Congrats, Grads!

My younger brother graduated from high school yesterday. Before the part where they called each graduate’s name and had them walk across the stage to receive their diploma, they did their annual reminder for families to hold their applause until the end. The reason, they state, is that the graduates want it to be a formal occasion and that singling out a graduate with cheering and clapping is embarrassing to the graduate.

I call BS.

It was, word for word, the exact same reminder that was read at my high school graduation thirteen years ago. They never surveyed my class of graduates as to how we felt about cheering. Over half a dozen of my siblings have graduated since then, and I don’t believe their classes were ever polled either. And that’s fine — the graduates only graduate once, so they aren’t the best positioned to set the norms of the graduation ritual. But then it doesn’t hold water to say that it’s the graduates who call for the solemnity.

Which brings me to the graduation speaker. Though it was kept a secret until the day of, the address given was written and delivered by a teacher of the school for the past forty-two years, who is finally taking her well-deserved retirement. It may have been one of the best graduation speeches I have ever heard, even though I understood only parts of it. The entire first segment was only for the graduating class. It was in-jokes, references, and name-dropping, and the graduates loved it. Even as the speech continued, it was clearly tailored to the specific audience of 2016 graduates, though it still applied to the audience at large. This teacher could have made it about her, about her years of teaching, or about the school itself. Indeed, most graduation speeches I have heard are less about the audience and more about the speaker. And goodness knows forty-two years of teaching likely provided copious material to mine for bits of wisdom. But she focused on the students in front of her, and the time she spent with them — just the last ten percent of her career. And I think that was exceptionally meaningful.

4moreyearsLike any ritual with significant cultural importance, a graduation can be tricky. A balance must be struck between all the parties who are invested in it. A graduation is the graduating class; it is important to the families and friends of the graduates, as well as alumni and future graduates; and it matters to the educators and administrators who repeat this ceremony year after year, for every single student. Not only that, but there’s often overlap between these groups — younger family members who are future graduates; teachers who are also parents; administrators who are also alumni. And even then, individuals within the groups will have conflicting values and ways to demonstrate their values. Despite the reminder, there were still some families who cheered for their graduates, and I don’t begrudge them one bit. Even my brother asked our family to transgress slightly: he asked us to bring signs. There’s nothing in the ritual reminder about signs, but to some they likely undercut the intended gravity of the ceremony. Especially considering that we mostly recreated signs that he brought to football games. (I brought a dry erase board so I could continually renew my slogans, though it proclaimed “Congration You Done It” longer than anything else.)

The point is, we exist alongside one another anyway in our day to day. Coming together for rituals reminds us that we may have different values and different ways of living out our values. And though it might not be completely comfortable, we compromise and make room for others — out of wanting to be inclusive; or just because we want to survive yet another graduation.

 

My Thoughts on Bathrooms (That Nobody Asked For)

When I feel fear about using a public restroom, it’s fear that the last person didn’t flush. Or fear that others may hear embarrassing sounds come out of my stall. Fear that the line is longer than I can deal with. Fear that there’s germs everywhere. The only time I have ever been afraid in a public restroom, and that fear was of other people, it was because it was crowded and it occurred to me how easily someone could snag my purse if I wasn’t careful.

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That’s largely because I’m privileged. I’m a cis woman who looks like a woman, so nobody blinks an eye when I go into the women’s restroom. (A “cis” or “cisgender” person is someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned with at birth.) It’s interesting to me that this privilege is afforded to me based on how I look and not how I behave, act, or otherwise exist in the world, but that’s a thought I’ll expound on another time.

Anyway. I don’t know how it feels to be truly afraid of others in the bathroom — afraid of being harassed, afraid of being assaulted. I can only imagine how that feels. And I imagine that it is quite scary.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not believe I have anything to fear from transgender people in the restroom with me. I know this because I have shared restrooms with transgender people, knowingly and probably unknowingly too. We were all just in there to do our business. So I have a hard time understanding why anyone might be afraid of a using the same restroom as a transgender person (unless you’re afraid of people in the restroom in general). I think someone who is transgender — or appears to be transgender — probably has more to fear from others in the restroom than the other way around.

As an elementary school teacher, I have had to deal with bathroom issues before. Sometimes you have kids who, it turns out, skip the part where you’re supposed to wash your hands. Sometimes you get huge puddles or piles of paper towels. One time I saw a sink become separated from the wall. I won’t get into “Tales of the Mad Pooper,” but the epithet “Mad Pooper” has been used in my school career over multiple years and in multiple buildings.

Sharing restrooms is not the biggest bathroom issue facing the grade levels I teach. Everyone at this age is learning about respecting privacy, and establishing and enforcing personal boundaries. The biggest difference between elementary school restrooms is the urinals, which I don’t think are necessary. (They also attract other issues, like Mad Poopers.) (Then again, as a woman, I might not be aware of the full pros/cons of urinals.) I think we could probably switch to unisex restrooms for the most part — maintain some that are for one user at a time, for people who require more privacy.

I can understand why people might need to revisit their guidelines for older students, especially once adolescence becomes a bigger part of school life, and if students change in a locker room on school premises. But I think people are forgetting what bathrooms are actually for. They’re places for us to poop and pee and change out used menstrual products. We can wash our hands in there! Mirrors are a bonus if we want to check something about our appearances. Why can’t we just let people peacefully use the bathroom they are comfortable using? There’s always a chance that someone could take advantage of restrooms, sure, but being transgender does not make a person more likely to be an attacker. Harassment and assault are already illegal anyway, regardless of where they occur. I suspect we only worry more about bathrooms because we already feel vulnerable in them. If anything, bathroom bills seem to seek to protect members of the majority from experiencing discomfort rather than experiencing harassment or assault. And they do so at the expense of people who do not appear to be clearly one gender or another (some transgender people “pass,” and some cis or androgynous people may not). Ultimately, I do not believe my comfort is above anyone else’s safety and dignity.

Additionally, I do not understand how a bathroom bill can be consistently enforced. We never even caught the Mad Pooper, after all.

The Positive Side of a Negative School-Related Youtube Experience

2406468228So, at my school, I have a team of third grade students who are responsible for the morning announcements for our school. They are responsible for writing and recording all the news that’s fit to share in our elementary building. They use the Youtube account affiliated with my school email address. I set up a specific computer to keep my password saved if you use a specific login. Other than that, they largely do this themselves at this point. The teachers in the building either check the Youtube website, or subscribe to it in order to share the announcements with their classes. (We use live streaming to record the announcements, but rarely does anyone tune in live, because we are not super consistent when it comes to starting at the same time every day. Plus, teachers share the announcements when it works for them — first grade classes have different morning routines than the second or third grades, for instance.)

I’m very proud of them for this. So I thought some of them could handle an April Fool’s prank version of the announcements. I sought help from friends on Facebook and rewrote our morning announcements in Japanese. (I used to teach in Japan, so I have more contacts who speak Japanese and a better handle on it myself than other non-English languages.) Then, I wrote it out phonetically in the English alphabet. Students took it home and practiced in advance. We still had some pronunciation issues when it came time to record — students pronounced “kyou” as “key-yo” for example — but overall I thought we did quite well. In fact, let me share it here:

We did two different takes, and I spliced them together to make one video, thinking it would be more convenient to the other teachers. I had it up around 8:30am on April 1st, then sent an explanatory email around 8:40am in case anyone was truly confused.

Then, at 9:39am, I received an email notifying me that the video had been removed from Youtube for violating the community guidelines.

This was frustrating, firstly because I simply did not agree that the video violated Youtube’s community guidelines. I assume, even now, that someone flagged it in error. However, the email included this sentence: “After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the videos violate our Community Guidelines. ” Ugh! No reasonable human reviewed that content and genuinely determined it inappropriate. I expect Youtube runs algorithms to do some sort of initial sorting. I’m annoyed that the algorithm was so far off, yet reassured that the machines are not yet ready to take over.

A bigger issue than that would have been that my account would be “in bad standing,” which locks up some of Youtube’s features for channels. In this case, it would have lasted six months, and I would have had to find some way other than live streaming to do morning announcements. Finding a new way to do morning announcements would not have been the biggest challenge; the biggest challenge would have been re-training my news teams when it’s the last quarter of the school year and they have standardized testing coming up. They don’t need that extra stress!

Luckily, Youtube has an appeal process, which I made use of immediately. It took almost a whole day, but the video was ultimately reinstated and my account is back in good standing.

Am I happy that happened? No, but I am grateful for it. Social media, including Youtube, is, well, social. And not every social interaction, on or offline, goes the way I want it to every time. Sometimes that means I have to revise my expectations. Sometimes that means I have to reflect on what I say, what I do, how I say it, or how I do it, and make a change. Sometimes I have to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t want to just opt out at this point. I might be able to live the rest of my own life off of social media… but will my students? If I back away after I get an email that makes me feel sad, I may not be qualified to mentor my students in the digital era. I can not promise to make the online world completely 100% safe for them and their feelings anymore than I can promise that they’ll never fall off the monkey bars on the playground. But I can show them what to do and how to manage their reactions when they come up against an obstacle.

UPDATED TO ADD: I feel better about my experience with (likely automated) censorship when I read about the lady whose photo of a cake got her Instagram account suspended.

Christmas Crush: Gävlebocken

Twitter can be intimidating for newbies. It’s like when you arrive at a party where you barely know anybody, and there are conversations going on all around you, and you just don’t quite know how to get involved at first.It helps when you know someone already there, but sometimes they’re already involved in other conversations. Maybe you hang out at the periphery and then engage when you have something meaningful to contribute. Maybe you wait for a lull or an icebreaker. Or maybe you just find the host’s dog to pet.

I know that last sentence was really convincing, but I am an even sadder sack than that. I really engage with inanimate objects.

I admire the decorations. I get really into appetizers. I frequently bring games to help me socialize, at least initially. I knock a lot of tchotchkes over. (Sorry, gracious hosts!)

I’ve started coming out of my shell on Twitter a bit over the past few months. I still mostly lurk — I eavesdrop on conversations and remarks without engaging with them directly. I tweet links out via other social media I’ve linked to my Twitter — my WordPress and Youtube accounts, mainly. I occasionally heart or retweet something someone posts that I find interesting. I click on many links myself, to articles with headlines that catch my eye.

But in terms of actually engaging, I am super into a giant straw goat from Sweden. It’s my favorite on Twitter right now. Nerd alert.

A Yule goat or Christmas goat is a traditional symbol and decoration for the Christmas season, most popular in Scandinavia and northern Europe. They are usually made of straw and are often small enough to hang as an ornament on a Christmas tree. The Gävle Goat is a giant version in the city of Gävle, Sweden. For the past several years, I have seen it mentioned annually, as it has in the past been burned down by mischief makers.

So this year, I decided to follow it on Twitter, because I want to find out what happens to it. Why not? I could always unfollow after the Christmas season is over.

I have to tell you, I really hope it doesn’t burn down this year. Because I have a crush on the Gävle goat.

It’s not like a full-blown infatuation. It’s more the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when somebody sees you being awkward at a party and makes an effort to include you.

It started on December 1st, when I tweeted:
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And @Gavlebocken tweeted back! As a result, twelve more people retweeted me and twenty-four people gave my original tweet a heart.

Is that a lot? Not relative to people who have been on Twitter for a while and know what they’re doing. Honestly, my tweenage siblings weren’t impressed. But it was a lot for me. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference to someone. I felt welcomed and cheered.

And it wasn’t just a one-time thing, either. @Gavlebocken is engaging even with more mundane tweets. I tweeted again to it just this week, after the first graders at our school learned about Sweden during their “Christmas Around the World” Unit.

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My heart cockles, they are warmed. And it’s because a giant straw goat talks to me on Twitter. And the fact that our first graders keep putting their ears to the floor to listen for gnomes. That’s also fun.

We’re cheering for you to make it through this holiday season, Gävlebocken! Love and luck from Ohio, USA.