My mother worked hard and smart. I missed her all the same.
The 24-hour shifts paid more but meant that we’d see her less. She made up for it by taking us on road trips to Disney World for a day. That meant donuts in the car on the way and midnight car rides while we slept and she drove.
For her time, she worked as smart as she could, given the circumstances. She was a tough, single mom who was as pretty as she was smart.
Today, we all work smarter in many ways. Our smartphones make it easier for us to multitask and stay in touch. Our technology seems to improve our lives. We all appear to even have our own personal assistant named Alexa or Google.
And yet, we feel overwhelmed often enough.
We seem to have turned what should make our lives feel easier and freer into a tool to make our lives harder. Our smartphones are overloaded with apps for everything, even apps that will organize our apps. And, stress, oh the stress of perhaps losing that phone that encases everything we hold valuable.
Our computers allow us to create and communicate within seconds what may have taken days or years to accomplish less than 20 years ago. The internet is nothing less than a superhighway taking us anywhere we desire.
But, here we are: Stressed.
Shouldn’t we be working less? Shouldn’t we be happier?
Some may argue that they are, but as I see children grow up, I see more stress and tension. I see a more insidious sort of self-deprecation that keeps us from seeing who we really are and who we actually want to be.
Our demons are summoned daily with a tap on the f app or a scroll down in Instagram. We aren’t working less. We’re working more, being told what to be, our minds overloading instead of focussing.
Those white shoes walked away so many times that the little girl who watched them resented them. She hated that they needed to work, which meant they rarely stayed in the closet where she wanted them to be. They took her mother somewhere too far away.
Now, with technology, where would her mother be? Close or far? Or walking around in an app?
Preparing for the start of the school year seems even more somber this year than others. Back to school mayhem has begun in some parts of the country. Florida just had its tax-free weekend and parents were no less aggressive about stocking up on supplies. But, all of us, at some point, looked at a pencil pouch among our stacks of spiral notebooks while snagging glue sticks on the way to check out and wondered if our children would really be safe.
None of us needs to watch the news in order to understand the anxiety that many children, parents, and educators feel when thinking about the start of a new school year after the horrific violence so many students experienced last school year.
And, yet, it’s there, coming straight toward us. Anxiety Looms
The opinions and arguments about who ignored what in the recent school shootings riddle the news and the Internet. In hindsight, anyone would have done more if they knew there would be this kind of violence targeting schools.
I know, when thinking of my own students this coming school year, I just want them to feel safe with me. To just tell them this would be pointless. They won’t be able to look at me and think, Yeah, this teacher’s tough. She can deal with a school shooting, no problem. I certainly pride myself on being a strict teacher simply because I can’t stand it when kids bully each other; however, my demeanor isn’t at all tough even if you stuck me in a security guard uniform. Then again, I don’t know that many people, let alone school children, have much confidence in security guards at this point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to dialogue and taking the time to actually, yes, literally, really, genuinely care. Enough teachers and educators just don’t care and the students know it. The fact is that teachers are human and have an extremely stressful job. Ensuring Safety
Here’s the thing, any school worth its salt will be putting together several plans to maintain a secure environment as well as other important safety precautions.
But, dialogue, conversations between the administration, teachers, parents, and students will create a powerful bond and help everyone deal with their concerns and outright fears instead of hiding them. CBS News addresses dealing with students’ concerns in How to Talk to Kids about School Violence.
Reminding students that they do have control over what happens to them and that they are in a safe environment in general gives them a sense of peace in the midst of an already stressful circumstance.
Many schools encouraged student Walkouts last school year, giving students a much needed voice at a time when so many were left speechless not just because of the violence inflicted on students but the repeat violence. Just watching the news and listening to the fears of the students involved in the shootings caused students across the country to worry about their own safety. Speak Up
Students know that they are returning not just to schoolwork and homework but also to gossip, bullying, and social interaction that some love but most have a hard time dealing with in one way or another.
They need to talk to someone about their worries, so it’s important to ask questions as teachers and parents and then to listen and reassure them that there’s no reason to believe that their school will be attacked. However, if there is a reason to believe that, then students need to be encouraged to speak up.
They especially need to feel safe when speaking up. So many students don’t want to “tattle” or “rat out” other students because they are the ones who have to deal with the insidious ways bullies operate. Watch Out for Bullying
Students experience bullying in various degrees and forms on a daily basis and often don’t speak up about it for fear of being bullied even more afterward.
A former teacher, school counselor, and school administrator wrote a good piece titled Bullying: What Schools, Parents, and Students Can Do for the Huffington Post.
Often enough, students handle the bullying themselves thinking of how much worse it would be if they were to ask teachers or administration for help.
But, students need to know when to get help. That’s something they need to be allowed to figure out for themselves.
That’s why there needs to be multiple conversations every day between teacher and student and student and parent and student and student and school counselor and student and administrator and student and right back to teacher.
And, it shouldn’t stop there. The whole of our communities need to look and listen. Ignoring problems often makes them worse. Conversations
Conversations need to happen often and need to be ongoing and available. The teachers are asking students how they are, if they got sleep, why they didn’t do the homework, why were they late? That’s just the basics.
There will be rules, oh so many rules. There is and will be security. Then, there’s life.
Students may not roll their eyes to your face, but they’ll definitely do it behind your back and then some if they think you’re anything less than genuine.
In other words, they aren’t stupid enough to think that if they simply tell on a bully that, poof, they’ll find themselves in a magical world of unicorns who fly them away to a cloud city with no guns and only sparkly do-gooders. For the most part, they wouldn’t even want that.
So, when you strike up that conversation, be ready to talk about everything… oh yeah, and be ready to talk about nothing at all, especially if it’s a tween or teen.
Then, try again tomorrow.
There are those days when I wondered if I should’ve encouraged them to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, anything but artists.
“You know, Ya Ya always says, ‘That’s why you need to be a doctor papito. So you can take care of me,” my son said the other day. “She says it to all of us.” He’s referring to all of his cousins, her grandchildren.
My son and I were in the car outside a doctor’s office. “Yeah, doctors have it easy,” I said.
“What do you mean? It’s really hard to be a doctor,” he argued, which has become a regular routine lately.
“Yeah, no, I mean, they have to work hard, but they make so much money. You saw your cousin’s house. You know what I mean?”
He nodded but continued to talk about how difficult it is to be a doctor.
I reluctantly agreed and accepted my fate: to add another artist to my household.
I think every parent feels conflicted about encouraging a child to take the artistic route. It’s more unpredictable in our eyes.
You’re so smart. Be a doctor, a dentist, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, they say. Many parents I know outright announce that artists make no money. You can draw, even paint, but don’t try to make it a career.
And, what’s most disconcerting is that many teachers announce that students can’t do anything with a degree in art, let alone make a living with one in the fine arts. So, parents waver and our kids waver, sometimes they even give up on the whole idea.
I didn’t tell my kids to be a doctor or lawyer. I taught them to explore their worlds. I actually encouraged my children to be as creative as possible, not as a hobby, but as a way of life.
A once-white sink full of blue paint sits clogging one of our bathrooms. Drawings on walls are commonplace. Clothes splattered with paint seem expected.
But, when I want to hang a painting on the wall, I’m met with protests that it’s just not good enough or friends will think it’s stupid. You’re reminded of how fragile such creativity can be.
Yet, there’s a magic to living with artists that surpasses the often stressful or methodical worlds of academics or athletes.
Artists live on the brink of ecstacy or the edge of insanity more often than not, so when you live with them it can feel just like you’re in the swirling winds shot from a magic wand.
My daughter left for a pre college art program and, because I share her heart of an artist, I sit wondering what to do without her and hoping she has a good time while worrying that she’s so fragile she could break under her guise of strength.
Then I remember that guise is not a disguise at all.
It’s actually her reality.
She bears a resemblance to a Greek goddess in the midst of a tumultuous highway of mindsets bent on nearly crashing into her.
She stands, sword in hand, striking the sounds of doubt from her stance, sometimes, often, receiving their criticisms, wounded, in pain, dropping her sword, lowering her head, lying down.
She heals eventually and returns to her power.
The number of times she has stood her ground when she fought with me has increased over the years. The power with which she uses and doesn’t use words can set a room on fire. The intensity of her work puts shame to anything I’ve ever accomplished.
That’s magic mixed with a power so intrinsic to an artist.
And, we are all artists.
Accepting that makes our lives easier to manage and enjoy. Otherwise, we’re sent plugging away in drudgery at the daily confines of tasks to be finished and jobs to be done.
Those not just content but happy doctors, lawyers, and engineers are creatives in their own right.
They stand over patients and inspire them to fight for their lives and wellness.
They plunge into difficult cases emerging with solutions to difficult problems.
They sift through data and documents creating new ideas out of old structures.
Parents living with teenage artists find solace in their art.
Our artists are abstract and concrete all the while leaving us breathless with what they can conjure up for us, what they can pull from nothingness.
And you writers, well, you tell us the stories to keep us going when we find ourselves lost in worlds that have abandoned the idea of being artists.
So, as a parent of two artists, I watch in awe of their resolve, saddened by their wounds, hoping for their healing, and waiting for the next burst of magic, bound to love them through it all.
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.
Please stop making faces!
Beautiful hair, shiny, long, short, doesn’t matter–I mean the kind of hair that girls envy and say so out loud, right to his face.
But, I’ll be damned if he gives me one good smile for a picture. There’s always a face, a different one for each shot. The creepy guy face. The cool guy face. The demon face. The goofball face. The sad face. The smiling but really crossing my eyes face. Or, just smiling with crazy eyes.
He’s been like this since he pulled the Houdini act of climbing right out of his crib before he could walk.
When we go out, I need a few cups of coffee to keep me alert. There are days when I wish the coffee was something else, that’s how fast I need to be. I’m ready to jump, spin, grab, block, catch, you name it.
Somewhere inside every maniacal act of bouncing to his own beat, I laugh amidst the frustration of taking one good picture.
When we visited San Francisco, there were so many moments when the pictures were more than perfect, especially if he didn’t know I was taking them. Often, the theatrics made the pictures so much better, the exaggerated extension of his legs when climbing the uphill battle of getting back to the hotel made it oh so much more than just a good picture.
Walking through Chinatown and finding a brilliantly colorful dragon drawn on the side of a building, we stopped for a picture.
But, ten shots later, my perfect picture almost didn’t happen.
He insisted not only on theatrics but also on making sure he picked the dragon’s nose by sticking his hand in its giant nostril. With a smirk and a flick of the eyes, his sister pulled his hand down and we got something.
The dragon seemed fine with it.
In hindsight, I think the dragon was in on the whole joke.
Ironically, he hardly ever says I’m just joking.
He used to pontificate about pranks, which happen to be one of his favorite YouTube pastimes. Recently, it’s just weird drawings on the teacher’s whiteboards. Thank God they also have a sense of humor.
I could regress to his obsession with moles that appeared everywhere, so much so that I had to threaten that the moles had better not appear on photographs or human skin without permission.
However, I think you get the idea.
It seems that to him life is just way too serious.
And, if I weren’t such an adult, I’d be picking that dragon’s nose with him.