Taking a break from teaching has given me time to explore the world of education through the Internet. I’ve found some sites that feel like an endless trail of links to worksheets that are essentially irrelevant to students of the 2020 realm.
But, I’ve also found websites that are not only 2020 perfect, but 2020 necessary, thought-provoking, and downright futuristic.
One website in particular bent my mind into a world of possibilities. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers not just with resources but with a well-thought-out tool with which to conduct an entire world of discovery and knowledge.
In the latest issue, the focus is on Black Minds Matter. Because we’re approaching Black History Month, this is an invaluable resource for every classroom in the Nation. The issues concerning equality and freedom that some thought were irrelevant have never been more important in our discussions and our everyday lives.
A section of the magazine is dedicated to diversity. Help your school, yourself, and your students define diversity and the nuances of navigating what it means in a world that’s supposed to be better than it actually is. The section includes classroom activities and standards that can be easily matched to any state or common core standards.
This issue also tackles even more difficult subjects that need to be taught but are difficult to introduce to students such as lynching. Included in the materials available is a film An Outrage with a viewer’s guide that accompanies it.
Take the time to explore the other articles and resources available. Students will appreciate the unique approach to learning provided by the website and magazine.
After writing what I had deemed a perfect pitch letter for Bright Magazine only to find out that it had ended its three-year run, I felt the elevator drop, again.
I had already taken a dip when I wrote another pitch meant for Babble; yes, only to find that it, too, was shutting its doors. I hadn’t thought to double check any of this.
If I were stupid enough to tell this to my teenage children, they would smirk and tell me I’m so old. God, mom, everything’s different now. Everything’s faster. Therefore, mother, change happens faster. Then, they would return, in slow motion nonetheless, to their phone god.
But, I didn’t do that because I have learned the hard lesson that my children ruthlessly deliver their criticisms. All too often they enjoy watching me meltdown. Or, they simply walk away, abstaining from any feelings of guilt.
No, that was not the answer to this little problem.
I needed something special, so I did what actually makes me feel better. I binge-watched Conan O’Brien. There’s a lullaby in his snarky humor that has kept me afloat since I sat in a rocking chair with my newborn daughter in the middle of the night.
The tired I was feeling flew from my body and tears filled my eyes as I laughed. Since then, he has been my regular therapist who has consistently managed to draw laughter from me whenever I felt that drop of the elevator that would normally be moving up.
He’s the same therapist whom I ran to when Mother’s Day rolled around. My teenage children had burped a “Happy Mother’s Day” then had forgotten I existed.
So, I did what any sane person would do after having spent the school year waking up at 5:30 a.m. every weekday to begin the dropping off process, then rushing to work, then picking everyone up at the end of the day, then getting or cooking food, then doing laundry, then cleaning, and then somehow sleeping a few hours.
Find a quiet place.
I got in my car, bought a cappuccino, and parked my car. Then, I watched Conan on my iPhone.
He took the edge off by poking fun at the edge. That day I decided to watch the first episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien where he’s walking to the studio and everyone he passes says, “You better be as good,” or some variation of that.
The pressure builds with the constant comments as background music is cheerful and he smiles as he walks with a light step; but, when he gets to his dressing room, he starts to put his head through the noose of a rope that’s hanging from the ceiling. Right at that moment, someone calls through the door, “You’re on Mr. O’Brien.” Without a minute to spare, he shrugs and heads to the stage.
Hold on to your happy place.
So, you see, Conan and his team knew just how to mess with my mind. I couldn’t get the smile off my face after that. I had to drive around before going back home. I didn’t want the happy to fade away too soon.
I’ve been to therapists and psychologists — none of which I left feeling happy. I’ve felt relieved, so I know the necessity of talking to them first hand. Using Conan as my therapist happens when I don’t have easy access to a therapist or don’t want to go to one because it’s not a very serious problem.
I used to have my sister around who is also a comedian and naturally funny like Conan. But, she’s in Los Angeles being funny with other people and sometimes it’s easier to get to Conan than it is to get to her. She’s kind of like that friend who you feel like you’ve used for your own benefit too many times, so you end up at your therapist’s office instead.
Swim out of your head.
So, I often turn to Conan for convenience and proximity. Seeing Conan show himself teetering on his edge makes my edge so much more bearable and often enough quite funny to contemplate once removed.
Comedy allows you to swim out of your head and laugh at yourself.
You stop taking yourself so seriously when you find a new perspective on a terrible situation. When you find yourself pressing the tip of your shoe to the edge of the cliff, step back, find a cozy place to rest, and chuckle at the absurdity of it all.
By observing the bizarre nature of a disappointment or a difficult situation, you also find that without it you might not have moved in a different direction, sometimes an even better direction.
You see, after relinquishing my hold of Bright Magazine, I found the beauty in a lot of other publications and topics. I moved on. I wrote other pieces. So can you, once you’ve laughed off whatever may be troubling you.
And, ultimately, if you really don’t like Conan’s brand of humor, there are a bunch of other comedians and entertainers out there who can pull you out of your doldrums.
So, if you find yourself in a twisted situation with a chance to escape, take some time to laugh.
With a sparkle in her eyes, she asked, “Are you ready?”
With a sparkle in his eyes, he told a story I’d never forget.
Leonard Pitts, Jr. read from Chapter 2 in his new novel, The Last Thing You Surrender. His voice bending into the different characters as if he lived their lives, breathed their breaths, and felt their pain.
With a sparkle in my eyes, I whispered, “Thank you,” to my daughter.
Taking the metro to the Miami Book Fair seems surreal and yet so appropriate. Flying through the city in anticipation holds you in a new, fresh realm.
Right now, Miami weather offers a gust of crisp, fresh air when the doors peel open and you step onto the platform.
Walking downtown gives you the feeling that you could be in New York on a mildly chilly day. Buying food from street carts and feeling some salt in the air reminds you that you’re still in Miami.
But, it’s as you approach the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, that you realize this week, you’re luckier than New Yorkers because you’re about to enter the Miami Dade Book Fair where authors bring words as gifts that will transform your hearts and minds.
If you can’t attend during the week, try to stop by on Saturday or Sunday November 22 and 23. Some of the most entertaining moments are yet to come.
Among those moments on Saturday, I hope to attend the event with Jessica Goldman Shrebnik, Hal Rubenstein, and Martha Cooper. They’ll be discussing Rubenstein and Coopers, Walls of Change: The Story of Wynwood Walls.
Goldman Shrebnick became an inspiration for me and my family when we read about her accomplishments in INDULGE magazine, a special publication by the Miami Herald. She’s the CEO of Goldman Properties and co-founded Goldman Global Arts, which is a creative collective based in Miami and New York.
GGA challenges us to rethink the way we view art and opens our minds to new possibilities with projects that highlight street artists and public art.
Coming from a family of artists with a daughter who’s spent the last four years at an intense art high school, Design and Architecture Senior High, we honor such inspirational groups who take the time to give artists an avenue to express themselves and ultimately change lives.
You can find out more about GGA and it’s projects by visiting
If there’s ever a time of year when people find themselves crazed, eyes swirling with gifts, determined to find the best sale or the latest gadget, it’s now.
Our beloved holiday season is upon us. And, Black Friday is quickly approaching.
But, what really matters, the whole purpose of the winter holiday season, often goes overlooked and sometimes even gets stepped on as we rush through department stores and salivate over turkey dinners.
Sometimes, however, you find a beautiful reminder that the season’s true gift has always been good. Yes, good, just good.
Give Good, just because.
JetBlue wants to know just how good you are.
Yes, I know. Crazy, right?
I mean, here I was preparing my calendar for the sales, the schedules, the dates, the events!
My children already scoping out gifts on Amazon, I forewarn them that we are on a tight budget this year.
Yet, here is JetBlue, thinking about good and giving airline tickets to those special people who give good just because.
It’s worth sharing not just to nominate yourself and others but as a reminder that giving good matters and great companies are willing to reward you for taking some time to show you care.
If you want to learn more about JetBlue For Good month, Business Wire wrote about some of the other ways JetBlue has been encouraging people, including employees, to spread kindness.
Sharing this with your family, especially children who are definitely the target of ads across multiple platforms, makes for a great way to turn family dinners (especially the big, upcoming one) away from incendiary politics and into a positive, helpful discussion.
Now that I’m the oh-so lucky parent of teenagers, that is a memory I plan to keep a memory, not to be repeated. On that same link, you’ll find some events specifically for teenagers if you can lure them from their bedroom lairs.
This year, I plan to avoid all child-related activities by attending only the author sessions with the rest of the grumpy, sometimes content, mostly reclusive adults–just the way I like it.
The beauty of the book fair is really that there’s something for everyone, even kids. My problem, at least that first time around, was that I didn’t even look at the schedule. Go to the guide below for more information.
The authors who will be reading and discussing books at the Miami Book Fair consists of a vibrant array of talent and wisdom matched with intensity and humor.
One of my favorite authors will be reading there, so I’m going to attend for that brief moment of bliss.
Leonard Pitts Jr.
When I first read an article by Leonard Pitts, Jr., I felt more a little more alive. His ability to play words like a master pianist left me reading his thoughts as if I were dancing across a pond without touching the water.
A Pulitzer Prize winning author and a columnist, Pitts has offered insights into current events that challenge even the most liberal thinker to think again.
We sat outside, surrounding our fire pit, and roasting marshmallows on sticks. Each of us listening to the next scary story as if a monster might jump right out of the storyteller’s mouth.
It was as simple as that. We forgot the horror of early morning carpools and catching colds as well as the burden of too much homework.
Halloween seems to creep up at just the right time. I wish I could say that I meditate everyday in order to maintain a peaceful and tranquil life, but I don’t. And, frankly, I really enjoy the strange worlds we can create around this time of year.
Think Creepy Thoughts
You can do something as simple as sitting around a fire or even on the couch with only candles lighting the room and telling stories to really enjoying the crazy American commercialism of anything Halloween. In fact, while I was browsing Amazon for inexpensive decor, candy, and costumes, I thought I’d share some of what I found.
Using Halloween horror to take the edge off often imbues a sense of freedom and creativity into our lives. It also gives our kids some relief without the drama of a “vacation.”
So many people might head to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, and there’s always something to do wherever you live. Enjoying pumpkin patches for young kids or going to Halloween parties for older kids might be a good distraction.
But, often, staying home and simply enjoying the season is the best choice when trying to save your sanity.
Start with Decorations.
Decorations are cheap and fun. I found glittery black branches and put them in a purple vase that I already had. Then, I used the leftover branches to make crowns.
I also found a pack of black glittery birds, crows if you will, that I hung from the chandelier and placed throughout the house.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Then, I hung a glittery black wreath inside our Christmas wreath. Essentially, you can make the wreath out of the branches. It’s cheaper that way.
If the wreath is too tame, you can always get a bit more elaborate with door decor. The black glittery wreath branches worked nicely with our Winter holiday wreath.
When our kids were small we used a skeleton head with a microphone to scare the trick or treaters on Halloween, but it was also a lot of fun to mess around with whenever anyone visited. However, you can get the one above on Amazon and it’s a lot easier to use because we ended up breaking the cord for the microphone and damaging the skeleton head.
Walking into our house feels different now and different is good when the stresses of life start to take over.
Weekends are a great time to head to the theaters or visit nearby haunted houses or themed activities. However, sometimes you just want to hibernate.
With all the technology and resources available and if you’ve taken the time to decorate even a little, you can kick back and enjoy Halloween at home.
Just get some food, drinks, and movies or watch a series. If you have Netflix, the latter shouldn’t be too difficult to manage. Because I’m like a five year old when it comes to scary shows, I still haven’t gotten through the first episode of American Horror Story, but there are other movies and shows to binge watch.
Food and Drinks
And, binging on favorite foods also keeps stress at bay during the Halloween season. You don’t need to eat tons of candy, although that’s a great past time. All you need is some favorite comfort foods and plenty of cushions and couches to curl up on.
Food really isn’t that difficult to manage. Not everything has to be theme centric. Order a pizza or make one. Pop some popcorn and get some sodas for simplicity’s sake. But, if you want to add some themed accents, there are a lot of easy ways to do that.
Plop some eyeball ice cubes into the drinks.
The jello brain mold is great also because it’s easy to use and makes a great centerpiece on the coffee table or counter. And, gross Halloween snacks such as Edible Insects in a bag really help take the edge off.
But, if that’s too disgusting for you, fun candy pops remind us to enjoy life and take a second to laugh. Bottom line, sugar helps sometimes. There’s a reason why kids love it so much.
Great Halloween/Horror Movies or Series
Entertainment all depends on you, especially when it comes to viewing choices.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A lot of these films are books, so this is a great way to jumpstart reading skills. The Goosebumps series is a weird little series that kids start reading around third grade. Roald Dahl, well, need I say more. His books are pure entertainment. There’s also a collection of Campfire stories to help you along if you decide to roast marshmallows.
Now, my kids watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline when they were younger then later told me Coraline really freaked them out because of the hidden door and the button eyes. You need to make a decision based on age and exposure to past content. If your kids get scared after watching Monsters Inc. then you might want to hold off on Coraline.
For older kids, especially teenagers, let them choose. Really, I’m usually the one who’s scared of the movies they watch. Some great classic movies to watch are Beetlejuice, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and Jaws.
If you want psychological thrillers, Signs and the Sixth Sense may be good choices to start. For more intense stories, there’s always films adapted from Stephen King novels. The Shining always delivers, and the more recent version of IT will definitely scare everyone watching.
It really doesn’t matter how you work it as much as to just forget about school long enough to destress and have fun.
There’s something about the number 13 that frightens people.
When we lived in a high-rise in Miami Beach, it was on the 14th floor, except for one problem. There was no 13th floor.
The elevator jumped from 12 to 14.
I thought it was so strange that buildings everywhere excommunicated the number 13. Ironically, life seemed to open a portal into happiness for us when we lived there.
My sister and I would grab a ride on a jitney and take it to the hotels like the Fontainebleau, which we had access to because we lived in the condominium. We lay on the beach, swam in the pools, and enjoyed the people who visited.
I could’ve seen the number 13 as some sort of omen. Instead, 13 seemed a saving grace, a hidden message, a sign.
So, when Jilly sent me a message, I saw it as a sign.
I hope you do too. If you have Amazon, watch it for free with your Prime membership.
Between getting up before the sun even rises and just thinking about homework, all teenagers feel at least a tinge of anxiety when the school year begins. Overachievers might find themselves biting their cuticles. Underachievers might dread the teachers who will ridicule them for not trying. Social butterflies might obsess over a pimple, their hair, and their clothing. For all of them, there’s the general fear of ridicule or failure but often they fear both.
Sometimes they don’t even feel the anxiety until they’re actually walking through the hallway.
On the fourth day of school last week, a girl was walking through the hall to get to her next class. She was alone and minding her own business. Her hair was parted in the middle like most of the girls. Her head was down just enough to allow the hair to cloak her and then a boy stomped at her.
“You’re ugly. Get out of here!” he yelled as he lunged forward.
With students now staring at her, she kept walking, faster this time, not looking back at his friends laughing and patting him on the back.
Some students watched and some even shook their heads but no one said anything. They, too, kept walking, grateful that it wasn’t them.
You know she cried at some point. She might’ve had to choke back the tears until the end of the day or she cried in the bathroom if she wasn’t too scared to go there, but she hurt a lot.
And, that hurt lasts. Teenagers carry it around with them.
Support is Key
So, as parents and educators, what do you do when they experience this kind of pain? The worst thing we could do is to call attention to the incident, but we can care for the teenager by offering support in multiple ways.
Open your eyes. Teenagers will hide things from you so you need to keep your eyes open in more ways than one. When you pick them up from school or talk to them later in the day, make sure you look at their body language. If they’re always hanging their head or feeling sad, they probably need to talk even if they claim nothing’s wrong. If they lash out at you for no reason, they definitely need to talk. Give them some space, then approach them when they appear calmer.
Make them talk. This is often difficult given that they usually have mastered the art of hibernation, in their rooms, doors often locked in the name of privacy. You’ll have to entice them with food, excursions to their favorite places, and even ask them for help with anything from understanding how to use a new app or finding something you lost in the house. Experiment with their changing interests and get them talking. Don’t let them isolate themselves even more than they already may have done.
Listen to them. No matter how tempting it might be to tell them like it is, just listen. And, don’t respond with a fake remark about being positive when you know that you wouldn’t feel positive if you were in that situation. Sometimes you just need to say you’re so sorry for this and that you’re here to listen. Sometimes you need to offer a shoulder to cry on and ask if they want advice before you give it because it’s so easy to lose them if they think you’re not being genuine.
Accept them. Teenagers are looking for acceptance in more ways than one. When they see that a parent accepts them fully, especially their flaws, they will feel loved and hopeful. This works for bad behavior and bad grades alike. You haven’t seen love in their eyes until you’ve seen them look at you after you tell them the bad grade doesn’t matter or that the curse word hurled your way is forgotten.
Be their Rock. Yes, another word for this is patience. You will need to be patient. Another way of putting this is to say that you need to be their rock. You have to stay steady and be there to cushion their fall. They will fall time and time again and you will need to help them up, brush them off, then send them off… again.
Logically, this all makes sense and you’re probably even patting yourself on the back for already practicing the majority of these suggestions. However, you must think longterm. It’s exhausting to care for children in general and it’s a different exhausting to care for a teen. Much of the time, both parents are working and often enough there’s more than one child to deal within the household. So, your persistence and resilience come into play when considering how to handle your relationship with your child.
Bottom line, if you relentlessly follow these five points, teenagers will feel safe and loved enough to eventually find a glimmer of hope even when their anxiety feels unbearable. That girl had to go to school the next day no matter how painful it was. Knowing that she was loved would make it somewhat easier. And, how did she know she was loved? At least one parent or guardian followed through with some or all of the above–over and over again.
If you feel that any situation or problem isn’t improving no matter how hard you try, it’s very important to seek help. Depending on the severity of the situation, contact the school counselor, the school administration, and/or any authority who may be able to help. All of us have been teenagers and all of us have experienced difficulties, so no one should ever be afraid to seek help, especially a parent experiencing hardship with a child.
Heavy into summer, kids do not want to hear the word “school” let alone the word “read” and do NOT utter the name we do not speak of “HOMEWORK.”
So if you’re a parent like me and you’ve begun noticing that there’s no intellectual stimulation other than YouTube and gaming with an occasional excursion to the movie theater, then you’re probably starting to scheme about how to awaken your child’s brain.
Here are some tips and resources for elementary, middle, and high school age children that might at least initiate some interest in accessing their intellect.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Little ones are more receptive to anything educational than the older ones (parents of older children, especially the parents of teenagers). With older children, you often have to play dumb because after all, tweens and teens know everything. If you ask them if they think something is true or not, they’re more likely to give it a chance.
Check out the short videos on almost any topic available on TedEd. From short animations such as “How Do Self-Driving Cars See?” to “The Aztec Myth of the Unlikeliest Sun God” you can initiate a watch of the video that will peak their interest without making their eyes glaze over.
In keeping with the idea initiating learning through video, at least at first, when they’ve blinked the cobwebs from their eyes and hopefully their brains as well, YouTube itself is a vast resource of knowledge once you’ve sifted through the nonsense. Unfortunately, our kids are often drawn to the nonsense, but with a few questions about any subject or current event, you can steer them to something that will provide them with some intellectual stimulation.
Tell your little one: Look at this. I used to watch this when I was little.
Disney Educational Productions houses a ridiculous amount of resources that any parent of young children can use on almost any topic.
Ask your teen or tween: Is this photoshop tutorial worth watching?
Something like this might just show your teen or tween that he or she could learn a little something between veggie out.
Take a walk or drive to the library or the bookstore. For me, libraries are better if you’re trying to save money, but if you’re on vacation sometimes a bookstore is all you’ve got. Either way, it’s the same set up. The little ones usually go happily. The tweens or teens take some innovative thinking on the part of the parents.
Little ones love to browse through anything, and a book as a prize is often welcome. For the older children, you may bribe them with lunch afterward or during. Or, perhaps you might ask for their help. For instance, similar to the question about photoshop, you might ask, will you help me find some materials at the library on learning Spanish? I don’t want to spend a ton of money on a class and I exhausted my resources on that app.
The beach is a wonderful resource for both young and older children. You’re surrounded by science, art, sounds, beauty… Best of all, you are unplugged for a while. If you have portable batteries or any other resource, leave it behind by accident or on purpose. Bring some books, and magazines for reading or just talk to each other and learn about their interests and insights. Talk to them about something you’ve been wanting to discuss. You’ll be so delighted with the results.
Drive somewhere or go somewhere that’s outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be far away. How many of us spend our lives in a certain area of the country or world, save all our money for a family vacation, only to realize people save all of their money to vacation where we are? For example, we live in Miami and we never visit some of the most famous landmarks, ironically, because we live here. We’ve never been on an airboat ride at the Everglades National Park. We’ve gone to Ocean Drive, but only once, maybe twice a year. Some of the best museums are nearby and parents might wander into one with their unsuspecting children in tow.