Tag Archives: parenting

The Zika Monster

Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.

That’s me.

Every night.

Even when there’s nothing really there.

I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.

See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.

Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.

In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.

Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”

Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”

I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.

What is Zika?

The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital.

But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.

zika1

Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.

Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.

We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?

An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?

Propaganda?

We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.

And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.

We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.

Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.

The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.

I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.

Written by Lisa Chesser

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Portraits of Love

D&MAngryEvery day.

Four eyes hit me with judgment and love.

Dark lashes fan the flecks of green and yellow floating in a sea of amber.

Love.

Striking out of a pool of black.

Forgiveness.

But, as they grow I forget that they were always doing this.

Waves of black and brown frame her face instead of pigtails.

Wisps of brown float across his forehead, one eye squinting.

Glaring at me.

Darts.

Hit me with a pinch then a sting.

I know every crinkle in their skin, still plump, even now, at fourteen and ten.

They remind me that I’m just like them.

Not above, not below them.

We dance this dance together.

Flawed.

Crazy.

Fun.

Angry.

Little.

Fierce.

Human.

Love.

Written by Lisa Chesser
Portraits

Does money matter for teachers?

People used to ask me, “What do you do?”

I’d say, “I’m a Publications Specialist.” Before that I’d say, “I’m an editor, writer, graphic artist, or copy editor.” They’d nod and smile in approval and ask more questions about it. I felt respected.

Now, when people ask that question, I say, “I’m a teacher.” Their eyes pop open, sometimes there’s a gasp or a grunt or even a hiss with a dramatic “Ouch” at the end. I was startled that at first. I stopped wanting to answer people. I avoided the question when we were meeting people. Sometimes I even told my husband that I would just say I’m a writer and editor because I still am so I’m not lying or anything. I’d just leave out what I do the majority of the time throughout the year.

But, I couldn’t avoid it completely. So as I started answering that question more and more, I realized people just felt sorry for me when I said I was a teacher and it didn’t have to be bad. So, I’d laugh and grunt with them. I’d agree and then unload my frustrations on them. It felt kind of good considering that I needed counseling after all the rough weeks of teaching.

However, the underlying problem of telling people that I am a teacher never seemed to change.

There’s a tangible lack of respect for teachers. We are jokes. We are servants. We are babysitters. We can’t do anything else. We are burps in a person’s life that they’d like to forget about.

Or, we are honored for being so special that we work for scraps thrown from the dinner table and educate the children who will someday rule over all of us and either save or destroy the world. This latter “honored” reaction, I’ve found, happens a lot less than the other negative ones.

Somewhere, far, far away

According to an article in The Guardian, How the job of teachers compares around the world, there’s respect for Chinese teachers and teachers in Finland receive the monetary rewards that make teaching worthwhile and transform it into a respected, even sought-after profession.

So, yes, asking “Does money matter to teachers?” is a loaded question, I know. Many teachers would say, “Sit down and let’s talk for at least two weeks about why teachers absolutely need to be paid more.” Still others would say, “It’s not about the money.”

Despite either reaction, let’s just say this, teachers deserve more money based on the fact that they work endless hours and hold the world’s future in their hands. And, of course, I’m talking about the good ones. Those who look like they’ve been through WW III after the first week of school and lug stacks of papers back and forth from the school to their homes.

There was a video I watched about a year ago about applying to a demanding job.

People who were applying for jobs were asked by their potential employers to do what moms do without knowing that it was actually a list of tasks that every mom does. And, we all know moms don’t get paid for what they do. The people interviewing for the jobs were horrified and immediately rejected the jobs. In the end, when they were told that they were really applying for the job that all moms do, their faces changed to a knowing, a deep appreciation, a realization that only mothers do something so insanely valuable for no pay whatsoever.

I would argue that good teachers come close to that idea. Is it the same? Absolutely not, just the same idea.

To say we as teachers don’t work for the money is quite true. To say we shouldn’t demand more pay is not fair and ridiculous.

Dedication

We don’t work for the money because we’re paid nothing compared to the amount of hours we put into it. We grade stacks of papers at home throughout the week—if we are good teachers. We chase students around about homework, classwork, quizzes, and tests. We counsel them when they make mistakes and think they can’t go on. We care for them like they’re our own children. Then, we send them home to hopefully do homework, study, and sleep. We start over the next day even if we know they stayed up late playing video games and didn’t do homework.

Given that we are a world that runs on money, teachers need it not only to survive but to hope for more, to fuel their own fire if they’re giving so much of their energies to teaching.

It’s a profession with very raw, concrete value; yet, it’s treated as a volunteer opportunity offering little respect. Why would anyone with an ounce of respect want to teach or even continue to teach then?

We wouldn’t. In fact, any teacher worth their salt and willing to be honest will tell you that he or she contemplated leaving more than once. Many teachers make other plans and go as far as to pack their materials, but they remember their students, their lessons, the challenges that made them better human beings, and they think of the future without dedicated teachers.

We don’t do it for the money, but that’s precisely why teachers, good, hardworking, dedicated teachers, should be paid as much as any professional and respected equally or even more.

What’s interesting though, is that as a writer, editor, graphic artist, and publications specialist, I started out getting paid significantly less than an average public school teacher yet I got a whole lot more respect.

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.

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

Teen Advice in Snippets, Weekly Writing Challenge

Writer’s Challenge Note:  I ran out of time for editing too much, but I did what I could in bold. I’ve been an editor for too many years so I know the value of it; however, here in WordPress World I found myself so much more at ease with writing, so much more confident and content that I didn’t feel the need to slash all my words. I simply commanded them and they stuck. I don’t think I could’ve experienced this without WordPress.

Snipping away at yourself makes for a difficult day, let alone life. A general glance strikes you as a hit with another’s eye. But, really, was it a glance at you or was it something else entirely? You don’t even consider that until years later when you’ve grown older and you realize these snippets never really mattered to anyone but you because, well, just because.

Teens, and often enough Tweens, live in a bubble built upon self-interest and self-conscous slaps to the face. They riddle themselves with bullets shiny and new. Shiny because their “friends” polish them and new because it is new to them.

This age group which is about 11-17, sometimes as old as 18, roams around with so much pain because at the same time that their bodies are changing, they see the world for what it is, and it is not so pretty and sometimes neither are they.

If any of us adults could fast forward teens to ten years later, we might be able to spare them all of this needless pain. We can rewind though for ourselves.

When I walk backward to that day when I found myself taller than the boy I liked, a pimple sprouting in the middle of my forehead, hair too frizzy to feather, voice too soft to cheerlead, butt too big to wear short shorts, lips too small to call sexy, I want to take myself by the hand and walk myself forward.

I want to lie down next to me and tell myself stories about what happens afterward, how life changes, why I shouldn’t be afraid of myself, and why I should definitely stop trying so hard to fit in with everyone else. But, to that girl, buried in her day to day dramas of a changing body and a chaotic life, the gift of sitting next to her older self might not help at all. It could even land her in an insane asylum.

But, here we go anyway.

Listen Lisa, feathered hair looks ridiculous except on that “inappropriate” poster your uncle has of Farrah Faucet. Everyone eventually grows a pimple on the most embarrassing part of their body for the whole world to gawk at because this is what makes you human. Worry about wrinkles, trust me, they’re much worse. Your butt is perfect, perfect for roller skating, perfect for running, perfect for swimming, and perfect because you have a body and you’re not a boy. But, you don’t appreciate this because girls are told to starve themselves or forced to do so because advertising and fashion magazines say so. They blast it from their bony butts perched on their fake everything.

Lisa, if you would just listen to me, really listen with your soul, not just your ears, you’d understand that your lips don’t need to be enormous and red. You don’t need all those kids to like you. You don’t even need one. You’ve got a grandmother who one day will get sick and need you to take care of her like a baby, so enjoy her now. She’s your best friend. There’s a sister hanging out with some really mean girls and she needs a shoulder to cry on. There’s your mom, who loves you so much, but works too much to know how to show it anymore.

There are so many reasons to forget this teen drama and look to the beauty around you. Take my hand and remember this as you go through that.

You’ll thank me someday.

 

 

THIS WAS THE FIRST VERSION:

Snipping away at yourself makes for a difficult day, let alone life. A general glance strikes you as a hit with another’s eye. But, really, was it a glance at you or was it something else entirely? You don’t even consider that until years later when you’ve grown older and you realize these snippets never really mattered to anyone but you because, well, just because.

Teens, and often enough Tweens, live in a bubble built upon self-interest and self-conscous slaps to the face. They riddle themselves with bullets shiny and new–shiny because their “friends” polish them and new because it is new to them.

This age group which is about 11-17, sometimes as old as 18, roams around with so much pain because at the same time that their bodies are changing, they see the world for what it is, and it is not so pretty and sometimes neither are they.

If any of us adults could fast forward them ten years, we might be able to spare them all of this needless pain. We can rewind though for ourselves.

When I walk backward to that day when I found myself taller than the boy I liked, a pimple sprouting in the middle of my forehead, hair too frizzy to feather, voice to soft to cheerlead, butt too big to wear short shorts, lips too small to call sexy, I want to take myself by the hand and walk myself forward.

I want to lie down next to me and tell myself stories about what happens afterward, how life changes, why I shouldn’t be afraid of myself, and why I should definitely stop trying so hard to fit in with everyone else. But, to that girl, buried in her day to day dramas of a changing body and a chaotic life, the gift of sitting next to her older self might not help at all. It could even land her in an insane asylum.

But, here we go anyway.

Listen Lisa, feathered hair looks ridiculous except on that “inappropriate” poster your uncle has of Farrah Faucet. Everyone eventually grows a pimple on the most embarrassing part of their body for the whole world to gawk at because this is what makes you human. Worry about wrinkles, trust me, they’re much worse. Your butt is perfect, perfect for roller skating, perfect for running, perfect for swimming, and perfect because you have a body and you’re not a boy. But, you don’t appreciate this because girls are told to starve themselves or forced to do so because advertising and fashion magazines say so. They blast it from their bony butts perched on their fake everything.

Lisa, if you would just listen to me, really listen with your soul, not just your ears, you’d understand that your lips don’t need to be enormous and red. You don’t need all those kids to like you. You don’t even need one. You’ve got a grandmother who one day will get sick and need you to take care of her like a baby, so enjoy her now. She’s your best friend. There’s a sister hanging out with some really mean girls and she needs a shoulder to cry on. There’s your mom, who loves you so much, but works too much to know how to show it anymore.

There are so many reasons to forget this teen drama and look to the beauty around you. Take my hand and remember this as you go through that.

You’ll thank me someday

Keep Your Head in the Clouds

Oh, look at that!
It’s a panda. You see it? There’s a ship. Look look look.
Where?
Right there, follow my finger. You see it?
No. Well sort of.
Ooowa! That one’s weird. I think it’s an old man. He’s smiling. See?
Yeah! I see it…

See anything?
See anything?

I lied.
I saw nothing. Really. Just nothing. It was humiliating.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t even see shapes in the clouds. I’m broken.
My son sat for another thirty minutes on the car ride to the Keys pointing out dragons eating ice cream and flying mermaids while I gave up and checked my email on my phone.

Where did my creativity go? What happened to my imagination? I kept asking myself that as I sporadically searched the sky for the latest cloud news flash.

Look, wait, yeah, it’s a turtle! Right there. There’s the head, the shell, it’s moving.

Anything?
Anything?

I saw nothing.

Later, when I walked out on the jetty, to sit and listen to the water pat the rocks below. I watched the fish spring out, the birds zoom overhead, and the clouds float by. I squinted at the sky. I drew images with my eyes.

Anything yet?
Anything yet?

I saw nothing.
I tried again the next day and the next, but found nothing.

And this is what I’ve decided. All literature, the books that have guided me though rough times, the prayers that have steadied me, could never have shown me exactly why I’m so lost sometimes.
But, that boy and those clouds did.
When you look up into the sky…
See something.

Anything.

Religion is in the details.

At the end of the first week back to school in Florida, I stood in a line with moms beaten, worried, and tired. We were from everywhere in Miami. We wore business clothes, jeans, and sweatpants.

The “perfect” mom with the straight, red hair, black V-neck sweater, and pencil skirt raised her eyebrows as the Latina mom in sweatpants rolled her eyes and said, “I finally understand my mom. I used to be so embarrassed when she’d hand out coupons at the counter and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna pay for all this.”

She raised her eyes to the sky as if to say, “Save me! Help me.”

I pulled the plug from my ear, the earphone muffling the depressing music on the speakers at CVS.  “I know. I feel the same,” I said, desperately reaching out to her.

The redhead rolled her eyes again. “It’s crazy. They kill us.”

I looked into their eyes and the week of troubles emptied from my soul. The week of upset, anger, resentment, and fighting left me because I wasn’t alone. I was with women unlike me and just like me.

We knew pain. The kind of pain religious leaders just won’t ever understand.

The kind of pain kids frown at.

The kind of pain only mothers know.

And, my heart emptied.

In those few moments, no one could’ve predicted that my heart would empty. No religious mantra could fix me. But, right there, with women I didn’t even know, my heart emptied.

And, I was free.

Find those moments that free you and recognize them as religious.

They belong to you.

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.

DP Challenge, Snapshots: Spears for Eyes

Her eyes bit into hers and, what a shame, since love often resided there. Brown spears sprung from a deep darkness pooled into circular rounds, cushioned only by a sense of humanity. To blink would’ve meant she’d lose her stance, her power.

A black ring outlined the severity of her response to her mother who could only break with sorrow at having realized her daughter stood stronger than she did.

The daughter’s eyelashes frayed her lids, framing the centers with honor and pride. Those eyes waited for no one, bowed to nothing, spoke to all, especially the figure she knew no longer posed a threat.

The mother’s eyes paled in comparison, a light green, tired and worn. They ached and blinked too much. The black spears, once strong, were scattered and bent, blending into the green with no real destination. The black ring blurred and swirled, knowing no boundaries.

So, the mother’s eyelids fell half-mast, cradling the idea that life need not be a fight. She bore no resentment or anger at losing this battle with the daughter she loved more than life. She even offered what little strength she had left to the daughter who suddenly blinked, then bit her bottom lip to punish herself for such weakness.

Her eyes took her mother’s strength with a glorious grin that crinkled the edges of her Egyptian-eyeliner handed to her by the gods who’d traced them at birth. She breathed and her eyes flew open much wider now when she felt the sensitivity of that strength.

The pump of it meant they remained connected so that to hurt one, would hurt the other.

Locked together, mother and daughter.

Spears for eyes.

DP Challenge