Tag Archives: life

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.

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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

A Killer Stops the Heart of a Nation Bleeding Inside Itself

Walk in someone else’s shoes and you might see things very differently.

"Arrow Sign" by ntwowehttp://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
“Arrow Sign” by ntwowe

We play a lot. We play with thoughts, ideas, ideals.

Do we really think?

Or, is thinking the problem?

The last time I really thought about something, it felt like my mind was running ahead of my body. I had to stop it. But, first, I had to catch up with it. My body was so tired from chasing all these ideas, ideals, rules. I was busy thinking of the next line, the next rule, and the person who broke it, the person who dared to disagree with me. There was a seething sense of anger that broke from my pinching fingers and sprinted ahead of me. Though I needed to control it, I couldn’t.

I bounced backward out of exhaustion and a desire to see where I was going. That lasted about ten minutes until I could catch myself. I grabbed ahold of the thoughts and cinched them around my fingers, reeling them in. I didn’t even care what the thoughts were. I only knew they moved too quickly and the anger felt violent and full of rage.

I’ve spent a good, I’d say, 35 years observing people in general. I spent my first five years attempting to understand them. The next five, I drew them and then wrote about them. After that, I was schooled either by motivation or by a teacher in observations. But, always, I observed myself.

And, in doing so, I’ve found that I can be a horrible person who is capable of great moments. So, I learned to stop myself and look at the person looking at me. I’ve learned that the moment I judge someone else, I should also turn inward. When the camera lens points at another, it should also point at the one holding it.

Today, for instance, I punished my children for behaving badly. They deserved it. I didn’t even need their angry glares to remind me how much they needed to be grounded. But, I did that thing that many people find weak and stupid, I turned inward and glanced at myself. I hated what I saw. So when I looked back at them. I saw their anger differently and relinquished them of their punishment.

I held my arms out and told them I loved them. They broke too. They cried and we apologized to each other. None of us cared who had won the argument or the tiny battle within our tiny fight. We just ate ice cream and played.

"Children Playing With Balls" by vorakornhttp://www.freedigitalphotos.net
“Children Playing With Balls” by vorakorn

We played, without ideas or ideals.

No one was right.

No one even cared.

Somewhere inside the gunman’s mind yesterday in Connecticut was a need to be right. There was an argument that he needed to win and couldn’t. Or, there was a wrong that needed to be fixed or covered up. Someone needed to win.

No one did.

We bleed. A heavy bruise weighs on our souls where we fight ourselves. To no end, we’ll continue to do this until we understand that we share our wounds.

Those children who died were our children. Those teachers were our teachers. And, that gunman was our neighbor, our child, our friend, our relative, and our monster. His mother was our mother.

Wild Women and Mad Men: Bite the Change

mouth
mouth (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Since Saturday, I’ve been upset and I didn’t want to write about it because I knew it would’ve been unfocused. I also don’t want this to be a place for readers to have to endure endless rants. So, I’ve been reading fellow writers’ posts while attempting to sedate the anger I still feel. But, as I was browsing the blogs I follow in my Reader, I came upon the Daily Prompt: Be the Change. It asks the question:  What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?

After quelling my initial outrage over a long-awaited yet horribly disappointing Saturday, here’s my answer to this question.

This blog should change every reader’s perspective. What you once thought to be true or real should change because you read about a strange but inspiring moment. You should laugh like a mad man or a wild woman and do something spontaneous. You should find solace in it all because you feel comfortable being different and take pride in yourself even if others won’t ever see it.

In short, this blog should inspire resilience. Without it, you’re doomed.

I write this now, two days later, more clearly and focused, well, because of the prompt and because of the distance from Saturday.

On Saturday, November 10, I got up at 6 a.m. to drive across town to an Idea Expo for teachers. In a fog of fatigue after teaching all week, I told myself this was too important to miss. I did find inspiration in the Superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools Alberto Carvahlo’s well-delivered speech. It garnered a standing ovation from the audience of teachers.

But, that was it.

Fifteen minutes later, I sat in a boxed room with a teacher sharing a lesson on Dracula, one of my favorite classics, which she purportedly teaches to middle-school students. I thought, okay, I’m gonna like her because that’s daring.

But, I didn’t like her.

I wanted to bite her.

Instead, I bit my lip and left for the day. She would be the next speaker for the next presentation, and I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut for that long.

Here’s why. She showed us a sample of the lesson she prepared for her students. She showed us a prompt about horror, which we had to answer. Fair enough, I thought. It was when she asked us what controversy meant that I flinched for the first time. She told us she was modeling the lesson for us. Okay, fine, I’d heard that before. I didn’t like it but okay. Then, she asked for responses, which we gave. After that, she said, if her own students couldn’t answer the prompt, she would let them copy off the student next to them.

I flinched again. I few curse words flew through my mind.

Then, she showed us her list of vocabulary words and said that she didn’t believe in letting students struggle with words because sometimes they mispronounce them. Fine, fair enough. Again, I just needed to give this a chance, give her a chance. She’s a teacher. She deserves my respect.

As she reviewed the list of words, she said, “Aqueese.” Just like that. Aqueese.

I jerked my arm and stabbed my paper with my pen. I shut my packet.

The word was acquiesce.

I make a lot of mistakes. I encourage my students to correct me if I misspell something on the board. I’m a writer, so I know how misspellings happen. But, if I’m teaching pronunciation then I’d better get it right. If I’m teaching spelling and I suck at it, I’d better study those words or admit my weakness.

It was too much to bear. I grew up loving literature so much that I passed my days in the library. I skipped science class, not to go to the beach, but because I snuck into the library to read. I lived inside these books, and she had proceeded to mutilate what I loved.

English: Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York.
English: Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I left.

I walked to Starbucks and listened to Billie Holiday belt out her piping-hot tunes. I pretended none of this just happened and settled into the sounds around me.

But, the anger lingered.

The fumes gathered and swirled.

I looked at my own children and myself as a child. So many teachers had disappointed me the way this woman did that day. So many teachers have handed my children misinformation on a silver platter and lauded themselves while doing it.

I could and can only think:  Resilience. Laugh out loud, relentless resilience.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t speak my mind. In an effort to be polite, to tame the fire in my belly, I bit my tongue.

And, in honor of Dracula, I should have bit her.

Getting Real

Ready for Reality
A fellow blogger nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger award recently, but I don’t feel beautiful at all. I did realize that there was another nomination I needed to accept before this one:  the Reality Blog award. I’ve been searching for the all-elusive time to do this. However, blogging here has been relegated to the bottom of my list of To Do’s mainly because of my kids.

My son hates school. As a dedicated teacher, I do too. I really can’t argue with him. I’ve told him the value of education until I’ve listened to my words fall letter by letter to the floor. The last straw was when I told him he would behave or never see his Legos again. It was an age-old battle that I needed to win. I needed him to see education the way I used to see it.

But, I underestimated him. He’s smarter than I am. He looked at me, resigned himself to my belief system, and got sick, literally.

He’s been throwing up and now has a fever. Call it coincidence, call it flu season, or call it the sadness of his spirit. I believe it’s his spirit slumping into the sad world of my reality. At the end of the day, he simply looked at me, said his stomach was sick, went to bed then woke up puking.

That’s when everything turned upside down for me. I rewound and slowed the speed forward. I unzipped my skin and took a look around.

A wild second grader danced before me, asking questions, some really smart-ass ones. He laughed at them and sometimes me. He found math interesting when he was allowed to measure things around the classroom but hated sitting still to take a test. He needed to be up discovering the world, finding out why the lizards don’t fall from the ceiling.

A tired mother/teacher walked to her classroom, feeling guilty for leaving her son who she just yelled at. Why couldn’t she just say, “To hell with all of you,” and leave, grab her son and go? All her own students, much older than her son, complained to her, and hated school themselves. She also tried to show them the value of it but was beginning to find it a futile argument. In their eyes, she saw the truth.

The truth is school kills creativity. For all our convoluted words and serious sarcasm, we amount to a bloated, gassy large intestine.

In sixth and seventh grade, I teach about 75 kids just like my son. The rest are sparkly perfect students not unlike my daughter, but they too find it difficult to endure school. When the day nears the end, they’re ready to fly out of their seats and some literally do.

Over the years, my tolerance for shaking pens and pencils, twirling IDs, and random jumps from seats has grown so much that I find myself doing the same thing.

But, when I see my son, like many of my students, get sick over the depressing reality of school, I question my own profession because it feeds the beast. That large, bloated one.

So, I’ll try to blog and read all of your beautiful blogs, but I’ve got to fix a little boy’s view of reality. He’s sleeping right now with a wet cloth mending his fever. We might end up at the doctor’s office first thing in the morning. But, once he’s better physically, I’ll be reminding him that the lizard on the ceiling is his reality and now it’s mine too.

Here are some great blogs to check out while I’m busy mopping up my mess:

http://nettrobbens.com/

http://abreakfastserial.com/

http://readstuffwithme.wordpress.com/

http://freepennypress.wordpress.com/

http://www.nayiaisms.com/

http://strollingsouthamerica.wordpress.com/

http://fromtv2od.com/

http://oawritingspoemspaintings.wordpress.com/

http://truittjeremy.wordpress.com/

http://scotterb.wordpress.com/

http://bornspecial.wordpress.com/

http://somestolenmoments.wordpress.com/

http://mominthemuddle.com/

http://momopolize.com/

http://dianereedwiter.wordpress.com/

http://igamemom.com

There are so many more that I read on a daily basis. If you look around BraveSmartBold posts, you’ll find them.

Venezuela’s Avatars Remind Us to Vote

Sometimes our heroes live under the ground, having never even been written about.
Sometimes our heroes live so far from us, we don’t even know who they are.
Sometimes these heroes are just walking along the streets that no one else will walk.
Sometimes our heroes need us to be heroes, speaking up, supporting them.

Some of my heroes brave the streets of Venezuela every single day, careful to watch who’s around them, careful to steer clear of this street or that, not that it makes much of a difference. They’re still robbed and kidnapped, often enough, they’re murdered. With crime increasing year after year, I wonder if I’ll ever see Venezuela again.

Capriles vs. Chavez

My husband’s family, those who remain there, visits us. They won’t let us visit them. Why can’t we visit? Why can’t we take our children?

It’s the same old story:  Politics. Men. Ideals. Ideas. Egos. Egos. Death.

My children might not ever see the way the mountains look when the sea meets them along a dirt road free of stoplights and buildings in the small islands just off the coast of Venezuela. They might not see the tiny, wooden restaurant ahead. They might not sip the fresh pineapple drink then break the soft-corn cachapa with their fork and mix the tangy with the sweet on their tongues.

But, it doesn’t matter because they’ll be safe. Safe from the violence that taunts Venezuelans on a daily basis, safe from the mask of right and wrong.

This weekend millions of heroes, just like us, will vote, here in the states (in particular in New Orleans) and in Venezuela. Chavez shut down the Venezuelan consulate in Miami. So, the Venezuelans now living in the United States have to vote in New Orleans because they can’t vote in Miami where many have taken refuge since Chavez became president.

When they vote they’ll attempt to right a wrong, a clear, undeniable wrong:  Hugo Chavez is president. It’s wrong because since he came to power  the crime and death rate increased so drastically that paranoia seems a silly, antiquated word.

On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Venezuelan’s will vote for Hugo Chavez or his challenger Henrique Capriles.

Hugo Chavez has managed to remain in power for about 14 years. The opposition and human rights observers call his government repressive because of his control over the media. Moreover, according to Venezuelan Violence Observatory, there have been 118,541 murders in Venezuela since Chavez took power.

To make matters worse, the Venezuelan government has condemned the American Convention on Human Rights withdrawing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Guadalupe Marengo, deputy director for the Americas at Amnesty International said in a press release, “This move is an affront to the victims of human rights violations and to future generations of Venezuelans who will no longer be able to access this regional body when their rights are not respected in their own country.”

Venezuelan’s are heroes just for enduring. Their voices are being shut down by the man who’s supposed to fight for them.

If the voters are heard, someday you may be lucky enough to visit Venezuela, you’ll find beauty beyond Caracas, its capital. You’ll find islands and tiny villages with people who create possibly more amazing art and other products than any of us could dream of.

Most of you may not even care much about Venezuela. It was only mentioned in Avatar by the “American” colonel who fought Jake Sully to the death. The colonel spoke of Venezuela as a “mean jungle.”

That’s actually true as of the time of this post, but it wasn’t always that way.

Fifteen years ago my then-boyfriend and I, my now-husband and I, took our first trip there together. We knew then, like with many major cities, that we shouldn’t go to certain places at certain times when visiting his family in Caracas. We knew where to go, when to go. He had left because of crime, his Christmas presents stolen, and there weren’t many to steal.

Crime was a problem even 25 years ago when my husband’s family left for the United States. But, Chavez promised to close the divide between rich and poor. To say he did not deliver is an understatement. In fact, he lied. He still lies. The facts tell the truth.

When we were able to visit, the city itself, Caracas, made no difference to us except for family, food, and certain sites that we found necessary to visit and revisit as if we knew it might disappear someday. Simon Bolivar had once liberated the people, so we visited his statue and smiled, not really considering we’d spend over ten years without seeing it again. Certain districts such as the clothing centers, we frequented because, really, we loved buying great, cheap souvenirs.

Catholic churches, yes, a necessity.

Cachapas. Empanadas. Café of any kind. Arepas, Venezuelan-style. We ate. We drank. We enjoyed.

I miss it all so much as I sit safely here, in Miami.

We Americans take certain rights for granted. We also don’t understand the extent to which voting affects these simple beauties in life that go without our appreciation.

We also don’t recognize the hero within because, well, we’re everywhere. We’re Avatars and we don’t even know it. We definitely don’t appreciate our powers.

Let Venezuela’s plight, those invisible heroes among them, among us, let Venezuela’s vote count. Let it remind you who you are:

Powerful.

Powerful.

Avatars.

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Occupy Avoids Phantoms of Failure

Unemployed men queued outside a depression sou...
Unemployed men queued outside a depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone, 02-1931 – NARA – 541927 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The undercurrent of dreading the inevitable percolates beneath our heavy layer of cheap perfume. We fear becoming sick then losing our jobs or the other way around. It doesn’t matter because if one happens so will the other. Then, we’ll also lose healthcare. We fear so much that we accept too much.

I look at other mothers and fathers, men and women, and we nod, we smile, a resigned not yet angry smile. Occupy Wall Street hit an impressive nerve. Secretly, in those quiet corners after work ended, we smirked, vindicated for our silent sufferings.

But now, when I look back at Occupy Wall Street, I look back even further.

The Great Depression plunged Americans into a surprise hell where a response left them mute then violent. Today you can view the violent protests on YouTube.

My great grandfather, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for a whole two years before his death, owned a bakery in Chicago, Illinois. He hired as many people as he could invent jobs but still couldn’t help the majority of the people who’d been abandoned by their employers. He fed people free bread on a daily basis. He made sure he sent word to anyone he knew that there was a good man or woman ready to work. He did all this with a push and a shove from my great grandmother who never let anybody she met go hungry.

Even so, they couldn’t help everyone. In fact, the amount of people they could help was simply too small. The circumstances had cut too deep, the wound unable to heal. So the masses had to speak up.

Like the Occupiers, they mustered the strength and anger to do something, anything about their situation. Whether born from desperation or frustration, it really didn’t matter because that’s more than many people could or would do.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 1st week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My great grandfather watched his all-American, capitalist ideals drop from the tears in his eyes as he handed men and women their dignity in the form of bread.

In the 1920s, there were those who misspent their money on extravagant delights. It was a time of overindulgence and rebellion that set Americans up for failure.

The similarities between that and the outrageous spending habits of the 90s blend quite nicely. In 1931, about 60,000 people protested new eviction laws in Chicago. Violence erupted, some were killed, many injured. Read more about it at http://griid.org/2011/08/03/this-day-in-resistance-history-–-the-chicago-eviction-riots/

Protests are cries for help, shouts of the guttural kind, when people just can’t stay quiet any longer. Riots happen when no one listens.

Right now, many of us still have our stuff. But, we’re struggling—our eyes show it.

We, the workers, we’re tired.

But, whom do we blame? Them? Do we blame the credit-crazy monsters of the 80s and 90s? Do we blame the people who bought into the idea that you can live a luxurious life and still pay your bills? Sure, why not. Maybe we can even say, “Look what you did. Take responsibility for it.”

Then what? Do we dig a hole for them and say, “Jump in,” pushing them if they won’t go, covering them in dirt, suffocating them?

Or, do we offer them a hand, a piece of bread in the form of dignity.

Written by Lisa Chesser