Tag Archives: life

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

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You’re only as good as your enemy. That would be you, mom.

Rolling your eyes at your mother seems a rite of passage for most girls. My daughter rolled her eyes so much lately that I finally rolled mine back at her. Of course, I was extra dramatic about it. I rolled my eyes up with an extended flutter to emphasize the severity of only the white part showing.

She laughed, and her rolling eyes settled into a disdainful stare to match her frustration with my “nagging.” But, there are other sometimes more disturbing behaviors lately:  Telling me to leave her alone then shutting her bedroom door, elbowing me (however lightly) when I try to hug her, saying “Oh Wow,” after I tell her to do something important like homework.

I’d already hurdled the “I hate you,” moments so I figured I could handle being my daughter’s enemy. But, “I hate you” was sharp, loud and over within seconds. These new insults dig into my side, make me feel nauseous, and even bring me to tears.

Inevitably I remember what I did to my own mother. Rolling my eyes being the most memorable of my insults. She would yell, “Don’t you roll your eyes at me!” Then, I’d do it again, just to spite her.

I’ve grown up a lot since then and I hope I’ve learned something. However, like every naïve new mother, I vowed to never be like my mother. Now, when I hear other moms say they won’t be like their mothers, I secretly say, “Good luck with that.”

My mother was terrible. She wore miniskirts to my ultra-conservative Baptist school functions. She divorced two men. She told my friends’ parents to go to hell when they made snide remarks about her inappropriate behavior. She wouldn’t let me go anywhere because she was afraid I’d get hurt. She didn’t come home sometimes for 24 hours because she’d work double shifts as a nurse.

I hated her for all of that and more.

Sometimes, very early in the morning I’d sneak into her cave of a room and kneel next to her bed. I’d listen to her breath and I’d feel sorry for myself because I missed her so much. Then, I’d blow her a very quiet kiss and leave. I wanted her with me, just being my mom, like all the other mom’s at my school.

I know now that if she were around all the time I’d have hated her for that.

Why? Well, she’s my mother, my enemy, my one true love.

It doesn’t make it any less painful to know that while I experience the same with my own daughter. It just keeps me grounded. I know the journey will leave me sore and tired, but love will lock us together.

My mother also snuck into my room late at night bringing me little presents: a pair of earrings, a teddy bear, a kiss. I’d be angry with her for something so I wouldn’t let her know I was awake, but I loved her for visiting me. Deep in my soul, I knew she loved me just as much or more than the “perfect” moms who volunteered at bake sales and coached the cheerleading teams.

Four Generations of Mothers.
Four Generations of Mothers.
It’s been said that they all rolled their eyes at their mother.

Just recently my daughter decided we didn’t need to read together at night anymore like we’ve done even before she began reading on her own. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but when I cried myself to sleep for three days in a row, I again felt what my own mother must’ve: a sorrow that only love brings.

I wrote my daughter a note praising her for finding her independence and telling her why I was sad about it, that I would miss it so much and I’d be there for her no matter what changes come.

Within a week, she asked me to read with her again. One night, yes; another night, no.

I remind her that I will always need hugs and she will always be my baby. Those things she must accept. We’ll work out the rest.

She smiles a baby smile, blinks her eyes, and rests her head on my shoulder.

Sometimes, she rolls her eyes.

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

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.