Tag Archives: Education

Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares

He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.

Seeing is believing.

“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.

“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.

I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.

Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?

It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.

The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.

And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.

But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.

I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.

Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.

Second Chances

But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.

What then?

Would the student succeed?

And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?

Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?

Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.

A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.

However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.

But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!

Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.

I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.

He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.

Reset the Mind

Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.

When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.

After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.

So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.

F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.

Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.

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Common Core in Florida

If you ask an educator or even a well-informed parent who lives in Florida about the New Florida Standards, there will probably be a very intentional groan of frustration followed by a rant or its opposite—dead silence and a mournful shaking of the head.

This is just a test.
This is just a test.

One of the many reasons I’ve stopped writing so much stems from the state of Florida’s new standards. I’m a teacher who’s lucky enough to help my students meet those standards. I wouldn’t say I’m using the word “lucky” sarcastically, and I love to be sarcastic—just ask my students. I’d say I use the word “lucky” with a paradox in mind. It’s a paradox because I met Jeb Bush in 2009. His organization awarded me an Excellence in Teaching honor. The organization also asked teachers who won the award questions about our success in the classroom.

The Paradox and Jeb Bush

I speak of Jeb Bush in relation to the new standards because he’s been a very active voice in promoting the common core standards that created such a controversy in Florida. And, now, parents and educators have been adorned with the New Florida Standards, which claim to correlate to the common core but are more detailed and focused for Florida education.

That remains to be seen, so back to the paradox. I feel like in the grand scheme of Common Core Standards, I helped in some small way to create them. So I feel both lucky and unlucky at the same time. My mantra as a teacher has always been to hold students to a higher standard. By that I mean, in very concrete terms, that a sixth grader can do anything a college student at your local public university can do.

Now, many people laugh at me, but Jeb Bush and his team of educators did not. They rewarded me for it.

However, the paradox of “lucky” insidiously slithers through those ideals to condemn the idea of challenging students. When you scrutinize the training tests that the Florida Department of Education plans to impose on the students, teachers, and administrators, you step back and think of the student who will have to take the test. I’ll put it this way.

I have a friend who’s a journalist, well-educated, and one of the smartest people I know. He took one look at the training test and told me to quit. Of course, I snapped back with a resounding, “No! Never! They need me.” He told me to quit because I will be held accountable for children who can barely write and these students will be required to not only write but perhaps type their answers.

I assume that over their catered breakfasts and suited meetings, the politicians didn’t think about how, yes, technology is relevant, but kids type with their thumbs. So, on top of teaching them to reach a modicum of college-level writing, teachers and administration need to make sure they can type, and quickly.

The teaching that should be happening in every classroom will happen, but these are kids in a modern society. When I announce that a sixth grader can do anything a college student can and possibly better, I mean it, with the passion of a teacher who plans to meet that goal and then some. I plan to infuse into that student all the tools to get them to that point by the end of the year. But, teachers everywhere know that no matter what we do, many students won’t get there even when they try with all their mighty souls.

Why won’t students achieve their goals?

Let’s start with a reality check that’s very distinct to Miami and Florida and our country in general. Many students are still acquiring the language, so please don’t expect them to meet those standards right away—even though as a teacher I will nudge and push them as long as they’re my students. Then, many students go home and find exactly the opposite of what I taught them. There’s no support for doing homework, reading, or even caring about any of it. They might even be told that the material doesn’t matter or that they’re too stupid to do it so just do enough to get by, if that.

I made all of this clear to the researchers from Excellence in Teaching during the question and answer sessions. I’d like to think they took it into consideration. But, it doesn’t feel like they did, so I keep asking myself if I’ve joined my imaginary list of unforgiveable hypocrites in society today.

Before I received the Excellence in Teaching Award, I got a brownie and lots of coffee. Later, at the dinner, I got to meet teacher and author Ron Clark. He dazzled and freaked out the teachers by jumping, quite literally, from table top to table top speaking about how exciting it is to teach kids.

It was inspirational and a little disturbing.

I got a free book of his and read it. I even agreed with some of it. However, I returned to my classroom feeling frustrated because I was nothing like him and I never cashed in on the 10-day cruise prizes that The Foundation for Excellence in Teaching offered me. I never had that kind of time, except for during summer, and by then I was too tired to think of how I would pay for the plane trip to Alaska.

Then, before I knew it, I was hearing about the Common Core Standards. I saw some interesting videos and teachers promoting it. It appeared to be not just a great idea, but a solution to the mindless standardized tests our students were subjected to year after year.

But, as with most issues associated with politics, the basics have changed—a lot.

Deals were being made. Testing companies started vying for contracts with different states. It wasn’t just about educating kids anymore. Nothing’s ever that simple when money’s involved. Take money out of the equation and everything might be more simplified, more sensible.

Now, however, here we teachers are scrambling to prepare our students for a test that was flung at us only at the end of last school year. There’s nothing practical or helpful about a surprise attack on teachers and their students. Education exists to help children make their way in the world and teachers teach to help them do that. Is that idealistic? Isn’t education supposed to help children, not cause problems for them?

My solution: I’ll be posting about how I’m handling it from both a teacher and a parent’s view. I’ll be rooting for all of our students and for their teachers. And, I’ll sometimes rant or shake my head mournfully when people ask me about it. Written by Lisa Chesser

Everyone should have to teach middle school.

Vortex
I’d entered a distorted dimension, splintered and shapeshifting, grew into a full-time stint as a middle school.

The uncertainty and shock of feeling as if I’d entered a distorted dimension, splintered and shapeshifting, grew into a full-time stint as a middle school teacher. Everyone should have to teach middle school. I’ve said this ever since I realized I wasn’t going to quit teaching after all, ever since I got through those first few years.

I usually say it at a disgruntled moment when it seems as if the people who I’m listening to or observing just don’t appreciate the complexity of heartache and the simplicity of discipline.

Those people usually have Bobble Head egos and tell really bad jokes that they laugh at because nobody else will. But, sometimes those people are people who I would normally get along with and they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be shoved into a tween body and told to cheer up and be happy about it.

Teaching middle school reminds me of this on a daily basis.

If you pressed rewind to the day I began, it feels like one of those nightmarish dreams or thematic moments in a film. I’d spent fifteen years as an artist, writer, and editor and then I woke up in khaki pants and wearing a bun in my hair with a bunch of tweens and teens blinking at me.

What’s worse, I had to attempt to entertain them for hours on end, a daring and nearly impossible feat in a society where social media and video games rule the world. So, I didn’t. I did the opposite. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes and I talked to them. And, it was eerie.

Swirl
The world went winding around into a useless array of clutter speckled with static electricity.

There were moments when the world went winding around into a useless array of clutter speckled with static electricity that reminded me there was still energy left somewhere for me to tap into, even though the exhaustion accompanying my new career left me broken at times.

Teaching hundreds of students that reading still mattered shifted my perspective of right and wrong. It buried my sense of reality and scraped at my soul. Students openly berated me for daring to talk to them about the beauty of reading, for deigning to announce that the written word stands more powerful, more insightful than the latest flick.

Every fear I’d shut away in the dark corners of those storage closets, where you can’t even reach in order to pull down a box or everything tumbles out, those fears fell, crushing parts of me that I had thought were never to be seen again.

It was subtle at first. Sometimes, it was just a simple observation. A girl cried because someone called her a name. I needed to listen. Yes. These things happened. And, it happened to me so, really, I could help her. But, inside me all these emotions arose from somewhere left alone, somewhere kept quiet.

And, I tried to quiet them again.

But, there they were staring at me, waiting for me to recognize their existence. So, I did and what a twisted ride I took from there.

You’re pushed to a point that most of us runaway from and never really address. We simply encounter it over and over in our lives. We have run-ins with the classroom bullies who insidiously stick a foot out while we’re just walking to our desk, but this time, the bully’s a co-worker or even a boss, maybe even the person we love.

When I see kids come to school with their hair cinched into a bun or even disheveled, I chuckle. They don’t know how to just live, just be. If they do, they overdo it. They don’t have a sense of individuality and if they do they hide it. Muted and blended, they try so hard not to be different. But, when their appearance masks missing homework or no pencil or even a missing backpack, I know there’s more to it.

No matter how hard I try to forget, there I am too. I’m sitting in school without my pencil, no homework. My mother had had a fight with my stepfather. My grandmother had too many kids to care for and I had to help. My sister’d thrown a fit. I’d stayed up late doing my work because what else was there to do? I needed something to get my mind off the fighting. But, in the morning, sleep and chaos left my work at home.

I sat in class, reprimanded for not doing my work. It wouldn’t be the first or last time.

I remember that, my past, when I stay with my students organizing their folders. I remember that when I sit at lunch listening to their problems. I remember what it was like to be them when I give them the extra bag of chips I buy because I know one of them will be hungry for many reasons. Someone forgot to pack lunch. They just have no money. Or, maybe they just starve themselves. But if a teacher hands them a bag of Tostitos and everyone else is grabbing some, they might just take some too.

As adults, we get caught up in our problems and forget the kids who came with those problems. As adults, we forget the life we left behind. We forget what’s important in order to chase meaningless wants and desires.

Sometimes, as parents, we look at the social media and general consensus that education and agree knowingly. But, it doesn’t really matter when kids still go to school anyway. We love to justify our neglect, our smug lives, our rush forward. But, we shouldn’t.

How do I know? Well, I’m a middle school teacher. You should try it someday. You might learn something.

Dream Home in Venus Domes

Tucked away somewhere in Florida, there’s a place called Venus. In particular, it’s the Venus Project created by Jacque Fresco. Dreams live there.

And, the homes do too.

They’re domes and at first glance they look like igloos, but in Florida that would be a paradox to say the least. I found out about these futuristic homes when my sister last visited because she and her boyfriend were trekking over to see the Venus Project first hand.

When she first showed me a picture of the homes I shunned them and thought, I like my box. But the more I read and learned about the ideas that Jacque proposed,  the more I like the idea of domes.

English: Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows at ...
English: Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows at The Venus Project. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) proposed, then the more I returned to my own home, my box, the more I dreamt of a dome.

The global vision that he created with the Venus Project condones living in harmony with earth by embracing technology. It quite literally creates your own little world for you. The homes mean less environmental damage and also more safety. It’s hard for a tornado to pick up a dome and domes clean themselves. Leaves float off. Life flows.

When I look at my children, I think, where will I live when I grow old? I don’t want to burden them. I don’t want to burden anyone, not even the Earth. I also think, I want to have a sanctuary, a place to live, a place of my own.

The way our Earth holds us, the dome cradles us. I dream of domes with anticipation in a future where, well, we aren’t cruel or greedy, where the news isn’t all about hate, death, damage.

I dream domes.

The Colors of To Kill A Mockingbird

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an America...
Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an American movie issued in 1962) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year since I began teaching, my students and I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee together. They reluctantly open it and groan because after the first page, they almost unanimously claim confusion and therefore annoyance.

By the third chapter, they’re excited, irritated, laughing out loud, and angry. They love reading with a southern accent and can’t believe I’m letting them read a book with so many bad words in it.

That is, until we get to the “N” word, which everyone nervously reads or skips over. We always read a great opinion piece about the “N” word written by Leonard Pitts Jr. first, but that’s not the most controversial part of the book, at least not to my students or me.

The part they struggle with is the whole reason for the novel’s title To Kill A Mockingbird. They want to know why Tom Robinson’s found guilty and ultimately killed. Tom Robinson’s the black man accused of rape, but the evidence clearly shows it was impossible for him to do this. The jury comprised of white farmers remains unfair.

This year, a new element will enter into the inevitable discussion about change—What about Trayvon Martin?

The jury composed of six women appeared very different. The stories changed. Different characters. But, not different colors. There are the colors: it’s all still in black and white.

And, when that question comes:  What about Trayvon Martin?

Suddenly, this room full of lackadaisical sixth graders will boom with anger and upset. And, what will I say?

Nothing.

No, not really, but yes, nothing, in the sense that I won’t give my opinion. I’ll have to let them read news stories and perhaps bring in articles themselves. But, ultimately, it will be up to them to decide what happened.

Mine? I act as a guide, just like with my own children, when they say the whole world is against Trayvon and black people, I say, I’m not sure about that.

Look at the jury, look at what happened, look at the facts, how are things different? How has the law changed? What can we do to change something like this in the future?

Should Zimmerman have had a gun?

Why did Trayvon beat him?

Would Zimmerman be alive and Trayvon be on trial if Zimmerman hadn’t shot him?

What if they were both black?

What if they were both white?

These are questions I don’t think any of us can completely answer. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to answer this. I struggle with this.

I hate guns and in To Kill A Mockingbird my students learn how much the main character’s father and the lawyer defending Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch, hates them too. He teaches us to walk in someone else’s shoes and to be kind to our enemies.

When Atticus encounters Mrs. Dubose, a decaying hateful woman who likes to call him a “Nigger lover” for defending Tom Robinson, Atticus removes his hat and tells her she looks like a picture. His daughter, Scout says, “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird with sixth graders, but now, I know I have to.

I do believe times have changed, but how? What’s changed? Are we better or did we just learn how to play a different game? What kind of game are we playing? Did we just change the rules and create illusions?

I’m not sure, but I know my sixth graders will spend time this year trying to figure it out.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Our Education God: The Test

Teachers often share many similarities with the students they admonish, chastise, chase, change, and ultimately love like a mother who spends her days doing the same. Because we’re together so much of the time and essentially trapped in the same environment, teachers want to escape just as much as students do, especially at this time of year. We also tend to mimic each other and think alike.

Since mid-April, we’ve been testing and I feel like a caged animal, so do my students. They’re wild, then angry, then tired, then irritated, then they start the cycle all over again.

Angry Student
Angry Student

I’m pretty much the same. I have no energy at the end of the day and I’m dreaming of that final day of school like never before.

See, I’ve been teaching for a while and the more years that pass the more I question the relevance of the Test, the more I think about it, and the more I hate it.

Backward Steps

I always walk backward to my own experience with tests. I was the kid who panicked, stayed up all night, worried so much so that I often bombed the Test, but ironically enough in a relaxed environment, if you never mentioned the word Test, I could answer any question perfectly.

I eventually got over it because I wanted to go to college and after bombing my first SAT, I knew I needed to figure out how to handle this.

So, I taught myself how to take a test.

Put any test in front of me, give me a minimal amount of time to study for it, and I’ll score well.

I had none of the handbooks, trade books, test-prep books, and didn’t use any “tips” to get me through it.

I found that if I treated a test mathematically and thought in a similar way to this imaginary person who created it, then I could defeat it. I practiced a lot, and it paid off. I plan to take the GRE soon and know that I’ll have to buy one of the test-prep books to review information that’s been filed away in those dark cabinets inside my brain. However, I also know I’ll not only pass it, I’ll do well on it. I proved that to myself.

Worshipping the Test

When I teach students how to take standardized Tests or any Test for that matter, I point out these basics to them and then we practice. I don’t rely on tips. We use some standard ones, practice using them, discard some, and return to others.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

I try to help them as much as possible because I know their education god, the Test, will be there as long as they remain in the world of education. It will make judgments on them. It will torment them. It will inflict fear in them. It will never go away until they worship it, until it knows they will kneel down and worship it.

But, there’s one way to bring a master to his or her knees. That’s to master the master, which is why I spend so much time teaching my students how to test.

Now, however, feeling so sick and tired, so broken, so desperate to end this school year, I just want to kick the test, even if it’s kneeling before me and my students.

I want it to die. I hate it for different reasons than the anxiety and fear I felt when I was younger.

It drains students from actually learning.

Instead of spending time learning about the great novelists and their character’s conflicts and struggles then realizing that all these struggles reflect their own, that books are Bibles for kids to value as tools to tackle their own difficulties, students learn that they have to score well on a test or they won’t be appreciated in school. Perhaps they won’t even move to the next grade level. All too often they think of themselves as failures, which I try to change by teaching them how to test. But, that in itself stealthily strips literature, language, mathematics and the written word of their essential value.

The False God and Judgments

Schools know that high scores on tests mean that they look good in any and every way. “That’s a good school,” a parent says to another. “Why?” I ask as a parent, not a teacher. “The scores. They’re ranked one of the best schools (in the state, country, etc.).” How else will people know whether a school is good or not?

Well, to answer that question, I’ll tell you and the Education God: Test.

There are a thousand other ways to compete and show what you know:

Contests

Art

Design

Competitions

Presentations

Portfolios

Projects

It goes on and on.

If the Department of Education hired trained representatives to visit schools and actually observe teachers and students, get to know us, hang around and see what we do, couldn’t the DOE learn and teach a whole lot more than by looking at the results of a multiple choice test?

Not only would the DOE help create more jobs, but it might just do something that no one seems to be able to do by making more tests. It might just improve the educational system.

We’ve been worshipping a false god. We don’t need this god. God should live and breathe inside us, forcing us to hold hands and be gods ourselves.

That’s what our kids need—a helping hand, not something to judge them.

Chaser, Run Faster

“Chaser, run faster,” my coach had always said with his whistle ready to blow it whenever he pleased.

I was running fast, just not fast enough, at least that’s what Coach thought. I could never please him and I hated him for that.

I also hated him because my last name was Chesser, which I didn’t like anyway because my classmates usually called me Lisa “Cheeser.”

Playing Soccer
Playing Soccer

Coach had a Southern accent so at first I just corrected him. “Chesser,” I would say after the third “Chaser.”

It didn’t work. He didn’t stop.

Everyone laughed. All the time.

At least I wasn’t Cheeser anymore I rationalized. But, I was wrong because Chaser just became an addition to the Cheeser taunt. On the field, I would be Chaser. In the classroom, I’m Cheeser.

I remembered all of this because of a game, a soccer game. There he was, the Coach. There they were, me, them, everything.

Playing, running, sweating, stressing!

Not really.

If the little soccer player on the field was stressing, you wouldn’t know. As I watched and listened, I wondered whether or not this would change.

A seven-year-old boy in giant blue soccer shorts ran, almost skipped as he played. The other players only between 7 and 8 years old, just lounged, ran, kicked almost randomly. The parents yelled, so loudly. “Kick the ball!”

“Noooooooo!!!!!!!”

“Get up!”

“The other way!”

It was hilarious. I laughed so hard.

Of course, I was reprimanded because this was serious business. This was their first game and they needed to win.

UnderTree
Under a Tree

The older one, the daughter, couldn’t take the yelling and sat under a tree, far away, and read a book, much quieter, no screaming.

When the younger one, the seven year old ran to me, he said, “We lost!” I smiled and hugged him. “You gotta lose a lot before you know how to win.”

And, really, that’s how have I dealt with upset or disappointment or even teasing on a daily basis.

I’ve lost. A lot.

Winning. I really don’t remember that much about winning.

I remember working. That’s about it. I think because that’s what I do now. I work. Even when I decided to start writing again, really writing, beginning with this blog, I still work at it. It’s more of a daily triumph rather than a celebrated win.

And, I have lots of problems, so many that I work at overcoming them, not even trying to fix them. So, when I look backward or remember my life, I see struggles and what I did about it. This helps me see what to do in the future.

I remember the painful moments. I remember Chaser. And Cheeser.

That’s what messed me up or so I thought. I really hated that. I mean, if I had to go through that again, I think I’d go insane or maybe laugh and never stop.

Perhaps that’s why I started laughing like crazy at the soccer game.

That was my son and his teammates. They were having fun and the spectators, mainly parents, were too, but they were total jerks. They were Coach Chaser and those kids from my class when I was younger.

When I saw my daughter roll her eyes and walk off to a tree to read her book in peace and quiet, I thought about how I later decided to do the same. I don’t think that’s giving up. I think that’s a way of dealing with a problem. She looked just as happy as my son skipping along, oblivious to the yelling.

I didn’t skip, I ran, but at my own pace. After scowling at Coach Chaser, I ran, not faster the way Coach wanted, but I didn’t stop running. I was the best long distance runner in track. I always went last in relays and I always won the 440.

I endured.

It was a down time and I endured.

Some win, some lose, some win and lose.

I endured. And, I won.

So, when I look at seven and eight year olds playing soccer and the parents who push them, yell at them, cheer for them, and the Coaches who guide them somehow, not quite as annoyingly as mine did, but in their own way, I think, endurance.

Run faster.

Or, just run at your own pace, it’s your choice.

Always Endure.

Written By Lisa Chesser

Desire Meets Talent

They broke into my sea of problems rushing through my brain as I cleaned the house. There was a slow pounding to them as if sorrow was leaving the body and finding it’s own center.

I hadn’t heard any music, at least not from the piano for two months.

A half-smile split my thoughts apart.

My daughter finally played it.

Back Inside Music
Back Inside Music

Her piano teacher and mentor left for New York City a couple of months ago. She was the opposite of Daisy, my daughter. She smiled all the time and laughed a lot too. Most people who do this too much make me very nervous because I feel like they’re trying to cover something up.

But, Daisy who normally carries a serious demeanor found her teacher refreshing and inspiring. I did too. Then she left.

Since then, Daisy has avoided the piano, which she used to play every day. She abandoned it in a sort of mourning process because she really loved this teacher.

Even though her school has a piano teacher, we’d leave school at four and drive a half hour through heavy traffic to another school, a school where rich kids played tennis and housed a special piano teacher.

In a second-floor room, they sat and played. I took my shoes off and lay on the floor in a desperate attempt to fix my aching back. Between the hard floor and the therapeutic drop of each piano key, I was a new person at the end of each session.

More importantly, Daisy smiled and pushed back her shoulders that normally curled inward out of insecurity.

After two years of lessons, I realized, watching and listening to them together, that this very young woman wasn’t just her teacher. She was her mentor.

She was her mentor because she held Daisy to a standard above which desire met talent. She was an artist.

This mentor wasn’t just teaching piano. She was a pianist and a singer. So, the respect Daisy felt for her flourished on a level beyond teacher and student.

When she left, well, she took Daisy’s soul.

So, when the notes spilled into our house this last week, I smiled the smile of an artist who knows heartbreak.

My eyes filled with tears but none spilled over.

Heroes vs. Guns vs. Monsters

Over every meal, during car conversations, or over coffee breaks, guns appear. No one seems able to turn away from them.

Guns are everywhere.

They killed the King of Civil Rights. They killed Hope over and over again.

They killed children, parents, and teachers.

But, we still love them—these guns we’re so proud of.

Kids Find GunBy Kieran Turner
Kids Find Gun
By Kieran Turner

A recent conversation went like this:

“I think that no one here (in the U.S.) gets out of the car and fights anymore because we know that the other person might have a gun.”

I looked sideways at the person who said this. My heart beat faster. I told myself to calmly listen and do the same when I respond. I knew I would respond because, well, how could I not?

However, what made this an even more difficult situation was the fact that I respected this person and usually agreed with many of his views.

He said that in Australia people have been getting out of their cars and beating each other because of road rage. We happened to be driving when he said this. So, he continued with his theory that if only the Autralians had not banned guns….

“How can you say that?” I asked sharply.

I was answered with a slew of statistics about how many people in the United States have guns. But, I cared nothing about those statistics because all I could think about was those children and teachers being killed by a gun at Sandy Hook Elementary.

And, then, I spoke, loudly.

“You should be more careful about your opinions, especially because of what happened to those children and teachers. I realize people are the real killers. We do this. But, please, don’t tell me that giving people guns would stop the violence because of paranoia—the fear of being shot?”

He stopped. He realized how ridiculous he sounded.

As we talked more about guns and the people who use them, we also talked about why they use them. A gun in the hand of a hero might be a tool for protection either for himself or for another. A gun in the hand of a monster might be the end of any innocent life.

Kids Play with Guns by Dror Miler
Kids Play with Guns by Dror Miler

Then, we talked about what makes a hero and what makes a monster, and then, who’s responsible for making a hero and who’s responsible for creating a monster? I thought back to the last post here.

Could it be that simple?

Every adult reaches out to every child at one point or another. And, it’s not like the media doesn’t pick apart every angle of a killer’s life, a killer like that of Sandy Hook’s, Adam Lanza—lonely, withdrawn, anti-social. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about the money. It seems he had way too much money.

So, what about the killers with no money?

I know a boy like many boys who plays an inordinate amount of violent video games, almost every one of them involves shooting people or zombies. I knew him before he did this all the time. And, yes, he was a brat sometimes, angry, happy, everything you’d image a smart kid growing up in the United States might be.

Now, at age 14, he’s withdrawn, angry, lonely, just like a lot of boys his age.

What makes a hero and what makes a monster?

Someone could’ve ripped the video games out of Adam Lanza’s hands, kept him in school, helped him understand why he was different, befriend him, give him the kind of attention he really needed.

Maybe. Maybe that would’ve made a difference.

But, it was the gun in his hand that killed all those innocent children.