Yesterday, that grit that has kept me trekking through some of my longest struggles abandoned me and left me panicking.
I’m the one with the fight. Everyone expects it.
But, sometimes, I just fail at what’s expected of me.
When I got the call, I just started breathing these long, deep breaths from the gut. Meditate. That’s it.
Then, it all just hit me in the gut.
The grit was gone.
A heavy pounding pumped my chest and I knew the only way to survive this one was to cry. We’ve been so worried about this happening that the moment it happened, it felt like I’d used up all my grit just holding on to nothing.
My husband lost his job, not because he’s a terrible employee, but because the company was bought out by another company who wants to streamline things. You can fill in the blanks for the rest of that story.
But, don’t worry I’m still working. I don’t make much money because, well, I’m a teacher. Need I say more?
He, however, is in the news business, an online producer, social media specialist, you name it. He has an immaculate background that includes loyaltyand hard work, but sometimes I wonder if that’s what employers even want anymore. I mean, doesn’t it just come down to who will work for the least amount of money, at least in the online news business?
There’s punchline in here somewhere.
I guess I’m the punchline because he just went to the bedroom and shut the door. He started looking for work immediately. I, on the other hand, turned on Spotify and listened to Prince songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” was the first song to play), randomly freaked out my kids with wild screeching noises, watched a couple of old episodes of Modern Family, drank three espressos, went running in the middle of the hottest time of the day in Miami, then told him to get ready because we needed to go to Happy Hour somewhere.
If you rewind through that list of crazy, seemingly random activities, you’ll see how I got my grit back or even better my grit turned to grace.
A good cry gets rid of unwanted crap.
Prince has grit, in death and life.
Singing liberates you, even if you can’t carry a tune.
Laughing about problems grounds you.
Espressos fuel you.
Exercise refreshes you.
Sweating cleanses you.
And, Happy Hour reminds you that life’s supposed to be fun and crazy.
At Happy Hour we played with a link on Facebook that morphs you into an old Hollywood star. He became Clark Gable and I turned into Grace Kelly.
We remembered that we were once just kids and we’re somehow still in love despite some really scary moments in life. We’ve done a pretty good job at making a life for ourselves and our kids and, frankly my dear, there are worse problems than this.
Yesterday, that grit that has kept me trekking through some of my longest struggles abandoned me and left me panicking.
Who were you growing up? Who are you now?
What did they call you? What do they call you?
There I was, the one who had a different opinion, the one who didn’t talk, the one who stood out. I was perfect for their names. It was an introduction to learning to laugh at yourself.
It was high school, and it is life.
I had curly dark hair then. Sometimes wisps would create a halo that looked like the sun, at least that’s what I told myself when I rationalized my “nickname.” It’s just that when they said it, it sounded like, “Heeeeyyyyy, Sunshiiiiine!” The sound of giggling afterward quickly sharpened the tone as if to say, This isn’t a nickname stupid! This is a game. They’re gonna have their fun with you.
I’d turn away and pretend I was only temporarily occupying this body. I threw myself into an alternate world while still walking the tan corridors leading to my next class. It kept me walking.
Later, it wasn’t until I started teaching that someone said that to me again. I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t turn away. I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t even remember those moments when that group of girls chose me for their weekly victim until they could find a better one, which they did.
I just looked at the person and smiled. I also felt sorry for her. I wondered if someone had done that to her. Wasn’t she too old to be doing this? She made it a thing too. She started saying it all the time as if trying to create her own group, no one joined it, but she still said it until she stopped.
Somewhere along the way, between the high schooler turned writer turned graphic artist turned editor who becomes teacher, I traveled to The Keys, stopped at a shop along the narrow road, and spent a scorching amount of time staring at an enormous, ceramic sun.
The sun came home with me.
Sometimes a blur means more because it’s that space between nothing that means everything.
It took some focus. I hadn’t taken a pen in hand and actually written with the intention of writing a story or just writing for pleasure, even pain, since, well, a long while.
The first sentence was just a sentence to begin movement. I had learned a long time ago not to expect the first sentence on a first write to ever be first or even last long at all. It was the sentence after that first one and the sentence after that one and that one and that one that gave me a sense of what I could still do.
Writing on paper showed me the past and the future. In college, I wrote on paper. Personal computers were gigantic and felt stale and distant. Not much later, I stopped using paper though and typed everything. It was faster and easier.
But, using that pen yesterday, felt as if I connected a string to my heart. That’s where I wrote from. It all came from my heart.
Tapping on a keyboard now feels distant and almost like work.
A paper and a pen tug at the heart.
A groan of discomfort plugs into what used to be us.
Age has a lot to do with it.
Age has mostly everything to do with it.
Age and time.
The amount of time they spend on YouTube alone generates hours of mind-numbing transference that leaves my teeth clenched and off-center.
One of them lies on the couch randomly laughing and when asked about it, he replies, “This guy was playing this video game and he finally got these powers that let him punch really hard and instead of hitting the other guy he punched himself!” He laughs again.
“You wanna see?”
Disgust washes over me and I quickly blurt out, “No!”
With his Boca Juniors soccer beanie on and still wearing his pajamas, he jumps up granting me permission to look at his phone. “Here, c’mon, look, I swear, it’s funny!”
“No!” I scream. “It’s stupid. That’s stupid!” More frustrated than ever I proclaim, “This is how you’re choosing to spend your valuable time. Don’t you know what you could be doing. Read a book for Chrissake. My God!”
I often leave to the computer room where I open my computer and sulk.
I don’t pick up a book or even write with a pen and paper.
But, I am superior nonetheless.
The other one hibernates in her room, sometimes locks the door, and takes at least a minute to walk three steps to open it when prompted by my pounding on the door.
Often, I even have to say, “Open the door,” before there’s movement.
Stupid questions follow.
“Have you read your book yet?”
“No.” A glare, the wicked teenage kind, follows and so do more stupid questions.
“When are you going to read?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to take your phone?”
“Clean your room and read.”
I walk away before things start flying through the air.
I retire to the computer room.
My phone buzzes.
I pick it up and text away.
I check emails, text more, and realize that we’re halfway through the day and we’ve spent the large majority of it on devices, electronics.
What’s wrong with us?
It’s a conspiracy.
These companies want to ruin our lives.
They want to take all of our money and now our minds!
This must end or I shall die!
“Hand over the electronics,” I declare.
Dead eyes stare back at me.
No one moves.
“Now!” I scream.
“After this one thing,” my son says and rolls over on the couch.
“No!” my daughter yells, “I’m reading on my phone!”
“Lies!” I scream. “You’ve got one minute to put the devices on the counter or you lose them for a week!”
I wait a second then begin confiscating devices.
There’s screaming. Random bursts of “Crazy!” “God!” and “I hate you!”
No one talks.
I clean the house.
They grab a book and read.
I can finally hear the trees speaking to me again. It’s been a while.
After a school year that seemed relentlessly long, there’s nothing I’d hate more than to talk about this school year. I don’t want to give any advice about reading, questions types, testing, and, please, don’t ask about writing, in particular, essays.
I’m looking up.
I’m disconnecting from what supposedly defines me. Not from my phone, computer, or TV, although that’s some of it, not from electricity in any way, but I’m disconnecting from school.
So I’m going to give myself a break from thinking about reading assignments, reading comprehension, required reading, homework, grading, everything in connection with traditional, structured, life-draining education.
What a relief!
I woke up last week and it was 6 a.m. Normally I’m up at 5:30 getting ready to take my daughter to school then returning to get ready for teaching and take my son to school.
But I didn’t have to, so I looked at the time and went back to sleep.
After I woke and became instinctively lazier, I took a walk.
I noticed the trees and how many brilliant flowers were blooming. I’m physically looking up, up, seeing the branches sway and the petals drop. My neck pain is at a minimum because I’m not hunching over a computer or over stacks of papers.
The trees spoke to me. They waved and winked as I approached them. Orange petals floated over my pathway, welcoming me to life, the best kind of life.
My heart opened.
Now when I look around me, I see my children relaxed, smiling more, looking healthier and happier than, well, than in the last several months.
I see my house, messy, but home just the same.
I breathe a whole lot slower, deeper, calmer.
My feet don’t hurt.
No students to reprimand. No screeching noises. No nothing.
I see me.
The first time my son heard the word “Homework” he screamed, ran to his bedroom, slammed the door and locked it.
He was three years old and his older sister decided it was time he got some homework too so she told him she was going to give him homework. That’s when the screaming began.
What does it really mean when schools, teachers, and advocates cry, no homework?
We’ve all either been there or seen it. Seemingly endless hours of homework awaiting you. The desire to turn away from it burns so fiercely that you actually shove it to the side and watch TV instead. Maybe you just go outside and play games or just lie there on the ground thinking of creative ways to get out of ever having to do it at all.
As a parent and a teacher, I always feel conflicted about any subject involving homework.
On the one hand, I’ve been up until midnight, helping my child finish homework because the teacher never even taught the lesson assigned for homework. I know this because the teacher admitted it as if it was perfectly acceptable to do such a thing.
On the other, I’ve considered the whole idea of assigning nothing for homework and I do that but only sometimes. However, the bottom line remains that there isn’t enough time in the classroom to reinforce and cover everything. The other problem that now exists involves social media and electronics.
You see, savvy parents and teachers know something very important about homework. Without it, our children won’t read books, and they certainly won’t relinquish the highly addictive realm of electronics. In fact, most children become so lost in this world that it’s almost a losing battle to try and take it away from them.
Homework fixes that fast.
Parents and teachers who are truly honest with themselves know this.
So when I look at all the books and arguments that pundits such as Andy Khon make against homework, I really do sympathize with the argument for no homework, but I can’t agree.
The real problem is teachers who don’t support children or give them a chance to make up work. The real problem is an educational system that doesn’t understand a child’s life may be very difficult so too much homework won’t help them.
Andy Khon makes some good points about just how disconcerting the system is.
However, without homework, children lose too much.
So, what then is homework for?
- They need to read and not just in school. Without reading assignments, many parents just won’t encourage children to read. They’re too busy and tired, so it’s very easy to just allow them to play video games or play on their iPad—where they watch endless hours of YouTube, which can be valuable and can also be a bottomless pit of nonsense, some of it shocking depending on the perspective.
- They need reinforcement. There are a few ways teachers know how well their students understood the material taught in class. One very valuable tool is homework. Through that, I can help them better understand vocabulary or concepts that I thought they understood but didn’t.
- They need training. They are growing so fast that soon they will need to set aside time to study for quizzes and tests. How do they learn to do this? By getting bad grades? Or, by doing some homework? It’s the same thing.
- They need opportunities. If handled the right way, students use homework to raise their grades and learn creatively through projects and guided assignments that help them flourish.
Social media has a way of making us believe ideas are great momentarily. We like it. We share it. We reblog it. We repeat it. We follow it.
When, in reality, all these naysayers had to do homework to be able to write and speak the way they do. Many of them don’t have to grapple with the day-to-day problems parents, who work until late at night and can’t spend time with their children, have to deal with.
If teachers and parents work together, homework actually benefits children and helps them grow and become better in every subject, which in turn helps them find their purpose in life, whatever that may be.
What’s your argument?
Watching students test has become an obsession for me, as a teacher and as a mom. I first began studying The Test about 10 years ago.
I had always held a deep disdain for even the mention of the word “test” while plowing through my school years. I hated tests because I’d shut down and perform poorly on tests. This happened after an encounter with a terrible test at a young age. So, I began to loathe testing.
It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I felt compelled to study and ultimately understand the process of taking a test. After all, teachers have to create tests so I needed to know exactly how I should start, so I searched different websites dedicated to teaching educators how to create tests.
I began with multiple choice questions and answers because those were the kinds of test items that made no sense to me. I rarely understood why my answer was wrong when teachers reviewed answers with my classes.
The reviews usually consisted of teachers ticking off the right answers and only explaining one or two in a very matter of fact way, as if to say, “Don’t you dare question the logic of the test.”
So, I never did. I only questioned my intelligence, which meant I thought I was an idiot. Until now.
The first question I had
was why in the hell am I creating a multiple choice test anyway? Where did the damn thing come from?
The Washington Post has a great article about the origins of the multiple choice test. The writer also adds some background information about how educators assess students and questions the validity of the act of testing at all. It’s definitely worth the read. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/13/AR2006111301007.html
According to The Washington Post, an educator named Frederick J. Kelly, the Dean of Education at the University of Kansas, created the first multiple-choice test in 1914. From that point on, that style of testing mushroomed into what we find students struggling over throughout their educational life.
So when I sat down to research the very idea of creating the multiple choice tests, I found a mountain of information on the subject. So much information, that I really had to sift through it quickly or I could’ve been reading for months nonstop.
The most surprising and most valuable information was the method of using a distractor in the multiple-choice answers.
Ironically enough, the word “distraction” has become the 21st century go-to word to describe everything associated with everything electronic and has young students drowning in schools.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a student test nowadays, you’d see very quickly how and why students often struggle with standardized tests. First, they see a paper with words on it and cringe. If it’s on the computer, they won’t cringe but that doesn’t mean they’ll concentrate on the material being presented to them, especially if it requires reading.
Most unsuccessful students seem to skim or scan whatever they’re reading and answer the questions by returning to the text to search for answers, which means that they’ve most likely missed the main point of the passage, which then throws off their answers to just about everything.
They end up with low scores and are left feeling stupid, anxious, and defeated.
They go home and become more addicted to the distractions that help them to feel confident, happy, and friendly—gaming and social media.
These are the distractions that reward them. The test drains them. And, we, parents and teachers, feel twice as frustrated and confused.
However, by observing this, every year I don’t begin my multiple choice creations with distractors. I begin my journey with my own brand of distractions.
And it works.
Written by Lisa Chesser
This post and others to follow will focus on teaching and helping children succeed in school. I’m working on a book that will have more details on sifting through the minds of children in order to help them find success in a system that often destroys their ability to succeed.
Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.
Even when there’s nothing really there.
I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.
See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.
Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.
In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.
Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”
Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”
I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.
What is Zika?
The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital.
But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.
Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.
Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.
We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?
An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?
We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.
And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.
We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.
Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.
The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.
I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.
Written by Lisa Chesser
The eyes spill anger, the kind that festers.
Love turns to hate so quickly.
There’s a sort of hell inside a young mind. I see it every day at school and all the time at home. It’s the conflict inside all of us, but as an adult, we master it.
We live. We learn. We stop hurting so much over small problems. Most of us work on ourselves. The youth or young people seem to us to have everything while at the same time to lack the essential appreciation of that everything.
They desire too much and can’t control that desire. Some even acquire a collection of iPhones, iPads, and video games that startles the onlooker, the elder who never had anything.
They indulge in outrageous behaviors such as cutting or bullying.
They love too much, screaming and crying for a singer or rock band.
Some adults have the audacity to act the same way. And, all of it makes sense. After all, the young know how to live. Sometimes it even works to our advantage because we harness the energy level they have and use it to invigorate our lives, not harm them.
Some adults, however, know how to just be: to live without the need to return to the youth mindset.
But, what is it about youth, that age where you’re maybe 14 and you realize that you have a period and/or hair all over your body so you grapple with ways to cope with it? You go from insecure to almost good enough.
A teenage girl might struggle with body image and find a way to control it by exercising more and improving the way she looks in the mirror and to others.
But, the events that led to her struggle damaged her so much so that her hatred for herself and others lingers. No, it festers.
What is it that makes the youth hate so much? Hate everyone they love. Hate everything about themselves. Hate the most beautiful and pleasant moments in life. Then, what is it that makes them lash out—try to destroy themselves or those around them?
I often think of Hitler Youth when I see this in a tween or teen.
He must’ve known just how angry they were and simply gave them permission, encouraged them, to act on their rage.
Read more about this in The Mindset of the Hitler-Jugend by Kyle Frabotta