Category Archives: Teaching

Stand

Stand up and be counted.  Stand for the weak.  Stand hand in hand with her in public.  Stand still in the dark until your eyes adjust. Stand when you hear the National Anthem.  Set your moral compass and stand fast in the right direction.  Stand up and be counted.  Don’t get caught without a leg to stand on.  Ask others to stand with you.  When your opponent falls, stand down.  Stand for what is right and ask others to stand with you.  In a world plagued with conformity, stand out.  Teach them to stand on their own two feet.  Stand on your tip-toes to get a better view.  When fear strikes, stand fast.  When being measured, stand tall.  Stand on the edge and look down.  Stand up in a boat.  When they say you can’t do it, dig your heels in and stand firm.  Stand side by side and feel your strength.  Don’t stand in her way.  When everyone else is gone, have the courage to stand alone.

Superman stood for truth, justice and the American way.  The Ironed Jawed Angels of 1918 stood up for the rights of women in America.  Ben Cohen stands up against bullying.  Gandhi stood for civil rights and freedom for all citizens of the world. The Stand; we’ve all taken it for one reason or another, and regardless of our motivation, we all stand for something at some time.

All too often, we wander through our days without giving notice to the many stands we take.  Whether we are defending others, promoting a cause, proving a point or showing our strength; we all stand.  I’ve seen it in action, been witness to the results, and even participated.  I’ve felt the fear, the power, the joy, and the helplessness that taking a stand can create; and still I stand.

It’s important for me, living in a world where the actions of others, whether reckless or calculated, directly impact my life and possibly the lives of others, that I continue to stand, both for myself and for those who can’t.  I’m not a hero or a savior, I don’t have endless wisdom or insurmountable strength, and I don’t want power or fame.  I’m just an ordinary person looking for other ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things.

It doesn’t take much to make good things happen; all you have to do is stand.

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Simple

 I am a simple girl.  No, I am not a simpleton, I just like the feeling I get when I embrace the simple side of each new day.

I am struggling with a pretty big life-altering change right now, a heartbreaking change. I am trying to hold onto the simple parts of my day that give me peace; waking up with Emma snuggled into my side, hot coffee after my morning walk, clean towels fresh out of the dryer, a cold beer once my chores are done, the sound of her voice as I drift off to sleep at the end of each day; all simple.

More and more, I am in love with simple pleasures.  So many people claim to prefer the ‘simple side of life’, but rarely do I see them truly embrace it.  I am living simple right now, and hanging onto it with both hands.  I have all I need; a roof over my head, food on my table, a job, love and laughter. Change will come regardless of what I do to hurry it along, so I’m being patient with my life.  I don’t focus on what I don’t have because I know it will come in time. Right now, I find my happiness in the true calm of what I pull into my heart each day; each moment an important one, each action intended.

If more people would accept the simplicity in life’s design, we would have less greed, less waste, more compassion, and more calm. I’m doing my part; are you doing yours?


Kids being kids?

 Bullying: the habitual badgering and intimidation of people perceived as weaker or less deserving of respect.

There is a ton of talk about the bullying of LGBT students in schools across the United States. Some people would have you believe that it isn’t happening, it’s just the insecurities of a certain group of people, and nothing more. Political figures would have you believe that the specific bullying of LGBT students doesn’t happen because those students are gay, it happens because kids will be kids.  I don’t agree. Bullying exists because some people in this world don’t like those who appear to be different from themselves.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  A bully is someone who picks on another person, either through emotional or physical intimidation, based on another person’s differences.  Now, knowing that, why is it so difficult to believe that children would act in such a manner?  Adults act like that, and we impart our perspective to the children in our lives every day.  I fail to understand why some people actually think that bullying is simply kids being kids.

We’ve seen this before…  In the 60s, the tension between blacks and whites reached an all time high.  Intimidation, hate speech, physical attacks, discrimination; all thrown onto a group of people because they were different, the minority.  Fortunately, after some time and serious struggle, laws were enacted to protect those individuals of difference.  Now move forward to 2012 and the ever-growing tensions between heterosexuals and homosexuals.  Intimidation, hate speech, physical attacks, discrimination; all thrown onto a group of people because they are different; the minority.

How is now different from then?   It isn’t.


Dear Parents,

Dear Parents of High School Students,

I am not your child’s friend.  I do not care if they like me.  This is not a popularity contest for me,  it is your child’s education.

I am not going to pretend your child’s work is exemplary, when it is actually sub-standard.  I demand, and expect, nothing but the very best effort from your child.  Helping your child is not synonymous with giving them the answers, so please explain to them that they will be expected to do their own work in my class. I do not condone laziness or irresponsibility; make sure they have a good breakfast and pack their backpacks with all the necessary items needed to be productive at school.

I do not want to look at the top of your child’s head for 45 minutes each day, so please make sure they get a good night’s sleep.  There is no reason to send your child to school unless they are fully invested in working, my time is far too valuable to be wasted on someone who is not interested in what I am presenting.  If your child is not capable of being present, both physically and mentally, then perhaps a different learning environment should be explored; home schooling is an option for every child.

I will give your child complete and brutal honesty about their work, their behavior and their commitment to excellence, and I won’t feel bad if it hurts their feelings.  I will not pretend their behavior is acceptable when it is grating on my last nerve.  I will tell them to be quiet when I am speaking.  When I address your child, I expect them to be accountable for their words and actions.  If they ask me a question I expect them to listen to the answer the first time it is given.  I do not  want to hear your child telling me that my decisions are not fair; a fair is a place you take a pig to win a ribbon, it has nothing to do with my classroom.

It is not my job to feel sorry for your son or daughter.  Every one of my students comes to me with a different plate of challenges, and your child is not more special than any other child in my class.  Please understand that just doing the work is not enough, it has to be done correctly.  You child must follow directions, or they will not succeed.   I will teach them.  I will motivate them.  I will encourage them to be their very best self.  I will be honest with them.  I will not take responsibility for your child’s failures, and  I will always give them full credit for their successes.

Although I am not your child’s parent, I am a parent.  I understand that the teen mind is a difficult thing to decipher, however I would ask that get on board with the following truth:  one day you will die, and if you don’t pry your kid’s head out of her ass now, they won’t have a hope in hell of making it on their own.  Tell them no, motivate them, hold them accountable, demand excellence, instill a firm work ethic, and be honest.  If you are not part of the solution to your own child’s problems in school, then you are actually part of the problem.

Sincerely,

Your Child’s Teacher


Insist

“When you must, insist.  Insist that you be given the opportunity to speak.  Insist that everyone be given the same.  Insist that they listen.  Insist that every viewpoint be given credence – no matter who presents it.  Insist on the truth; insist that people be willing to dig for it.  Insist that the people around you be civil and respectful of all beings.  Insist that they stop already with the jokes that aren’t funny and the compliments that compliment no one.  Insist on a square deal.  Insist that people look at you when they talk to you.  Insist on nothing less from yourself.  When polite isn’t quite enough and demanding seems over the top, simply, firmly, clearly insist.”  ~ Rachel Snyder

I insist that you be respectful.  I insist that you treat each other with dignity.  I insist you practice patience and compassion.  I insist you be your very best self.

Each day I insist my students practice the kind of qualities that breed tolerance and understanding.  They are not allowed to be critical of others based on appearance or preference.  They must challenge each other on the merits of their individual character, and leave behind the stereotypes and predispositions that cloud their judgement and reasoning.  They must.

To be a part of my class is a privilege and an honor, but it must be earned.  You must prove to me that you deserve to share in the experience I am going to give you, and if you are not interested in following the rules of my world, you will be dismissed.  My classroom is a haven for free thinking and self-expression.  No one will be criticized for their opinions or beliefs, and everyone will respect the differences of their peers.  You will encourage each other, and when one of you falls, you will help them along the way.  You will not give up on yourself or your classmates.

The rules are simple; be your best self, and expect the best from those around you.  I won’t have it any other way.


Eat Your Fucking Brussel Sprouts!

I am fed-up with all of the so-called Christian groups in this country acting like hateful asshats.  That’s right, I called them asshats.  I’m pissed off, so you’ll have to forgive me.

The most recent group to pop up on my radar is the One Million Moms. The One Million Moms (OMM) claims that they are “dedicated to saving our young people” and their mission is to save the children.  Ok listen, I’m all for saving children and protecting our youth, but since when is preaching hatred and bigotry a realistic way to help guide the young people of this country.  Yes I know, Hitler managed to indoctrinate thousands of young Germans with his Hitler Youth organization that touted propaganda and fear as a means of controlling a country, but this is not 1939 and it sure as hell isn’t Germany.

I live in America.  This country is supposed to be the melting pot of all nations.  What the fuck happened to us?  Why do we hate each other so damn much?  When did Americans decide to turn on each other instead of banding together and supporting each other in difficult times?  When is it going to stop being okay for people to treat each other like shit solely on the basis of who they love or the color of their skin or what language they speak?  Why is it so difficult to just shut your friggin’ pie hole and let people live their lives without having to constantly worry that they will be attacked or evicted or fired from their job because someone  doesn’t like  the way they live, who they love or what they believe?  I’ve fucking had it!

I see a serious lack of compassion and understanding from organizations that profess they are merely spreading their Christian love and values in an effort to make the world a better place.  These people hide behind a false god and use their religion as a weapon to degrade  those of us who might not agree with their way of thinking.  They preach a religion of propaganda that is intended to dehumanize the people they don’t see as being fit to receive the basic human decency that ALL people deserve.

I am an American, and I am also a daughter, a writer, a mother, a lesbian, a sister and a teacher.  I am  so many things, and I fail to understand how I can be singled out as having caused the downfall of this nation when I preach no hate, make no threats and encourage a sense of tolerance in all areas of my life.   What is it about me that makes me so dangerous in the eyes of the One Million Moms?  Why am I forced to defend my life when all I want to do is have an honest and fair existence like everyone else?   I don’t care if you’re a democrat or a republican.  I don’t care if you like me or the way I am living my life.  I don’t fucking care what religion you observe or what color your skin is.  All I ask is that you stop, take a breath, and think about what you are doing.  Think about all of the amazing people you condemn and dismiss on a daily basis simply because their beliefs are different from yours.  We can not all be like-minded individuals, we need diversity in our society in order to grow; both spiritually and mentally.  What we can be, is tolerant.   It doesn’t cost you anything, you won’t lose anything or have to give up anything if you consciously choose to be tolerant.

Look at it like this… Tolerance is kind of like brussel sprouts. They are bitter and mushy, and no amount of cheese sauce makes them any easier to eat. As kids, we push them around our plate and hope that they will just magically disappear, but something interesting happens once you finally get them down; over time, you start to realize how good they are for you, and you eventually go back for more until brussel sprouts are just a normal part of dinner.  Practicing tolerance is the same; it isn’t easy at first and you think you might not be able to handle all of the individuality you are confronted with, but eventually you start to realize that the differences you see in others are actually something to be respected and applauded.  Eventually you start to see those differences, not as a threat, but as something that’s actually good for you.

So come on America, eat your fucking brussel sprouts.


Forced Accountability

 I work with emotionally disturbed teens in an inclusive public high school.  The students in my          program have a myriad of emotional and mental disorders that often cloud their judgement, blind   them to their own actions, and cause them to verbally spew whatever thoughts pop into their head without any regard as to the consequences.  Their filters are broken, their reasoning is flawed, their egocentric attitudes are rampant.  In short, they can be a real handful.

Every now and then, a student comes along with a challenge to make me lose my cool; totally flip out.  Well, I am never one to back down from a challenge and I very seldom lose my cool, so you can imagine how a button-pushing trouble maker might feel upon entering my world.

Discipline has to be creative and requires a great deal of patience on my part.  I spend several hours a day de-escalating situations, draining off anger, and walking kids through each step of their tantrum until they are able to see the error of their ways and make amends for their actions.  My job is not for the faint of heart; it requires patience and a certain serial-killer kind of calm in order to deal with the continual onslaught of insults and attitude.

Now imagine, if you can, a classroom full of 14 year olds; that in itself might scare the shit out of some of you. Lesson underway, there is always someone in the room that feels their agenda should take precedence over mine. Not going to happen.  I pride myself on being able to keep a calm, productive classroom environment.  Disrespect, offensive behavior, hateful attitudes; none of it has any place in my classroom and my students learn that on day one.  No exceptions. No excuses. You will act like a decent human being or you will be asked to leave; period.

I move through my lesson, all the while growing increasingly irritated by the behavior of one young man in the middle of the room.  “Please stop the nonsense and return to work.”  My words don’t seem to be having any impact on him on this particular day and I see a battle of wills developing; something I try to avoid at all costs because I already know he is going to lose, and a teen that loses a battle of wills with an adult can be a dangerous creature.

After countless returns to this young man’s desk, multiple redirections and an exhaustion of my patience I dropped the hammer on him and gave him an ultimatum.  “Stop talking. Stop disrupting my lesson. Get focused on your work; or leave immediately.”

The melodrama begins. “Why are you always on my case?  I’m not doing anything.  I hate this class. Stupid dyke!”   Uncomfortable silence and shocked faces in the classroom.  Big smile on my face. Deep breath. Begin.

“I can see that you aren’t ready to discuss this situation calmly, so I’m going to ask you to go and collect yourself before this escalates into a situation that ends badly for you.  I’m giving you an out and I suggest you take it.  Please leave the room.”

Raising arms, pounding on the desk.  “No. You can’t make me leave.  I have a right to be here. I have rights.”

“I understand your need to express your emotions right now, but I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.  Please pick up your things and leave the room.”

“I fucking hate this class!”  No one says a word.  The entire class is uncomfortably shifting in their chairs, shuffling papers and shoving their noses into their books lest they become the next target in this young man’s tirade.

“You’re allowed to hate this class, but you’re not allowed to create chaos in here.  Again, you need to pick up your things and leave the room.”   He is running out of steam. No one is in his corner right now and he is starting to realize he is on his own with this activity.  He looks around the classroom for an ally and finds no one willing to join him.  The build up is stressful because I never really know how my students are going to respond once they realize they have lost; they are an unpredictable lot.

Quiet as a church at midnight. No one will look at him.  No one will comment.  No one will help him.  He is totally on his own and when he realizes that, he doesn’t know what to do.  His only option is to pick up his things and walk to the office, continually playing the scene over in his head, trying to make sense of what just happened.  It’s never my intention to ‘crush’ a student, but the idea that their outbursts of should be ignored and tolerated simply because they are bipolar or manic or schizophrenic is simply not an idea that I can wrap my head around.  Forced accountability is the only way kids will ever learn how to navigate through society appropriately. I understand that the unpredictable nature of mental illness has a tendency to scare people, but you need to remember that you have  the ability to make your behavior a predictable, and that will make all the difference.

How do I manage to walk into school each day, knowing what is waiting there for me?  I love my job.  I love my students.  They are smart, funny, creative, and they are counting on me to be the predictable force in their lives.


Job Security

I just wanted to take a moment to thank the parents of all the teens in my English classes. Seriously; your lack of concern regarding your child’s academic success, your unwillingness to return a phone call or email, the clear and present moral compass of entitlement you have created with your child, and your inability to install any type of work ethic in your children has really made my job so interesting this year. I mean it; such a pleasure battling the forces of unaccountability and laziness, found so prevalent in your children, on a daily basis. You have outdone yourself this year. Perhaps next year you could send me another batch of emotionally immature, socially inept, over-indulged cry babies so I can continue to feel the job security you so graciously provide me through your own neglect and apathy.


Undivided Attention

Attention.  Class, listen please.  I’m ready to start, please take your seats.  We have lots to learn today, so let’s get focused.  Class?  Class?

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult to get everyone on the same page.  Imagine putting yourself in the position of obtaining, and keeping, the attention of  30 fidgety teens; all at the same time…6 times a day.  It isn’t impossible, but sometimes it takes more than the magic I possess and I start to pray for some intervening event; an event that will pull them all in the same direction and put them all in the same mental space; something that will give me their undivided attention.

You see, the attention of teens is sporadic, sometimes nonexistent, and always susceptible to interruption. Perhaps the greatest skill a teacher can possess in the classroom is her ability to gain attention and hold it, releasing her captives only when her mission is complete.  This is something I must do every day.  Some days it’s easy; they fall into line like highly trained cadets and follow my lead without fail.  Some days it feels like an exercise in futility; snow, fire drills, student assemblies, potty breaks, and the one kid in the back of the room that just won’t get on board and decides to make it his mission to ruin my plans by pulling attention off of me and onto him.  I have come to realize over the years that I can’t give up, I can’t quit, because they are counting on me to pull them into my world for the next 45 minutes.  

I want my students to eagerly waltz into class, full of anticipation and excitement about what I am going to share with them that day.  I want to be able to hold their focus and amp-up their curiosity  with just one word.  In short, “I want to teach like the new falling snow.”

 

 


Full Metal English

I am your  English teacher. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of you will be “Ma’am!”  Do you Freshmen understand that?   If you leave my classroom, if you survive Freshman English… you will be a weapon, you will be a minister of learning, praying for knowledge, but until that day you are just overindulged teenagers!  I am hard, but I am fair!  Because I am hard, you will not like me, but the more you hate me, the more you will learn. There is no  bigotry here!  Here you are all equally  obnoxious, and my orders are to weed out all slackers who do not deserve the privilege of being a part of my beloved class! Do you freshmen understand that?

Somehow my translation doesn’t seem quite as intimidating.