You are not a victim. You are a conqueror.

Published July 18, 2014 by Vida Caramela

Today, walk out of your self-imposed prison, into freedom. Put off the chains of fear, martyrdom, or anything else that has held you captive, because they are stealing your power. You are not a victim. You are a conqueror.

After a few days of research, reflection, and prayer, and after reading Psalms 142:7, these are the thoughts that came to me.

I’ve never spoken on this blog about my Christian beliefs before, but I think it’s time I did. I do not wish to offend anyone following this blog in any way, so I offer here, in this paragraph, not an apology but an opportunity for anyone who is offended by Christian thoughts or viewpoints, to stop reading and un-follow me before you reach the next paragraph. I thank you for following and liking my posts. I thank you for your support and encouragement, and I wish you love, and peace, and deliverance from anything that has been causing you pain.

Today, my thoughts are on suffering, and the power of love to defeat it. While this is not an exclusively Christian idea, I will be presenting it in a light that requires, at the minimum, a belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God. So, if you’re still with me, I will share with you my thoughts.

It is true that sometimes we will suffer (at times it can seem like it’s happening more often than not). I don’t believe that we are meant to suffer, but I do believe that our suffering is not meant to be in vain. Miracles have bloomed from every form of suffering that has ever existed. These miracles have occurred throughout history, and we continue to see them today. You might not yet understand what I’m talking about, but I will explain.

No matter who you are, at some point in your life, you have suffered. While our life experiences may be different, suffering is something we all have in common. That’s the first thing I want you to remember. You are not alone. I also want to point out that we do not suffer because, as some people think, God is like a kid with an ant farm. We suffer because there is evil in the world, and the only way to combat evil is with love. Love is the light that banishes the darkness, and true love, the love that comes from God, is the only one with the power to conquer evil. Human love has flaws; it can be powerfully good, but it also can be powerfully evil. Look what Hitler and his followers did for the love of their country. God’s love is pure and incorruptible, so its power for goodness is limitless.

In every episode of human suffering, there is an opportunity to show God’s love. Every tragedy that we witness beckons us to demonstrate goodness, to help someone in need, and to strive for justice. We only need to answer that call, and we will pave the way for those miracles I spoke of earlier. When the Quakers coined the phrase “Speak Truth to Power”, it was of this “Truth” they spoke. Not of one man’s truth, or one woman’s truth, or the truth of an activist or religious group. They were talking about the love of God, and it’s power to overcome evil. For those of you out there who are using your experiences in suffering, to help others, and to show them love whether in words or in deeds, you are speaking truth to power; you are paving the way for miracles to happen. You are exposing evil where it lies, ending suffering, and saving lives.

If someone calls himself or herself a child of God, they bring honor to God with every victory over suffering that is achieved, and they show his “Power”. If someone does not consider himself or herself a child of God, who is brought the glory when he or she is kind, or just, or loving? I’m sure some of you will answer, they bring glory to themselves, but I will disagree. I believe that they, like believers, bring glory to God. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 (NIV). “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12 (NIV) Here’s an illustration: If someone is given a painting as a gift, and proceeds to take credit for creating it, and the painting is admired by others, the accolades may go to the owner, but the adoration still belongs to the painter who created it.

So here’s my last bit of advice:

As bad as it gets, suffering will not have the last word. You stand tall, keep your head up, and most of all, allow love to show through you in the midst of it all. You will see the power of God at work, and so will others. I am a witness to this “Truth”.

From now on, I will be focusing on my victories, because I’m not a victim. I am a conqueror. I’m not just proud of myself for surviving my trials, I am rejoicing over all the victories. I’m thanking God for all the times when His love has triumphed over evil. I am happy that my victories have not come through a demonstration of violence, or hatred, lies, cruelty, or acts of revenge, but because I have chosen to be one of the many soldiers who rally around a banner of perfect love, God’s love.

Finally, I leave with you these words from the Apostle Paul:

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6: 11-18 (NIV).

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One Slice of My Life – Entry #7 : Thank God for Summer!

Published July 12, 2014 by Vida Caramela

I just can’t believe it. I just poured my heart and soul out for the last couple hours writing my thoughts, and just as I was about to publish, Safari unexpectedly quit on me. I’m still in shock, and I realize that I have not learned my lesson. I take so long between posts, that I forget that this has happened before. I forget that I promised myself that I will never do it again. I will never take a complete brain dump, and write for hours about everything I’ve been storing up for the last few months, but forget to save it periodically. I am devastated. What I don’t understand is why the entire document was lost (except for the title), when I completed the title after the article, and why the automatic updates that are saved (at least to my knowledge) do not seem to have occurred. Why was everything gone when I restored Safari?

Anyway, maybe someone out there has some answers for me. I’m done for now. Maybe tomorrow I will try to recreate what I did. I doubt it will be anywhere as good, but I’m sure going to try.

One Slice of My Life – Entry 6

Published April 19, 2014 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0227It’s been about two months since I wrote about the incident with the “mean girls” at my job, and how I planned to file a formal complaint about them. Well. I wrote a letter to my union, sharing with them what had occurred and requesting their assistance in handling the matter. I shared the letter with my supervisor, the “big shark”, who assured me, “don’t worry about it”.  I have to tell you the truth, I thought that they were going to retaliate, and that it would get ugly. I was advised by my union rep. not to say anything to any of them. and I didn’t.  I admit, I was paranoid at first. I thought for a minute, that they were giving me the cold shoulder when I entered the building, but by the end of the second week, it was just a pleasant “Good Morning”, and that’s all. Now, it’s even more collegial than that. It’s quite a lengthy story, but I think it’s worth the telling.

I had to stand my ground once again. This time with a couple of fathers who did not like the grades that their children got on their report cards. This one father wrote me an email that was clearly intended to intimidate me into changing his daughter’s grade. I don’t think you can truly understand unless I share a bit of it with you, so here goes (the names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty. he, he):

Dear Ms. Caramela:

        How come 93 + 101 + 95 + 95 + all completed assignments, homework and participations = 60??????????
        There is something very wrong with what you are doing to my daughter. If my daughter report is not corrected and given to her tomorrow, I will not only come that School X and make a scene, I’ll report this on going issues to the Board of Ed and all the media outlets that I have connection with, including 1010Wins, New York Post and the likes.

        You are failing my daugher and I know it’s all you this marking period as I know every single one of my daugher’s grades.

        If necessary, I’ll take an attorney and file a case against School X if this is not corrected tomorrow, March 20, 2014.

        VERY DISAPPOINTED OF YOU AND SCHOOL X FOR LETTING YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!!!!!
Enough!
Mr. Z

Here is my response:

        Dear Mr. Z,

        I shared your concerns with Mrs. Y, the head of guidance. She informed me that she was going to set up a meeting with you to discuss your concerns and to find a way to help Jane to improve her performance in her class. The strategies  that we have tried in the past have not resulted in any improvements. She continues to score well on exams, but she struggles with  meeting assignment deadlines, and she continues to exhibit a pattern of missing assignments. Please contact Mrs. Y to set up a  meeting. She can be reached at 555-555-2255, extention 5555 Thank you.

        Sincerely,
        V. Caramela, Teacher

Here is his response to my letter:

        THIS IS NOT JANE’S ISSUE! THIS IS YOUR ISSUE!
        You are not telling the truth!
        She gave all her assignments in on time and were there were not graded on time.
        DO NOT POINT THE FIGURE TO MY DAUGHTER!!!

        My daughter’s performance is execellent.
        If you do as much as to point the figure to my daugher on this, it will be a media mess for School X.
        I had enough of you FAILING my child.  YOUR JOB IS TO TEACH…

        I REALLY BELIEVE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE AND YOU FAIL KIDS BECAUSE YOU GET AWAY WITH IT.

        IT HAS TO STOP!!!

        I’LL REACH OUT TO THE MEDIA IF MY DAUGHTER REPORT CARD IS NOT CORRECTED TOMORROW!

I did not respond to him after that. Instead, I notified the administrators and gathered the necessary documentation. Well, he sent one more email after that, all in caps, basically saying that I had done the same thing to his daughter the previous marking period. The next day, he showed up at the school. The administrators spoke to him. They pretty much left me out of it. The head of guidance only asked me if I had all my records. When I assured her that I did, she said “Okay”, and that was all I heard about it until I was called to my supervisor’s office and asked to give an account of what had transpired. I told my supervisor what happened, and she said that she was going to set up a meeting. On the morning of the meeting, the parent emailed us to cancel the meeting because he was ill.

Anyway, back to the story of the “mean girls”. The day after I got the threatening emails, it was Open School night. (I always have about twice the number of parents waiting to see me than time will allow). At the end of the night, one of the mean girls came and reported to me that the scene outside my room was priceless. To this day, I don’t know what she meant by that. She said,” . . . but you were appreciated, I can tell you that”. I didn’t know what that meant either. Then the following day, open school day, a parent showed up demanding that I see him right away, even though other parents had been waiting the whole time to see me. He had come and gone a few times, each time forfeiting his place in the line (that’s the rule, and a sign was right over the sign-in sheet as a reminder). He threatened to go to my supervisor. I told him he could, and asked him to set up a private appointment with me and guidance. He yelled, “No, I’m going to see you today!” Well, he waited until the last parent had left, and he came back. Technically, the conference time was over, but I saw him anyway. He made all kinds of accusations at the meeting, ranging from me giving a quiz on a day of the week when it was not best for his son because of domestic issues, to me only calling him when his son misbehaves, to his latest suspicion that I must be losing his son’s homework (this excuse seems to be the preferred one, these days, over the dog ate it). So, I calmly reminded him that we had spoken on several prior occasions about his child’s academic performance, and that I had informed him that his child was not turning in his assignments regularly, and that he was scoring low on tests no matter what day of the week it was. He continued to badger me, and I stayed firm, confident, and resolute in my intention to settle the issue. The phone rang while we were at it, and I did not answer. Well, it turns out that one of the mean girls realized that something was going on when she saw another father pacing back and forth in front of my door. She had the office call upstairs and when I didn’t answer, and one of my coworkers reported  that the same parent who was in my room had tried to intimidate him earlier, they called the head of security who had gone home for the day, to come back and handle the matter.  I think they got concerned because the parent is a really large fellow (over 6’3″), and last year he was arrested during an altercation with his ex-wife in a pharmacy. I didn’t feel physically threatened by him, but he must have gotten to me emotionally, because the meeting had lasted almost an hour when the security agent came and put him out. I was completely drained.

After that day, it was not only a pleasant “good morning”, from my former tormentors, but it was conversations about not letting the parents get away with intimidation tactics, speaking up about it more, answering the phone in my room to let people know I’m okay, pressing charges on parents who threaten me, etc. It kind of makes me wonder if I’m being made a pawn in another battle that’s been waging between the parents and the administration. I sure hope that’s not it. I just find it difficult to believe that their  concern for me is genuine. (Kind of reminds me of the mean girls in the movie Carrie, acting all nice before they dump the pig’s blood on her head.)

It’s just really odd the way the behaviors have changed towards me so dramatically. Whatever I’ve asked of the “big shark”  lately, she’s granted, which is a complete 180 from her response to me last year. In a future post, I plan to tell all about the miracle that turned the tides for me. I can’t say for sure that this one event changed everything, but it certainly set the ball in motion, and I am grateful for each and every moment of peace that it has brought. No matter what, though, I will continue to pray for peace, prepare for battle, and persevere through whatever comes. That’s how I’m livin’.

One Slice of My Life – Entries 1-5

Published March 8, 2014 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0227(For those of you who’ve seen my blog before and checked out all of my pages, you’ve seen at least part of this one before, but it’s been updated recently, and I’ve decided to display all future updates in posts as well.)

I’m calling this new series “One Slice of My Life”. It’s all about me, and my personal struggle with bullying.

Get to know the person behind the posts as you read each portion of this, one, slice of my life.  Hope you like it :-)

  1. Getting my dukes up is a challenge, because it means always having to be alert, to plan ahead, and  to react quickly. None of this comes naturally to me. With effort, I’ve managed to “stay alert and plan ahead” pretty well, but I’m still not sure how to get the “react quickly” piece going. (Apr. 2013)
  2. On the positive side, things do seem to be getting better for me in my own personal struggle with bullying. Where I lack swiftness, I think I make up for it with determination. (May. 2013)
  3. It’s been almost 8 months since the shark lady at my job has shown any form of aggression towards me. Finally I can say for certain that the bully that plagued me for nearly seven months is no longer on my back.  I attribute it mostly to a miracle from God (I’ll tell you that story another time), and partly to the fight I put up by following all of the advice I posted in my blog. Yes, I was my own guinea pig, and I didn’t just survive the experiment, I triumphed. (Jan. 2014)
  4. I don’t consider myself a shark slayer, a title used in the movie Shark Tale, because the shark still lives, and she is still sinking her teeth into my coworkers each and every day. She’s just not sinking them into me — for now. I will never put my guard down. I will keep my dukes up at all times (Feb. 2014)
  5. Now that the shark is off my tail, regrettably I find myself in an equally vexatious circumstance that, once again, involves the “B-word”, and I’m not only talking about the word “bully”. This time, instead of a shark I’m up against a school of nasty piranha, a small group of women at my job, who have chosen to harass me. They mistook my smile and courteous manner for weakness, and began an insidious attack. This clan of grown up mean girls makes open remarks about my appearance as I pass them in the mornings. They watch me throughout the day to find something that they can use to get the shark back on my case. I didn’t want to appear overly sensitive, so I ignored their behavior for two months, and finally, one week ago, they went too far. They lodged a formal complaint against me for wearing a visible bandage. They told my supervisor that I was a risk to others because I was bleeding all over the place. When the supervisor came to investigate, he could clearly see that they had lied. I filed a formal complaint with the powers that be, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to discourage any future such encounters.(Feb. 2014)

The Teacher Zone – Episode 1

Published February 20, 2014 by Vida Caramela

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 5.04.02 PM

You’re traveling through another dimension – a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a strange land whose boundaries are that of the U.S. Educational System. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Teacher Zone!

Picture with me if you will, one Mrs. D’Moralized, a modern-day educator, tasked with a host of duties required by her job.  She performs all of them with great efficiency. Her classroom runs like a well-oiled machine, students are meeting the standards, paperwork is submitted on time, parents are well informed; and Mrs. D. expects that her supervisor, Mrs. S. N. Fare will take notice.

Mrs. S. N. Fare ignores all of the visual evidence,  and without written documentation,  all of Mrs. D.’s hard work goes unrecognized. At the end of the school year, Mrs. D. is rated ineffective. The reason given, neglect of duty.

in the end the only duties that Mrs. D. truly neglected were the those to herself, and to her family.

This story is one with a sad little twist. The type that defies all logic and common sense. And it can be found here only —

in The Teacher Zone.

(Introduction was adapted from Rod Serling’s, The Twilight Zone, Season 2)

Authors Note: In 2013, NYC adopted a new teacher evaluation system called Advance, where 60% of the teachers rating is based on teacher performance (Teacher Practice), and 40% on student performance (Measures of Student Learning, MOSL). The 60% Teacher Practice rating is determined by the following: what the supervisor sees,  what the teacher submits as written evidence, and what the children write in the student survey (which counts for 5 of the 60 points).

Systems like this are being adopted all across the nation, and teachers are now facing a marked increase in the load of paperwork they must do in order to document their own performances. Often, personality conflicts, nepotism, agism, racism, bigotry, resentment, favoritism and other unrelated factors, blind supervisors and students to the true performance of the teacher. Coupled with the facts that student test scores do not always reflect a teachers performance,  and that teachers have not been given additional time to compile written evidence, this will most certainly result in some teachers receiving unfair ratings.

On Being Special

Published February 9, 2014 by Vida Caramela

I wish all people could accept themselves, no matter how different they are from others.

I wish all people could accept others, no matter how different they are from themselves.

I wish all people could concentrate on self improvement instead of criticizing others.

I wish all people could love with their heads as well as their hearts.

I wish all people could focus on what unites us rather that focusing on the things that divide us.

I wish all people could honor the fact that everyone was born with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I wish all people could celebrate diversity instead of trying to stamp it out.

I wish all people could stop recycling and reusing intolerance, and just throw it out for good.

I wish all people could value justice and integrity more than they value wealth and power.

If all these wishes came true, would that take us one step closer to being the same, not very unique, or “special”? Or would it allow us more space for individuality?

If by nature we are already so unique in so many ways, couldn’t we choose to be the same in ways that make it easier for us to be special?

Common Core Development: A Crumpled Timeline

Published August 25, 2013 by Vida Caramela

A crumpled paper ball made from an A4 sheet

Okay, I investigated those websites, and after scouring through them carefully, I did not see a drop of data. What I saw was a heap of professional development resources for common core.  That was a bit disappointing because I specifically asked to see data. Anyway, I decided to do my own search and I did come up with something of interest. So, here’s what I am going to do; I’m going to post the interesting facts about CCSS pilot testing as I find them.

I’ll start with an article I found on the Education Week website:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/08/weve_been_telling_you_in.html

The article, written by  Catherine Gewertz, and dated August 23, 2011, states that New York City and Washington, D.C., are joining six other urban districts  to lead out in piloting the common core.  Gewertz goes on to mention, “The work is unfolding through the Council of the Great City Schools, which last week announced a $4.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will be used for a broad range of activities to implement the standards in all of its member districts. But eight will play a lead role.

What I found especially interesting in the article was the following statement: “New York has already been at work on a pilot that involves three areas of common-core implementation: curriculum alignment, performance-based assessment, and text complexity.”

Now I have even more questions, like: Where, specifically in New York, is this pilot being done? When exactly did it begin? Has any data been generated from these pilots so far?

Based on this article, the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by the 45 States are in the prototype testing phase as we speak, and are not the finished product. If this is true, are the 45 States field-testing for the remaining five?

Until I find some evidence of pilot work occurring before the adoption of the CCSS by all of these States, I will be forced to conclude that the  engineering timeline for CCSS is fan-folded or possibly just crumpled, so every phase of it’s development is occurring practically simultaneously.