Reflections and Transitions

change

This will be my last blog entry on wordpress and in the Pina’s Lens collection. I have not decided to stop writing, I decided to launch my own website this fall!

 

WHAT & WHY?

I started this blog back in January of 2013 while I was attending Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) for my Ed.M in Secondary Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction. Since then, I have taught for 4 consecutive years at Codman Academy Public Charter School, began to take care of and raise my little sister, proposed to my long-time girlfriend, our President went from Black and competent to an Electoral College voted egotistical selffish lying Businessman, and I became one hell of a math teacher!

I went from:

noidea in the classroom (at least that’s what the 1st year felt like)

To:

crushingit by implementing student-centered strategies that increase meaningful student engagement, using differentiation, and fostering a growth-mindset within my students… ALL WITH DATA TO PROVE IT!

This is why, I am starting my own website. I can post articles and updates about my ongoing research (identify and using the principles of videogame engagement in the classroom), my work with the “Better Math Teaching Network“, my poetry, and some of the best practices and teaching videos I have learned and or developed over my teaching career. I think this is a move in the right direction for my professional career, and what could be an effective attempt to merge my passions of poetry, teaching, and videogames.

 

REFLECTIONS

I went through all my entries and had all the feelings. Feelings of embarrassment due to grammar and spelling errors in many entries (I’ll work on that more thoroughly in the future). Feelings of confusion as some entries really served no purpose (like my first entry). Feelings of amusement and admiration (can someone admire his or herself?) as quite a few entries were raw, reflective, honest, and attempted to be provocative.

This website will out-live me, but it doesn’t have to be my legacy. I could choose to delete, update, and or edit some of these entries, but I do not want to. Each entry represents a time-stamp in my life. However, there are a three entries that I feel represent my journey from January 2013 to July 2017, and I recommend you to read them on your own time.

#1 “Sleepless in Cambridge

This entry was written after my graduation from HGSE.

“…The cigar is about half-way done when I notice the duck walking along the dock. With one magical flap of her wings, the duck takes off down the river. I wonder what that duck was thinking? Could she be feeling the same way?

Words are so hard to find, yet each component of my lexicon is bursting from my mind. I do not share these words to seek any sympathy, but to subdue the headache that has been itching to come forth.

The sun is beginning to kiss the horizon, making it blush from surprised affection. I stare in awe…”

#2 “Don’t Call Me a Conspiracy Theorist!

This entry was written as a response to a conversation I had with a friend.

“… I prefer to be called a Critical Theorist for two reasons: (1) The act of activating ‘outside-the-box-thinking’ and trying to connect events thru an analysis of cause and effect and benefits IS AN ACT OF CRITICAL THINKING! However, there are many people who do try to ‘connect-dots’ after conducting some research, and end up forming in-conclusive conclusions. Hence reason (2) The connotations of being called a Conspiracy Theorist is to be parallel to being crazy, over-reacting, and over imaginative… it becomes dismissive. To be dismissive of someone, no matter how “out-there” their views may be, is not a good thing; in fact their view should be analyzed and concluded to be wrong, right, or shades or truthfulness…”

#3 “UnSpeaking the N-Word (Conclusion… for now)

This entry was apart of a series (three total) in which I was personally pursing and reflecting on the word “Nigger”, and how I use and hear it.

“…Over this series of blog entries I have explored my own experiences with listening, saying, reading, and discussing the N-Word. I have now read countless articles, watched a few hours of youtube clips, read responses and heated debates amongst my friends, and listened to some of my favorite musical artists.

Here is my conclusion for the N-Word, for now:

“I have decided to stop using any variation of the word nigger no matter the intent behind my use of the word” 2/13/2014 @ 12:58am…”

#Bonus “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianship

This entry is one of the most personal entries I ever wrote because it was a open letter reflection about my mother’s health and stepping-up to become my sister’s guardian.

“…Most of all, I appreciate you for reading this. The most common thing I am told, “if you need anything let me know.” But, the most common response I have, internally, is “well, what do I need?” Five dollar gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or a local grocery store would be extremely helpful. Continued request to hangout by my friends are very helpful. But, the most important request I have for anyone who is my family, friend, or just a reader, is a check-in. Call my up and see how I am doing. Send me a random letter. Send me a random facebook message of a funny story. Send me a random text. Send this blog to a mutual friend who you think should know about what I am going through…”

 

TRANSITIONS

Aside from launching my website, I am also going to start teaching at a new school this fall. My decision to leave my current school is a personal and professional choice.

Personally, I look forward to working at a school where I feel my work with be valued and I will be valued beyond the relationships I build with my students. As a Black male math teacher, with a masters from HGSE, and experienced, I deserve to be treated and viewed as valued. I have constantly received the message that “I’m special” because of what I have been able to achieve; rather what I haven’t done: having multiple ‘baby mamas’, a criminal record, back credit, living with my parents, and a history of drug use and or dealing. To have constantly received that message over and over for years, it’s no wonder I struggle with the contradiction of wanting to be treated as “special”, yet wanting my accomplishments to be viewed as ‘normal’ for Black people. Therefore there should be no need to be treated “special!”

can-of-worms1

Did I just open this up?

Professionally, I will now have the chance to collaborate with other colleagues who are teaching the same content, and have a math instruction coach. Having coaching in my content has been a challenge. The primary (honestly the only) support for instruction I received was in my classroom management. That is not a bad thing, but when feedback becomes nitpicky than it is time to seek deeper feedback and support. I have received quite a bit of this from being apart of the “Better Math Teaching Network”. However, when it comes to black male teachers, we are celebrated for the relationships we build with students and pushed into positions (Dean of Students, Coaches, Principals, Dean of Discipline, etc.) that are in the service of ‘managing’ students, not teaching them. This is reflected in the broader picture of public education (no matter charter or traditional). I do not want that to be my narrative, I want to be known for my craft in the classroom. This is why I am pursuing National Board Certification and having a Student Teacher in the near future.

This transition, along with a few others, will keep pushing me towards greatness and fulfilling my pursuit of happiness. I thank you for reading this entry (and any of my previous entries) and (hopefully) looking forward to witnessing my journey this fall.

Best and with appreciation,

Francis Patrick Pina

Happy-International-Thank-You-Day

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Job Title: Teacher

***Breathes in

***Breathes out

I’ve struggled to write about teaching. To write about what my job title means to me and how it is viewed by others. This is not going to be about ‘best practices’, the challenges of #teachingwhileblack (there are so many great articles about the research to identify the challenges), or education policy. This is going to be about politics.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Trump . . .”,

and I know what you’re seeing,

make-america-georgewashington-lol

Okay, maybe you were not seeing that, but I wanted to offer some levity because I am not talking about D.C. politics. I am talking about the politics around Charter Schools. Specifically (and narrowly) about how my job title of “Mathematics Teacher at a Public Charter School” creates ‘issues’ for recognition of respect and worth here in Massachusetts.

Now, I really know what you’re thinking, “So this is about the promotion of charter schools?!” That is a loud NO!

 

This is about the reinforcement of the ‘Public’ in Public Charter Schools.

This is about what I do being respected.

This is about the work of effective charter schools, being respected.

 

Now, if you think being a highly credentialed and awarded teacher from a charter school gives you the respect you deserve, just google my colleague ‘Sydney Chaffee’, then google ‘Sydney Chaffee Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA)’. In short, the largest teacher union in Massachusetts is publicly refusing to acknowledge Sydney Chaffee’s accomplishment of “National Teacher of the Year”.

Why, politics. (for more info, click the link above)

Sydney represents the first ever teacher from Massachusetts to win and be honored as the National Teacher of the Year. She also represents the first charter school teacher to ever hold that title.

Sydney also was not given the appropriate stage and opportunity at the White House, unlike her predecessors, to accept the award because our President treated the moment like a photo op:

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Why is he ‘front-and-center’ in all the images that show-up on google? POLITICS

But much like his Presidency thus far, it is bad politics. You would think they would allow Sydney to speak ‘loud-and-clear’ about her work as a public ‘charter’ school teacher given our Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ views (and lack of knowledge), but that can’t even do that right! I mean, read the transcript; it has gems such as:

“Who’s from Indiana?  Oh, wow, that’s fantastic.  We have our Vice President.  We have Karen Pence.  So thank you very much”

With the fan favorite,

“When you go home, I hope you all say that your trip to the White House was something very special.  I know Melania has been working with you now for quite a while.  She is a tremendous fan of wonderful teachers.  But she’s worked very hard and we’re having some special times here.”

And the sleeper-hit,

“So thank you all very much and God bless you all.  And you go back and keep teaching those students because, like I said — oh, look, and you’re crying —”

But, that is all a digression.

For myself, I have been conflicted with the ‘impressions’ and narratives of being a Public Charter School teacher. How some feel my impact and experience is not authentic and ‘bad’ for America because of the type of school I teach in. Those people are truly forgetting the “Public” part of my type of school setting.

And I am not exaggerating this, because this past November had another contentious issue in Massachusetts: Question 2. Question 2 was a ballot question about altering the Charter school cap in Massachusetts. This debate was so contentious, yet removed from the basis of facts. A problem that has been blown-up in our major didactic duopoly of political life: pro-life v abortion, Democrat v Republican, Science v Ignorance (okay I kinda put Climate Deniers in a bad light, but COME ON!)

What was funny about this issue to me was how City Councilor Tito Jackson was so against Question 2 in 2016, yet was in favor of City on a Hill Charter School opening a second location in Dudley in 2013. Why is that? Politics. Currently, Tito Jackson is making a bid for Mayor of Boston and a ‘good’ group of supporters to have in your back pocket are teacher unions. I can’t fault Tito for playing the game, I just wish he took a more ‘honest’ and informed decision against Question 2, and I don’t say this because I was a supporter, nah! I was against Question 2 as well, but for mathematically and safe guards for quality reasons. Not because ‘charters drain money from the traditional high schools’, which is a narrowly viewed notion.

FACT: The cost-per-pupil funding per child FOLLOWS that child whether they attend a traditional public school or a charter public school in Boston.

Why is that? Because Public Charter schools in Boston and Traditional Public Schools in Boston TEACH THE SAME KIDS!

Money is not the end-all-be-all for academic outcomes, research shows that effect teachers have a causal relationship with strong academic outcomes.

Which brings me back to what I mean be lack of respect, I teach at a school that is 98% students of color, Title 1, 14.8% ELL, 22% IEP, and 100% talented. This is not that uncommon for statically successfully public charters in Boston.

So, why is it that the MTA couldn’t recognize our own? Why can’t I find just one video online of a group of charter school teachers and non-charter school teachers talking about education?

Why is there such a divide in communication between ‘teachers’?

The ‘Rally for Public Education’ should’ve had a strong coalition of teachers from all over coming together to voice their opinions. Why has the teachers decided to stay ‘mum’ about this? I guess it is politics.

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As teachers of Boston we must resist the political pressures to stay ‘mum’ about issues that are in the best interests for our students, we must invest in each other by supporting, collaborating, and celebrating each other, and we must envision a district that is having open and factual conversations about spending, investment, fundraising, and teacher accountability.

Objective data collection, analysis, and reporting should determine what the ‘best strategies’ and ‘environments’ are for our students. If it take ‘flexibility’ to achieve that, for even a small portion, of our students, then let’s do that! I will not ‘poo-poo’ an entire system: be it Charters, Private, Traditional Public, homeschooling, etc. I will celebrate and try to replicate what works in my classroom and collaborate with others to try and provide the best for our students no matter their ‘school type’.

Like most issues coming to more direct light since last November, we need to have more open discourse to build understanding. I want to work in a city, my city, where all teachers are respected for their work and we can publicly celebrate each other.

As for me, I will put actions to my words and do the same.

Why?

POLITICS!

Nosa, it’s because it is the right thing to do. I do not fear potential political repercussions for this because my goal is to be the best teacher for our students.

If that is not the guiding force for decisions being made, then why be in education?

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My First March: Better Now than…

How would you end the title to this entry? Would you insert ‘never’? How about ‘later’? What are your thoughts on ‘yesterday’? I tossed those and other words around my mind, pushing myself to really reflect on what I was going to do this morning, and what I ended-up doing by this evening on Saturday, January 21st. I decided to join my fiance and many more people to march in the Women’s March in Boston. This was my first march.

I have been to two New England Patriots Superbowl parades, one Red Sox World Series parade, one Bruins Stanley Cup parade, one NCAA Hockey Championship parade for BU (in my Senior Year and there was cake), three Saint Patrick’s Day parades, and a few New Years First Night Parades in Boston.

I have not marched for “Black Lives Matter”, “Occupy Boston”, “Boston Pride”, “Peace Walk(s)”,  or any other march/protest that I do believe in. This was my first.

I don’t want to excuse my lack of physical activism by the fact that I am a teacher and poet. While those outlets are helpful and powerful in their own right. I haven’t put my feet where my facebook post is.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been impartial or silent in my beliefs or views. I just think I’ve made decisions to act in ways that are safe and not vulnerable. While I want today’s Women’s Marches (globally) to be safe, peaceful, and encouraging, I placed myself in a more vulnerable position then watching it on TV or via live-stream.

As I was getting dress I started to think, my first march was as an ally. I started to wonder how all those White people felt whose first march was along MLK Jr.? What of those White people who rallied with Abolitionist, not because it was the ‘hipster’ thing to do in their time, but because they believed in it? Any movement looking for success, needs allies for encouragement, support, resources, and to build a coalition that provides a stronger front.

I marched, not just to support equality and the rights of women, but to also help physically build that coalition. To meet any stares at my ‘pussyhat’ with smiles and confidence that progress can be made.

I also marched because…

 

 

No movement in this Nation, this Country, this idea has been successful solely due to Presidents; it was the boots on the ground, the door-to-door, the media shareout and blasts, and the marches, sit-ins and rallies that garnered the spirits of THE people.

I witnessed the raw power, diversity, and conviction of the American people who want progress, tolerance, and Civil Rights upheld for everyone today.

One sign I read stated: “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil – Adrienne M. Brown”.

Reread that quote again.

 

I marched and will continue to march and build coalition thru my actions because of that sign.

Besides, Mother Nature has always had a way of humbling humanity and revealing truths (Climate Change). And if birds are marching:

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WE ALL MUST MARCH!

 

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

When I was growing up there were a few things I developed a fear of: Flying, swings at playgrounds (that’s another story worth hearing about how irrational this fear still is), swimming, sleeping without something covering my feet thinking something will touch them at night, whippings and being kidnapped. I would have nightmares about these things happening to me. It was only as I got older that I started to overcome those fears; I’m learning to swim, I learned that the statistical probability of someone kidnapping a non-wealthy Black child is very low… like very, very low, and I haven’t ‘deserved’ a whipping since 5th grade.

However, those fears have been replaced by others like, not being able to pay my bills, having one of my students make-up a lie that gets me fired, and encountering an Officer at anytime that I might somehow decide to exercise my rights. I’ve kinda avoided writing about all that is going on because so many people are already doing that and being way more eloquent than I think I can be. However, I realized that no one can be as eloquent about my own fears as myself, and that my non-Black friends and family might want a perspective that is closer-to-home or coming from someone they may trust.

Let me not shy away from my experiences: including non-Black women clutching their purses or crossing the street while I was walking down Commonwealth Ave while attending Boston University, being followed in stores, and being disrespected by white customers while working at Rite-Aid (formally “Brooks”), as a Shift-Supervisor, by Fenway Park (a tear rolls down my cheek as it has since closed).

Let me not mince words: I’ve had interactions with people, whom I even come to love, who had assumptions about how I would or should act when I first met them; that I must be a “model” Black male since I have both a BS in Economics and Ed.M in Math Education. However, me being racially categorized as Black, doesn’t necessitate me “acting” culturally Black (to fulfill stereotypes YOU or others may hold). This is what makes my skin-tone so unique, that Black as a race has been defined to hold onto a culture! White Americans can walk down the street and I hold no, I mean none what-so-ever an expectation that they should fulfill a cultural archetype because I get that being “White” is only a racial identifier, and not an ethic classifier. I get this because the “Black” community is so diverse: Jamaican, Bajan, Haitian, Cape Verdean, Trinidadians, African-American, etc. YOU may even hold these same truths for people racially identified as “White” because their cultures reflect Italy, Ireland, German, Isreal (Jewish), and etc. decent.

Let me not lose focus. This is suppose to be my cathartic action of sharing what scares me being in America. I think my first glimpse into what my current fears are came in 1991 (I was a little over 4 years old) when I first overheard my father talking about Rodney King. It would be many years later that I would see the footage myself and think, wow, how did a high speed chase, with priors, turn into over 5 minutes of being beaten with batons after being tasered?

RULE#1: Don’t give an officer a reason to use force or arrest you: By instigating a high-speed case, driving drunk, running away from the cops, or getting-up when ask to stay down.

This would be my cardinal rule until I started making extensions following Henry Louis Gates in 2009.

RULE#1: “…”using disrespectful language or responding to disrespectful foul language with your own.

then another extension following Oscar Grant in 2009.

RULE#1: “…”or resist arrest while a cop is on your back and you’re face down.

another, Eric Garner in 2014.

RULE#1: “…”or debate a charge by police that you may have done something illegal that may lead to police not listening to your pleas of not being able to breath.

another, John Crawford in 2014.

RULE#1: “…”or pick-up an open BB gun in a convenience store and walk around on your phone because no one will ask you to put it down or ask if it is a toy (Tamir Rice), or hold a gun in an open-carry-state while being Black.

another after another, after most recently Charles Kinsey has me currently at this:

RULE#1: Don’t give an officer a reason to use force or arrest you by committing a crime, and if believed to have committed a crime remain silent, lay face down, put hands out, and argue for your rights and any dignity, if you’ve been wrongfully accused, at a later date.

My fear is being in the wrong place while living in our time. While this entry may seem to have a direct connection to supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement, that is not my goal. I simply (due to complex residuals from American History , red-lining, poverty, and my race) experience these news story differently.

Like how 9-11 feels differently to a New Yorker.

Like how the Boston Marathon Bombing feels differently to a Bostonian.

Like how Obama’s first election feels differently to a Black person.

Like how Obergefell v. Hodges supreme court ruling feels differently to the LGBTQ community.

I don’t share this to talk about politics, or to debate “shouldn’t all lives matter?”

Well, I guess I can say this: All lives matter when each and every American, on average, has equal opportunity to achieve and pursue their happiness. If we lived in THAT American, then the the racial breakdown of America would be proportionally represented in these average pursuits of happiness. That is just how math (statistics) works when all variables are controlled to allow fairness. This means, given the US Census (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/RHI125215/00) of 62% White (non-hispanic), 17% Hispanic or Latino, 6% Asian, 13% Black and/or African American, that those percentages should be what we see in racial breakdowns for College and University attendance rates, prison rates, elected government officials, police killings, and etc.

We don’t live in that America. So do the research, look-up those stats, then you will understand why the disproportionality of race and gender have given rise to social causes aiming for change. Aiming for fairness.

I currently walk the streets, to work, home, shopping, parks, T-Stops, Poke-Stops, mailboxes, and the like wondering could I live by my rule? Would I not speak my truth to my rights like Sandra Bland? Would I choose not to travel to cities that foster the KKK or Confederate Battle Flags (because I feel that differently too)? Would I need to become more familiar with my Miranda Rights than our Bill of Rights?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the topic of “institutional racism” and “prejudice” continues to be a hot-button, when we have yet to stand-up, sit-down, or in some physical position, discuss these matters from a problem-solving lens. I don’t need anyone to feel any type of “White Guilt”(look this term up if you are not hip). I don’t need reparations.

I need more processing time. I need to explore my fears. I need to think, read, and share more about this.

Perhaps it’s just a phase, or maybe it’s just the way we are conditioned in America. But at one time or another the average person is afraid of the dark.

Were you?

Are you?

AYAotD

Spring Closet Cleaning via Poem

DISCLAIMER: I did not write this free-verse poem to prompt immediate out-pouring of support or love via facebook comments, reposts, twitter likes, or anything like that. While I do greatly appreciate it, this free-verse, barely edited, written-right-now poem is a form of catharsis; it serve as an update and outpouring from my heart as to how I’m feeling right now.

Spring Closet Cleaning: Not Fair

This poem is not fair, but I guess if life isn’t fair, and really how can life be fair, then it makes sense that this poem is fair.

It is not fair that I will never be able to share how angry and frustrated I am at and with my mom, she is slightly doing better, she put on too much weight, has been moved to Boston, which makes those trips to her shorter, but that shorter distance has only equated to my shorter patience with her.

It is not fair that her decisions and actions brought on some type of dementia that put me in the position I was not ready for. I am not ready. How can any person be ready to be a parent?

It is not fair that my sister is carrying such a heavy burden that she is questioning herself, her existence, who she is, what she does, she is not doing so well right now, she has not been doing well right then.

If this was twitter I would type “mothers dementia + absentee family = sister’s depression #unbalancethisequation”

If this was a meme I would have a picture of a rabbit racing a turtle because we all want progress to be fast, but slow and steady wins the race, and no doctor, no pill, no PHD can physically get you to take each step towards the finish-line.

Mom, I am sorry that I can not see you as much as you want and that I sometimes use your short-term memory lose as my comforted excuse not to see you.

Sister, I am sorry that I get so frustrated and annoyed by consistently waiting for you, to go to school, to meet me somewhere, to get dress, to talk to me, to respond to me, to express what you want from me.

Self, I am sorry that you are struggling to be a parent who did not get the opportunity to perform mess-up-parenting for the prior 14 years before a 15 year old was placed in your care. You are so unaware of what tone, word, actions, supports, repeat, tone, word, actions, supports, repeat, tone, word, actions, supports are needed to raise a child in distress.

It is not fair that my closest friend is a co-worker who is leaving.

It is not fair that my closest friend is a co-worker instead of being someone whom I grew-up with in this city, this city of transplants who stay rooted in mobile flower beds, but my roots run deep.

It is not fair that instead of telling all this to my family face-to-face it has to happen upper-to-lower case.

It is not fair that you may need to read my previous blog entries to get the full story of why I might be writing this poem in the first place.

It is not fair that I haven’t told you when we were texting each other yesterday.

It is not fair that we are not checking-in with each other weekly.

How is your mom? Is you dad doing okay? Did you sibling figure out their life? Did you know such’a-such’a is getting married? Did you know such’a-such’a got divorced? Who had a kid!?… Did you stop cutting yourself? Is he no longer beating you? Are you still unemployed? I’m sorry for your lose.

It is not fair that I was the first to write all these words making you possibly feel guilty when you have just as much going on.

Fact is, the world is not fair, how could this world be fair, so of course this poem is not fair.

pour-ones-heart-out-

This Be (Poem)

This Be
This be an opportunity to speak freely,
To combine words and movement with sound
This be 3D
Punching circular fist into you mental sheet of paper like Braille,
If you can feel me then you can read me.
This be a break from the mainstream pollution,
A dilution of your problems,
This be a solution!
A focus on being humanistic, hell,
This be Confucian!
This be too big to fit,
So poets, I can’t go in!
When was the last time you jumped up and down,
Mixed your mental around and allowed your mind to bust?!
If you don’t release your mental pressures you will be left
concussed.
This be going down you green pipe dreams,
This ‘B’ is held down so you can run faster, stomping goombas,
Trying to make it to Star Road.
This be untold, like using the skeletons in your closets as hangers
Hoping nobody sees them.
If you need courage, then
This be Freedom.
A three minute blitz with no glitz or glam
This be “Dayum! Did you hear that shit?”
This be not for quitters,
If you bat left then speak right,
This be for switch hitters!
This be the bottom of the ninth,
Two men on,
Packing heat like Lara Croft,
This be a swing of a vernacular bat, “knock” a Walk-Off!
This be first class thoughts flying coach.
It’s uncomfortable to initiate a topic most don’t want broached.
Like, “Nigger”.
This word triggers my double consciousness.
This be counting on some to count me out,
So when I make it, there is no doubting this!
Raising a black fist clutching my master’s degree.
This be a struggle, the process of paying your dues,
This be an expired subscription worth a renew,
The chance to make the Red, White, and Blue,
Safer for the L.G.B.T.Q.,
Safer for the me and you.
Safer… because some statements don’t come with
air bags.
This be a free verse Ferrari with the missing roof,
A vehicle for the youth to speak their truth.
Mr. President.
This be a pre-emptive strike and an exit-strategy,
This be that catharsis when things are going badly
The space needed to recharge your battery
This be my appreciation for you listening to me,
This be, Poetry.

Dreams from my Mother: One Year Later

Next week will mark one year since I’ve lost my mother. My mother is not dead, but it is the type of lose that accompanies an individual who suffers from dementia. My background as an educator pushes me to look at my mother’s dementia (specifically Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) from a strengths-based position; as a set of circumstances that causes her to interact and learn differently from others. But even with that, it is not easy. As I reflect on the last year of my life, I’ve learned so much about my strengths, limitations, goals, and needs. I write this blog entry without fear and from an open heart. I share with you the three most important lessons I have learned over the last year, and three personal goals I have for the next year.

 

The Three Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned

(1) I AM STRONG

selfappreciation

I must take a special strong type of someone to be a loving boyfriend, loving son, loving brother, loving parent, loving teacher, loving friend, loving colleague, and a loving learner while facing uncharted territory that no average 28-year-old would even be prepared for. Being a parent is a tough and evolving responsibility, especially when you match that with being the care-taker of one of your parents. On the night of my 10-year highschool reunion, a good friend of mine said, “Not to get all religious and stuff, but bro, the lord only gives you what you can handle.” That sentiment was later echoed by one of my mentor’s when she told me, “If you were given it, then you must have been able to take it.” So when I look back at my successes: planned my 10-year highschool reunion, restarted and relaunched the Alumni Association for that highschool, earned my teaching SEI Retell Endorsement for Massachusetts, co-coached my job’s Slam Poetry team to a State Championship, supported my girlfriend and sister with love, encouragement, tears, laughs, hugs, and so much more, I realize how strong I am. I did not learn of nor gained my strength by-myself; it took love, support, and listening ears to get me there. I don’t intend to stroke my ego with what I have stated, rather I am trying to connect to the second most important lesson I have learned. I need to love myself.

(2) I NEED TO LOVE MYSELF

I have beaten myself up a lot over the last year. When my mother first got sick I jumped right-into ‘logistical-management-mode’. I spent so much time balancing obligations and time-sensitive tasks that I forgot to equally, if not more, balance socio-emotional obligations. It wasn’t until the beginning of summer that I started to authentically reflect on my lack of socio-emotional supports for my sister, my mother, my girlfriend, my father, and most importantly myself. Whenever you board a plane and you’re about to take-off, the flight attendant instructs you that in the case of an emergency, that you place the air mask on yourself before helping others. In my case, I placed the air mask on only cover my nose and that did not allow me to take the deep-breaths needed to relax. I reached my emotional breaking-point on a few occasions and I still have the scars from beating myself up afterwards. It is only now that I am using those same hands to apply ointment to those scars. By loving myself, I can forgive myself, and by forgiving myself, I can help myself. Now my air mask covers my full face. I’ve been breathing deeply the last couple of weeks.

(3) MY TRUE FAMILY IS WHAT I MAKE IT TO BE

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My family has always been small: my mother, my sister, my father, and a cat. Due to the age difference between my sister and myself, I haven’t had the chance to develop a strong brother-to-sister relationship. My sister was born when I started highschool, my sister was entering kindergarten when I started undergrad at Boston University, and by the time my sister was entering 7th grade I began my master’s program at Harvard Graduate School of Education. There was no middle (buffer) child, and my family (both mother and father’s side) did not get involved (unless they wanted something). As for my sister’s father (we have different fathers because my parents divorced when I was 7) and his family, they also did not get involved. So how was I suppose to feel when my sister’s father didn’t ‘step-up’ when my mother was hospitalized? How was I suppose to feel when my grandmother (my lone-living grandparent) decides to visit for nearly two months and refuses to see my sister, myself, and her own daughter during the Christmas and New Years? How was I suppose to feel when no family member reached-out to invite my sister and I over for Thanksgiving? If my family was already small, it became that much smaller when my mother was removed.

I came across this quote, “Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family,” and only now can I grasp the weight of what it means. For a few years I reflected on the natural process of becoming an adult and beginning to know and understand family members as ‘people’ and not titles. I’ve only began to understand and truly appreciate the man my father is through our discussions man-to-man. Discussions that are not limited by topic or content. Discussions that have helped my father and I build a bond deeper than father and son, a bond of friendship. Friendship is the bond that I have come to value to the most in my life. My girlfriend and I have a relationship built from friendship. When you call someone your friend, you do so by choosing that relationship, by trusting that relationship, and by maintaining that relationship. That effort, trust, and hopeful reciprocity, is not always present in a blood-family. This same phenomenon is experienced when an individual breaks away from their family’s ‘history.’ Think of ‘first-generationers’: those who first break the poverty cycle in their family, those first to marry outside their race, those first to marry someone of the same sex, those who first enter college, those who first move away from their home state, and those who first break-away from the ‘family-business’. It is possible to grow-away from your family, and to maintain the relationship, one must find value in it. Just like some friendships I have had, their are no relatives that I do not find value in maintaining a relationship with. That previous statement not only weights on me, but it places me in a vulnerable position.

This lesson has given me the insight to value and put the effort forward to maintain and develop friendships that I can then call a ‘family-relation.’ A few years ago a close friend of mine from B.U. and I got into an argument. We both allowed it to escalate and let our ego’s get the best of us. We would go beyond just losing a friendship, but we would lost a brotherhood; a brotherhood that is ever more important given the current situation in America when it comes to Black Lives. We have since started repairing our friendship and are on mends. I did not ever think it would be possible for us to reconcile our differences. It has been such a relief and fruitful for both of us to have each other in our lives. When I think about the future for my girlfriend and myself, I look forward to making my small family a bit larger.

My Three Personal Goals for the Next (school) Year

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Although I only shared three lessons in this blog-entry, I have learned many lessons this last year. It is through my collective lessons that I present these three personal goals I have for the next school year. These goals are not only attainable, but they are also fulfilling and scratch an inch I’ve had for some time.

(1) BE A MENTOR

I’ve wanted to be a mentor for quite some time. It goes back to my time working a Year Up when I was tasked with matching my students with mentors. Ever since I left Year Up I wanted to become a mentor for a Year Up student, but my schedule and profession made that a difficult venture. I have two mentors and call both of them my friend. I appreciate them for their guidance, support, love, listening-ear, and friendship.

One professional goal of mine is to support, mentor, and nurture new teachers. I have a more years of teaching and experience to go before I feel like I can do that adequately. However, I have enough experience to mentor a highschooler. This brings me to how I will become a mentor. I’m working with the John D. O’Bryant Boston Technical Alumni Association to establish a mentoring program that will connect alumni with current highschoolers. Through this effort, I will soon have my mentee.

(2) WRITE MORE POETRY

Poetry is life! I found my most effective and honest mode of expression when I became a spoken-word artist. Since my time at B.U., I have self-published two chapbooks, performed for many many crowds and venues, and attended many spoken-word and slam poetry events. I’ve been planning on releasing a third chapbook for the last four years and have not delivered. I have written some poems, now I haven’t exactly completed each one, but I do have material to work with. I’ve read and edited more poems for my friends and students over the last two and a half years than writing my own poems. While that is not entirely a bad thing, I want to deliver on my goal of producing my third chapbook. More importantly, I want to continue to express myself in the most powerful way I know, poetically. These blogs have been my replacement from writing poems, but my artistic edge is not expressed in these blogs.

Expect your copy to be available by Christmas, on a sliding monetary scale of $0 to $5.

(3) BE ACTIVE ABOUT WHO AND WHAT I LOVE

My third goal loops back into the first two [did you just see what I did]. Over this last year I put forth the effort to reconnect with a friend and I got myself a bike. I’ve come to the realization that my actions must reflect what I need, want, and/or love to do. It’s not about making decision solely based on being right, wrong, or wronged, it’s about being genuine to my heart and what I need, want, and/or love to do.

What entices me the most about this goal is how adaptable it is. I enjoy playing tennis, so I will try to play more. I enjoy bike riding, so I will ride my new bike longer and further than ever before. I love to travel with people I love, so I will plan to do so. One short coming of this goal is the lack of accountability. Perhaps this is where you come in. YEAH, YOU THE READER! You can hold me accountable by commenting on this entry, asking me if I have achieved my goals.

As I enter the next year of my life, I hope that my next entries are more of the ‘poetic’ nature. I don’t see a way to wrap a bow on this blog entry. The truth is, I don’t want to. What I am going through is a process; of understanding, of healing, of progression. My mother’s dream for me was to be healthy and happy with what I do in life. It is hard to accept that my mother will not be the same, but I try to remind myself of the mom I had. The friendship I’ve built and continue to build with my dad will not happen to the safe effect with my mom. However, her dreams for myself and my sister will carry on.

So, until my next entry and/or adventure with you…

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Credit Appreciation

One of the hardest things to deal with professionally, is feeling that your work and worth is not being recognized by your supervisors and/or the ‘higher-up’s’ at your workplace. Over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling as if my work and worth was unrecognized and unappreciated. So I was upset, surly, and slightly resentful of working at a school where student issues that may impede learning was understood, but issues a teacher may face that impedes their teaching were over-look.unappreciated

During a moment of being surly and texting a few of my co-workers, one colleague bestowed some wisdom and appreciation that made me reflect on the why and how I was feeling. Through my reflection I realized that I was looking for something from someone who could not give me what I wanted. I wanted my supervisors and Principal to recognize my achievement of making-it through this past school year given the context of my personal dilemmas (See my blog entries “Three States of a Personal Matter” and “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianshiphood“). However, I could not expect the ‘depth’ of appreciation that I wanted from them if they did not have the context of how challenging this year was for me. Furthermore, I was getting appreciation and love from the people who, not only matter to me the most, but also knew what was happening in my life. Perhaps I was being unappreciative of the appreciation I was getting?

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Teaching can be a thankless job. A job in which you will give more checks, then you’ll ever receive. A job in which you will make non-believers believe in themselves. A job in which discounts a few and are skewed towards purchases only for the classroom (Aside from Chipotle’s free burrito or BOGO deal during ‘Teacher Appreciation Week’). While I has shown appreciation to my colleagues and vice versa from time-to-time, it different to get that appreciation from people outside of the school building. So after having the school year that I did, I desired more displays of appreciation to match the grit, perseverance, hope, and consistency that I gave.

Could you blame me? I do think so. Could you expect better from me? I would hope so. While my sister has poor communication skills of her appreciation, so many close friends, few family members, and my girlfriend have given me so much support, love, and appreciation. In fact, YOU have too! Just by reading my blog YOU have supported me and helped me feel validated in my feelings. YOU have let me know that I am not alone and typing to no-one. Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

Sorry about that terrible joke.

On this 4th of July Weekend, I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to keep myself growing. I can thank YOU for that; the collective YOU of readers, bloggers, close friends, family, and my Love. So please enjoy this 4th safely and reflect of all that has been done to get you to where you are now. Not just the American Revolution, but your family’s revolution, your personal revolution, the events that make it possible for us to stand where we currently are. America has a long road to travel on, and I just want to thank you as I too participate in being the change we want to see in this world.

Happy-International-Thank-You-Day

The Three States of a Personal Matter

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It’s been over 9 months since my mother suffered from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome… since I began the legal task of becoming her Guardian, since I began the legal task of becoming my sister’s Guardian, since splitting my time between two apartments, since embarking on another challenge that my Love and I must face.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, reflection, and writing about what has been on my mind over the last 9 months. Reading books like “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, have helped me reflect and brought me to realize that this process has been like giving birth, but I don’t know what coming to a full-term means in my context. Perhaps this post is my baby?! In my previous post about my mother I shared my “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianshiphood”, and this post is an extension of that. This post is my three states of a personal matter.

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SOLID

In order to build a house you need a proper foundation, a solid foundation. So if I plan to build a new house for my life, I would need to accept the solid aspects of my life. Real aspects such as my mother not being able to retain new memories and my sister living under my roof for at least 3 more years. My relationship with my Love has faced many challenges: long-distance via graduate school, long-distance via Vietnam, and now short-distance due to time and living arrangements. While I can’t clarify the short-term, I can clarify the long-term of one day making a family with my Love. This has to be the most solid ground I accept because it keeps me grounded. Not to say that is more important than any other solids in my life, but it is the most cherished.

I love my little sister, but 14 years of an age difference and living together a total of 5 years (2 of which she can recall) has its impact. My relationship with my sister has been one of growth. We have been able to get to know each other over the last 9 months more than the last 9 years. The most solid ground I accept about my sister is that we will have a push and pull relationship as I get to know her, not just as her brother, but also as her Guardian.

Other solids that I must accept in my life have been what has demanded my time:

-Taking an Sheltered English Immersion course for 12 weeks, for 3 hours per session, with 6 strategy implementation assignments, 2 professional network meetings and reflections, weekly Blackboard postings, a major Capstone lesson plan, and a written reflections

AND

-Teaching an MCAS Math Course with Upward Bound once a week for seven weeks

AND

-Teaching “full-time” at my job while wearing the many hats that come along with teaching at a high-caliber charter high school.

AND

-Planning my high school 10 year reunion and helping to mange the Alumni Association

AND

-Spending quality group, solo, and partner time with friends, family, and friends.

GAS

In order for a balloon to stay afloat, the gas must fill the entire volume of the balloon. So, if I planned to stay afloat I would need to stretch; pushing my boundaries to stay afloat. I’m not just trying to be metaphorical, I’m trying to be scientific! Just look at the ‘Ideal Gas Law’:

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The amount of pressure and growth I can take equals the amount of events in my life and my temperament (temperature) during those challenges. If there is one thing that is constant about all of our lives, it that change is inevitable. Perhaps my connection to the ‘Ideal Gas Law’ is a bit of a stretch (see what I did there),  but what I’m getting at it that I have been feeling a lot of pressure the last 9 months: pressure to support my sister and her transition to high school, pressure to support my sister academically, pressure to make sure my sister is healthy emotionally and physically (like getting her new insurance for a dentist visit, physical, and new eye glasses post an eye exam), pressure to ask for help, pressure to not need help, and pressure to just graze my ‘bursting’ point, because ‘bursting’ is not helpful for my Love, sister, family, friends nor my students. I am not trying to disregard the pressures my sister, Love, my mother, or my father feels, because I know each of them have their own and feel some of the same pressures I do.

The amount of pressure I feel increase my volume and reflects my room to grow. I grow equally by the number of events that require me to do so and as long as I maintain a temperament that augments those events. If I make decisions while I’m mad, I tend to be erratic in my behaviors. If I make decisions when I’m calm, I tend to be more comforting in my behavior. To achieve this calmness so I can take the pressure and grow from it, I must “Be Like Water.” -Bruce Lee

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LIQUID

In order to reap a good harvest, the water must flow. This has been the most natural state for me. As I entered the unfamiliar territory of insurance applications, medical papers, court papers and dates, social security, long-term care plans, and Guardianshiphood, I had to constantly go with the flow. As I entered brokering responsibility with my sister’s father, understanding the lack of support from my mother’s side of the family, I had to candidly go with the flow. As I worked tirelessly, meet all my deadlines, maintain a high degree of functionality for my job and non-profit work, I had to consistently go with the flow.

Being in a liquid state means I must be able to adjust to any restrictions. I must shift between solid, liquid and gas. I also must strive to be all three states at once. I must strive to reach my own ‘Avatar State.’

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AVATAR STATE OF MIND

In the animated series Avatar, the ‘Avatar State,’ is “a defense mechanism, designed to empower you with the skills and knowledge of all past Avatars.” (Avatar Roku) For me, being in ‘Avatar State’ is being my most compassionate, calm, and courageous self. It is critically thinking about the solid states of my life, responding well to the gas states in my life, and being flexible in a constant liquid state. When I really think about it, are we are all in a constant liquid state. Given the fact that our bodies are more than 60% water means we are all capable of achieving ‘Avatar State.’

I guess in order to do so, we must be tested in ways that stretch our perceptions of our strengths and limitations.

The Case for CommonCore and PARCC via a Boston Teacher’s Lens

//If you’re only interested in my ‘sparknotes’ position on CommonCore and PARCC, scroll to the bottom//

Let me get the ‘divisive’ statements out the way.

1) I support CommonCore

2) I support the PARCC exam

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Now, let me get the ‘unifying’ statements out the way

1) The implementation of CommonCore and PARCC has not only been messy, but it should be re-access how the decisions to implement them were made.

2) The PARCC should not be a graduation requirement for high schoolers in Massachusetts.

Why do I support CommonCore?

Simply because I support having a common set of academic content-related standards to which teachers across our nation should be aiming to teach our children. Our nations educational system is diverse and represents the virtues of our democracy. Public schools, Pilot Schools, Private Schools, Boarding Schools, Exam Schools, Charter Schools, K-5, K-8, K-12, 8-12, middle schools, high schools, and more types of schools make up the options available to educate our kids.

With so many options, the questions of which is the best is hard to answer. Especially since the proper question is, which is the best for my child? Educators, politicians, policy-makers, family members, and friends all play a role in helping a parent or guardian answer that important question.

Resources and availability drive that debate, but in the case of CommonCore, we must focus on the goal, the purpose, the virtue of K-12 education. So, what is the purpose of K-12 education? What skills do we want students to develop? Do we want a child from Seattle, WA, a child from DeKalb, IL, a child from Portland, ME, and a child from Ferguson, M. to have the same options after crossing the stage at their high school graduation?

If we do, then we must start thinking about a common set of standards to hold all K-12 schooling options accountable. This is what I think the CommonCore allows us to begin doing. I do agree with the sentiment that the ‘content’ of the CommonCore should be debated, because we have yet to come-up with an answer as to the purpose of K-12 schooling.

I purpose that the purpose of K-12 schooling is to develop an American society in which each citizen is prepared to enter a post-secondary educational institution, a career program (including the Armed Forces), or pursue a volunteering opportunity within a community.

It is with that purpose that academic content, social-emotional content, and moral content should be written; in a manner that provides breath from within the depth. However, that was not how the CommonCore standards were developed.

Why do I support PARCC?

I support the PARCC test because it is an assessment that is designed to measure the attainment of applying the understanding of the CommonCore. At the moment, Massachusetts has a high-stakes (an assessment in which a child must pass to graduate high school) assessment called the MCAS. It is administered to students multiple times through-out their K-12 schooling, but it is a graduation requirement to pass it in 10th grade. At the moment, students need to pass only two content domains: English Language Arts and Mathematics. The disconnect between MCAS and the CommonCore is that the MCAS does not connect to the CommonCore standards.

As the CommonCore continues to be adapted by states and schools, it makes sense to have a metric to assess the implementation of the test! Currently, the MCAS does not do this and it does not look like the designers of the MCAS are planning to.

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Why has the implementation of CommonCore been messy?

It should be messy! The very nature of implementing a common set of standards across grades with the diversity of our education system is what makes this process messy.

So, instead of explaining the mess, I want to present the end goal and work backwards; a la ‘backwards planning’.

The goal is to eventually have all high school graduates, who have been through and education experience from kindergarten to 12th grade,  learn and demonstrate understanding of the CommonCore standards. Those high schools, using my take on the understanding of K-12 schooling, would be college, career, or volunteer ready as assessed by a set of assessments that are derived from academic, social-emotional, and moral content.

How do we get to this end goal?

1) DEBATE THE COMMONCORE CONTENT ITSELF

2) IMPLEMENT IT ACROSS OUR NATION TO ENSURE EQUITABLE OUTCOMES FROM ALL OUR LEARNERS

3) HOLD SCHOOLS AND DISTRICTS ACCOUNTABLE WITH ADEQUATE SUPPORTS

4) DEVELOP TEACHER BUY-IN AND ESTABLISH A COMMONSET OF TEACHER DEVELOPMENT PRACTICES TO ENSURE WE HAVE THE BEST TEACHERS IN THE CLASSROOM

None of this is easy nor are the outcomes immediate. We have to fulfill steps 1 and 2 because the debate has not included voices from all respective schooling options. Even if we had achieved that, we would not see holistic measurable outcomes until we had high school graduates who were taught through the CommonCore from kindergarten to 12th grade. Until then, we will experience 8th graders entering high school with various gaps in their education because supports, standards, accountability, time, expectations, and/or resources were not in place.

It is those factors, that garner a whole separate debate, but if we can have legal systems and supports in place for our English Language Learners, our students with Individualized Educational Plans, and our students with 504 plans, that we can and need to establish a set of expectations and standard to which we aim for.

Whenever we establish this ‘holistic’ CommonCore, we must not place the responsibility on the students, but on our schools. I do not support high-stakes testing because it does not present a clear indicator of future success in college, career, or volunteerism. Having an assessment be a graduation requirement to ensure that an individual student puts forth their best effort, is not a good reason. That responsibility falls on the schools to frame any assessment to be taken seriously and that effort is a reflection of a student’s integrity and abilities.

I think the reason we will have students’ continue to guess, rush, give-up, and/or not take a test seriously is due to our educational system not building character in our schools; students who are socially-emotional strong, students who buy-in to the purpose of their education, students who respect their teachers and what is asked of them.

It may seem a tall-task to develop students of the nature, but there are many schools who are building some of these characteristics in their students. When we, as an American society, engage in discourse that embraces diversity and has a common goal(s) in mind, we can achieve anything.

As an educator my passion and drive comes from my students: their hopes, aspirations, creativity, questions, rawness, leadership, knowledge, and bravery.

I hope to be part of the discussion that brings forth a day that all schools have a set of expectations that prepares students for college, careers, and/or volunteerism.

WHAT ARE MY FINAL THOUGHTS?

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I guess I do not support CommonCore as a whole, but I support the spirit of the CommonCore. It is this spirit that needs to be discussed and rallied upon. All the different educators from their respective types of schooling options for children, the policy-makers, and the politicians must grab a seat at the round table and answer the question: What is the purpose of our K-12 educational system? I have attempted to answer that very question and I will continue to learn the answer to this question.

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Why are there so many teachers against the CommonCore? Because they do not believe in or know the purpose of the CommonCore. Too many teachers are not only ignorant of the spirit behind CommonCore, but they are not trained or supported to adapt it.

What is the biggest knock against PARCC? The fact that it is a computer-based assessment and there are plenty of schools in Massachusetts that do not have the resources to implement PARCC. Schools need laptops, bandwidth, and proctor training to use the technology that is being used to implement PARCC. Money must be ear-marked to make sure schools have those issues address to even implement a test.

So, are politics a driver for you? You support YOUR teacher union? You a charter school acolyte?

My political learnings are not driving me in my thoughts concerning CommonCore. My only concern with any teacher’s union is the protection some teachers are getting who do not deserve the protection. If the approach is all protected or none protected, then my stance is all accountable (including myself) or none accountable. I do not support that one type of school is better than another because it is not about the schools, it is about the proper choice that provides the best educational experience for the child. Where I work may not be the best educational experience for all students, the same way that not all private or boarding schools may not be the best educational experience for all students. Parents and children should have options that are viable and not driven by a lack or resources, nor proficient teachers, but by which school culture would be the best educational experience for that child.

Aside from sports teams, schools should not be divisive. So can the adults(teachers) in their respective spaces stop ‘choosing-sides’ and simply keep the children’s’ best interests in mind?