Oftentimes when reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the classroom, students giggle when stumbling upon the first “inappropriate” word.
By ages 10 and 11 nowadays, students have heard and said all of those words at some point. In fact, a lot of those kids have heard their parents shouting those words while driving through morning and afternoon traffic.
Because I teach in Miami, many of the students volunteer during class discussions that their parents say very colorful words in a couple different languages.
Just a side note: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving in Miami, you would probably say them too.
So, when students giggle about those words, it’s because for one, they’re in school and for another they know it’s wrong to say them. Their parents (guardians) and teachers have told them this.
For the most part, when students’ eyes run across the “N-word,” they stop, stutter, and say “N-word” or skip to the next word. Some students say the word and just keep going.
It’s not too far into the book that we have a Socratic Circle on the topic of censorship.
It gives them a sense of enlightenment to be given the opportunity to take control of their education and decide what they think is right or wrong.
The students boldly talk about the importance of using those words in this book and to remember how terrible the word really is. These young students, who hear all types of inappropriate words on YouTube and when they’re playing video games, speak about censorship intelligently and almost sound like little parents.
I, as their teacher, never interfere with their viewpoints. I only offer questions about it.
Why do you think people would want to censor “inappropriate” language from books?
Who decides what’s “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for whom?
Why do we feel the need to censor anything, in any type of media?
These questions are difficult to answer. We adults know that we go to great lengths to protect our children from any number of situations let alone what may or may not be “inappropriate” language in a book. What about the content of the book itself?
Banned Books Week ended already, but there are other issues involving the internet that leave us all stumped in one way or another, especially those with children or those who are teaching children.
How do we solve these issues? Do we look to our history of banning books and censoring art to guide us into the future?
Writing was only used to text or post for help. We had to preserve electricity.
Funny how we call it power.
Well, we lost power. By that I mean, the kind we depend on for everything lately, even our brains. We are so accustomed to Googling everything that we use, essentially using electricity inadvertently instead of our brains.
Needless to say, everything slowed down after Irma ripped electricity from us.
And, all I have to say about it is a lot.
After the storm: Irma ripped away our electricity.
If you’ve never been to Miami during a humid hot summer day–and I don’t mean at the beach–then don’t roll your eyes when I repeat what everyone is complaining about. One day without electricity left us baking inside our houses, even with the windows open. By day three, my daughter slept on the tile floor while my husband fanned her with my son’s science board.
I kept getting up and putting the pillow under her head, but she still had bumps from hitting it against the floor.
I thought I could deal with it, but the hurricanes before Irma left us with somewhat of a breeze during the long days of no electricity. Irma left Miami and the Keys and other parts of Florida with not even a small breeze to tease us enough for a hint of hope.
Dead heat sucked away all of our energy. So that brain power, which needed to be harnessed and used for the lack of power we have become so reliant on, that was useless except for reading books and minimal movement.
I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and read it finally. I’d been pushing it to the side in the name of parenthood, work, cleaning, sleep, and even writing. The hellish descriptions of enslavement intertwined with the lyrical tone of love and resilience kept me more than thankful for what we had despite the extreme discomfort during the days without electricity. I also relearned history and was continually reminded of how lucky and spoiled we are.
Incredible people emerge when circumstances leave us vulnerable.
Let’s be realistic. There were the crazy creeps who crawled out of the woodwork and thought it was the Walking Dead come to life, so they hoarded all the gas to power their pickup trucks and generators. But, for every single creep, there were multiple kind-hearted humanitarians who came to the rescue for the elderly and all of us who were so anxious and tired.
We picked up tree branches and cut trees from our fences, mailboxes, and cars.
Especially those with electricity, neighbors and friends asked each other if anyone needed help: a charger, a warm shower, a place to breathe fresh air.
Then there were those we couldn’t even contact.
Phone service was terrible.
Landlines didn’t even work, let alone wireless phone service. Most of the first three days after Irma hit, texts wouldn’t go through and phone calls lasted maybe 10 seconds if you were lucky to get a signal at all.
We had to walk or drive to hospitals or grocery stores that were able to open just to try to contact relatives. It wasn’t just the heat that kept me from sleeping for five days. I would wake up drinking in hot air after passing out from lack of sleep. Panic attacks plagued me after 12 and sometimes 24 hours without a word from my parents.
Irma took my parents’ home.
My parents lost their dream home in Plantation Key. They are the hardest working people I know. My father’s a 74-year-old war veteran, who was awarded a bronze medal for his service, never shed a tear over it; but he was heartbroken. He quietly stood tall and accepted his loss as my mother cried then grew strong with her own acceptance.
Slowly their hearts were mended when the police officers and fire rescue in Miami-Dade and the Keys checked on them. Most of their neighbors also came to their rescue, even locals who didn’t have any idea who they were responded to my pleas for help on social media and checked on them.
They have another home in the Keys where they took shelter and remained without electricity, cleaning up debris and flooded areas while enduring this damned heat. Those beautiful police officers and fire rescue workers got the word out and managed to restore their electricity yesterday.
When our electricity finally blipped on, everyone in our entire neighborhood, windows open, cheered. My mind flashed to us with spears in hand dancing in honor of the electricity gods. My children panted, “I will never take it for granted again.”
I joked that we now worshipped the electricity gods. Before this one, our children just took it for granted. Now they understood adults spouting words such as “spoiled” and “lazy” as they relentlessly played with their electronics and inhaled fresh, cool air.
The only good think Irma gave us was a deep appreciation for everything she took away from us.
This is what my daughter played on the piano after we were blessed with electricity.
Any teacher worth their salt will tell you straight up that she’s learned as much from her students as they have from her.
But, every teacher will concede that learning has become more than just a challenge.
I have two children and I’ve taught thousands.
So, when I began teaching, I wanted to be the teacher that I’d want for my own children. I wanted to be someone who cares about students and who will ensure students learn as much as possible about the subject matter.
I so naively thought, How hard could it be?
I found out.
It’s never as simple as it could be.
Looking at the world we live in today, education feels more like a battleground for a teacher than the simple act of opening a book.
For students, it’s no longer an avenue to learning as much as a road block.
Students can’t sit still and, when they do, they lose focus so quickly that a vigilant teacher hammers out questions within a minute of reading a paragraph let alone a passage.
And, if the problem was only with the students, it might be easier to turn around, but the difficulties are compounded by overworked parents who are just as addicted to electronics as their children are and oftentimes clueless about the damage electronic devices do to students who have to go to school and read mountains of information in order to graduate.
It would be nice.
It would be nice to be able to take a usb and insert it into students’ hard drives (if they had one in their brain) in order to transfer the information so that they could then take that and create or perform new tasks from that point on.
We aren’t there yet. And, really, do we want that? I don’t know.
I do know that I tell students that I can’t do that. They have to open the book, open the document, visit the website, and read.
I’m their least favorite teacher.
I know this.
I’m fine with it.
But, it is a challenge. So, I take them to the movies.
Take them to the movies.
Of course, these movies are inside their heads. I use the information already uploaded to their limitless hard drives and give them something to connect to.
No, it doesn’t work right away. I reconnect at the beginning of each week, especially after long weekends like this one and forget about how hard it is to connect after winter break and then spring break.
I do it anyway.
We talk about where movies come from. We talk about how they begin.
From books, from a written word, from an idea, from an education.
But, it’s still not that simple.
Students get excited. They fantasize. They proclaim. They set goals. Then, they go home.
At home they are met with iPhones, iPads, desktops, laptops, televisions, movies, YouTube, apps, apps, and more apps.
Parents are tired and stare at the same thing.
So, who educates whom?
To meet teachers just introduces parents to someone who will attempt to use technology in order to bypass the distractions that every student must face this year.
Teachers from all backgrounds and ethnicities will plunge full-force into the curriculum deemed correct by the state and departments.
Will students teach teachers or will teachers teach students?
It really is a conundrum if there’s no exchange of power. At the core of learning is the ability to ingest information but not to just regurgitate it. If the teacher can truly spark the desire to learn in any student, then the student needs to be able to return the spark with a fire that can’t be put out the minute he or she enters a home.
The learning needs to continue, whether that’s answering questions about science, mathematics, or about a novel or an article read online. The student then needs to be able to then create something new, write an essay, a story, or create a robotic arm.
All of this requires focus and inevitably demands freedom from distractions.
So what can teachers learn from students?
They are smarter than anyone gives them credit for.
They actually have access to way too much information.
So, knowing just these two things, makes teachers the perfect avenue to guide them. And, if parents and teacher actually worked together, they could influence children more than they ever imagined.
Who holds the power?
Students will teach parents and teachers by default. The interaction makes it so. However, instead of raging on about the damn electronics, how about giving them power over their devices.
Teach them that the devices are just tools to get what they want. But, then, they would need to know what they want.
That’s where teachers find their power. Our job really is that simple and, yet, more difficult than ever.
Our power lies in showing students their own power.
You see, they think it’s in their devices. Many students don’t really think about the fact that humans made these devices. They don’t think about why they made them.
So, when it comes right down to it, teachers need to understand that empowering students through conversations full of questions and debate in every subject in every grade level is the key to conquering what feels like a black hole of endless distractions.
Changing the way your child thinks about school is already a daunting task, so don’t expect miracles or overnight success.
It is school after all.
This isn’t a checklist or advice that works on cue. These are segments of living that should be worked into conversations and issues and built upon as you move throughout the school year.
Because I’ve spent the last week preparing my classroom for the school year, I’ve been thinking not just about curriculum but about the little human beings who will walk through the door come Monday. If you’ve been reading my posts, then you know I have a gift. And, like all gifts or anything powerful for that matter, there are good and bad sides to it.
The gift I’m talking about is the ability to see things from a teacher’s point of view and a parent’s point of view. You see why I say it has a good and bad side?
So, when I tell you how to change the way your child thinks about school, I’m considering both the teacher’s and the parent’s perspectives in a very realistic, practical view.
Now, when you read through the following points, the emphasis is on SHOW and Tell not just tell.
Show and tell your child that he or she is smart.
Don’t say this in a condescending way, you know, with that high pitched voice that makes your child feel even more uncomfortable with what you’re about to say. I just got into a fight with one of my own about intelligence. I more often than not do the same with my students.
Parent: “You are so smart and you know this.”
Child: No I’m not. So many kids are smarter than I am.
Parent: What are you talking about? Since when have you used that excuse?
Child: Excuse for what?
Parent: For not believing in yourself….
Child: (Rolls eyes.) God, give me a break. YOU only think I’m smart.
Parent: (Rolls eyes.) Give ME a break. I tell you when I think you’re doing something stupid don’t I? I’m talking about what I see, really. I see you create incredible work. I hear you answer questions with such unique answers, I sometimes wonder if you’re part alien. And, if I’m stuck on a problem, I know that if I talk to you that you’ll help me turn it into a solution.
Child: (Half-smiles as the conversation continues.)
Kids are smarter than ever, contrary to what popular statistics often emphasize. I remember asking my six-year-old nephew how to find several different things on my cell phone. He was quicker and more pleasant to talk to than any IT guy I’ve tried to communicate with.
Show and tell your child you’ll help him or her through difficulties.
Whether in elementary, middle, or high school, your child needs to know that you’re there to help no matter what, that you’ll help them through anything especially if they ask you.
Parent: How was your day?
Child: Mm, long.
Parent: Funniest thing that happened?
Parent: Listen, even if you don’t want to talk right now, I’m here for you, okay kid? You hear me?
Child: Yeah, thanks.
Kids, especially teenagers, might not want to talk right away, but they do need to know that you’re available. You need to make it clear sometimes, especially when you can tell they haven’t had such a good day.
Show it by going out of your way to pick them up and ask questions about their day. Play a game with them. Ask them questions. Pay attention to them.
Show your child that you listen.
Sometimes, every once in awhile, parents just don’t want to listen. I get it. But, listening to your child express his or her anger, grief, drudgery in life, and happiness, among other things, gives him or her a chance to not only vent but to realize that age-old line, “I’m here for you kid.”
In other words, you need to prove that you really are there for him or her on a daily basis, no matter how tired or stressed you are.
The chatter can be endless, but those of you with moody teenagers know that when the chatter starts, you listen.
If you can’t get them to talk, take them to a restaurant or do something with them that they really like to do. In the process, you might hear something like the following.
Child: I had the longest most irritating day. You know that girl I told you about? Mean girls, you know. She tore me down little by little and had everyone ignore me all day. Can you believe what followers they are? Really! What a bunch of losers. I feel like….
Parent listens. Child texts.
Child: Oh my God, Kathy just texted me that she hates her. Ha! I can’t believe she hates her.
Parent says nothing for now.
Child: Thanks for taking me to get those shoes I wanted.
Parent: You’re very welcome.
Your own excursion might take longer and the chatter may not make much sense, but the time that your child spends with you does matter. He or she will remember it even if you think it didn’t make a difference.
Show and tell stories to make a point.
Please please please don’t start it with, “When I was a kid….”
Do start with something like, “This kid with super straight blond hair used to point and laugh at me all the time. I really hated that kid. I ignored him all the time but he never stopped pointing and laughing at me. I don’t know what I did to him but apparently I was really funny to him. Then halfway into the school year he fell on his face in front of everyone. I saw the whole thing happen. He tripped over nothing. Everyone laughed at him and I actually felt bad for him as a little girl tried to help him get up.”
There are so many opportunities to insert really great stories into the simplest conversations. Yes, I know, most of us don’t want to even think about our school days, but when you have children, that’s all you do if you care even just a little bit about helping them get through some of the tougher obstacles in life.
Depending on the grade level, you can think of many times when you had to overcome similar difficulties.
Ultimately, be real with your children.
No, please don’t always tell them the truth. Sometimes, the truth is just depressing, but be real. After you’ve been listening to them, you know how to be realistic while still motivating them.
Child: God, I hate school.
Parent: Why, what happened?
Child: The stupid teacher yelled at me then made fun of me in front of the whole class.
Parent: Which class?
Parent: What’d she do?
Child: She freakin’ saw me talking to this kid, but I was just telling the kid to leave me alone ‘cause he wouldn’t stop asking me how to do problems. She just assumed it was my fault. God, I hate her.
Parent: Did you talk to her?
Child: NO! Really?! God!
Parent: That stinks. I’m so sorry that happened. I’ll talk to the teacher for you.
Child: NO! I’ll do it.
Parent: Okay, okay, I understand. You can also ask to be moved.
Parent: I know teachers can be unfair but if you give them a chance…you know, kinda like when you give me a chance, like when I just assume the fights with your brother are your fault…
Now, you’ve got the attention of your child. You give them something realistic to latch onto and there’s a willingness to listen and change where there wasn’t that before.
Successful communication between parents and children changes daily and by the minute. Sometimes the best communication means not saying one word, not even giving them a hug, but allowing them to be alone and telling them when they’re ready to talk you’ll be there for them.
One of the beauties of being married to a Hispanic man is that I’ve gotten to learn about his culture through his eyes.
I had grown up in Miami before I met him so Spanish was all around me. Many of my friends were Cuban, but they wanted to be “American” and most of them were already losing their handle on their language, creating what we know now as Spanglish.
He, on the other hand, came from Venezuela, which at the time was nothing like what you see on the news now, but there was enough violence that moving to the United States was a dream come true for his family who had seen victims of shootings on the street and who had been robbed of their gifts for Christmas.
His father is a journalist and was offered a job with a major news organization so they took the opportunity and ended up in New York.
I met him after he’d moved to Miami because his father was working at El Nuevo Herald by then.
And, after all of the years of living in Miami, studying Spanish and hearing Spanish, I couldn’t speak it.
But, he introduced me to the Telenovela: A wickedly colorful version of what we “Americans” call Soap Operas.
I had seen my friend’s grandparents watching them but the crying and screaming freaked me out.
Until he showed me “Carrusel de Ninos,” a telenovela about children who attend school and their relationships with each other. It was the children’s carousel.
It was simple enough that I could understand what was happening and hear the Spanish language delivered by children.
Within the confines of this little school, you would laugh and cry and the language would live and breathe inside of you.
There were the rich and the poor. There were the outcasts and the popular kids. There were the mean and the nice kids. Everything related to you and yet you learned about their culture also.
My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, showed me it because it was a good show, not because he wanted me to learn the language.
I watched it for the same reason.
So, when the thought occurred to me that I could actually learn how to speak Spanish from this, it didn’t feel like I had to work very hard at it.
The children expressed themselves with their bodies and expressions as much as through the language itself.
How Did It Change My Approach to Spanish?
When I ordered food, I would ask for the item in Spanish more often.
“Dos empanadas de carne por favor.”
When I listened to Spanish I understood more.
Sientete aqui really became Sit here but I didn’t need to stop and translate it into English like so many have to do.
Mostly, though, I just felt at ease with the language.
Por qué siempre hacemos aprendizaje tan difícil.
So, I ask you: Why do we make learning so difficult?