Category Archives: Education

Stories relating to schools, instruction, teaching, learning; accumulated knowledge, skills – curriculum.

Back To School ©

Back to school thoughts by Shinazy

back to schoolOn a popular social media website I watch my friends with school-age children chat about all they must do in preparation for sending their babies back to school.  In addition to buying clothes that fit better than the ones they bought six months ago, they must buy backpacks, classroom supplies, sports equipment, study guides, and textbooks.

How different the current back to school activity is from when my grandmothers or I returned to the classroom.

During a shopping trip to buy my sensible Saddle Oxfords, my grandmother, Nana, reminisced how she looked forward to the new dress signaling the first day of school.  She was born in the Philippines, on the island of Mindanao, in a tiny village.  In 1906, her future had one option: Become a wife and exist.  But Lola, her mom, designed a different destiny for her only surviving child.  Saving the colorful parts of the burlap sacks that contained their flour and sugar, Lola hand-stitched pretty school outfits.  In unaccented, enunciated English – which I rarely heard – Nana admitted, when she walked to the missionary school, although her bare feet were strolling along a dirt road, she felt like a princess entering a fairytale.

back to schoolFor my other grandmother, Pauline, aka Gigs, going back to school was a frightening experience. She was the third generation to live in San Francisco; however, her mother insisted no one utter a single English word in her house.  The land surrounding their homestead isolated them from other families.  On the first school day, Pauline viewed the black wall where she had to write her name.  She did not turn to face the class when she introduced herself as she wondered, “How will these children pronounce my name?”  The horror persisted, every year the back to school time meant trying to remember the English words she learned before summer break.  She continued to suffer as an outsider, longing for graduation day.

My going back to school was less terrorizing, I say ‘less’ rather than ‘not’ because it involved clothes shopping, lots of it.  I was a scraped-knees-with-bruised-shins girl, who preferred climbing trees to shopping.  However, the ‘Fall Fashion Season’ was important to my mom, so shop we did.  She would find the adorable wool sweater-set with matching wool-pleated skirt, the stylish wool jumper, and the charming wool knee-high socks.  Now, if we lived in New York City all this wool would have been perfect, but this was San Francisco where autumn low temperature hover in the mid 50’s.  I may have been over-heated, but I looked like a proper young lady returning to academia.

How do the children of my Facebook friends feel about getting ready for the new school year?  Maybe, regardless if it’s yesterday or today, the back to school activity involves a time of change and we each embrace, resist, or tolerate it in our own way.

photos courtesy  Oilbac and JJLosier


Learning For An Aging Brain ©

Aging thoughts by Shinazy

agingThe current info on the brain is that it continues to develop and is capable of learning forever.  We are encouraged to challenge it, to “exercise” our grey matter.  We might buy a few ‘Scientifically Proven Brain Fitness Programs”.  We can learn to dance, play a musical instrument, get a new cell phone, create a blog . . .  the list is infinite.

My friend Ron goes to dance clubs and engages his brain with learning the tango, waltz, and foxtrot.  I tried to Salsa, 1, 2, 3, pause . . .  5, 6, 7, pause (this is the beat for my feet).  I took private lessons because I still cringe from the memory of those 1980s jazzercise classes where everyone else could move their arms and hips and legs and feet in a motion that resembled something other than . . .  I can’t go there, you get the picture.  I Salsa in my home, alone, with no music.  Change anything and I freeze.  Oh, I continue to practice my steps, but I think my brain isn’t being challenged.  So, on to learning something else.

agingAnother friend, Kathleen, resumed her violin practice after decades.  Alas, for me, there’s no becoming a maestro.  I can recite the mnemonic for the five lines and four spaces of musical notes:  EGBDF (every good boy does fine) and ACEG (all cows eat grass), but I have no idea how the notes sound, and you never want to be in a room when I’m singing happy birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, maybe for mine I’ll get a new mobile phone and buy apps; playing with this new technology should keep my brain fit.  In a few months, I’ll let you know how that goes.

That leaves “creating a blog.”

Writing is like an onion, there are many layers.  The layers I fondly call: “What Should I Write About”, “Focus the Topic”, “Tighten the Imagery”, “Edit the Sentence Structure”.  Then, there are the behind-the-scene tech layers: domain name, site hosting, RSS feed reader, dashboard, float alignment, backlinks, gadgets . . . much to learn.

Each of us have items on our ‘bucket list’, most will require us to learn something – I decided to write.  So, for me, happily blogging every day should keep my ageing brain in the learning mode for quite some time.

 photos courtesy  Christian Haugen and kubotake

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Good Morning Teacher! ©

A Story by teacher, Mr. Will Jones


I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most expansive and beautiful ancient Hindu temple complexes on earth.  As excited as I was about that visit, I was equally excited when I saw a poster on the wall of the Bliss Villa Guest House where I was staying offering guests the chance to teach English for a day at a small rural school operated by local Theravada Buddhist monks.  So after spending New Year’s Day on an astonishing tour of Angkor the World Wonder, I awoke the next day to an adventure at the Angkor Buddhist Organization School.

On the morning of January 2nd, my guest house host, two orange robed monks, and a traveling companion and I boarded noisy tuk-tuks and bumped along dusty red dirt roads for 30 minutes.  Habitations of all descriptions, vegetable gardens, rice paddies, cattle and water buffalo were the most prominent features of the landscape.  We arrived to find a small, open air pavilion and three dirt floor and palm frond walled classrooms on a narrow strip of land receding about 50 yards from the roadside.  Across the road was a rough field for recreation, and a palm roofed open walled kitchen where the locals prepared lunch for the monks.

After a brief orientation about the curriculum by the gentle, soft-spoken monks, I was escorted to my classroom.  The second I entered, roughly fifteen beautiful children ages 10-16 stood at attention, raised their hands in an attitude of prayer and respect, and, in perfect unison, greeted me: “Good morning teacher!  How are you?”  Imagine the smile that spread across my joyous face and the warmth that filled my heart at this greeting.  In all my years as a secondary English teacher and a high school administrator, I had never received such a warm welcome.

teacherWith a small instruction booklet, a dry erase marker, a beat up white board and a lot of imagination, I taught four forty-five minute English classes.  By the end of the day my students knew a lot about my family, the names of the items of clothes I was wearing, and in a leap of instructional faith, synonyms, like “pretty” and “lovely.”

I watched and smiled as eager students wrote names and phrases in their copy books, as they chanted rhymes about purple sneakers, as they giggled with delight when I overreacted comically to their mispronunciations or when I encouraged and rewarded them by drawing stars beside their work.  Sadly, I learned that the two beautiful young girls with shaved heads had recently lost their father, their appearance a part of their mourning.

My biggest reward came at the end of the day when the students gathered around to thank me and ask if I would be their teacher the next day.  No, I said, but thank you.  I will remember you forever.

photo by will jones

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Card Catalogue ©

The Only Thing That Kept Us from Being Omnipotent Was the Card Catalogue System

Remembering the card catalogue with Travis Burchart

catalogueThis chilly morning, my son wanted to take his hot chocolate to school.  Because transit equals spillage, I poured his drink in a thermal container but one that had a hard plastic straw connected to the lid.

“I thought it was bad to drink hot liquids through a straw,” he said.

“What?” I answered. “Never heard that.”

“I’ll check the internet,” he said as he ran to the computer.  His parting shot, before he sprinted out of the kitchen – “All questions of the universe can be answered on the internet.”

There was a time when all questions of the universe were subject to deep digging, the kind that got dirt under your nails and often discouraged you to the point of failure.  As a kid, there was no computer in the family room, no magic stream of knowledge that fell under the command of searchable word fragments or the point-and-click of a magic Google button.

When I was a kid1, the questions of the universe were subject to a multistep and often demanding process:

Step 1: Get a ride to the library (assuming you were too poor to own all 30 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica).

Step 2: Once at the library, go to the card catalogue cabinets and thumb through the rows and rows of yellowing file cards.

Step 3: Find your book‘s file card and write its call number on a scrap of paper.

Step 4: Explore the library’s jungle of shelves and book spines until you finally find and match the call number.

Step 5: Worst case scenario – the information you need is on microfiche. Go find the film and decipher the mystery known as the microfiche reader.

So many steps, to the point that many mysteries were left unanswered.  I just didn’t have the time or patience to answer them all.  But maybe that was part of the higher plan, that knowledge would be difficult in order to keep us (me) more human and less omnipotent.

Things have changed.  Nowadays, knowledge is literally at our fingertips.  For my son, the mysteries of the universe are easy.  For him, it’s a simple process to know that drinking hot drinks from a straw increases the risk of mouth and tongue burns.

[1] I now sound like my father, who used to always say, “When I was a kid, I had to walk two miles through a foot of snow …” He said this for everything – the bus stop, the doctor, baseball practice. 

photo by kyz

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Traffic School ©

Malati Marlene Shinazy at Traffic School

traffic schoolAwhile back I wrote a story entitled, “Paying Attention.”  It was all about this luscious first date I went on and how I concentrated on every minutiae of the gorgeous man, meal and good-bye kiss.  As I drove home, attention to detail flew out the window, replaced by a daydreaming drive — until I found myself looking up at the friendly face of the law, writing me a speeding ticket…. Flash forward to Traffic School.

As a first time offender, the state rendered a two-fold fine. I had to pay money (approximately $400) and time (Traffic School).

Traffic School was more than just “time spent,” however, as there was an irritating little decision to be made. Do I attend Traffic School:

  • On-line? Or through live delivery?
  • Comedy delivery?  Or lecture?
  • Lecture in posh college classroom thirty miles away? Or lecture in a drab community room two miles from my home?

I chose live lecture in the drab community room, two miles from my home.  Heck, if the perfect summer day is going to be spent as an indoor hostage for 6.5 – 8.0 hours, what do I care if the seats are upholstered or plastic?

My attitude is: Go to traffic school and be done with it.  My insurance company never hears about the speeding ticket and as long as I don’t get another one in 18 months, it disappears from my driving record. End of Story.

But the story doesn’t end!  It took on a new life once I posted a photo of my fellow speed-demon Traffic School hostages on my Facebook page.  By the flurry of responses this post received, one would have thought I had robbed a bank.

Friends felt obliged to scold me for speeding, tell their stories of how “they fought the law and won,” or chide me for getting caught (this reprimand came from a cop friend). Three days later, the tally of Comments approached 20.

The strangest statement was, “Has anyone here missed a mortgage payment?”  The author of that non sequitur is a friend I’ve known since he was a baby MBA from an Ivy League university.  He is now a senior executive for an $8 billion corporation.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he must have been drunk when he wrote that comment … If he was driving as well, he’ll be the next hostage in Traffic School.

photo by nathan e  photography

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Observations On Gender Communication ©

Michael Bell on communication

communicationI do a lot of listening to women talking in the gender language of the female, and I’m amazed as I observe how much access they have to their feelings.  How do they know so much about themselves I wonder as I listen with interest and admiration and  sometimes envy as these women soak their words in the inner worlds of their beings and speak them with fluidity and ease and confidence. I don’t know what my feelings are half the time, and if I did I wouldn’t bet a dime I’d be able to express them. Women seem to have an ability to communicate feelings with all their various gradations of nuance. Like in the picture above, women seem to know what they are about in ways I venture to say men just don’t know.

My observation is men are inexperienced when it comes to talking with feeling and about feelings. Men obeyed the social rules growing up as boys and never learned how to exhibit empathy or access the more gentle feelings. Men sit silent about how they feel. I’m a man and I don’t often feel exactly what’s going on inside. I feel anger, impatience and frustration too often, but those are not feelings. They’re automatic responses. I don’t know my inner world. I was never taught how to access my inner world. I remember this little league baseball game that happened when I was a kid. The game would decide which team won the pennant. I was pitching, and I was among the top pitchers, but we lost the game. I felt devastated and cried. Another baseball player saw my crying and yelled at me to stop, and that’s what I did, instantly, feeling embarrassed in front of everybody watching.  I broke a social rule that boys don’t cry, and that’s an example of how social environments mold people into what they become.  Boys are taught not to express feelings.  If the male gender doesn’t get family and social permission in childhood to express feelings they don’t learn how to express feelings.  I’m not a social scientist. I’m a gentleman with my own perspective making observations about the world the way he sees it. What I observe is that women live inside and share inner worlds with other women. Men live in the outside world of making mechanical adjustments to the environment. The landscape of creating and implementing blue prints for exterior projects is where men feel at home.  I recall a woman telling me her husband plays cards with his friends from time to time. She told me if she asks afterwards how they were feeling he says he doesn’t know. That’s the point. Men don’t talk about their feelings.

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, the girls sat on one side of the classroom and the boys on the other. The teacher would ask a question and almost every time the hands that shot up rose from the female side. I felt a little ticked. I knew my friends were smart and had good answers to these questions. I wanted the teacher and the class to know I had an answer but if I raised my hand I’d get colored by the boys with the subtle tint of appearing too feminine. I was aware of this but I’d raise my hand.  I wanted recognition for intelligence more than I feared being labeled a sissy.

Women are so much better at knowing and expressing their feelings than men that this divides the genders.  Women share feelings with other women while men gravitate towards comfortable discussions about outside events in politics or what’s in the news. When women gather informally they don’t talk about politics or history. They talk about the people in their lives and share sentiment about how they feel affected. Men are mostly only able to talk about the outside world. They don’t speak the language of women. Since the women’s movement began four decades ago, women have become engineers, attorneys, scientists and politicians. They know how to speak the language of men. It’s not their native tongue, but it is a second language. So women can talk about the outside world with both women and men and share their inner feelings with both genders. Men can talk scientific theory with both genders but they don’t know how to share feelings with either gender. I’m painting with loud colors and broad strokes, I know, but to me it’s like an elephant in the room. Women are entering combat units while men don’t know how to express tender feelings and empathy.

How and when are men going to learn to speak in at least a rudimentary way the language of women?  How are men going to acquire the nurturing and empathy characteristics women have that allow them to feel and share who they are. How are men going to deepen communication with women if the feminine aspect is so thwarted it doesn’t gets discovered in the first place.   

Men are starting to learn. I think it’s helping that homosexuality isn’t hidden in our society like it was in the heyday of the Greatest Generation. There’s less peer pressure to act in the Marlboro man way that blocks access to feelings. Men are starting to learn by osmosis because they are realizing they need to know. The women in their lives are making a demand of it.

  photo by shinazy

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High School Scholarship Night ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

Half of the gym floor is covered with red plastic sheeting to protect it from shoes. Now, however, it’s a perfect trip-and-fall opportunity for 75 teens wearing stiletto heals or six-inch platform shoes. The flip-flop kids are equally at risk as they shuffle their way to the bleachers.  Also in danger, we baby boomers, parents and presenters alike, simply because we’re not the nimble plastic sheet-walkers we use to be.

This year, the presenters have been upgraded from sitting on hard wooden bleachers to fifty-year old cracked plastic chairs that pinch the skin if one wriggles, even a little.

The Pledge of Allegiance is followed by the National Anthem.  Then, 500 +/- people attempt to get comfortable for the endurance event: The scholarship presentations themselves.  Last year, this took three hours.  The optimistic school principle promises it will be completed in two hours this year.

We proceed… In a deadened monotone, the first presenter drones, half hidden behind a podium:

“ Hello, my name is Mrs. Beverley Somebody (Fill in the Blank).

I represent the Women of (Fill in the Blank).

We are happy to present some amount of money (Fill in the Blank) to the following student (Fill in the Blank), who wrote the most impressive essay and will graduate to go to college (Fill in the Blank).”

As the student descends from the nosebleed section of the bleachers, we watch her step carefully over sweatshirts, backpacks and her classmates’ parents.  Finally reaching the non-plastic section of floor, her stilettos emit the loudest sound our ears can endure.  It seems the school’s microphone stand is a strong amplifier.  Through the old sound system, we can hear the recipient’s footfalls with more audible definition than we can hear Mrs. Somebody’s muffled voice!

And on it goes, one uninspired presenter after another, each offering a version of the same speech.  Only the unexpected stiletto-bongo-walk of a random recipient keeps us awake.

After the first hour, there’s rustling in the bleachers:  The students are restless; their parents are chatting; little brothers and sisters are running around.

Finally, it is our turn to present.

With the loudest, crispest diction I can project through the old sound system, I SHOUT:

“Everybody, Stand Up! 

Get off those hard bleachers, NOW!

We’ve been sitting for a Full Hour!

If my tuckus is numb, surely yours is too!

Shake it out!  Stomp up and down.  Move around a little!

That’s right…  Move around a little!”

While most of the presenters hold steadfast to their cracked plastic chairs, a bleacher rumble bursts forth.

The energy is infectious… even a few whoops and hollers!  After a few moments, the bleacher denizens are refreshed and sit down.

I laugh aloud and thank them for playing with me.  After my presentation, I leave the gym for a photo shoot with our organization’s scholarship recipients.  Behind me, I can hear the audience:  They are awake and re-energized for the next hour or two of scholarship presentations.

My job is done… until next year.

Congratulations, Class of 2012!

How to Eat Cactus Apples©

A poem by Will Jones

From my experience, I recommend
eating them with your imagination.
Do not, while walking the trail alone,
succumb to the allure
of the ripe fallen fruit
gathered in a fertile mound
at the foot of the cactus.
Do not, in childlike innocence,
bend down and pick up the reddest fruit
with the seemingly smooth skin.
Do not peel the skin back with your thumbs.
Do not raise the fruit to your nose
and inhale its exotic tropical fragrance.
Do not plunge your index finger and thumb
into the juicy golden flesh and extract
a shimmering morsel of sweetness.
Do not place the shimmering morsel of sweetness
in your mouth and swish it around
like newly poured wine.

If you do not do these things,
you will not find your tongue and palette
studded like a bed of nails
with countless microscopic cactus quills.
You will not find yourself spending the rest
of your hike around Paradise Mountain
plucking and spitting like a man with
a mouthful of loose tobacco

You will not find yourself
distracted from the moment
and the glories of the hike
by composing in your head
a poem about how to eat cactus apples,
hoping you won’t forget your best ideas
before you get home and put them all on paper.

 photo by doingslo

WISDOM Wednesday: “What’s So Great About Mentoring?”

 This story was written by Malati Marlene Shinazy
I read once that successful people have at least one mentor in their career.  Sounded like a great formula: Get a mentor; become successful. So, when I was a young boomer, I went hunting for a mentor.
George F. Simons is an expert in the field of diversity and cross-cultural communication. His list of accomplishments is long and impressive. By the time I met him, he had written books, developed award winning training games, taught at universities and had a thriving international consulting and training practice.
As is typical for me, I just called him up and asked if he would be my mentor. I was thoroughly shocked when he agreed so readily. He had but one requirement: I make a commitment to myself and to the field of diversity to learn everything he had to offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was, he was offering to share with me literally everything he knew.
Each day for an entire summer, I drove two hours round trip over a notoriously twisty mountain highway to spend time with him. I absorbed all the information, knowledge and nuances of insight I could… The experience was simultaneously thrilling and formidable.
 And, I swear… I grew from a newbie into a junior expert in just a few months. This one change in my life had to be the reason: George was mentoring me.
When I decided I was ready to strike out on my own, I put into practice everything George taught me… Voila, I became successful too. — Actually, I was more than a bit amazed. Could it be the mentoring? I thought so at the time. Now, I know so…
A few years ago, with a new job, I inherited a millennial generation employee who was, I was told, “like a sponge,” continually soaking up information to grow professionally.
Ah – ha, I thought… You know where this story is going, right?  What did this woman need to boost her to the next level of success?  Yup, mentoring.
So, as we now know is typical for me, I just plunged in and asked Nikie if I could be her mentor. She quickly agreed, as George had done so many years prior.
For the next two years, I shared all the knowledge I had about the field of learning and workforce development, including cross-cultural aspects, metrics, project management… I mean, everything. I shared what I knew about the industry in which we worked, economic cycles, key success factors to competitive advantage and corporate cultures. Everything.
Mentoring became one of the favorite aspects of my job. I watched Nikie develop from a young professional into a seasoned pro who could take each project offered and run with it to successful completion.
Mentoring grew me. And now, mentoring was growing another individual. When Nikie told me she was looking for a new job, I was thrilled. She was ready to strike out on her own… as I had decades ago.
Over the years, George, my mentor, became a valued life-long friend. Yesterday, he left for his home in France to write another book.
Tomorrow, my mentee leaves for her next career step… We promise to communicate regularly.
How wonderful it will be when one day I hear Nikie is mentoring someone too.
What’s So Great About Mentoring? For me… Everything!