Get off the fence.

Maybe its a perfection thing – part of the ‘Participation Trophy’ business. I have a few friends who call it the ‘soccerization’ of America. Everyone wins! Everyone gets a medal/trophy! There are always snacks! We high five everyone! We cheer for all!

Well…that just isn’t life, and now we are trying to teach these ‘soccerized’ children. I never wanted to be a ‘when I was young’ person – I think those arguments are generally silly. When others say, when I was young…bla, bla bla. Here is the deal – do you really want the world as it was then? Do you want the same car? The same computer? I have to say no. I have no desire to go back to living life as a 4th grader (possibly because of my impending ‘chunkiness’). Was it simpler? Possibly, maybe. Was it better? In some ways, but not all.

However – there is one thing (well, to be honest probably more than one) I would like to carry over. It’s the idea of NOT being perfect, and being completely okay with it. I wasn’t good at running, and I certainly did not get a medal (or trophy or ribbon for that matter) for trying. I simply wasn’t good. I didn’t cry over it (well, not much any way). What did this teach me? It’s okay to try, it’s okay to try your best, it’s okay to fail…as long as you get over it. As long as you move on and find what you are good at.

My mom was a classic ‘pull up your big girl pants’ kind of lady. While she wouldn’t want to be called a feminist. It’s exactly what she is. That poor word…it gets a bad rap. What is a feminist? According to Wikipedia (which of course I do not allow my students to use) it is: a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.

Yep – I’d say that is the dictionary equivalent to her “don’t make such a fuss,” “you are not entitled, you must work hard,” “get over it,” “life isn’t fair,” “not everyone will like you,” “put your big girl panties on,” “suck it up,” or my personal favorite “buck up, women have babies every day it doesn’t make you special.”

How do I teach students to take control of their problems – to learn the difference between external influences and internal ‘dumb’ (thanks mom)? How do I teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes. Own it, even if it’s wrong. Just own it.

The fence is the worst place to be. So many of my students are there – in so many areas of life. In their romantic relationships, choosing a major, dealing with their parents, confronting a friend – it seems they are CRAZY stressed, almost paralyzed from the reality that they have to make a decision and they may make a mistake.

Well, here is the deal students. You WILL error. I guarantee it. MORE than once. You WILL Fail. You WILL make mistakes…big ones, like really, really, really HUGE mistakes.

But just choose. The real worth of a person (at least to me) is how they handle jumping off on the wrong side of the fence. Left side, right side. Left side, right side. Close your eyes and go!

Whoops, I made a mistake. Trust me, I’ve made some dousies (I have no idea how to spell that – trying to write ‘doo-sies’). Yes – some of them still haunt me – like Mrs. DeShaw in first grade. She caught me ‘cheating’ – I’m not real sure what I was doing, or why. But I remember the distant pain of letting her down. I so much wanted to be like her, and there I was, caught red-handed, a cheater on a math test. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t remember – that’s just one thing about mistakes. More often than not, we remember…and not many others do!

Each decision that is wrong will help you become more right.

What’s even more interesting to me is the world to which my children have been exposed. I have had at least three teachers tell me that there is something ‘wrong’ with my children because they don’t make excuses or lie about their behavior. WHAT!??!!??? Yeah, I know. You know why? Because I teach them that mistakes are good – as long as we learn our lesson and try not to repeat the same pattern. We never REALLY mean to make a mistake. Just last week my son broke our bird bath. Here is how the conversation went:

(He runs inside)
Him: Mom, I have something to tell you. I made an error (yes, he really does talk like this).
Me: Okay, what was that.
Him: I broke the bird bath.
Me: Oh, how did that happen?
Him: Well, I was looking inside and the water was frozen on top, but not on the bottom. It looked really cool and I wanted to see what would happen if I broke the ice.
Me: Yeah?
Him: So, I picked up one of the stones around the garden and dropped it in the center of the bird bath. When it hit the bird bath broke in two.
Me: Woah. Bet that scared you.
Him: (Laughing) Yep. I’m so glad I can tell you that I made a mistake.
Me: (Laughing) Did you pick up that stone and think “I am going to smash that bird bath to pieces and break it just to be naughty.”
Him: Of course not.
Me: It was an accident, a mistake. Will you ever throw a stone in a bird bath again?
Him: Nope

We have to jump off the fence, and sometimes we jump off on the wrong side.

Dearest students, please stop trying to be perfect. The quest for perfection is paralyzing. Really, it is. The paralyzation is causing you to not learn. You aren’t willing to error – but you MUST error to learn. Try just living, take life as it comes at you…one day at a time.

I recently met with a former Professor of mine. As we parted ways he said, “I’m so proud of the woman you have become. You were always so happy, but you have really come into yourself.” I smiled for hours, because I had spent the previous hour recounting errors, mistakes, and lapses in judgement. At one point in the conversation he said to me, “Spontaneity is scary. It’s hard. It’s why people plan carefully and compartmentalize their lives. Lived life is scary. Life that is lived is unpredictable. It’s easier to say ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong’ because it helps people deal with the reality that life is coming at you – and you really can’t stop it. I most proud of you because you live that scary life.”

Maybe all of this comes down to humans being afraid of judgement. Judgement by peers, by friends, by relatives, by acquaintances, by strangers, by God. Well, I think that’s phooey –

I am as perfect as I can be on any given day. Every day I try my best and I believe that others do too. Every night I go to bed to wake up the next morning and have another chance. Another chance to err, another chance at life. I won’t judge you…because I am as perfectly imperfect as every other human being that is walking this great earth.

So, do it – live life. Jump off the fence. If you jump on the right side, good for you. If you jump off the wrong side – congratulations. You are about to become a better version of you.

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Posted in Education, Mom, Postsecondary Education, Teaching, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This or That…

My friend, Doug is amazing.

Truly he is.

My husband, Matt is amazing.

Truly he is.

Why? Because they both hate boxes. While I have long been a hater of ‘boxes’- they have made my disdain even more real. I’m hoping this blog doesn’t get too long because I’m fairly passionate about all of the division happening in the world, or college in general.

My friend, Doug, is a Math Professor (gasp…go ahead). Now, in your head list all of the things you suspect of him because of his chosen Profession. I did the same thing! Doug also loves theatre and comedy and is HILARIOUS! How can this be? Shouldn’t he just be wearing sports coats with leather on the elbows, looking over his glasses, and have chalk stains on his pants? He’s none and all of those things – except I’ve never seen him in a sport coat, only a bow tie. He quite dashing, actually.

My husband, Matt, was a College Football Player and later Coach. Now, in your head list all of the things you suspect him because of his past. I did the same thing! Matt also loves blues music and is slightly obsessed with historical architecture. How can this be? He should not be a reader, he should not be sensitive, he should not want to go to a musical. He’s all of those things. Every day his ‘out of the box’ amazes and intrigues me.

What is the deal with the box? Why do we feel the need to be this OR that? Why do we have to choose? I’m sensing this increasing nature of our division in our University. We are now moving to ‘Small Learning Communities’ in our dorms. The argument? Then the business majors can be with other business majors (and so forth). Really? Doesn’t that lead to more boxes? Ugh!!! Yes, I understand the point. They are going through the same thing, they are taking the same classes, they are working together in class – so it’s ‘easier’ that they are all together.

How about the business major gets to know a theatre major? How about the psychology major gets to know a math major? How about the education major gets to know a biology major? How about we get to know each other. Isn’t that how the ‘real world’ works? Don’t all people have to work together?

Or not…we have become a culture of not working together (as evidenced by the latest Government shutdown). We have become so ingrained in what is right and wrong, this or that – that we have forgot that we are, at the most basic level – humans. Humans with different strengths that never have to be defined. The very nature of words (their prefix) like define, differentiate, divide, diverge mean to create opposite, reverse, against. Those words don’t sense community building.

It seems to me that the more we differentiate and define the differences, the further apart we become.

I vow to fight this movement in my courses. I will challenge my students to work with others – to respect other viewpoints. I will work to increase their ability to engage in civil discourse and a part of this civil discourse is to simply take people for what they are, where they are, in whatever moment you meet them.

It’s important to teach my content area. I love teaching speaking and writing; teaching communication. Through this process of self discovery, meeting Doug, and falling in love with my husband I have discovered what may be the most important concept within communication. Authenticity.

We must teach and be authentic to our wants and desires… we cannot allow our actions to be based upon the ‘preassigned’ box/ideals designated by others. It’s not even just our career choices or like and dislikes – in all areas of our life we have to be authentic and honest about what we think/feel/need…

But maybe, most of all as teachers we need to support others in what they think/feel/need regardless of how ‘right’ we think it is for them. We must help others get out of their box to truly discover life by promoting their own personal this and that.

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Perfecting Help

It is possible that having children who are in upper elementary is prompting many of these blog posts. No, actually, it’s true. Having children who are in upper elementary is prompting most of my blog posts. Why? The older they get, the more I find they have in common with my own students. The most recent issue? Help.

Is this the new four-letter naughty word? Since when did it become a ‘bad’ thing to need help?

My son could be the posterchild of the problem behind the word help. I feel so sad for his teachers who struggle to do their job simply because he won’t let them. For the longest time I thought it was ‘simply’ a pride issue. He didn’t want help. He wanted to do it on his own. You know, the moment when you are so encouraging of your child and their will to do it ‘their self.’ You wait for 30 minutes to allow them to tie their own shoe all while thinking how fast you could have done it and how now you will be late and have to deal with the repercussions of that?

Nope. It wasn’t pride. It was something much more serious.

Not only was he not letting his teachers help; I learned he was being rude to his peers, teaching assistants, and others along the way. To me, if there is one awful thing for a child to be, it’s rude. I can handle ‘not doing well in school’ or ‘not the fastest kid in class’ – but rude? Oh my, that is (was) so disheartening, really. One of my immediate thoughts was disbelief. I don’t see a rude or difficult child in my house – why was he being rude at school? Why is my child so different behind those sacred walls? These are all ideas that will be saved for another post (or two or eight).

We had a heart to heart. His honest, tear-filled response went something like this, “Mom, I know, okay. But I hate having help. It’s because I’m a loser. I’m dumb. Teachers only help the stupid kids and I’m one of them. I already know this and them helping me just shows everyone else too.”

Woah. That wasn’t what I was expecting. Not expecting at all.

Since when did ‘help’ become a bad thing? Oh yeah…maybe since we began expecting perfection. Not just from our children, but from us. I’m as guilty as anyone else – check my Facebook posts for evidence of my lovely life. I love my husband, my children are kind, I love volunteering at church. All good…all perfect. I don’t post how I was in tears Saturday morning for an hour because someone hurt my feelings. I don’t post how I have ongoing stomach issues because of worry, stress, and guilt – all of which are brought on my yours truly. I don’t post anything about being irritated with newspaper being scattered on the floor or yet another freezie pop wrapper stuck to a chair!!

Those things, I keep to myself. Always have – because I wouldn’t want to show anything but ‘everything is fine’ and I certainly wouldn’t want to ask for help.

I also don’t expect or believe that my children are perfect. I think they have lots of great qualities – perfection is not one of them.

They however, think I am.

Yick.

Why yick? Because there is an interesting dichotomy going on here. I am a teacher. I am a helper. I am the first to volunteer and the last to leave because I’m helping to clean up. I do all of these things, but I don’t like to ask for help, ever. I am also as far from perfect as the east is from the west.

It’s one of those life lessons I’m learning by being a teacher and a parent.

I sat down with my sweet son and showed him my calendar. I showed him that I had 16 appointments that day to help 16 students with their writing assignments. I had three other meetings with folks who helped me with topics ranging from assessment to online meeting software. I couldn’t have learned without their help. My students couldn’t get better without my help.

We need each other. We need humans. It’s a part of who we are…so why? Why is it so hard for my son to ask for help? Better yet, why is it so hard for me to accept help? One of the worst things in the world is when you recognize the fact that your child has inherited one (or many) of your not so great qualities.

Vulnerability. Asking for help makes us vulnerable. Asking for help (and accepting help) shows that we aren’t perfect, that we need help, that we can’t do it alone. Most of all? Asking for help means we aren’t perfect and can’t do it all.

Well, I have to change my ways. While I’m always wiling to help students and other folks – it’s time I start showing my students and my children that I also have to request help.

Last week was a rough week – while this was happening with my son, I also had four students within two hours in my office that were brought to tears. Not because they were doing poorly, but because they couldn’t ask for help. Without asking, I offered my shoulder. I gave them a place, a safe place. Every one of them needed help. They needed help making friends, dealing with depression, another class, and the death of a family member.

I referred all of them to resources on campus that would help. It just made me sad. Very, very sad. Each of those students got to the ‘cry in my office’ point because they didn’t know where to go for help, or what I believe…they couldn’t bring themselves to ask for help.

So, I’m beginning today. Making it a ‘larger’ point to ask for help. Asking in front of my children, asking in front of my students. Maybe if I start a culture of ‘it’s okay’ within my own little world it will spread…as good things often do.

That’s my plan…to not choose perfection in itself, but choosing to perfect my ability to ask for help.

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Practice Time

Today, afterschool my son said to me, “Today proves that I don’t want to be an author. I love to tell stories, but jeeeez mom – my teacher makes me write the same paragraph over and over and over. It’s ridiculous.”

I informed him that I make my students do the same. He was mortified.

I answered, “Well son, any skill take practice. You don’t expect to go out in the driveway and make a 3-point shot, do you? You practice, and practice, and practice…until you get it right.”

Blank stare. At me.

This got me thinking…

When I went to High School (albeit 20 years ago) and participated in sports we had practice. Practice from 3:30-5 PM and a couple of games a week. That’s what we did.

Now?

These students lift weights before school AND have practice after school. These students show up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday to watch film from Friday night’s game. These students go back on Sunday night for ‘position’ meetings.

WHAT?!?!

I’m not joking. At first, I thought it was just the school district that my children are in – turns out, not so much. I now hear these stories from other parents. It’s coined ‘dedication’ – oh, the semantics.

I have several issues with this…like…
When do these students sleep?
When do these children spend time with their family?
When do these students study?
How do these children learn employability and accountability skills since there is little time for a part-time job?
When do these children, well…just get to be children?

All of those are valid questions, but today – I have one question. Academic related, of course.

What if students took the ‘extra’ time they spend on their hobby and studied? Two things here – yes, I said hobby. How many of our High School students will ACTUALLY have a career in the NFL or the NBA? Come on folks, get real. Second thing, study. What if they really, really studied.

Take the ‘non-essential’ practice time and that’s an extra seven hours a week! In a past post I wrote about students taking ‘easy’ courses so they could raise their GPA. Maybe this is due to a lack of study time? I don’t know…but that certainly would help take care of that, wouldn’t it?

Those seven hours don’t even count the available hours in the summer. I don’t know about the rest of you – but we played Volleyball or Football in the Fall, Basketball or Wrestling in the winter, Track & Field or Golf in the Spring, and then some of my friends played Softball during the summer. I did not play any sport, practice any sport, or prepare for any sport year-round. I imagine my ADD-like brain (no I am not diagnosed, but do have a self-admitted attention span issues) would have not handled that well.

A friend of mine and I have ben thinking about offering a ‘College-Prep Writing Camp’ this summer for local High School Graduates. We had a great time imagining how wonderful it would be to get 20 students at $100 each. They would get 8-12 sessions. Then, we had a good laugh. Most parents I know will shell out $200-$500 for a 3-day football, basketball, volleyball, you name it camp.

All in the name of getting better…all in the name of “well…if my child is good enough they might get a College Scholarship.”

NEWS FLASH….

They can also get a College Scholarship for being intelligent.

At the Dentist this week I had a conversation with my Doctor about this very idea-the amount of time that 8th graders spend practicing, at tournaments, and in meetings.

His response, “I agree with you, but just try to tell that to the coaches.”

Since when are coaches in charge?

In another conversation, “I know, I hate spending all that time and money – but it’s what my kids want.”

Since when are kids in charge?

Hey, parents! I have an idea. Let’s stand up for what’s best for our kids. Balance. I’m not suggesting we become anti-sports or completely focus on our studies…but I think we’re out of balance and here is the deal, if we stick together – maybe, just maybe we can get the pendulum to swing back to the center.

I’ve started. My son is in 6th grade, and I have yet to ‘let’ him play in a ‘crazy tournament league.’ Why? Because on any given Saturday, I want to take him to a museum, to visit his grandparents, to go on a bike ride, to drive 3 hours to a Farmers Market, to make a treehouse, to do anything. Together.

This does not make me a popular parent; not with him, his friends, or other parents. However, it does make me a parent that is in charge. We all do what we can for our children – most of all, I want him to have a childhood.

This means that he will (and does) miss practice time…except for practicing to really live life.

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When does it become THEIR problem?

Seriously, when does it become their problem?

What is the it?

Control over their own education, their own life, their own responsibilities, their own goals, their owns tribulations…all of it. All of life’s stuff. When does ownership change?

First, it is a parents’ fault. We did or didn’t breastfeed. We did or didn’t raise them in a church. We did or didn’t spank. We did or didn’t use timeout. We did or didn’t feed them only organic food.

Then, it is a teacher’s fault. We did or didn’t teach phonics. We did or didn’t teach long division. We did or didn’t make them memorize stuff. We did or didn’t believe in ‘playground’ justice. We did or didn’t protect them from bullying.

This is the quandary I am always in when teaching college freshfolks. When does it become their problem? I’m sorry your mom didn’t nurse you. I’m sorry you were bullied. I’m sorry you didn’t pay attention. I’m sorry your parents made you be home by midnight. I’m sorry a teacher was mean.

Your assignment is still due. I still expect you to do high-quality work.

When does this happen?

I think of my father often. He said that while our past can affect who we are – we are still human beings making our own choices. We could choose to wallow around in mistrust and anger – or we can choose to move forward. To get hurt again, but to always believe the best in others….and most of all, to keep moving forward.

Have we become a culture of excuse-making and excuse-taking? I wonder…

When I make a decision I feel the need to find 14 reasons why that decision is ‘good.’ This drives my husband BANANAS. I’m not joking. It goes something like this…

Me: So, I’ve been thinking.
Him: Oh boy.
Me: I think we should buy the Brats at Hy-Vee.
Him: Okay.
Me: Well, I know they are about the same price as they are at that other place. But – we can also get some fuel saver points. Also, there are several types of brats there – green onion, apple, and your favorite – jalapeno! They also seem fresh, the other brats are packaged and who knows how long they have been sitting in that package. Also, H-Vee is based in Iowa – so we know that part of our money is going to help Iowans, not to mention our son who works at Hy-Vee. So, that’s why I think we should buy them at Hy-Vee.
Him: I already said okay. You are an intelligent woman. I don’t need all of the reasons. I trust your judgment.

Hmmmm…okay…while that’s not excuse-making. It may be excuse prevention at its best!

So, I’m sort of like my students. I would argue that providing excuses and justifications for even the smallest decision prevents having to make excuses for poor decisions. But even then, why do we need to make excuses? I’m willing to just admit when I have messed up – it isn’t my printer’s fault, or the road construction, or my roommate. I could have done a better job controlling all of those external forces. The real problem is me. It’s my problem.

Because it’s MY problem I want to be sure that I have thought all the way through my problem. When did these decisions and problems become mine? I’m pretty sure sometime in High School when I became responsible for the outcomes of my own decisions. Take for example, my first traffic violation.

I recently heard a story of a young person getting a speeding ticket. They didn’t tell their mom, because she would ‘freak out.’ Well…the young person evidently forgot that those pesky things are in the local newspaper. Whoops.

I was a bit dismayed at this – I remember my first violation well. It was a stop sign. I didn’t stop. Worse yet, it was right beside a house where my older brother was attending a party. Awesome. So, as I stopped for the officer with lights and sirens going – my brother and all of his friends stood and watched.

When I got home that night, I was a little afraid to tell my parents…but I certainly didn’t think they would ‘freak-out.’

Here is how that conversation went…

Me: I got a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign.
Mom: Where
Me: (Describe location)
Mom: Did you know there was a stop sign there? Hadn’t you seen it?
Me: Yes. Yes I did.
Mom: Well that was sure dumb. Do you need me to transfer some money from your savings to your checking account to pay for the ticket?
Me: Probably.
Mom: Okay. Go to bed. Love you.

No ‘freak-out’…why? What was the purpose? They already knew I wasn’t perfect. It was MY problem…not theirs. The very opposite of the title….I was a Junior in High School and it was my problem.

I just answered my own question. Now is the time. I need to teach them that all of their academic/life choices are THEIR problem. External influences can cause action – but it their own internal ‘dumb’ (thanks mom) that caused the problem.

Now. Now is the time…I have to make them aware of their problem.

Add it to the list of things to teach – to the list that their parents and teachers didn’t get done.

Oh wait, that’s me…making excuses and placing blame. It’s my problem now.

My problem – to teach them about THEIR problems. No more passing the buck…let’s get to work.

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Mom AND Teacher? Worst combo ever…

I love being a teacher. I love being a mom.

I’m NOT a big fan of being a teacher AND a mom. Someone should have warned me that this could be one of the worst combinations in life. I have one child who wants me to homeschool him – I have another who thinks I am the ‘worst’ homework helper of all time.

The problem is this…

When my children struggle at school, I’m doubly frustrated. School is my place, my soul. I still love going to school. So, it’s hard for me to understand why my children wouldn’t want to go to school. Check out some of the inner-dialogues that you teacher/mom and teacher/dad folks may find familiar…

As a teacher, I know he can be difficult. It is your job (as the teacher) to find a way to reach him. It’s what I do when I teach. I would put in much more work to reach this child. Is it unrealistic? Possibly. Probably. I say, “I would do this…” Of course I would, because this is my child, would I do that for the other 25 students in the classroom? I would like to say yes, I want to say yes – but the reality is, I’m not sure.

As a mom, I know he can be difficult. Trust me, I’m with him MUCH more than you. I have lived with him his entire life. I can also tell you his history. I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. I can tell you, that when he is mine – away from the chaos at school he is an amazing child of God. He is exciting, engaging, kind, polite – and really, one of the most awesome children I have ever had the pleasure of being around.

As a teacher and mom, I know he can be difficult. Please, do your best to reach him. Please ask for my help, I will do my best to teach you about him.

As a teacher, I know this math is challenging. However, if we don’t challenge our brain – we’ll never rise up to the next level. I know it’s hard, but you just have to do it. I know you don’t want to, but that’s just too bad. Get it done.

As a mom, I know this math is challenging. I also know that calculators exist for a reason. I know that I haven’t done long division in the past 10 years for anything. Seriously. Yes…I’ve divided cookies for class…I have 50 cookies and two classes. Each class gets 25.

As a teacher and mom, I know this math is challenging. Please, do your best to teach them and I will do mine.

As a teacher, I know school culture can be difficult. I decided long ago to never ‘choose’ my children’s teacher. As a teacher, I think this is crazysauce (an official term coined by me). In our lifetime we will have to deal with people we don’t like. Every day. All the time. So, why not take the opportunity to teach children how to deal with others at an early age – when sad tears can be fixed with popsicles and chocolate chip cookies.

As a mom, I know school culture can be difficult. As a mom, dealing with personality conflicts makes me want to scream from the tallest building! Stop picking on my kid, stop making an example – take some time and get to know my child. Get to know what makes my child tick, trust me…you’ll be better off.

As a teacher and mom, I know school culture can be difficult. Please do your best to help them, and I will do mine.

As a teacher, I know about ‘those’ parents. The ones who swoop in and save. The ones who make excuses. The ones who fight their children’s battles.

As a mom, I know about ‘those’ parents. I don’t often go to ‘battle’ because I’m terrified of being the very parents that makes me cringe. I don’t want to be one of THOSE parents. But…this is also my child. Part of my flesh and bones, part of my soul. I am obligated to advocate. I have their back. Trust me, when they get home I will deal with them in my own way…

As a teacher and mom, I know ‘those’ parents. Please do your best to support me, and I will do my best to support you.

As a teacher, I want the best for my children. As an educator this means – college bound. I have nightmares about them not going to college. I have nightmares about them not making the honor roll. I am a teacher – I expect academic excellence from my students…I should expect the same from my children.

As a mom, I want the best for my children. The reality is, my children may or may not be college bound. They may or may not make the honor roll. I have to find peace in that – but trust me, as an educator it is difficult. When I see other children getting 100% and straight A’s – it drives me CRAZY. I know my children are doing the very best they can. I didn’t get 100% or straight A’s…and I turned out just fine (at least I think so). So, what’s all the stress and the pressure about? Is it self-induced? Society induced?

As a teacher, homework is important. Homework is good practice. Homework allows us to work on skills independently and master skills that students may be struggling with.

As a mom, homework is important. Let’s be real here. I don’t remember homework in Elementary. I don’t remember my mom and dad sitting down and doing my homework with me. Maybe a couple times – but certainly not every night. WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH ALL OF THIS HOMEWORK!?!?!?! Seriously, after a full-working day the last thing I want to do is sit down and do long division for an hour while entering answers into some online system. Ready for this admission of guilt? Last night we were doing long division. We do the problems together and check the answers. If they get the answer wrong they have to redo an extra 4-5 problems. I get the theory behind that….but criminy…how frustrating. So, we check and recheck to make sure the problem is right. Last night? I got a problem wrong, my son got it right. He was convinced that my answer was right so he ‘re-checked’ his to match mine. Guess what!?!? I WAS WRONG! So, guess what I did? I’m about to admit something VERY naughty. I did 4 more problems to get him back to where he was before I screwed it all up. Yep. I did this. Great mom moment…sucky teacher moment.

As a teacher and a mom – homework is important. I will do my best to help him – please don’t make me feel guilty for not helping some nights or helping too much on other nights.

As a teacher testing is important. What other way do we have to know that students know something? What other way do we have to know if it’s time for them to move on to another concept? Education is about building, scaffolding of information. Knowledge builds upon knowledge (I believe I’ve said that in another post).

As a mom testing is important. Really? It’s dumb. When in my lifetime have I ever needed to identify the rising action and falling action in a story? When have I REALLY ever utilized the periodic table of elements that I had to memorize? The countries of Africa? What a waste. We have this thing called the Internet. If I’m REALLY interested in the abbreviation for chromium, I can ask Siri. For Pete’s sake…really, what a waste of time.

As a teacher and a mom testing is important…. as a teacher, testing is important. I’m still trying to convince the mom in me.

Maybe this is a larger issue with our educational system. We’re so busy ‘teaching’ all of this information, but what is its usefulness? This is the ultimate mom-teacher conundrum. I’m stuck in the very structure that is so irritating to me. I’m doing the very thing all day long that (at times) doesn’t make much sense.

Thankfully this conundrum guides my teaching – I’m much less ‘about’ what students can regurgitate to me – and more about how it applies to their lives. Isn’t that what we SHOULD be teaching? Teaching future generations to live better – live cleaner – live healthier – live more calmly – live peacefully?

Maybe, before I teach I should spend more time asking myself, ‘Does this make a difference?’ instead of ‘Do I make a difference?’

This seems to be the perfect integration of mom and teacher…taking yourself out of the equation while still wanting the best for your child…and everyone else’s children as well.

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The problem with electives…getting back to the basics.

Recently, I was having a discussion with some High-School-something students. While I teach at the University level, my Undergraduate degree was both elementary and secondary education. What does this mean for me? Well, it means that I see learning as something that is longitudinal. It is not just what happens in elementary, middle school, high school, college, or even continuing education. It is something I view as holistic, as building blocks – scaffolding (that’s a term my colleagues love to use).

Knowledge builds on knowledge.

I know the title of this blog probably fired some folks up. Me too. My secondary curriculum area was in Speech and Theatre – I am an elective teacher. Students were never required to take classes I would teach. Do I think they should have? ABSOLUTELY! Speaking is a skill we all need – regardless of your career path. Theatre teaches us so much about the experience of being human. Of course I think all students should take an ‘Into to Theatre’ course in High School. They don’t, though. That’s reality.

It’s just one of the ‘things’ about education. There is: what ‘should happen,’ ‘What we ‘want to happen,’ and ‘what does happen.’ Not very often are these three things congruent. My parents were very much about connecting what ‘should’ happen and what ‘does’ happen. At the time, I was irritated about that…now I get what they were trying to do.

From an early age I knew I wanted to go to college. That has to be part of this story – please recognize this ‘rant’ is only for folks who knew they were college bound. Therefore, my parents would only allow me to take courses that would prepare me for University study. Yes, ‘allow’ – they were actually quite involved in my K-12 schooling…

Foods class? No. Child Development? No. Woodworking? No.
British Literature? Yes. Calculus? Yes. Advanced Composition? Yes.

Later, I will make an argument for why child development and wood working may have helped me…then I will quickly refute my argument. First though…I have something else to cover.

If you read my last post, you will see that I was irritated by the quality of student work. I began to think about conversations I have had with High Schoolers over the past 5-8 years…pieces began to fall together in my brain. Why is it that the quality of their writing has decreased? I hear this from the math and science folks too – so it’s not just my area. What in the world is going on? Oh…wait…I feel things clicking together.

“I’m taking Intro to Marketing.” “Why?” “Because the teacher is fun, I know I can get a good grade, and I want to be a business major when I go to college.” Huh..pause…huh…pause…huh…pause…think before you speak. Think before you speak.

I took at break from this conversation – I knew I wasn’t going to say much that was helpful. Where do I begin pulling this sentence apart? At the beginning.

The teacher is fun?

That’s awesome. We all want to be fun. Are we fun at the expense of being successful at disseminating knowledge? Do our assignments matter? Are they relevant? Are they rigorous? Have we, as adults, bought into the Gen Y/Millenial’s so much so that our focus is on them liking us? Uh-oh. I know I have. I’m pretty sure my teachers didn’t give two hoots whether I liked them or not. They cared most about me learning. Thank you, Mr. O for not caring if I liked you- but for caring for my learning.

One of my colleagues said something along these lines that changed my thinking a couple of years ago. She said, “I am not friends with my students. I am friendly with them. There is a difference. This is hard for you because of your relative youth and your proximity in age. You will get there – just know that it’s okay when you do.” Well…I’m there. Maybe this ‘trouble in writing’ has helped push me there…or, maybe it’s just maturity. Regardless of what it is…I’m glad it happened.

I know I can get a good grade?

Oh, the GPA nightmare. Take easy classes to get a higher GPA – this way the students taking Physics, Advanced Composition, German IV, and Trigonometry can actually be ranked ‘lower’ than you. I have nothing more to say than ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. We could spend another 5 blog posts on just this topic. Someday I will write about my disdain of ‘getting’ a grade. It’s something students earn. Not something they get or I give. It is earned…by hard work, diligence, following directions, and being present in learning.

Finally…I want to be a business major.

That’s great – but I can nearly guarantee you that this elective will do very little for you in college. Maybe taking Child Development would have helped me in my Ed. Psych courses? Maybe taking Woodworking would have helped me in my Set Design courses? Possibly. In reality? Doubtful.

These electives are helpful in giving a very minor background in what we want to study when we grow up. Here is the deal though – taking a semester of child development in High School most likely would have helped me in less than a week of Dynamics of Human Development. Would that have been ‘worth’ it? My parents obviously knew that and didn’t believe so…they figured when I was mature enough to study Piaget and Erikson that I would most like ‘soak in’ the information in a much shorter amount of time. Kudos to them.

Instead of taking Child Development for a semester, I took Senior Math. That did help. I’m positive. I struggled with math and had I not taken another math course I would have REALLY struggled with Math & Decision Making during my Freshman year at college.

So, what’s the point? I have a novel idea…

How about we teach and encourage our students to be proficient at the ‘basics?’ Math. Science. History. Reading. Writing. Foreign Language. These basics are the scaffolding to any other learning. I know my business teacher friends would love to have students who could efficiently compute, write well, and understand the role of history in global economics.

Electives are wonderful, they help broaden the spectrum of education. This writing is not in support of getting ‘rid’ of electives, instead – making our elective options stronger by requiring that our students have mastered the basics.

It’s time. Let’s get back to the basics.

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