I want to leave on this world. I’ve come to realize that one of the ways I am attempting to do this is through my writing. That’s why I want to write a novel or some other book. It’s a tangible piece of me that gets left behind when I am gone, something that might live on beyond me. That’s probably also why I write a blog. Or I should say blogs. I’ve got three of them. There’s this one, which is a mish-mash of the thoughts that run through my head at any given time. Then there’s my personal education reflection blog, one that I’ve not written on for a while. Then there’s another education blog I write that is part of my job that I gear specifically toward trying to help the teachers I work with. So if you care about my ideas on anything, feel free to follow me on any of these blogs 🙂

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Z is for Zero Inbox

ZHello. My name is Renee, and I have an inbox problem. I am unable to maintain a zero inbox at the end of every day.

I used to be a zero inbox kind of girl. I have three email addresses, and every night, each of them used to be empty. Then I started the job I have now. I used to be a traditional classroom teachers, teaching 7th and 8th grade language arts. I had a typical teacher workload. But five years ago, I transitioned to being my school district’s instructional technology resource teacher and my work load changed. In some respects, it got easier — no daily lesson plans to write, no stacks of papers to grade. But my work didn’t get easier, just different. I still had lessons to plan, usually at a teacher’s request to integrate a new technology-based learning tool in their class. I had research to do to be able to share trends and tools with teachers. I had tech support duties to perform. I had meetings to attend. And I got LOTS more email. Instead of being on one email distribution list at my home building, I was put on the email distribution list for all 4 buildings in my district as well as the email list for our district office. Instead of occasional emails from teachers outside my building, I started getting them regularly from teachers all over the district.

And that is where the trouble started. I started getting a LOT of emails. From within the district and from outside as well since I had subscribed to some email newsletters that would help me keep up with all the trends I needed to keep up with to help our teachers.

Now, zero inbox is a thing of the past. Here is what my inboxes look like tonight, and this is typical:

  • Work email: 128 unread emails; 410 emails total.
  • Personal email: 329 unread emails; no other emails.
  • Personal email I use for shopping: 7407 unread emails; no clue how many other emails there are.

 

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Y is for Millenials aka Generation Y

I’m playing fast and loose with the letter Y (much like I did yesterday with the letter X). I’d like to share some quick thoughts on Generation Y, also known as Millenials. These are commonly accepted to be people who were born from 1980 – 1994 (my own daughter fits into this category being born in 1994). Millenials get a bad rap. They’re criticized at the generation of selfish, disconnected with people but umbilically connected to their technology, self-important because of their participation trophies, lazy, do-nothing group of dregs in society.

In the words of some pretty rockin’ Gne Z’ers, I call BS.

I know plenty of Millenials, and there are a small number of them who are lazy, unmotivated, social media narcissists. Most of them that I know have graduated college and have jobs — maybe not traditional office-type jobs, but they work and support themselves. Some do have office-type jobs, but they also try to do work that will somehow better the world — they work for non-profits or work in education. Some joined the military, and some do philanthropic work.

I find it distasteful to blame a generation for their faults. Most generations don’t raise themselves — they are raised by their parents. So if there’s a crop of young adults out there who ARE lazy, unmotivated, social media narcissists, maybe they can’t be 100% blamed for turning out the way they did.

Like this guy’s video that went viral — makes me see red. Nice way to malign an entire generation.

 
 

I don’t hate Millenials. Sorry not sorry.

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X is for XX

XI’m playing a little fast and loose with the letter X (as I am sure many people do). My post today is about my favorite person with the XX chromosome — my daughter ❤

Her birthday is actually tomorrow, so tonight feels like a nice time to write a short tribute to her! I tell people that I did not love my daughter right away. When she was born, she just felt like a baby. She was a cute baby and I cared about her because she was a baby, but that’s all she seemed to be — a baby. It wasn’t until the day after she was born when I happened to be standing outside the nursery and I could see her in the back with a nurse. She was born a little jaundiced so they had to do blood tests to check her bilirubin level, and they did that with a heel stick (I soon learned it was a lot more like a heel slice). I saw the nurse do the heel stick and could see through the glass that my baby was crying — and that was the exact moment motherhood kicked in. I felt a physical change happen in me. Fear, anger, and love grabbed my heart and I turned to my husband and said in a panicked voice, “She’s hurting my baby! She’s hurting my baby! Get me back to my room and bring me my baby!” And he hurried me as quickly as my C-section would let me go back to my room and told the nurse to bring our baby in the room. When she got there, I grabbed her and calmed her down and checked every inch of her body to make sure she was okay (that’s when I discovered a heel stick is more like slicing open part of her heel to get the blood). And I made a vow to her right then and there while she was in my arms that I would never, ever let anyone hurt her again.

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She was the sweetest, best behaved baby!

Of course, life happens and sure, she got hurt plenty of times — physically and emotionally. But my love for her grows every day. Just when I think I can’t possibly love my daughter any more than I already do, a new day dawns and I love her more.

My daughter’s best quality is empathy. She is one of the most empathetic people I know.  I discovered this early on about her. When she was probably 4 years old or so, the 3 of us were driving home from shopping one night. It was a dark, chilly, rainy fall night — simply miserable. At one point, I could hear her sniffling in the back seat. I turned around to look at her and could see she had tears on her cheeks. I said, worried, “Becky? Are you crying? What’s wrong?” She sobbed, “Did you see that man back there walking along the road all alone in the cold and the dark and the rain? He makes me so sad!” I had a vague recollection of seeing someone walking along the road, but for some reason, this image hit my daughter square in the heart. And she has been this way ever since.

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When she was little, I offered her some honey on her toast. She told me she didn’t like honey because “Tiggers do not like honey.” She won;t eat honey to this day.

I think that is part of the reason she works at the job she does. She is a campaign fundraiser for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She’s a great event planner and fundraiser, it turns out, but what drives her is doing work that matters in this world, making a difference in people’s lives, doing whatever she can to end the suffering of people who have cancer and the pain of those who love people who have cancer. She feels it when someone she knows through her office is lost, and she feels it when someone makes progress. Knowing her work literally can save lives fulfills her. I absolutely could not be more proud of my child. She is an amazing human being, and I have no idea how that happened. I know her parents 🙂 They are flawed humans with all sorts of faults who made so many mistakes while she was growing up; we aren’t worthy of her. Yet she turned out to be a kind, hard-working, sweet adult who loves her parents despite their flaws, faults, and mistakes.

My Becky Boo is my favorite person in the world.

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So proud of my girl — at her college graduation.

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W is for Without

WAn exploded can of Diet Coke led to a conversation I had with my friend and co-worker Jeremy today. We started talking about soda and he remarked how bad it is for you. I acknowledged this and told him that last summer I tried to give up pop cold turkey but only lasted about 2 weeks before I just couldn’t take it any more and had to have some pop. For the record, I drink only diet pop, not regular, and yes, I know that diet pop is just as bad as regular.

He suggested I try allowing myself to drink soda only 1 day a week (he suggested Sundays, but I think I am going to pick Saturdays). Once I get used to that, then maybe I can cut that 1 day out as well.

I’m currently drinking a Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry, and I’ll allow myself to have pop tomorrow. And then Sunday starts my new attempt at life WITHOUT pop.

Wish me luck.

Media preview

Could this can of Diet Coke that froze and exploded lead me to a new life, soda free?

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V is for Vacation of my Dreams

VI am incredibly fortunate ti have been able to travel to some really amazing places. I’ve been to Disneyland AND Disney World.  I’ve spent time in Key West, Houston, Galveston, Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Atlantic City. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon. I visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. I’ve toured many, many places in Washington, D.C. I’ve taken family fishing trips to northern Minnesota. Internationally, I’ve been to Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico. I attended the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I took a trip in high school to Geneva, Switzerland; Nice, France; Avignon, France; and Paris, France. I have visited Mumbai, India, twice; Delhi and Agra in India and the Taj Mahal once; and Dubai, UAE once. But I still have one dream vacation left to take.

Kathmandu, Nepal, and then somewhere to see Mt. Everest, maybe even trek to Base Camp.

In 2015, I traveled to India to visit my father who lived and worked there at the time. He had planned a trip for us to go to Nepal, tour Kathmandu, and spend time Nagarkot at a hotel in the Himalayas and be able to see Everest. But then there was a devastating earthquake which quashed my dreams, sending us instead to Dubai (which I adored, but it was not Nepal — my dream).

I started my dream of visiting Nepal and seeing Everest when I read the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I can remember reading that book and thinking two things at the exact same time:

1.) You must be incredibly stupid to want to climb Mt. Everest.

2.) It would be so cool to climb Mt. Everest!

I know I could never climb Everest, but I could see it. Maybe someday I will.

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U is for Upstanders

UPart of my job as instructional technology resource teacher is to do technology safety lessons for students in grades 3 – 8 in order to meet our state mandate. For the most part, I really enjoy putting these lessons together, and I especially appreciate when the teachers let me come in and teach the lessons myself. In my current role, I don’t have my own class of kids, and that is one thing I miss about a traditional teaching role. So it is fun for me when I get to come be the teacher for a while!

These technology safety lessons are important. Ever since I started using social media myself and I saw firsthand the way some kids behaved online, I decided that teaching tech safety should be something that happened, and happened young before bad habits get formed. I can remember thinking that it would be something I cover less and less once the newness of social media wore off, but how wrong I was! Instead, bad behavior online has just gotten more common, more vicious, and more acceptable. And that is not okay when it comes to kids.

I teach cyberbullying lessons starting in grade 3 — stop and think about that for a minute. Kids the ages of 8 and 9 need to know what cyberbullying is and what to do about it. That’s some messed up stuff right there.

Most schools have anti-bullying initiatives, and cyberbullying goes hand in hand — after all, almost all typical bullying behaviors can also do be done electronically, thus becoming a subclass of bullying — cyberbullying. In most schools, the anti-bullying programs either focus on trying to get bullies to recognize and stop their behavior, or empowering victims to stand up for themselves to be victims no more. These programs are fine, but I think they approach bullying the wrong way. I think it is too hard to make bullies see themselves as bullies, and I think it puts too much burden on victims to make the bullying stop.

Instead, I’d rather see schools focus on upstanders. See, in any typical bullying (or cyberbullying) situation, there are 3 players: the bully, the victim, and the bystanders. They are the ones who see the bullying happen, and there are almost always way more bystanders than there are bullies or victims in any given bullying situation. I think we need to harness the power of numbers and turn those bystanders — who watch the bullying happen and do nothing about it — into upstanders — who stand up to the bullies to show them their behavior is not cool, not acceptable, not tolerated, and not going to continue. I believe that if schools purposefully created a culture where students felt strong enough to be able to stand up for the kids who are victimized, we might see bullying incidents decrease, and maybe that would even carry over to the internet where people would not tolerate the viciousness they see online. If adults in school, at home, and in society would just model for all the kids in the world what it looks like to be an upstander, maybe kids would emulate that and we could live in a more kind world both online and offline.

Be an upstander.

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T is for Toxic Relationships

TI value relationships very, very much. I am quick to trust and quick to love, and I am also slow to abandon people when they are not good for me. I have some toxic relationships in my life, and I have no real idea how to remove them.

There are some people whom I have cut out of my life that have been deeply hurtful, but the hurtful things they did made it easy to abandon the relationships. But there are too many people in my life that I have relationships with where I know associating with them isn’t good for me because it just makes me angry, irritable, anxious, or hurt. Sometimes these people are family members; sometimes they are friends. I say “too many” because I’m thinking just one toxic relationship is one too many, but I am fortunate that I can probably count all of these relationships on one hand.

Right now, my methods for managing toxic relationships that I can’t end include things like avoidance (I just try not to interact with those people), compartmentalization (separating out the toxic part of the relationship from the part that does work), and self-protection in the form of trying my hardest to never be alone with the toxic person.

Anybody have strategies for how to manage toxic relationships? I’m open to ideas!

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