Under-expected Achievement – One year Teaching K-12, and Counting!

Thankful for my social media network, my anniversary teaching K-12 in my public school district would have passed me by! Without my social network, I would most likely have made no fussy attention to my anniversary. After all, I have worked in other places without ever being vigilant or celebrated an anniversary.

Thankfully, my LinkedIn network sent me congratulatory messages. Initially, I assumed the congrats were for my seven-year and counting, crippling social philanthropy. Not until I logged into my LinkedIn profile, and realized that March 2015 is when I started working.

Even after finding out the cause of the hullaballoo about my anniversary from among my social network, I did not get too excited; I wonder why? Well, “It is just teaching,” I said to myself.

“Plus, it is not a job I set out going to school for. Nor does it pay me any living wage to excite me,” my next thoughts.

But congrats messages continued trickling in, prompting me to reflect on this achievement. Perhaps the fact that other people are celebrating me more than I was, should have signaled to me, why I should treasure this achievement? After all, I am enjoying teaching K-12! True, I never set out to be a K-12 teacher, do not have an Education degree or full teaching license.

I am a Substitute Teacher [not yet permanently] employed with the public school system. I am one of the many teachers, recruited to fill-in, per need, for any homeroom teacher, or academic/professional school activity. I am one of the many convenient hires, increasingly a feature of the public school system, as in many other employment establishments, when the government does not want to offer a living wage to all its employability people. Like corporates, government is now seeking cheap available labor to do its difficult, dirty and dangerous jobs, without much financial responsibility or optimal workers welfare/compensation/protection.

That teaching is a difficult job is indisputable. It is also technically dirty and dangerous; those whom the teacher tries to protect might get one dirty. Indeed, working with children is not for the faint-hearted; they are as adorable as they are challenging. I often say, a teacher carries the entire world on his/her shoulders —of students, their parents, school administration, school supervisors, lawmakers, school budget dispensers, and the entire public, all invested in school output, more than input.

I confess that I had under-expected my achievement teaching K-12. Indeed, it is a big feat! This, from a girl who had sworn never to teach “little kids,” preferring instead, to stick to college and graduate-level students, “more mature and manageable,” or so I had convinced myself. Venturing into teaching K-12 was a path of transition back into the world of work, and because of my changed resume, which now primarily reads, “A Mother.”

I decided to venture into teaching K-12, to gain a deeper practical insight into the school curriculum and school system at the lower levels/early stages of formal education. Particularly because I did not obtain my earlier education in here in the United States, my new country of belonging. The educator in me is always curious about systems of learning I am not familiar with. I would like to be a great help to my child, an elementary schooler, as well as my new-found love for working with children, especially since becoming a parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not new to teaching young learners. As one of the last-born children in my family, I grew up with plenty of nieces and nephews, whom I played with, helped take care of, and equipped them with the “Children’s experience.” I enjoy hanging out with children, keeping them occupied, learning through giggling.

I enjoy the innocence of kids. I enjoy learning through them. I enjoy utilizing the lessons I learn from my child into my classrooms. Yes, Minecraft is an acceptable citation, when explaining logical, technical activities, or very brevity and resilience like the “Enderman.” So, are Dinosaurs perfect for illustrating how old one’s grandparent might be. And when you need to encourage young learners to “try something it might tastes or turn out good,” or that, “when you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything,” Daniel Tiger is a perfect to quote.

So, to all those, like me, who venture into teaching, go out there, and courageously engage with young learners. They have so much to teach us, about ourselves, about our abilities, and about our own parenting. I am so glad that, I also get a chance to teach in Special Needs classrooms, engaging with autistic children, emotional support, gifted, learning, and reading support, life skills, partial hospitalization, and early intervention. I am grateful for the opportunity and a challenge, that came to me as an under-expected achievement!

Aluta Continua!

This and That of 2014

Facebook shared its review of my year 2014, though I did not endorse it. Nothing against FB’s compilation about me. In fact, it 2014 in a Wrapcaptured plenty of blissful moments I had throughout the year, filled with celebrations, travels and social living, fitness, community engagement and giving-back.
A little flashback! We celebrated my birthday in the Spring, and my son’s birthday in the Summer; traveled to visit Atlanta family in April; visited Philly-based friends in May; and more friends in Pittsburg in November. We enjoyed the child’s extracurricular achievements: obtaining a yellow belt in Tae-Kwon-Do; a Bobcat badge in Cub Scout; his name plastered on the “Wall of Fame” in the Summer Reading Program at our local library, and multiple Certificates of Appreciation collected from reading to Therapy dogs in our library ‘Paws ’n Pages’ programs. Don’t forget ‘Trick-or-Treat’ on Halloween, first pumpkin carving before Thanksgiving, playing at the park, riding his bike, playdates with the neighbors and plenty of experimenting with baking and other cooking. this might all sound like it was “all about the child”, but I had my fun too,  keeping well and fit, rolling on the hills of Mount Pocono, and “Run[ning] and getting Dye[d]”. Plenty of “firsts” recorded, since re-sailing ashore, including settling in suburbia America for the first time. So, it was a good year!
Well then, why did I not endorse “Facebook ‘glitz n glamorous’ review of my YR2014? Perhaps because I have another version of my year, blasted in one word ‘Displacement’! I started off the year with a lot of positive vibes, umph and soccer mom power, resolving to keep it rolling positive all-year round. Too bad resolutions are not meant to last 265 days [or are they?]! The Year 2014, rolled out a tougher, more challenging and less appealing side of itself, testing me several times to keep it real resolution-like. Not know to “conform to the norm” [oops! Did I just confess that I kind of break and make the rules, sometimes 😏], I kind of reshuffled my resolution, inadvertently, and picked up a couple new preoccupations for the year 2014. Makes me wonder, if I should totally give up on resolutions….!
Because…
My emotions, my joys, my confidence, my umph, stability all got ‘jerked up’. My optimism, my security, my sense of self and hope, fell victim too! True, I had some semblance of support system ‘dans temps en temps’, and here and there, but a larger part of what I know of myself and what I have cultivated of myself became displaced. I regard myself to be a strong independent savvy and creative person. I can sell every part of myself [decently] for the greater good of family, community and self. I give and trust openly, and fight for what it right, just, fair and worthy. As a young college Sophomore, I was already visiting supermax prisons facilities, interviewing inmates deemed the most dangerous persons, petitioning government criminal justice institutions for human rights violations, and mobilizing legal aid and human right entities to provide pro bono legal representation for indigents. All that, pursued and accomplished without much of a clout of contact cards or diploma papers, but the zeal and thirst to just do it! See what I am saying: Been there, done that! I am tougher than deer meat!
Yet, 2014 flustered me into many moments of self-doubt and self-criticisms, causing me to cow into myself! Though, when you have an extra mouth to feed, you do not have the luxury to dissolve completely. You cannot let go, no matter what you do. Instead, you listen to Aaliyah…“Dust Yourself Off and Try Again…” You need to succeed, and you need to chase success hard and faster than the wind, with all the aggression and persistence, because there are plenty more chasing before and after you.
How have I done that? Find the things that bring a smile to your face and brain, adopt them up or keep doing and reigning them. In my case, I go out running miles to stay sane mentally and emotionally. My favorite runs are in the rain, although that seems to have claimed my delicate mobile phone, causing me to ‘need’ a new one before end 2014. Whenever I go out, I wear a strong happy face because the world does not need to interface with your suffering; it is loaded with plenty of its own!  While out dropping and picking up child from the school bus stop, I spend a minute or more, chatting with the moms to share about us and catch up on ’the village gossip”. I scout for and get involved in social engagements to meet new people, projects and places. I signed up child for Tae-Kwon-Do and Cub Scout, to grow our social/community circles where we live, in the middle of everywhere! Together, we participated in Cub Scout “Go-See-It, at the environment centers, Veteran’s Day commemorations, visited a Radio station, the Volunteer Fire Department, toured the library, and the summer street fair. Plenty more of course, at different seasons throughout the year. Of course, I read, read and read, as I write, write and write. That helps put me ‘onboard’ to share my reflections and my passions.
Among my greatest passions is to aggressively defend the “Wholeness of the Human Spirit, beyond the color-line”, and our “Common Blackness in Diversity”. Toward the end of 2014, I spent a large chunk of me, highlighting the human worth, human dignity, and uniformity of Black people. Ironically, even among descendants from a black heritage, are many preoccupied with highlighting and advocating differences than sameness of Black Folks! Still, I am passionately committed to defending the peremptory norm of the “Right to Be”, “to Self-Determine”, “to Self-Define”, as a right for all, and the indisputable danger of a single story. More so, to forge, afford and guarantee a decent living for us all!
May 2015 be the year of new tears of happiness, slim body and fat bank accounts, ripe investments, hope to reality, thriving family, and smashed records! And if it maybe displacement, again, may displacement be in a comfortable open, free and and happy place of belonging and proprietorship!
Happy 2015, Y’all!

When “Study Hard and You will Do Good is not enough, and Why the Need for Role Models

illustration source: NYT, "A Formula for Happiness”,   December 14, 2013 (Arthur C. Brooks)

illustration source: NYT, “A Formula for Happiness”, December 14, 2013 (Arthur C. Brooks)

Very often we hear these ‘words of the wise’: “Study hard and you will do good in life.”

But is it just cliché? After all, not all of us turn out the way we expect or proportional to the zeal and enthusiasm we put into our education. We have heard stories of the most intelligent and highly achieving academics turning to self-destruction, sometimes with fatal ending.

My father’s brother, a man with high intelligence and academic standing, received scholarships to the most prestigious world universities, earning a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Upon return to Uganda, he failed to ‘find himself’ amidst friends he left behind. Plenty with less of the education him were doing extremely well in life, with thriving families and children. Meanwhile, the wife he left behind had married another man, whom she brought into their marital home, forcing my uncle to find a one-bedroom rental somewhere in the city. With a failed marriage, and social reintegration, his sorrows sent him into alcohol to seek consolation when he was not teaching. Moreover, he often showed up to teach drunk, until that fateful day when he was fatally hit by a speeding motorist while crossing the road drunk. Similar story about my friend’s dad! Highly education, as well, with degrees from prestigious western universities, but he too succumbed to HIV/AIDS, after miserably failing to reintegrate, a broken heart and womanizing.

Yet the most high-profile case is one about our 44th President’s father. Educated at the University of Hawaii via a prestigious African American Scholarship to very promising and outstanding students from his country, and at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He later return to his Kenya and worked as a senior government economist. But frustration with his country’s national politics and drinking destroyed his professional career, driving him into a motor accidents that later claimed his life.

So, how long can we keep telling our children and learners that studying hard will yield bright futures for them? Is the glass half full, with some unfinished business that we need to add to the conversation? How well do we know the intrinsic struggles of our highly intelligent and academic superachiever personalities do we know? I suggest that perhaps, we should add the value of role models, as an additional ingredient to enrich their education experience and post-graduation success for our learners/schoolers.

It is not enough to strive for an elite education, good grades and six figure job with a highly-rated professional institution. True some people succeed in following the ‘perfect logical route’: Go to the best elementary schools; enroll in after-school programs, reinforcement classes or prep school; graduate valedictorian from high school or close to the top of their class; score high on SATs; get into the best colleges; land prestigious summer internships between study and summer abroad escapades; graduate from college and scoop job placements among the best of corporate and nonprofit America; and earn six figure salaries.

Still, their success does not come from individual effort per se, nor is it always the ultimate indicator of happiness. After all, “Happiness Research” reminds us that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, does not imply bondage in unfulfilling, underachieving and hyper-exhausting six-figure jobs. Instead, happiness correlates greatly with achievement, the thrill of creativity and discovery, and the reward and comfort from pursuing own goals and initiatives. Happiness Research also point to the role family, faith and community contribute.

Many high career achievers are guided by the successes, expectations, visions, actions and profiles of their role models, often families, guardians, friends or community, whom they seek to emulate and please. Little wonder that children of doctors often grow up to pursue medicine, children of lawyers go to law school, architects breed architects, actors make actors, models, professors, and humanitarians. Not that some apples do not end up falling far from the tree, but plenty of good/successful apples fall close to the tree.

Like anything else, there are exceptions, such as children from homeless shelters, foster homes, farmworkers and first generation college-bound, making it to Harvard. Yet, their journey is not always the same as those with parental/community role models as doctors. Their role model might be their working class parent who have never set foot into an elite classroom or attained a college degree, who struggled to beg for a $1 on the streets to buy a burger meal every night or their farm worker parent or factory production or mining dad who worked unorthodox hours just to meet ends half-way.

So, what happens when they make it to Harvard but fail to ‘fit-in’ because the new environment is far from relatable to them? Or because they cannot find anybody from their background, anyone with shared life trajectory? Or, when their new elite circles have no room for the Association of kids who grew up in a homeless shelter or the Association of kids from the projects or The weird kids alliance? The office of student career services has no support for their type, and the African Students Group is not “Africanist enough?

The feeling of being an ‘outsider’ in one’s geographical spaces, contesting and re-creating ’normality’, resisting silence, has the potential of causing career apathy. Even an upbeat scholar may sometimes doubt the value and relevance of their career pursuits, increasingly feeling no satisfaction from the ‘mainstream’ line of engagement. Resultantly, a migration of career pursuits might happen, dictated partly by disappointment from not achieving one’s career target, while all along ignoring opportunities presented but not of one’s liking. In a twist, taking on anything to offset one’s responsibilities and obligations that come with pursuing an expensive education without own or family resources to buy it.

Ultimately, the lack of strong professional and personal support, and absence of satisfactory advice and mentorship, often hinders one’s ability to stay upbeat and invested in activities that do not offer happiness. Including, among well-mentored children,with ‘shinning’ role models to look up to but perhaps not ’strategically aligned’ to their interests. Now that I am a parent, I worry if all my effort teaching, educating, engaging with, my son, and engaging him in activities to hopefully advance his learning and social interaction will not mean a thing in his future! Not because there is no value in shaping our children’s destiny, but perhaps once again, it is not so much about working so hard and obtaining good grades, but working strategically.

In Defense of the “Word Value of Time”: From a Soccer Mom

Big BenFotorMy friend Simon Kaheru (http://skaheru.wordpress.com) recently blogged about “the real value of time vs. the word value of time” following his business trip to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. In Amsterdam, Simon fell in love with the abundance of “the real value of time”, where business meetings start on scheduled time, phone calls happen on time, and trains also run on schedule. A two-minutes train delay would be announced by the rail station attendant! He contrasted that with “the word value of time”, typical within Ugandan society, which largely swears by “Ugandan Time”. He argues that appointments are verbally agree to, with never the intention of honoring them because time is relative, no apologies for tardiness, as one is “better later than never”, is the popular saying!

I feel for all the sentiments Simon expressed! Though my comment to Simon was, come to America….with plenty of versions of Uganda, especially with public transportation..which is now creeping into some people’s time management skills!

I have had my share of fights with “Ugandan time”: tardiness makes me mad; time keeping makes my heart jump with happiness! I strongly believe that anyone who fails to show up per schedule appointment shows a lack of respect for their party. It is simply rude! I have walked away from meetings venues, when the other party did not show up on time. I once left my sister in the bank without notifying her, after waiting over two hours for my mother to show up to open a family bank account. I refused to return when they called me back.

I get enervated being the first to show up for meetings, or parties or other events, waiting around for thirty-minutes, one hour, three hours, five hours before more people show up and the event to ultimately start. Which is why I loathe formal events, particularly (no offense) organized by peoples of Ugandans, Africans, Blacks or colored! I remember one time while visiting my sister in Atlanta with my ex, she invited us to attend a  dinner party with her at a Ugandan friend’s house. The dinner was scheduled to start at eight O’clock in the evening, but by eight, we were still at her house, an hour’s drive to destination. Ten, still at my sister’s house, as she kept picking out what to wear. She assured us that that the party had not began, so at eleven o’clock we set off. True to her word, we arrived past midnight, right about when the party had just started!

Poor time management is beyond “Ugandan time”, it is ‘conveniently’ embedded in several African countries as “African time”, among Blacks people in America as “Black People’s Time” and people of color as “Colored People’s Time” or CPT.  Yes, it has even invaded our public service system here in America, where services in some public offices start sluggishly, and buses and trains in many big cities never run on time, including in the fast-and-furious “Big Apple”. Yet, we do not always get a courtesy apology or  “announcement of a delay”!

On my part, I must confess that, “the real value of time” keeper was me, some six years ago, a luxury I do not seem capable of affording since becoming a soccer mother. No! I am not going to blame it on my son, but it has a lot to do with him and the society in which I live, into which I am sometimes co-opted.

So, how did I cross to “the word value of time” people? While I not permanent there, I find myself cornered in by friends or my household. Those who know me will tell you that I pretty much run my son’s life on schedule. Dinner is served at six o’clock, then comes bathroom time with reading and brushing, child off to bed at seven o’clock, latest seven-thirty after sharing a bedtime. I would like him to have as much sleep as possible!

Not anymore! My time management skills have changed since I had my child. All his birthday parties have started later than my scheduled time, with guests showing up earlier than the hostess! Until child turned one year, I arrived late at literally every scheduled appointment because he would start popping just as we were getting ready to head out of the house. He had constipation, which meant another fifteen to thirty minutes of helping him push! From the one who always left for the airport two-and-a-half hours in advance, to avoid any mishap, I missed my first flight in life on a trip to South Africa in 2009 with my then fifteen month old child. We got to the airport check-in desk shortly after the baggage desk had closed because I was packing till the last minute; six suitcases, only one of which was mine!

Lately, Simon’s detestation for “the word value of time” comes glaring at me surreal, as I go about my “soccer mom” lifestyle. Child is now six and in first grade with more activities. Going to bed at seven in the evening is increasingly a luxury, with the changing school and after-school demands. I have enrolled him in both Karate class with a three days per week commitment, and in Cub Scout five days a month. Plus, now he has homework to return to school every morning and other class projects. And he still wants to have a snack, when he comes home from school, before he sits down to do his homework, with spare playtime before dinner is served. With our new routine, after-school is: snack in the car, Karate class, dinner in the car, daily homework to be submitted the next day, dinner, bathroom time, bedtime story and goodnight!:(
Amidst all of this, adhering to my sworn commitment to “the real value of time” is a luxury I seem incapable of affording, anymore. I wish I could! Now, I plan on leaving the house not at the hour but between time periods – between 6:00p and 6:30p, leaving a margin of error so that I do not go crazy over myself. A couple of times when I am running late, I have had to call up people I am meeting to apologize and ask for extra time or reschedule. Sometimes even when it seems we are doing great with time, with a projected extra fifteen minutes before our usual time to catch the school bus, we find ourselves running out of the house three minutes to the bus arrival. Thankfully, my son loves running, helping me warm up for my morning run. Sometimes we miss the bus, like happened today, and I have to keep breathing in, to avoid berating child or mourning about missing the bus.

With all the activities lined up each week, I worry that child will get overwhelmed and won’t get enough sleep in the night. Perhaps my consolation is, yes! I still make it on time to most official appointments, to our doctor’s appointments before time, child has not been late to school, and I am getting just about the entire “to-do” list accomplished. Still I think “the real value of time”, as “standard time” for social and business etiquette was created by a man, clueless about “The Surreal Life of a Soccer Mom”.

Not Everyone is Sophie, John, Jane or Matt: Diversity Consciousness in the Classroom

Recently, I was at an teacher training workshop, where the speaker for a session on “Qualities of a Good Substitute Teacher” mentioned the importance of identifying and connecting one-on-one with pupils in the classroom. In explaining why a teacher should know her students by name, she mentioned Sophie, John, Jane or Matt, as the four names off-the-cuffs in her classroom example. 

For me, that triggered something about the ingrained assumptions teachers might make about their students profile. Many of the assumptions reveal conceptions and misconceptions derived from one’s ‘comfort zone’ and surroundings. My assumption is the speaker comes from an ‘environment’ where most children are either Sophie, John, Jane or Matt. Or perhaps her education background was filled with students that fit such profile. That in a way creates an “illusive comfort” that knowing the profile of one’s classroom correlates with being in touch with the needs and special circumstances of each student. Yet, in a classroom environment, each child needs to be acknowledged and catered for/ included to their comfort.

How does a diversity conscious teacher make the classroom experience all inclusive for each one of these children? I asked myself the same question during a visit to the area elementary school. Of the two classrooms I observed: 1) First Grade class had one black kid, a young girl called Hannah; all the other kids were visibly white. 2) A Third Grade all-white classroom. Both classrooms had white teachers, as was the School Principal, and all the school staff I came in contact with.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with an all-white school, if that is the general population around the school district. My concern is whether and how children of other colors in the same school are included in a predominantly-white classroom. Particularly given the potential influence of the preschool experiences and home environment on shaping knowledge formation, knowledge generation, teaching aides and one’s comfort with the teaching and learning environment. In many places, the classroom environment has evolved beyond, S, J, J or M, the typical ‘blonde and blue-eyed’ and Judeo-Christian, thanks to desegregation and immigration of the Abequa, Biko, Horacios, Happy, Ijeomas, Lakisha, Özil and Muhammad into the same classroom. Our classrooms today represent children of varied backgrounds as immigrants, children of immigrants, first generation or generations of American-born or native to this country. They bring varied experiences from their homes, communities and experiences, all of which need to be represented for an enriched classroom experience.

Going back to Hannah, the only black girl in the First Grade classroom I visited. She seemed comfortable with her classroom and classmates, but had another story not visibly captured in the teaching aides and classroom environment I observed. While checking on her writing assignment, she read to me her story about her best friend, “I like playing with my best friend Usnuah!” To me, there was a different story with friendships not represented by SJJM. I wondered if her teachers take time to learn about Hannah’s friends, family and neighbors! Or whether she is offered a chance to share her ‘unique’ family and community background in a predominantly white classroom!

That is not to suggest that all white kids have the same family experience, although their differences [while paramount] are not as visible to the eye as Hannah. Moreover, when we got to engage with “disabilities”,  five students with varied developmental disabilities were ‘paraded’ in front of our seminar room, so we could ask questions for ‘our learning pleasure”. Perhaps the intentions were innocent, but the scenario reminded me of times when black people were caricatures of white audiences as, ‘strange’ study subjects, ‘caged entertainers’ [Sarah Baartman aka Venus Hottentot], the “Human Zoo” [most recently replicated in Norway], entrainment at lynching picnics popular in the South. And up until now, through international aid campaigns and hollywood movies that depict “the black victim” awaiting a ‘white savior”. Interestingly as well, our diversity trainer did not find anything controversial with showing a clip from the movie “Blind Side” to make her point about ‘developmental disability.

Which brings me to another topic covered about English Language Learners (ELLs), the now politically correct replacement of “English as a Second Learning”. The change was pre-empted after realizing that while ESL focused predominantly on immigrants and immigrant children, ELL recognized that some US-born children come from households where English is not the first. The basic assumption, as stated during the seminar was that [first-generation/immigrants] children “have difficulty learning not just English but the entire school curriculum.”

Granted there is truth to it, but with misguided assumptions that: 1) Simply because one does not speak English, they therefore, do not understand anything nor have sound knowledge to contribute to their classroom experience. 2) English Language Speakers are conversant with the English Language and do not need enhancement classes, which as a writing coach is not true.

I work with full-blooded American school children, those whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents and beyond were born in America. Yet, it is appalling that they cannot spell a simple word like “Pail” in Third Grade! I have found out that their school did not teach ‘phonics’, which I believe is great language learning tool. Nor are they offered English Language ‘Enhancement Classes’ at the Charter School they attend. Yet with ‘diversity’ more focused on ‘cultural’ and ‘developmental’ differences, such cases are fall out of the cracks of ‘special needs education’.

A diversity conscious teacher should ably pay attention to the non-verbal cues from their students, cater to their different needs, reach out and appeal to them, to make each one of her/his students feel included. Perhaps it starts with diversity training, which recognizes the changing needs of a classroom beyond the ’traditional’ diversities of “black or white” in America. There are multiple layers of diversity including physical or mental abilities, race, sex, geographical origin, family background, household and cultural ancestry. Today, classrooms composition includes children of immigrants, first generation Americans or migrant workers, Native American children, Muslim children,  inner-city kids.
Continued and refresher teacher training seminars would be helpful, as well as exposure to varied scenarios that stimulate “diversity awareness” and ultimately “diversity consciousness”. I thought for a minute, during my training, “Wouldn’t it be more powerful if the trainer on “diversity” were a minority? Yes, I am aware that white women in White America are included among the ‘minority groups’, but since the session focused on ‘civil rights’ and ‘disabilities’, a ‘racial minority’ or ‘personal with a disability’ as facilitator would have made a greater visible impact.

Diversity Consciousness would enable teachers and school administrators to understand that, immigrant children and children of immigrant parents might not actively engage in classroom discussions due to deferring cultural learnings about social interaction and authority. Immigrants from countries where authority is hierarchical might not engage as much with their children’s classroom teacher(s) ‘out of respect’ for the teacher or fear of challenging what in their upbringing is an ‘authority figure’ and ‘expert’ in their child[ren] education. I learned from working with Japanese graduate students as a Writing Tutor that it is not in their habit to actively participate in classroom discussions because it is considered rude to challenge ‘seniority’ in Japanese culture. One of my students settled for a lower class grade, even when he knew his response on a classroom test was correct because he did not want to challenge his professor that his response resonated with the experience of his home country. Diversity Consciousness needs starts with the school administration, selection of teacher or substitute teacher trainers, program administrators, school teaching staff and all organs in the school system in daily contact with our children.

In Praise of Teachers

I recently resumed private coaching, and it occurred to me that it is as well, I give a shout out to teachers!

The not-so-highly sang heroes! Without teachers, there would not be plenty of us! Teachers are pretty much held responsible for all things gone wrong in the school system, for students learning, poor school district performance, graduation rates, post-graduate career misfortunes and even market absorption of graduates! Too bad they do not have the fortune of economists and meteorologists, who no matter how many times their forecasts are wrong, they will never lose their job! Yet, teachers will be fired way before their welfare at school becomes a topic of concerted discussion. Nobody wants to talk about how salaries [or lack thereof] for teachers affect the classroom and school academics. Instead, many teachers are losing even the basic good of year-round employment as teachers.Thanks [again] to economists, plenty of our teachers are increasingly on “pay-per-hours worked. Never mind that teachers did not design the “summer vacation”, a fixture on the formal school calendar for generations immemorial! Do not be surprised when you run into your teacher, who is laid off in the summer, bagging groceries at Walmart, bursting tables at Red Lobster, delivering pizza from Pizza Hut or entertaining tourists in Time Square. S/he is trying to make ends meet, chasing the American Dream!

The truth is, it is not easy being a teacher! Since becoming a parent, I am now more than aware that it is not easy teaching learners, particularly early learners! So a shout out to teachers is long overdue! And I have plenty of my own – right from Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High, High School, College, Summer School and Graduate School, apprenticeship, lifelong, personal and home improvement and the list goes on. I love all my teachers!

To that, I add my son’s teachers – I love them all so dearly! Yes! Mommy was the first teacher, right when child was still in the womb. “What to Expect When You Are Pregnant” became my household #1 best seller, read in the car, on the train, on the couch, at the midwife’s office, in bed and in the bathroom. It was everywhere. Yes! I read it to the child too, plus many other books about “bunny in the oven”. As a bonus, I had my Birth Coach, a professional school teacher and a mother [then] of two boys, a beautiful soul and formidable friend that made “becoming a mother” seem like a walk in the park! Post-birth, child had daddy, plenty of aunties, great gran, grans, friends and strangers. They all read or wanted to read to him. They taught him a lot -all about burping, tummy time, sitting, and following objects. Moments playing with Great Grandma, and getting lessons on reaching objects afar, were priceless!

At ten months, my ‘teacher’ friends convinced me to take child to a babysitter, for a couple of days a week, to allow a smooth transition if and when I went back to work outside the home. Our babysitter [bless her soul] taught him how to survive a few moments without mom. Given that she had more little ones to tend, she also equipped him with more skills in independent living, Skills that were contagious, and taught me to let go of my son, sometimes, have some “me-time”, and take care of myself. Moreover, those lessons come in handy, when after his first birthday, we shipped off to Norway, to start my graduate research scholarship at the University in Oslo. I felt quite comfortable dropping him off to pre-school every morning, assured his ‘separation anxiety’ would have waned off, into happy moments with his classmates, by the time I picked up every afternoon. Kudos to our teachers at Kringsjå Barnehage, who took on the child with ease, taught him to eat meatballs (even after telling them Child does not eat meat), took him out for a daily stroll in the brutal winters, played in the sandpit and gave him a chance to enjoy painting and coloring! Bless their pretty souls for putting up with his constant constipation, patiently waiting, sometimes 30 minutes before Child finally released #2. Until that one time when all had failed, and they had to pick up the phone, to tell me, we needed Emergency Room intervention to get #2!

Half-a year-later, we were in South Africa, with another daycare and another group of teachers in Cape Town. I still remember the daily smiles on their faces. If they had any bad days, they did not show that to me. They were happy and excited to receive the child everyday, and always assembled the entire class to sing cheerful songs to the ever so crying child every morning! Lucky for us, we shared the adrenaline of #WorldCup2010 with them, right in Cape Town! Until we left for our next stop in Kampala, Uganda, where the most transformative experiences happened. The child grew up in age, and had the most amazing teachers! Initially doubted doubted when they told me that the child would stop crying every morning Child got to school. I had come to accept it as “part of his growing up”, perhaps until the ‘age of maturity’, whenever that would be. But, “Teachers Know Best”, and t it came to pass. They taught child to learn to learn and enjoy doing it, rather than regurgitate. They prepared him to be the unsolicited but every-so willing “Teacher of the Day” in his classes, and outside school to his little cousin in Uganda and the US! The Child learned to read, to write, to sing, to dance to Taekwondo, to cub scout, to swim, all happening at school. While Child was the youngest in all the classes, Child excelled, thrived and grew in each class, from Playgroup -Nursery-Kindergarten-Pre-Primary! Child did not just have teachers, but parents and friends.

My mom who is a teacher agreed, “they mastered the art of Early Childhood Education and Development.” I had no regrets for any penny that I invested. The child learned phonics reading, which has been a great asset going forward! The child, previously scared of anyone but mom taking off his pants to potty train, finally subsequently allowed class teachers to help out, so Child would not come back home again with a bladder full of pee. The Child learned to trust others in my family taking him to school when I was not available. And child thrived in Uganda, and onto Edinburgh, Scotland where we were shortly before returning to America. The Child’s Kindergarten experience at the new US school, SEC, added to the memories of the school experience; we loved our teachers and classmates! The transition was not too bad; handwriting improved, learning to write both last name, as well, and becoming a Ninja with plenty of magic tricks. Moreover, Child now has a larger teacher network, who include cousins, who are sometimes more exciting than mama. No worries, if the learning continues with lots of playtime.  And Child has never stopped teaching; for which I say, “Thank You Bebe for all the lessons you have and keep teaching me, for all the experiences you have allowed, and allows me time to sink myself into the places we have never been. The adjustments to my life and the words you have inspired me to say or not to say because of you.”

No doubt, all this was made possible with the opportunity of walking and working close to Child. Thanks to a strong foundation of teachers who came before Child, before me and ingrained in my the value of teaching.

1) My Kindergarten Teacher, Ms. Nak; wherever you are – I do not know how you taught me to learn. For I do not remember anything about phonics, but you brought me this far.
2) My Mother was my first teacher from womb to birth to growing up. She still is, I guess, through plenty of inspirations and lessons learned, plenty I am passing on to Child. Most vividly, I remember you reading to me, including that one day when government soldiers found us sitting outside the house, led themselves into our house and robbed everything they could lay their hands on. You also taught me the love and value of healthy living: Natural is best for cooking, eating and treatment of ailments. Yes! I feed the Child Aloe Vera juice made straight-up from the plant. Ginger, lemon and honey treat coughs in our household too, combined with plenty of fruits and veggies. My foods are eaten raw, boiled, steamed, grilled or baked. Stir fry is the ‘special treatment’, sometimes! Most of all, you are my #1Super-Teacher for Mothering and Hustling for a living!
3) My Best Friends Forever, I have two. One passed on in 2012 (R.I.Eternal. Peacefulness), but left a permanent seed of forgiving and loving endlessly and unconditionally implanted in me and her ever-so jovial godchild. I still catch myself saying, “No! You are still here!” You were the epitome of humanness! The true human spirit! My living BFF in Edinburgh, SCOT, a university teacher herself, and a great writing and publishing partner. We share many fond memories spanning over fifteen years, of fights, make up, but never had a serious break-up!
4) My College Professors, most memorable is one at the School of Law’s Human Rights and Peace Center. Gave me my first career, trained me as a human rights activist, allowed me to turn my dreams into reality, as the Founder of a students human rights advocacy project for prisoners, and gave me the professional backing to solicit funding, free legal services and free media publicity and entry into national human rights programs. I was the name to reckon with, back then! All the opportunities to traveled the world free, learn to write fellowships and grants requests, meet with high-level staff at various institutions around the world, my professor passed onto me. I also learned to write and publish academically.
5) My American Employer, founder of the refugee studies center at the University of Oxford, the first refugee studies program in the world! My professor, who got me into the world of refugees, broadened my scope of understanding and engaging with human rights. Yes! Taught me and afforded me the ability to get published, as well as continue to travel and discover the world. Introduced me to people from all walks of life, that for a long time were [and some like my BFF still are] part of my “inner scholarly circle”.
6) My graduate school professors of Micro Economics, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Law & Development and International Human Rights Law, still remain memorable to this day. I should add my professor of Minority Groups & the Right to Self-Determination, who had great memorable things to say about me, high compliments! I appreciate.
7) Who could I forget my Writing Tutees, who trusted that I could teach them all about Graduate Research and Writing Methodology. They were great students! Plenty from Japan, with super mastery of the English language. All they needed was editing their essays. I learned a lot from them.
8) Facebook deserves a mention here, as my teacher of “Speak Your Truth Quietly”, “It is not about being right all the time”, “Silence is Golden”. I have learned to diffuse many fires in me, thanks to Facebook! I close my mind when opening it might injure a soul.
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And a lot of learning has come with being a mother, being a parent, and being a part of my child’s family by default. I have learned to teach the Child, learn the way Child learns, and inspire other kids to learn. I have now learned, even more, not to take for granted that children learn or mature at the same level. I should already know, right? After all, I am not at the same ranking as all my peers. I guess, being a parents makes it surreal, when you have too many expectations from your own child, and think everyone around is doing much better. Yet, interacting, exposure, homeschooling and coaching other kids has taught me that some kids require much more extra effort to perform and function. Third-graders cannot spell simple words like “pail”, when my Kindergartner was moving on to Chapter Book words! Kids his age cannot focus

Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

I would like paid work that works with me

They say, “Beggars have no choice”. So, I guess I am not part of that lot!

 

Why should anyone define themselves as beggars, anyway? Just because one is looking for paid work, does not make you a beggar. In any case, I think it is of strategic importance for “beggars” to have choice, lest they accept any and all toxic addition to their lives. Which seems true for many beggars: they pick their target audience carefully, typically around a busy intersection or subway; they  hold well-written placards asking for donations visible to even motorists inside their AC SUVs, and advanced beggars know to offer something in return – “food in exchange for any kind of work” or “god bless you for helping feed me and my children”. 

 
In my case, I want paid work that works with me, in terms of my schedule, my life and my responsibilities. In fact, I have achieved most of my career success taking this stand -of job, academics, personal choices that work with me.  It might not have come without pain, agony, sweat, disappointments and endurance, but what else doesn’t? No one wakes up to run a marathon (although I have kind of done that a few times); everything requires dedicated training and commitment. 
 
Similarly to most of my career advancements based on taking unconventional risks and making unpopular decisions, that have amazingly served me well! I have travelled the world, learned new subjects over and beyond my formal and informal classroom experience, made new friends, influenced plenty of people and mentored generations. I am fortunate to say that my previous employers have outstanding memories of me, however short-lived my work experience with them was. They will tell you that I am the most indefatigable, creative, imaginative, wittiest and personable colleague they have had the privilege of working with. I, too have fond memories of my employers, my professors and my colleagues. They taught me so much about professional commitment, they allowed me to venture out into new territories and trusted me with their work; they allowed me unfettered time for career and personal growth, on their clock, and mentored my writing, research, advocacy and activism. Beside, they supported me with time, money and personal resources, opening up their “binders of VIPs”, from which I tapped in advancing my professional, scholarly and academic careers. I think I have returned the gratitude by mentoring others, giving and dedicating myself to committing to unconventional work.
 
Among my most memorable employer is the women who introduced me to the world of refugees, to which I was oblivious hitherto. Although, I was born in a country that hosted generations of refugees from before I was born, most of us grew up not making much of ‘foreigners’, unless they were white or Indian. True, she paid me peanuts, but allowed me to travel the world and attend seminars for my career advancement, all on her time, and still paid me a monthly salary and sometimes gave me a travel allowance. As her personal assistant, she positioned me in places with high-level international dignitaries, who later secured me scholarships for international training. She taught me to write for public audiences, using the print press, and fundraising proposals to donors. She sowed the seed in me as a grantseeker, by taking me to fundraising meetings with international funders. She gave me the tools to become an institutional memory for establishment and sustainability of organizations, when she made me co-creator of a successor body to our  project on refugee rights. She made me feel very special, when she said I was the first Ugandan woman (then I was still a young girl) she had met who was not shy, who knew and perfectly stood for what she wanted, because I walked into her office and asked for a joy even though there was no job advertisement posted. When she asked me if I could bring my resume in two weeks when she was back from Oxford, to her shock I had my cv on a floppy disk in my bag, that I handed over to her to print out immediately! Just like that, I got my first ‘higher and long-term’ paying job while still a university student. Not only that, I successfully negotiated with her to work part-time and allow me use her office space and equipment to type up individual cases of prison inmates from a student volunteer project I headed, and in exchange investigate if there were any refugees on our visits to detention facilities!
 
Prior to that, I had had the privilege of being mentored by a distinguished law professor and scholarly activist, who stated a human rights center at the university with a component of practical training of student human rights activists. I was paid for three months as a student intern and sent to an NGO to learn practical skills of human rights activism and office work. The rest is history! Soon, I volunteered to coordinate student interns and the center staff, then I mooted and effected the idea of founding a prisoners’ human rights project, which I headed until I left the country. I convinced professors at the law school to donate pro bono time teaching human rights activism to university students beyond the law school, recruited student interns and volunteers to take visit places of detention, interview inmates and staff, and document conditions in prisons and prisoners’ human rights abuses, and partnered with legal aid and human rights organizations to take up court cases of incarcerated persons pro bono or help in family tracing, petitioned the government human rights agency to release persons on undue detention indefinitely or automatic bond, and ran radio and TV talk shows discussing conditions in prisons. At a time when human rights activism and student internships and volunteering were literally unheard of within universities, i grew the prisons project into the most popular student initiative on the university campus and among organizations and government human rights bodies. I was the “energizer bunny” back then, in all things voluntary service to the community, including spending December school-break fundraising and building a primary school for children in rural Uganda. The rewards were hefty, including fully-funded international travels and training, unlimited access to glowing letters of recommendation, unsolicited nomination to roundtables on national, regional and international human rights concerns, respect and admiration among my peers, and everlasting mentorship and friendships that I enjoy to date. 
 
Due to the strong foundation and mentorship never to be afraid of engaging on unconventional wisdom, I have been able to venture into terrain that I might never have chosen in the first place. For instance, while motherhood was nowhere on my “to-do list”, I took up it up, and challenged myself to have my baby all natural without any pain-relief medication or epidural during labor. I achieved my wishes due to disciplined pre-natal preparation using the tested “Bradley Method of Natural Child Birth”, and delivered a health baby. I stuck to the same kind of discipline, post-delivery, making sure that baby comes first alongside work, good health, proper feeding and all social engagements. Although I “played-pause” on “formal employment”, l re-enter a career later on that facilitated being a single traveling mother/scholarly researcher/community mobilizer.
 
I have not had a typical 9-5 job since having my son, yet I have been able to deliver above and beyond to all my professional employers and colleagues, and left everlasting memories. In any case, I have always worked beyond the usual eight-hour day shift, putting in late nights, very early mornings and weekends not because I do not have ‘a life’ – after all, I have traveled on vacation with child, run everyday, joined my social groups to weekend runs and out-of-town get-aways, and fundraised as a resource mobilizer and donated to worthy communities and individuals, and trained rural communities to monitor and demand accountability for public service delivery, especially in areas of child health, education and social infrastructure, and challenged communities and my social networks to mobilize and donate own physical, monetary and in-kind resources to re-build our communities instead of waiting for perpetual empty promises from central government or handouts from international groups. 
 
Now that I am back to my other geographical space in America, and I am sinking my hands, faith and hard work in “finding paid work that works from me”. That is, accepting of my status as a single mother, raising a toddler, and committed to being in his life. My plans for my child and career ambitions do not allow me the luxury of being in the same space with his daddy nor the support of my larger family. I know I have to make it work, like all single mothers do – working two or three jobs while striving to put food on the table for their kids, clothes on their backs and books and educational materials. Yet, I know one-size does not fit all. On my part, I am good at selling my services to achieve professional satisfaction and fulfillment, which is the approach I seek to pursue in order to earn an income, while allowing me time to raise and grow with my son. I would like to afford the opportunity to attend my son’s school activities, take him to weekend sports activities, education trips and holidays, make him meals at home and prepare him for school while at the same time not sacrificing financial and professional accomplishment. Observing children raised by maids with an age disconnect from the children or goal disconnect from their parents, makes me shudder, when they spend most time raising children on TV and indoors, as opposed to allowing children to create their own play through imagination and outdoors activities. Since my son has a restrictive diet, which is not very compatible with mainstreamed feeding and eating habits of ‘fast foods and snacks”, taking over most children’s diets in our society. 
 
These might seem trivial issues to plenty out there, but I strongly believe that they are central to a child’s upbringing. I observe in my geographical space, many couples have chosen to dedicate one parent as a “stay-at-home” or “work-from-home”, especially the mother, while the other [especially father] goes off to formal office 9-5 career. This affords their child[ren] a stable presence and full engagement of a family member. I am already talking to several colleges and university, who might be interested in developing partnerships for student international training and study abroad. I also have my eyes on international fundraising for grassroots community development, a field so dear to my heart and central to my professional and scholarly experiences.  

How do you parent a child who wants to do things his way?

ImageI am increasingly in agreement that anybody who has never been a parent should not be granted audience for dispensing parental advice. Sorry child psychologists, Early Childhood Development trainers, baby minders, friends and family without children of their own. Until you have brought a child into this world, you have no “expertise” to dispense. You do not know a thing, zilch! 

True, back in the days, even those who had never had a child of their own could dispense wise tips on parenting and proper child upbringing. Even children as young as six were ‘parents’ and babysitters to their siblings, baby cousins or baby neighbors. They were the “neighborhood watch” or, as is said in Africa, “brother’s/sister’s keeper”. But those days are dwindling, as society becomes increasingly individualistic, and families more nuclear. Couples are choosing much more to raise their children without the interference of relatives, neighbors or friends, and more young people are staying single without children, even within Africa. I was once among those little girls who babysat my sister’s children. As the last girl in my family, I was expected to help care for my all my older siblings’ children. So, I learned a lot about child upbringing (or so I thought). In fact, I assumed that ‘expertise’ accumulated through babysitting my nieces and nephews would ably serve me once I became a mother. But I was about to find out when I became a mother that, every parenting experience is new and uniquely challenging. It does not get any easier when one becomes a parent, nor is it optional.

My experience at the public play park today with my son just reminded me how complicated parenting is, and made me wonder, “How does one parent a child who wants to do things his way?” My son is very comfortable engaging himself, even playing by himself.  He creates his own play toys, play space and playtime, and wanders off as far off as his imagination leads him into his comfort zone. He creates multiple toys – an airplane, a bird, a car, a dragon, in just one napkin. He loves puzzles, the maze and anything that engages his brain. At a kids playground, he often stays away from climbing play stations, preferring to run around or be pushed on the swings. He likes the baseball pitch, even playing what he calls “pretend baseball”, that is throwing a nonexistent ball to mummy to hit with a nonexistent bat, then run around to different bases. 

Today, I tried getting my son to climb the slides at the park, but he would not indulge because he was scared.  So, I pointed him to a little kid who had climbed up, and praised her brevity. I knew this was breaking one of the “don’t dos of parenting”, by comparing him to other kids. But how else was I going to get him try new things, and gain the courage to do things he was not comfortable with? We have already had the talk of “it is not always about you”, “sometimes we do things we do not like but because we have to” or “sometimes you have to do stuff to make mommy happy”. Plus, raising a boy as a single mother guilt-trips me sometimes, when I worry that I might not be able to mould him into a boy. Ironically, I grew up a tomboy, climbing trees, and playing with the boys. I loved outdoors and team games, unlike my son who is a lone player. So, I argued him with what he loves most, telling him that “climbing makes you stronger” like Superman. Finally, I managed to convince him to climb and slide down. He enjoyed it so much that he went back and forth until l had to take him away to use the bathroom. Thereafter, he did more climbing until we moved to the field to play soccer, baseball, ride the bike and swing. 

In a way, parenting my son challenges  me to learn lessons in managing people. Not everybody is the same, and not everyone will want to do or behave the same way as I do. It also allowed me to breath, remain cool and think through ways of keeping both of us happy and each a winner. In a way, I see parts of myself in my son; I have a strong personality and strong conviction. I am committed to things I love, and will dedicate myself to effectively accomplish them. Yet, I am also flexible when engaged in a non-threatening way, with examples derived from real experiences of others. 

Embracing the Rejection Letter

What is your first reaction when you receive a Rejection Letter?
 

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I know plenty of us share that experience; from a job application, a lover, a rental application, loan or business proposal. Here I am talking about Rejection Letters from a Job Application.
 
I have had mixed experiences and reactions with a rejection letter: kicking myself, crying, or cursing the institution. Nowadays, I take a positive attitude as an opportunity to learn, either embrace and acknowledge the rejection letter or write back to where the rejection letter came from.
 
Sometimes, you apply for that job that “speaks to you”, one you say, “this is mine”, then things do not work out the way you hoped. After graduate school, I wanted to move back and work in Africa, so badly. So, all the career jobs I applied to where in Africa, while busting tables and retail sales in the United States on the side. I applied for almost any job that came up in human rights or program management at the African Union, printed, photocopied and notarized job application documents, and airmailed applications to Addis Ababa. Do not ask me how much it cost me; that is what the AU wanted as opposed to the US-way of applying via email. I never received a single response from the AU. I did not give up, but switched attention more toward Africa regional organization in Eastern and Western Africa, and in South Africa. 
 
I remember  a job in The Gambia as Deputy Director of a regional human rights organizations. I went through round one of interviews, then round two, and then called for an in-person interview. Yes, the organization flew me from Boston to Banjul, put me up for two nights all expenses and gave me an allowance for time taken and personal expenses. I went through a face-to-face interview with the board and Director, and took a written and computerized test. I was told, the organization was looking for someone who would double as Ag. Director, since both the Director and Deputy Director were leaving. I was told we were three finalists, although only two showed up. I did not the other person, until I met her in the taxi we shared to the airport on our way out of The Gambia. A Ugandan, woman, lawyer, Legal Officer of a refugee organization I helped set up years before I left Uganda. She pretty much had resume, expect she was still working “on the ground”, while I was “theorizing human rights” based in America. Plus, there is always that ‘subtle’ quizzical look that sometimes rears its ugly head as a question to Diaspora Africans seeking opportunities to return to the continent, “Why would you like to live “the comfort” of the United States to come back and live and work in “DDD -Dirty Difficult and Dangerous Africa”? But when I saw Ms. Lady, my gut told me, she had got the job. Needless to say, our ride back to the airport was about her “scheduling her date of resignation from her job in Uganda and moving to Banjul.” That’s how I found that the end of a beautiful dream and received my unofficial Rejection Letter on my ride back home to Boston
 
Then came a job with a regionalized organization in South Africa to work with Civil Society Resource Mobilization. With all my donor, grant making and grant seeking expertise, I knew this was in my bag. Believe me you, threw out my vow that I made when I left in 2000, never to return to work in “xenophobic South Africa”. I wanted a job, with a regional focus, and several organizations in South Africa do exactly that, including plenty in security, natural resources and international politics, which were the fields of my professional interest and scholarly focus. The South African job gave me a tingle too, and put me in cloud 7. For one, one of my referees was a reputed civil society activist known in most of Africa, and to the organization. Secondly, a friend had worked with the organization, and he gave me plenty to know about the organization. So, I thought I had this in the bag. This time, I pulled out all the lessons learned about “interviewing over the phone and computer”. !) Before the interview, do a mock interview with a friend, and looking at yourself in the mirror, paying attention to your intonations, your vocabulary and flow of communication. 2) On a telephone interview, stand upright to allow your voice projects better to the person(s) on the receiving end. 3) Smile over the phone as that reflects in your mood and the way you speak on the other end of the phone. What else didn’t I do? Yes, I also did a long written test, pouring my heart out! Alas! Rejection Letter came via email! Oh! I cried so hard! I reached out to my BFF (RIP), who had helped me prepare for the interview, cried to her, and she consoled me.  After wiping away days of tears, I wrote to the organization that had rejected me, and asked why they had rejected my application. Instead of sulking and hating the institution, I gained more insight into what organizations look for. 
 
I backed off applying to Africa regional organization, and went back to my previous dream – the United Nations, and added international organizations working in Africa – like Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Care International, plus more. I uploaded my resume to many databases of international development, human rights and humanitarian consulting groups. My professional profile got registered, among the first by an agency that recruits on behalf of UNHCR Legal/Protection. Until I ‘unkindly’ expressed my dissatisfaction with being short-listed for several opportunities but not succeeding with any. I got struck off the list, and my cries and efforts to be reinstated were unwelcomed. But I learned a valuable lesson, “Speak your truth quietly”, and everyone is looking for a job, not just you, some with higher qualifications than yourself. 
 
At least an Italian Brick Oven Restaurant in Somerville, MA did not reject my application for a Hostess position, even though I did not get the waitress position, because my experience in the position was only mental. It gave me a little paycheck to look forward to, and afford me pay the monthly electric bill and personal expenses, while I housesat for my professor who had away from the brutal Boston winter to was India. Note to self: Always have Plan B, to help offset the financial burden when you are looking for work. With access to my professor’s full house, a computer, internet electricity, hot shower and a bed, I could sit in his study and type all job application letters.
 
Finally, the one thing that I have always believed in more supreme in success  -social networks -happened to my job search. It was not all my lucid applications and interviewing, but my social networks that found me the job I took. Don’t get me wrong, I got other job offers, five in total, thanks to my resume and personal interviewing skills. Three of the jobs were with the institution that shaped my decision where to go for graduate school -the United Nations. I got a call from the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, The UNV and UN Human Rights Office in Senegal. I also got a call to interview for a consultancy with the World Bank Resettlement Project in Chad, while shopping for shoes in downtown Boston on a Saturday. By then, I had already made up my mind to move to New York City. I dropped the UN for fear that “the recruitment process and final move would take longer, when I was tired of being underemployed and really wanted well-paid employment. I guess, my “work abroad obsession” had waned off, and considered the opportunities of moving to NYC, working with an academic institutions, and potentially enrolling in my PhD [still hoping to do it]. But why five jobs at once, when I could not get one when I desperately needed it? The lesson learned, you can never predict success and winning. I had learned much more about myself and my resilience. I sharpened my resume and cover letter writing skills, my interviewing skills. In fact, I have sent “Thank You for Considering My application”  letters to some organizations that have sent me a rejection letter. One was so grateful and wrote me back, “I wish everyone would take a negative response as diplomatically as you did.”
 
Now that I look back at al the rejection letters, and I am back into the job search, I am applying all the skills I obtained from multiple applications over the years: get on your feet and go look for work, apply and apply for as many opportunities as you can, refine your resume specifically for the position you are applying for, keep your friends in the loop that you are looking for work, and remind them of “that resume you sent”. Though, there are changes to my job search, some of which are beyond my control and design. The economy is not doing are good as it used to. Gone are the days, when I could walk into a retail department store or restaurant, apply for a job and told to start tomorrow. Ultimately, a Rejection Letter is not the end in itself. Nowadays, even a restaurant hostess position requires a resume!
 
I am keeping my options open, and casting my net wider. I am now grateful for any institutions that writes me back, even with a rejection – at least somebody looked at my application, so I tell myself. Ultimately, somebody will wash away all the “Rejection Letters”, and send me that one “Acceptance Letter” that I need.-