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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.