Calling Home

Photo by Tim Wright

He talked as I taught the lesson. I asked him to stop.

He talked some more during work time. I asked him to stop.

I changed his seating – nestling him between two quiet students. He talked out loud instead of getting his work done.

I called him to my desk. His parents’ phone numbers were in front of us.

I rarely call home.

“Who shall I call? Mom or dad?”

“Mom,” he said.

“Dad it is!”


“Your” Children

Dandelion Watercolor

One of the biggest lessons in life I’ve had to unlearn is that my children are “mine.”

Gibran’s words are plain and true:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

Kahlil Gibran

Too many parents believe their children are a reflection of themselves. Our job as parents is to provide nourishment and safety for these souls. But they are whole people already – we do not – SHOULD not – impose our dreams on them.


Writing prompt: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Student: This prompt makes me sad. Because I don’t know. My parents tell me I must be either be an engineer or a doctor. I cannot have a job that pays less than that.

Teacher: Well, let’s say your parents tell you that you can pursue ANY profession that you want. What would it be?

Student: I don’t know…I don’t know, because I’ve never even thought of it.

Why do parents tell their kids how to live your lives when they have their own?


By the way, Gibran never had children. Maybe he could be this wise because he had the distance necessary to see the whole picture.








Whirlybird Lunacy


There is a label, in the education field, for parents who “hover” over their children in an overprotective, and micro-managing way: helicopter parenting.

As teachers, we get it.  You don’t want your child to ever “fail.” You want to prove to your child, the world, your self, that you are an involved parent. But you are not doing your child any favors.

When you hover, you:

  • subconsciously tell your kid that you don’t trust him to do it himself;
  • create anxiety for your child;
  • cheat your child out of the opportunity to work independently;
  • cheat your child out of learning from failing; and
  • cheat your child out of accomplishing something on his own.

 Sometimes, effective parenting means surrendering.




Thank you (고맙습니다)



Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you for all the piano and cello lessons. Music has been a lifelong passion of mine and speaks to me in all facets of my life. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for it and (hope) I’ve passed that on to my daughters. You sacrificed money and time for us and now I’m doing the same.

Thank you for the Tae Kwon Do lessons. It was hard and it must have been difficult for you to watch Jojo, John and me kicking and punching and getting beat up by grown ups in class. When we broke boards, we felt a new found satisfaction in our focus and power.

Thank you for not allowing us to quit, even when we cried.

Thank you for encouraging and allowing us to work in the cornfields of DeKalb, IL. We got cut by the sharp leaves of the stalks. We sweat and walked 12-14 hours a day during “peak.” But we learned the value of hard work and the true value of money.


Thank you for allowing us to ride our bikes all over town and for speaking in Korean in the house and pushing Korean food on us, when we just wanted McDonald’s. We came to appreciate different spices and vegetables and it’s a lot healthier, too.

Thank you for not going easy on us.We learned to handle disappointments, heartache, and pain. I was able to handle difficult bosses, financial stress and cancer because you allowed us to become strong and tough. Thank you.




The Disinterest Disease

Elliott Stallion, photographer

Dear parents-who-are-not-voting-this-year,

I understand some of you are disgusted this election year. Your children tell me in my classroom you are so upset with the choice of candidates that you are not voting in this election.

Ok. I get that.

Let me tell you what’s happening. Your kids are shutting down in my social studies class. They don’t want to learn about the election. We had “Kids Voting” this week. Half the class shouted, “I don’t want to vote!” They are repeating very hateful phrases that I cannot believe you’d ever let them hear, let alone say.

This is uncharacteristic of my students. They usually want to engage in discussion of real life issues. They are always thirsty to express their thoughts, to learn, to analyze and participate. I’ve never seen them like this.

So I reminded them that people in some other countries (North Korea, for one) are not allowed EVER to vote. Your kids know about North Korea because I told them my parents were children during the Korean War and that they didn’t have access to a school or new shoes for at least six years of their childhood.  Many of our American children (my daughters included) are untouched by deprivation of basic needs: freedom, shelter, food. But not all American children are untouched by hunger, homelessness or hate. 

I reminded my students that millions of people have given their lives so that their children might vote. Voting is a right in America. If apathy continues to grow, it might become a privilege for just a few. It once was, you know, right here in America.

I encouraged instructed the class to log onto the Kids Voting website. I distributed access codes and told them to open another tab and look up words and issues if they did not know what they were. I told them to vote according to their beliefs. I told them there is no right or wrong answer. Beliefs are your own, like opinions.

They talked to each other, they looked stuff up. They talked some more. Not a single  argument. Friends disagreed, but remained friends. No one tried to talk the other out of anything.

It took 30 minutes for the students to research and vote on about 5 issues/positions.

When they were done, most were very pleased. “I finally know what an electoral college is!” I noted that the students who were not that enthusiastic were the ones who just guessed and voted. I know this because when I asked why some felt “Just OK” they answered, “Because I didn’t know what I was voting for.”

As an educator, it’s my job to ensure I teach your child to think critically. How can they do that if they shut down? Why would they think critically if they adopt a “what’s the use” attitude? Why strive to reach compromises for the Greater Good if you only hear hate?

Upon completion, they received an “I Voted” sticker. Remember those? Remember how proud you were to wear one?

Catherine* raised her hand.

“Mrs. Wipff, why can’t we all just have our beliefs and still be nice to each other, even with people who disagree with us?”

Indeed, why not?

*not her real name

Jolly Ranchers Make Everything Better

Meet the Teacher Day.

A small, tow-headed boy walks in. He looks like he’s entering second grade, not fourth. His mother, also dimunitive,  has a tough smoker’s voice “He’s been afraid of you. His last teacher was a yeller.” I look into his large blue eyes. “Nice to meet you Jimmy*.  I don’t yell.”  A smile rises from his mouth, into his cheeks and then his eyes. I give him my Welcome to School note, taped with a watermelon Jolly Rancher.  Mother tousles his hair, “See? Your teacher is nice.” Both seem relieved.

More kids and parents/guardians come in. They scan the desks for name tags. They sign in at the table, grab information packets regarding our schedules, supply list. A squat woman approaches me. Everything about her is short and wide: the hips, the nose, the voice.  She is someone’s grandma.

“Hi. I have to tell you, (her voice lowers) Marcus* has trouble with attention. Marcus!” She calls him to us. He is a little darker than her, but also squat. “Marcus! Say hello to your teacher.”

Marcus speaks in a soft voice, “Nice to meet you.”  I am pleasantly surprised by his respectful demeanor. “Nice to meet you, Marcus.” We shake hands. His body stays, but his eyes roam the room. Grandma whispers, but Marcus and I can hear her. “Marcus is easily distracted and lazy.”  [By the end of the two hours, I will hear this from fifteen adults:  “My child has problems with attention. He/She needs to sit in the front.” Is there some kind of epidemic? Something in the water]?

“Oh, Marcus looks like a very focused, hard working boy to me,” I look at him and he smiles at me.

“No, no, no. He’s not. He’s lazy and unfocused.”

I try to make eye contact with grandma, but her beady eyes are laser focused on Marcus. Stop it. Stop saying that!

“Oh, I see a hard worker, totally focused and ready to learn!” I trump her.

She vigorously shakes her head, no, no, no. “He’s definitely not smart.” Marcus’s shoulders slump, his eyes go slack.

But he is.  Eighteen days of school have passed and Marcus is clearly one of my brightest students. My intuition was correct, he IS a hard worker.  His third grade teacher told me that he will cry and throw a temper tantrum when something goes wrong.  He did, indeed, wail at the top of his lungs when I gave the first assessment, a timed math fact test. “IT’S TOO HARD! I CAN’T DO IT!”  Tears streamed down his face. I calmly responded, “Stop crying.” The class looked at him (it was hard to ignore) but they quickly resumed their work.  I meet every tantrum (sometimes he has two or three in a day) with a calm rebuttal, “Stop that. There is no need for that. Take a deep breath and focus.” He has not had a tantrum now for a week.  The last time he got frustrated over a math problem, I offered to give him an easier one. He shook his head, no. He wiped his tears and regained his composure, all on his own.

We practice yoga poses and deep breathing exercises for stretch time. As I get to know my students, I see that many have personal challenges at home: a sick parent, divorce (a couple are going through not the first, but a second one), unemployment, etc. The stresses our children experience these days are enormous and the kids tell me that their parents tell them to “Go watch TV or play your X-Box.” And they wonder why their kids are distracted and unfocused. When we’ve been working hard at a math lesson, someone will inevitably ask, “Can we take a yoga break?” In just a month, I’ve noticed more focus, better balance and a bit more self-control all around.