One Thing Teachers Don’t Want You to Know

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No doubt you’ve heard from a friend, family member, or Facebook meme that “Teaching is a Calling.” And, while I’m sure my ego would have kept me from using that exact phrase, I 100% believe it. Because there is more to teaching than content knowledge, attendance-taking and lesson plan-writing. Just like how medicine requires more than just diagnosis and prescription writing. There’s a human component. The best teachers can tell, just by a quick chat with a class, when they are feeling stressed, confused, or overwhelmed. The best teachers can tell the difference between a child who needs more room to wiggle and a child who may need remediation. As teachers, we get this, and we’ve gotten used to the fact that the outside world doesn’t really get what we REALLY do. But there’s something you don’t know about us. Those of us who stay, who make it through the rough first TEN years – those of us who survive long enough to be called “veterans” – there’s something that we all know and feel, but we don’t show it and we don’t really talk about it publicly.

The big secret is, serving in a thankless job is exhausting and we all suffer periods of sadness and self-loathing about this fact.

When I say it’s a secret, I don’t mean that you all didn’t know it. I mean that we don’t really like to acknowledge it because non-teachers don’t truly understand it. When I’m in public, on social media, or with non-teachers, I’m never going to admit that sometimes all of my being wants another adult to acknowledge my hard work. No, when I’m in public or around non-teachers, then “teaching is a calling” and I work everyday “in the trenches” and I affect “both hearts and minds.” We play this role because we feel under fire. We get snow days and holiday breaks and summer vacation and we know that many think we have no right to complain. But the reality is, many of us would love some real, concrete positive affirmation.

Sometimes, only in my loneliest moments, do I think about how much time, effort, and emotional energy I’ve put into a student, and wish that somebody would say something kind to me. On days when my lesson plan goes perfectly and the class is well-behaved and the discussion is out-of-this-world, my enthusiasm is dimmed ever so slightly by the realization that no one else will ever know. 

Teaching is, actually, a pretty lonely profession. You spend all of your time preparing a plan for a group of adolescents that will rarely notice or acknowledge what you’ve done. And most of the time, this is fine. This is what I signed up for. I don’t expect 15-year-olds to thank me daily. In fact, that’s what makes it all the more meaningful when they do! But the lack of adult interaction and feedback does take its toll.

Surviving teaching is simply subsisting on a series of small moments. A class discussion goes well – my heart swells – I’ll survive this week. A tough student says, “your class is kinda cool” – I choke back tears – I’ll survive another week. A parent says, “he tells us about your class at home” – I smile so big it hurts – I’ll survive another week. A student says, “have a nice day” as they exit class – how nice – I’ll survive another week. But sometimes, these small moments aren’t enough. Or sometimes, the time in between one small moment and the next is too long to sustain. Sometimes, teachers just go home feeling tired and useless and lay in bed at night and rehash the day, the lesson, the conversation, the worksheet and we just wish someone would say “I see your hard work. I see what you’re doing and it’s awesome.”

Teachers are evaluated 5-7 times a year. As a high school teacher, I teach 180 days, 4 periods a day. Of the 720 class periods I teach, another adult will watch an entire class period only TWICE. The remaining observations will be 10-15 minute walk-throughs. This means I will teach 715 lessons with no adult feedback. Sure I’ll get feedback from the kids sometimes (mostly whining), but no peer or colleague will say “I like when you…” or “have you ever thought about…” And so we go to lunch and all try to get a word in in the 20 minutes we spend with other adults. We share with each other (at lunch or after school or in the evening via text) our successes and failures.

And yet, while I spend 7 hours a day standing in front of nearly 130 different students, it can be incredibly isolating and incredibly lonely. Administrators are there to make sure you are meeting standards, managing behavior, and completing attendance. They rarely have the time or know-how (as many times administrators were never teachers themselves) to offer constructive criticism or valuable feedback.

And so, we decorate our rooms, buy new books and materials for our classrooms,  browse the internet for new ideas and updated articles, learn new technology, keep up with TV and music so that we can relate to our kids, attend professional development, read new books, chat with colleagues, email parents, but in the end, no one really notices.

Most of the time I’m okay with this. It’s the job, it’s fine. Who doesn’t feel overworked and underappreciated?

So while we are expected to play the role of noble, selfless, workhorse, many of us are really yearning for some good solid affirmation. Because there are times when every teacher just wishes that someone would SEE them: truly see them for who who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

 

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The Emotional Toll of Teaching

blog header.pngWhenever I post about teaching on Facebook, or chat with non-teacher friends, I try to only focus on the things about it that I love. I think non-teachers see enough teacher posts about low pay and working for free. I think non-teachers look at us and think “yeah, your life is so bad, tell me about your summers off.” Additionally, I don’t feel comfortable complaining about my job when I know that everyone has struggles. I don’t want anyone to mis-perceive that I’m suggesting that I have it worse, when many of us struggle.

However I feel, at the same time, as though I am on the front lines witnessing hardship, tragedy, and despair, with no hope of change. Teaching, unlike some other jobs, feels more personal. A bad day at my office may mean a call to CPS, a sobbing 14-year-old, an aggressive parent. It feels heavier. I understand it may not be, however, I’ve never worked in any other career.  I do think teachers share similar feelings as those in healthcare. You can’t just “clock out,” you can’t just “let it go” at the end of the day. We’re talking human lives here. For me, made worse by the fact that there are some children I can’t save, figuratively, and for a nurse, some children they can’t save literally.

I want to cry out, daily, about the injustice that some of my children live with. I want everyone to know I don’t always have the materials I need or the learning environment the kids deserve. And I don’t want to do this for any sympathy from other adults. I feel obligated to do this to inspire change. I want voting adults to know what it’s really like between the walls of a public school. I want people to understand the complexities of the 120 lives I interact with on a daily basis and struggles some of these kids face. And I don’t want any credit. I don’t want messages of inspiration – I want change. I don’t want to be that teacher who is always whining; I want to be that whistle blower who knows that things need to improve.

Everyday I look at the 31 teenagers in my classroom and think about the messages we are sending them. We tell them, everyday, that they are not worth desks that are not broken. We tell them, everyday, that they are only deserving of my attention if they are at the very bottom or the very top. We tell them, everyday, that standardized test scores are more important than their curiosity and creativity. We tell them, everyday, that an evaluation on paper is more important than their personal needs. We tell them, everyday, that their transcript means more than their mental health. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about covering objectives that assessing true learning. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about student count and per-pupil-funding than whether or not they have a safe home to return to each night.

And now.

And now we are telling young women that we will not believe them. We are telling kids on the brink of suicide to “take a number” because we don’t have enough counselors. We are telling the victims of bullying to toughen up because we can’t handle everything. We are telling our young men that we don’t have time to attend to their emotional needs and we are telling young women to cover up because those poor boys can’t learn.

So I sit at my desk and look out at future doctors, realtors, parents, custodians, and lawyers and I wonder what they think of me. I worry daily that they will think I don’t care. I worry daily that they will think I don’t know their struggle. I worry I won’t be able to stop the bully. I worry I won’t be able to help in time. I worry some of them will slip through the cracks. I know some of them are hungry all the time. I know some of them are in pain. I know some of them are distracted by family drama. I know some of them are high because sometimes that’s the only way they can deal.

And I wonder, is this the best we can do for our children? Is this it? When our kids are served lunches that are cheap and processed do they know that we don’t really care about them? Because let’s be honest, we don’t. We don’t really care about them. If we did, we would never allow this. If we really cared about our kids we would demand change at school board meetings and at the polls.

I wrestle with this because I don’t know how long I can continue to do this. The weight of sexual assault allegations, CPS calls, hungry students, sad home lives, homelessness, parents with terminal illnesses,  endless active shooter drills and lock downs…how much longer can I carry this? I leave each day feeling as if my shoulders are sagging under the weight of teen apathy, anger, and, desperation.

I keep trying to wrap this up, but feel like I can’t stop the flood of emotions. The job is hard. On the very best days it’s exhausting and on the worst days it’s crushing. So, when an administrator makes a side comment about your lesson or a politician suggests you make too much money, it feels like the last straw. It feels, like I imagine it must have felt to come home from serving in the Vietnam War, only to be criticized by citizens who have no idea what you just survived. I realize that’s a ridiculously extreme comparison and I don’t even work in one of the “worst of the worst” schools that you hear about on the news.

So while I do care about designing engaging and thought-provoking lessons, the things I lose sleep over (the things most teachers lose sleep over) are much bigger than that. And I’d like to end this on a thoughtful and provocative note, but I don’t even know how. I plan to vote and make my voice heard and I hope other parents do the same. In the meantime, be gentle with the teachers in your life.

Maintaining my Humanity in the Time of Trump

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Ever since I read the line, “What if what we experience close up is real, and what we hear on the news and from the mouths of politicians who are jockeying for power needs to be questioned?'” from Brene Brown Braving the Wilderness, I can’t stop thinking about it. The statement, supported in the book with anecdotes and specific examples, has made me keenly aware of the people in my life who I love, but disagree with. When someone Image result for brene brown wildernessis sharing an opinion I disagree with I now think to myself, “this is what Brown was talking about.” A while ago our former neighbors stopped by and surprised us with a visit. Over the course of catching up, the conversation slid ever so slightly into the topic of politics. I know this couple is much more conservative than I am, so I was not surprised to hear their take on the state of our nation. However, all I could think about in that moment was Brown’s quote and all the things I love about this couple. In fact, I didn’t want to disagree or argue, because this is a relationship I care about. And I know that, while we may have different opinions on immigration policy, for example, if faced with helping an immigrant family, this couple would be the first in line. This is my real experience, close up. This is not a study, a generalization, or a rant from a talking-head on TV. THIS is what matters. 

Shortly after the Parkland shooting my Facebook feed and work lunchroom conversations were usurped by gun conversations. Being a liberal, a pacifist, and a person who has never even touched a gun, I was quick to align myself with the anti-gun-at-any-cost crowd. It reached a point where I couldn’t even fathom what these “gun nuts” were thinking. Why did they care so damn much about their guns? So I asked. I went on Facebook and asked my FRIENDS and FAMILY – people I love, respect, and value – why they were opposed to gun control. What I found was that almost none of them were opposed to gun control. I found that we all agree on several tenets and I gained a new insight into the gun debate. There were concepts and words that I had misunderstood. I had made some inaccurate assumptions. The conversation completely changed my feelings about gun owners. It did not change my opinions about my friends, because I already loved them, but it did humanize the argument. I know that a majority of Americans are just normal people, doing the best they can – but politicians don’t really want me to believe that.

The result of this unplanned experiment has been interesting. First of all, it has made everything more difficult for me. The world is less black and white and I’m really struggling with where I stand on some key issues. I have found that some of my very liberal friends are turned off by this approach. There seems to be a growing sense that now is the time to draw a line in the sand and to “stop being polite.” I agree that there needs to be a time when the fight for what’s right might get ugly. It won’t be polite. It will be violent, angry, and possibly misunderstood. Consider sit-ins, walk outs, strikes, protests, and boycotts. I know that social change is difficult and messy and often violent, but I also know that people on both sides are mostly good people.

So how does one reconcile this age of change and progress that is also an age of anger and insult? I don’t expect a Parkland survivor to be polite, but I also know that naming all 6 million NRA members as terrorists is wrong. Where is the happy medium? How does one participate actively in change, but remain free from vitriol? How does one stand up to the divisiveness of our current politicians, but also refrain from using the same polarizing language?

Two "one-way" signs with arrows going different ways on a street in New York

 

God, I don’t know the answers. What I’m left with is Brown’s remarks about focusing on the individual experiences. I am only one woman and I do know that I can (possibly) affect the lives of those around me and my children. Maybe that’s not enough, or maybe that’s something. I really don’t know, but I do know that it has the feeling of action. It feels as though I am not simply standing idly by. I am resisting, but I am doing so on my terms and with integrity. I may only affect my household or my social circle, and maybe not even that, but I’ll grow old knowing that at least I tried to do something.

 

 

Should I go into teaching? What should we tell the next generation?

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I am a teacher in Michigan and these statistics have been floating around Facebook this week. These numbers are disturbing for sure and, as a parent, makes me worry about the quality of education my children will have access to in the next 10 years.

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Related to this, however, is another issue that I’ve been ruminating on for some time.  The question is, “If a student tells you they want to be a teacher, what do you say?” Over the past year I’ve heard co-workers passionately tell me why they encourage these students and also co-workers who believe these students should be discouraged from entering the profession. I personally love teaching, so when kids tell me their intentions, my gut reaction is usually excitement. But I’ve started to wonder if I’m doing them a disservice. Should I be discouraging students from entering this profession?

But first, a story….

When I was in college I had a job that allowed me to provide extra-curricular and supplemental activities for the students at an urban elementary school. I ran an afterschool program and one of the clubs I organized was called Girl Power. During one of the activities the kids were telling us what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl said she wanted to be a host, like the host of a TV show. Thinking I was helping her, I said, “well you can’t just be a host. Usually those people are celebrities or go into broadcasting first.” Afterwards, a teacher who co-taught the club with me, pulled me into the hall and said, in no uncertain terms, “don’t ever tell these kids they can’t do something.” I tried to make my case (I really did think I was helping), but she insisted that it was not my job to shoot them down (something many of them were used to, thanks to life), but to build them up, support them, and encourage their ideas and dreams. Obviously, now that I’m older I agree and see the errors of my ways, but I remember this whenever I hear co-workers tell me that they always discourage students from going into teaching.

I went to college to be a veterinarian and it was there that I switched to English education and truly found my calling. Similar to the girl from my past, our job is to encourage them to take the next steps, to explore a road not taken. Maybe an interest in teaching gets them to college and maybe they follow-through, maybe they don’t, but college will certainly provide them many alternatives.

Additionally, one thing that drives most teachers crazy is the devaluing of the profession. Homeschooling offends me because it suggests anyone can do this job. Many people seem to think that because they went to school, they know what teaching is all about. If you aren’t a certified teacher, you don’t know the years of study about learning theories and the research about best practice. You haven’t been exposed to some basic brain development principles or developmental psychology. These things help to make good teachers. When you teach, you collaborate with other like-minded people and, as a result, you are always working to improve instruction. These are the things professionals know. When legislatures tell me that they’ll give certifications in exchange for service credit, or simply working the private sector, that is a huge insult to the years of hard work I’ve put in.

So when we say to kids, “You know, you can make so much more in the private sector.” or “You’re too smart. Use that science degree for something else” aren’t we doing the same thing? Aren’t we suggesting that education is a waste of intelligence or coursework? Aren’t we sending the message the using a science degree to work as a chemist or a math degree to work as an accountant are more noble or important than teaching?

This profession needs intelligent, passionate people and if we tell those types of students to follow a higher paycheck, we are ultimately hurting the future of education ourselves. Nevermind what the legislature does, we are the ones sending the message that it’s not worth it.

Now let’s be real…

I always get excited when kids tell me they want to teach, but they usually look at me like, “but should I? Really?” and I do think it is important that they know what they are getting into. One thing that veteran teachers forget is that the newest crop of teachers are not going to know any different from the status quo. So I cringe when I hear veteran teachers tell newbies, “it’s not like it used to be.” Well, that doesn’t really matter to (or help) a 23 year-old just starting out.

For example, I’m on my district’s negotiating team and every year the veteran teachers are discouraged and disgusted with the salary package we bring back. Certainly this is because they remember a time when teachers were well-paid and didn’t have to fight for steps, insurance, and cost-of-living raises every single year. But the new hires just look at me bright-eyed and say, “are we getting a step!?” and if I say yes, they are thrilled. Sure we all want to make more, but young teachers are not saddled with the burden of how things used to be. They are able to see the glass a bit more “half full” because they don’t know what the profession has lost. (and the conversation about teacher salary is one for a different post!)

I also think it’s important for kids to know what they are getting into. If one of my own kids wanted to be a teacher I would want to make sure they understand the lifestyle they are signing up for.

You are never going to get rich, you are never going to be celebrated by society, and every single day is going to be hard, BUT you will have some moments that are amazing.

You will laugh and cry and bang your head against your desk, but mostly you’ll laugh (if you’re doing it right).  I’d make sure my kids know that teaching now-a-days requires a lot of self-discipline. You must be able to turn things off. You must be able to compartmentalize. You must be able to look for positives. And you must develop a skin thicker than armor.  

Successful teachers today need to be smart enough to weed through the theories, the fads, the trends, and the hype. They must be able to really SEE what matters and they must be brave enough to fight for it. You must see every day as a chance to be a warrior for change and you must rise to that challenge. Then, you must find a healthy way to decompress, de-stress, and relax so that you can go in and do it again tomorrow.

You must remember that, whether you teach kindergarten or AP seniors, these are just kids. They are still learning, still growing, and still testing. They will frustrate you, but you will also love them. Some of them you can help, some of them you’ll never reach.  You must understand that society expects more of you. You will not get to do, say, or post whatever you want on social media, but the the tradeoff is that it is because you are leading the next generation.

And if you can do all of these things you will reap the rewards of watching kids succeed, grow, change, and grow up to become amazing human beings. It’s hard and some days you’ll wonder if it’s worth it.

That’s what I’d tell my kids, if I had time. That’s what I want today’s kids to know about teaching. Sure there will be salary fights, pension fights, standardized tests, rude parents, idiotic legislatures, long hours, and few thank you’s, but whenever I consider doing something else, I just can’t imagine being happy in any other profession.

A Lesson in Clarity: the Limitations of Your Own World View

balance-1107484_1280Way, way back when I was in college, I applied for a job at a community center called The Black Child and Family Institute. The interview was tough and I was sure after I left that they hated me. Then a couple of weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. I was young and not as well-versed in rejection as I am now, so I obsessed about it. I was sure they didn’t hire me because I was white, and I was okay with that because, I told myself, maybe there was a time when I did get an opportunity because I was white, but then they did call and I did get the job.

I taught a pre-kindergarten summer school program for 6 weeks. All but two of the students in my class were Black and about 95% of the staff at the center was Black as well. This was the first time in my entire life that I was aware of my race every single day. If someone didn’t smile back in the hall, I wondered if it was because I was white. If my idea was shut down in a staff meeting, I wondered if it was because I was white. And I didn’t wonder this because I thought my co-workers were racist, I wondered this because I was worried I didn’t belong there. This was a Black advocacy center and did a lot of outreach in the community. I wondered, every day, if my co-workers wondered why the hell I was there. I wondered, every day, if a member of the Black community should have gotten this job, not me. I wondered if the teachers were disappointed that their kids had, yet again, a white teacher. I enjoyed my time there and never had any negative moments with staff or parents, but I felt anxious a lot of the time. I wondered if everyone else noticed that I was white and I was conscious of my whiteness all the time.

During my next semester at school I was in an education class and we were discussing issues of race and equality in the classroom. One of my white classmates said, “We’ve come so far, I just can’t imagine that racism is still a factor in this country.” And one of my Black colleagues said that, as a Black woman, she thinks about race all the time. If a waiter is rude to her at a restaurant, she wonders if it’s because she’s Black. She feels obligated to tip well so that restaurants don’t make assumptions about her race. She feels like she can’t afford a bad day or a rude moment in public because others may make generalizations about her race. When professors don’t call on her in class or value her contributions, she wonders if it is because of her race.

For a tiny moment, I understood her. However, I had ONE six-week experience where I felt this way and she has felt this way, possibly, her entire life. I could have exited my experience if I felt too uncomfortable, and her experience was HER LIFE. I was in college and able to understand and deal with my feelings, but she had, no doubt, experienced these feelings as a child maybe, or a pre-teen, and certainly as a teenager.

So I really didn’t understand. Sure I could sympathize, but I could not in any way assume that I understood her life or that we were equals in this manner.

This experience has shaped me in so many ways throughout my life.  If nothing else, it has helped me to remember that my world view is, yes a collection of my experiences and values, but also viewed through a lens very specific to me. My lens is white, female, heterosexual, and affluent, and no matter how I try, I simply cannot truly see through any other lens. Yes, I can sympathize with the stories and experiences of others, but I can’t really see through their lens.

Somehow, in my old age, I became complacent in my own lens. I was a fairly vocal feminist in college (who wasn’t?), but now I’m old and busy and have found new battles to fight. Things aren’t really that bad for women. Sure, we don’t get paid the same as men and, sure, I get mansplained pretty much weekly, but it’s not like innocent women are being shot in the street for simply trying to get into their own cars after dark, ahem.

Then, Saturday, the Women’s March happened and it was so inspiring. Courtesy of Pantsuit Nation my Facebook feed was literally filled with images of marches from all around the world. Many of my friends marched and the signs, and hats, and smiles were contagious and inspiring. I’m sure there were nasty ones, but most of the messages that were being shared were positive, pro-woman, and up-lifting. It was nice to be a feminist again. It was nice to remember those feminist lit classes I took and to feel, for one day, that my Facebook feed was all about the contributions MY gender had made on the world.

But Sunday I woke up to a much different world. Sunday I woke up to anti-march rants. I read through many Facebook conversations and participated in a few and some of the ones I read were so nasty and so disgusting. The things people were saying about the marchers, to the marchers and one complete stranger even felt the need to message me with an incredibly offensive rant. By Sunday evening I felt sad and angry and generally beaten down.

Saturday’s march resulted in no violence, no arrests, and, sadly, little media coverage. How could all of these people (both men and women) feel so threatened and angered by such a peaceful event?

Sunday evening I tearfully told my husband that I was embarrassed that I had let myself live in such a world of complacency. Simply the message was “respect us and treat us as equals” and the response was one of violent hatred. And this was the second moment in my life when I had a glimmer of what it might feel like to wake up, gay, the morning after the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage. A thing that should be beautiful and celebrated, overshadowed by hate and fear. Or what it might be like to wake up Black the morning after a police shooting, an incident that should be met with sorrow and unity, but is instead met with finger-pointing and blame. Or what it felt like to be Muslim the morning after the Orlando shooting.

Let’s be honest. It might feel this way most mornings to wake up as a person of color of a member of the LGBTQ community. Maybe not, I wouldn’t know because that’s not the lens through which I view the world. But here’s what I do know: it feels like crap and if any of my friends or family wake up and feel this way on ANY day of the year, that’s not okay.

I haven’t seen the world through anyone else’s lens, so I cannot and will not pretend or assume I know what anyone else’s life is like. However, when any institution or person tries to speak or decide on behalf of another group, I can and will speak up. Many will view this as “negative” or label this action as “furthering this nation’s divide,” but I believe that it is the only way to help heal the divide. I might be wrong, after all, I can only understand things through my own lens, but on this topic, I’m willing to take the gamble.

 

A Rose by Any Other Name

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I’m a public school teacher and frequently find myself in discussions regarding the pros and cons of public vs. charter schools.  What’s hard to communicate is the larger impact these choice schools have on our communities. This is a much larger argument than just where you send your kids this year. This is about the changing of a system and the lasting impact of this change. What we are seeing is charter schools providing as an opportunity to segregate ourselves, avoid each other and completely ignore the poverty crisis in this country.

To better explain myself, let me to offer you this metaphor.

You’re going to have to imagine yourself as a gardener. A rose gardener, to be specific. You’re going to have to imagine that you love your roses dearly. In fact, you are growing a direct descendant of the very same roses your grandparents’ grew and their grandparents as well. Your roses are more than just flowers to you, they are family, tradition, and history.

Now let’s talk about one of these rose bushes. It grows and thrives and offers beauty and diversity to your garden. It provides nectar for bees and butterflies and they, in turn carry the rose’s pollen into the world allowing new, beautiful second and third generations of roses to grow. You provide your roses with food and water and appropriate shelter and
shade. You trim the roses as needed and they flourish. This one bush connects you to family and community as you bring cuttings to neighbors and family members. Over time, however, you begin to take the rose bush’s beauty for granted. You notice tiny flaws and you lose touch with its contribution to the local ecosystem. You water it intermittently. You provide food only occasionally. The bush remains alive, but its vibrancy has faded. It becomes a shell of what it once was.

One day you notice this and, while remembering what once was, you blame the soil, the weather, the neighbor’s dog. You blame changes in the neighborhood, pollution, pesticides, and new development. After all, you’ve provided it some food and water for the most part. Why can’t it grow as it once did? Repairing the damaged plant feels overwhelming. Where do you start? It may take years, generations, for the rose bush to be restored to its once great beauty.

Finally you decide on a completely different approach. Sure you’ll feed and water your rose from time to time, but you’ve decided to purchase a new rose bush, a potted one. This one will be kept in a greenhouse. This will eliminate its exposure to poor soil, the elements, and the neighbor’s dog. This rose bush will prosper.

And it does because you dutifully feed and water it. And this rose bush is beautiful. From time to time you look outside at your old rose bush and wish it could be better, like it once was, but you don’t know how to repair it, and the new one, after all, is right here and you do unwittingly enjoy its novelty. Maintaining something new feels easier than fixing that which is broken. This goes on for a while and is working out just fine. The new rose looks even more brilliant in comparison to the old bush outside.

However, there are problems. At first these are unseen. What you don’t see is that your new plant is isolated from nature and, therefore, is making no contribution to new generations. There is a lasting impact on the local ecosystem because pollinators have fewer options for nectar. The rose bush itself is suffering, though you can’t see it. What you don’t see is that, while this bush looks strong and vibrant, it is actually weak. Its stalk never has to toughen and thicken to keep it up in a stiff wind. Its leaves and petals have never known the feel of insect legs, seeking refuge from a sudden rain. It looks perfect, and yet, it is lacking. The rose bush outside is weather worn, and yet, it has survived.

You find, however, that most people can’t tell the difference and so you continue to purchase and grow your roses inside. You find that you are able to make a pretty good deal of money off these bushes, as they look flawless. The casual observer doesn’t recognize the weak stem or the lack of genetic diversity in your stock. It won’t matter anyway since the casual consumer is only interested in the plant short term. You’ll win flower shows and admiration from your peers because their roses, while beautiful, are grown outside and so their exposure to the elements has left them lacking in comparison to yours.

Many, many years pass and word begins to spread about the longterm impact of your plants. Consumers are upset that the once beautiful roses you sold them are not able to stand up to the outside conditions to which they are exposed. Sure these consumers are able to supplement their bushes with stakes and feed and extra care. And yet, that original bush, while haggard and worn and old, is still standing. You look at what’s left and tell yourself, “it doesn’t matter. What I did was beautiful and right and if people didn’t like, then they wouldn’t have bought my roses.” and you decide you’re more interested in vegetable gardening these days anyway, so you abandon your rose busy venture.

Your friends, your family, your neighbors are left to pick up the pieces. They realize now that you did not sell them rose bushes that could last for generations. Their bushes were unable to sustain transplanting. Overtime, the weaknesses of your greenhouse bushes were finally recognized.

Some people remember the past, however. There were members of the community, now old, who remembered how strong and beautiful your original rose bushes once were and they rallied people to come together to restore the past. They found that the best place to start was with that original rose bush, now barely standing. It hung sadly, petals wilted, leaves dying. They knew the process to restore this plant would be long and arduous. They knew they would have to rely on many different types of people: soil scientists, biologists, botanists, entomologists, and gardeners. They knew they would have to listen to the voices of the past and they would have to confront the choices they had made.

They learned amazing things. They came to realize that a rose bush is so much more than one can see with their naked eye. They came to realize that that original rose bush had evolved from years of change and struggle and it had been made stronger for it. They came to realize that that bush played such an integral role in the garden that all other plants and insects flourished because it was there. The people realized that that one bush had impact much greater than anyone could imagine.

It was a long and tedious process to restore that rose bush and throughout the people said, “Why did we let this fall into such disrepair? Who let this happen and why?” And there were many people to blame, but in the end, each person realized they played a role. They allowed for those greenhouse rose bushes to flourish. They purchased them themselves or sat back and said, “I’d never purchase one of those,” but did nothing to stop their spread. They hoped they were not too late, but it may have been that they were.

So this week, in honor of charter school-supporter Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education, I ask you to consider the impact of community schools. I ask you take in their crumbling facades and outdated color schemes and remember what’s happening inside those doors. I ask you to consider the fight this country had in order to ensure that everyone had equal access to a quality education. I’d ask you to consider those who are leftover when affluent parents cut and run and when schools are allowed to close or to fall into disrepair.

And then I’d urge you to get involved. I’d urge you to fight to keep your local schools open and thriving. I’d urge you to attend a board meeting, a parents group, or even a band concert. See with your own eyes the shoots that this school is sending into the community, into the future. I’d urge you to help fight to keep these opportunities available for all students, no matter their race or economic status. Let us not be a nation that follows the trend of the business insiders, but instead a nation that relishes in our history, learns from our past, and works together to forge a stronger, more equitable future for our children.

Sources to Consider:

A Sobering Look at What Betsy DeVos Did to Education in Michigan

What New Orleans Can Teach Betsy DeVos about Charter Schools

How the Systemic Segregation of Schools is Maintained by Individual Choices

Choice Without Equity:
 Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards

White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system

Charter Schools and the Risk of Increased Segregation

 

Hey Moms, Don’t Sweat It


dont-sweat-it-titleIt was one of those Facebook “timehop” photos that started this. It was a picture of my now-seven-year-old back when he was only two or three. He was looking cute, as two and three-year-olds do, big smile, squinty eyes and in the caption for the photo I had written “never mind that he needs a haircut.” Then current self, as if I reading the work of some stranger, took a second look at the picture. Now, since I raised the child and remember how his hair grew non-stop beginning at birth, I could tell he was probably due for a trim, but as a person, many years removed from my old self I thought, “why the heck did you write that?” And this wasn’t the only time, I know I’ve added “ignore the mess” to many photos and I’ve added, “ignore my laugh” to many videos. I’ve seen others do it too.Nolan to magician.jpg

In fact, I’ve seen the apologies manifest in a more “don’t judge me” sort of tenor as well. Here’s little Johnny eating a piece of pizza and Mom felt the need to add “for a special occasion only.” Sometimes the captions include apologies for messy houses, messy hair, mismatched outfits, dirty faces, junk food, etc – all kid things that we know, in our right mind, are normal and not indicators of how well we are doing as parents.

And yet.

And yet we apologize for them because we feel that the world (or at least our friends on social media) expect better from us. We expect that just because we once posted an article about “Why Your Kid Should Not Eat McDonalds” means we should never be spotted eating McDonalds. We’ve seen the blogs about screen time and so we’re embarrassed when that tablet shows up on the lap of our angel in an otherwise photogenic moment.

Listen, moms, here are some realizations I’ve come to since my life has spiraled out of control (i.e. since the birth of my second child), none of this matters!  And really what we’re talking about here is the management to two types of critics:

  1. That friend who points these things out either because they are trying to be funny or they really are just snarking on you and, in which case, just own it. “Wow, I didn’t know you let your kids eat at McDonalds” just answer with “yep!” or not at all. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself, your parenting, or your decisions to these people. Just own it because we all know that a messy house does not make you a bad parent. So own it, laugh at it, and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and, sometimes, you just don’t have time to get to that stack of laundry and, sure, it might sit in the middle of the living room for a day or two.
  2. The second critic is much more difficult to silence. This is yourself and the judgments you think other people are making. When you add the caveat “ignore the messy hair” or “don’t mind that pile of laundry,” you are, in effect, telling all of us to notice. And who doesn’t have laundry? Who hasn’t had a day where they look at a child’s rat’s nest of overnight hair and decide to leave it because you weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway. We all do it. This critic, like a sniper, voices your insecurities with laser precision.

nolan-playingI am thrilled when I see pictures that show these moments because it reminds me that we’re all in the same boat and these pictures are real. I love messy backgrounds, laundry baskets, and dirty dishes because it helps remind me that I’m normal. This is the narrative we must force feed ourselves. We must stop posting pictures and then spending minutes analyzing what others might think. We are our own harshest critic and when we feed ourselves these imaginary judgments we are only fueling our own insecurities. The reality (that we really do know in our heart of hearts) is that parenting is hard, confusing, messy, and sometimes no fun at all and everyone has felt this way – whether they post on social media about it or not.

So Moms, I encourage you to stop apologizing. Own the fact that some days don’t look the way you imagined they would and that’s okay. We were all once young and energetic with sweeping statements and harsh opinions about the right and wrong way to raise our children. Now, however, we know that some days are about survival and few days look like a Pinterest post and that’s so very okay. Remind yourself that Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram feature only those moments that worked out, looked cute, and have been sharpened by a filter. They are fleeting and probably the reason that person posted it – a celebration of a moment when parenting was what we hoped it would be.

Finally, support one another. Share your stories of frustrations and failures. Don’t feel pressured to prove to Facebook that you know how to parent; we know you do, we’re your friends, and we’re rooting for you. And good friends will not only understand bad days, but will share their own as well. In fact, once a friend posted that she was feeling like the worst mom ever, so I wrote a Facebook post that said, “Let’s share moments of bad parenting to make her feel better” and the stories came out of the wood works and they were hilarious. In a few hours I had dozens of comments with stories ranging from, “that time I sent my kid to timeout and forgot about him for an hour,” to “that time I forgot to feed my daughter dinner,” to “that time I watched my son share his ice cream with the dog and I let it happen.” And I think I’ve decided that these are the real parenting moments. I think these are the things I will remember and laugh about when my kids are old and grown. I’m not sure I’ll remember that time we went to a function and everyone behaved perfectly and our outfits were coordinated. I imagine I’ll be much more apt to remember the time my son pulled down his pants in front of a room full of company and proceeded to do, as he called it “a wiener dance.” Sure my guests were horrified and imagined they were vowing to never let their own kids come over to play, but that’s probably not the case. And now, several years removed, that memory cracks me up and makes me want to hug my kid. We all have days with too much yelling, or too much screen time, or too much junk food. So let’s own this about parenting, share these moments too, and laugh about it because I worry that someday we’ll look back and wish we would have stopped trying so hard and, instead, would have just enjoyed it.

On Finding My Way Again

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“Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.” – Rebecca Solnit

The past month has not been an easy one for me. I can’t blame it all on the election. A week after the results I received some devastating personal news and that didn’t help, and since that time, I’ve had a hard time recovering. I don’t think it’s the losing that did it. I think it’s the general tenor of things. It’s the angry, frustrated, fearful posts from my passionate friends on social media. It’s more than the fact that Trump is nominating unqualified, sometimes dangerous officials to his cabinet. It’s the principal of all of this. While the President-elect is ignoring democratic tradition, policy, and Constitutional policy, my own state government is considering legislation to limit freedom of speech, destroy public pensions, and cut funding for public education. You see, it’s not the details that are causing me so much turmoil, it’s the impact of all of it. It’s the doomsday predictions, the alarmist, depressing, over-simplified news stories. It’s the talking heads; it’s those who are passionate and those who are apathetic. It’s just so much emotion, from both sides, and the emotion is real and heavy and powerful and it felt like I was carrying it all around, like an anvil, on my back. And the feeling was real, visceral.

I’m a bit of a news junky and have been for years, so I am no stranger to bad news, corrupt politicians, jobs reports, and the like.  I couldn’t figure out what was so unusual this time around. Why was it that day after day this weight followed me? I woke up with it. It pressed upon me when I picked up my kids from school, when I sat at the Thanksgiving table. And it boiled over. There were several days of crying. Crying over stupid things, crying for no reason. I felt hopeless and despondent and I also felt like I was being ridiculous. I knew in my mind that our American system of government was built with more checks and balances than I even know about or understand. I know that countries have ups and downs and I know that we, as a human race, have clawed our way through slavery, world wars, the Holocaust, internments, attacks, and more. And yet, I could not get out from under that oppressive weight. And yet, my gut just never got the message.

Then two things happened, within two days of each other, that gave me just a enough wiggle room to shift that weight a bit. First, a friend sent me a text asking if I was ok.  As a person who hates to ask for help or appear vulnerable in any way, I found myself unable to keep up the charade any longer and I answered with “no.” And then she listened (or read, rather) my flood of texts about how I was feeling and how I couldn’t get out of this funk. I literally typed while sobbing, as if – to use the cliché – a floodgate had opened. And she didn’t have all the answers. Or any, really, because there are no answers. There are no answers when someone is hurting, but she was there, she listened, she sympathized and I, finally, put what I had been feeling and carrying around for weeks, into words.

The next day we had an unusually warm afternoon with sunshine (a rarity in Michigan in December). I left work and, before picking up the kids, went to a nature trail and just walked. Simply being out in the sunshine helped immensely and I actually remember thinking how I just felt freer all of a sudden. I swear, from that point on, I felt clearer. Still bummed about the state of things, but my willingness to fight was creeping back. Little by little I found that remnants of my former self returned. 

9781608465767-2f1e8dbafb4b3334d0db297eed405179I then happened upon a book list online and ended up downloading the book Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. The book, a small collection of essays, was written right after George W. Bush was elected to a second term. At the time, we were questioning the invasion of Iraq, anti-war protests were taking place, the country was still recovering from 9/11, and there was a great sense of despair and frustration for many. The book’s aim was to inspire and remind us that great moments of human industry, charity, and sacrifice can be found in the darkest of times. It aimed to inspire us to continue our work to make and keep this country great. It used history to remind us that there has been struggle in the past and there have been victories.

The book has recently been re-released with a new introduction from the author as she feels we are now in similar times of despair. There are many lessons from the book that have shaped my current mindset, but two are particularly striking.

One is an example Solnit recounts about Hurricane Katrina. She reminds the reader that after that tragedy, anyone who had a boat rushed to New Orleans to help search for and rescue survivors. She points out, no one said, “Well, we can’t rescue them all, so there’s no point in trying.” Instead the sentiment was, “If I can even help one person, I’ve done something.” And yet, in issues of politics and national strife we look at the enormity of the problem, shrug our shoulders and say, “it’s useless.” But if we just remember to work “one person at a time,” that is making change. Sure, that’s not large, sweeping reform, but it is still forward momentum.

Thus bringing me to a second major take-away. We can never know the long-term effect we may have on this world. Even large, organized movements don’t always see victory in their own lifetime. Women fought for the right to vote for 50 years! We sometimes don’t see the fruits of our labors for years and years and sometimes we don’t see them at all, yet what we are doing still is sending a ripple out into the world. As a teacher I have the privilege of meeting hundreds of young people a year and watching them grow and develop over their four years in high school. And I stay in touch with many of them and I get to see them go on to become wonderful parents, doctors, athletes, writers, students, engineers, social workers, activists, and more. I see them travel and learn and question. I take no credit for these accomplishments, but I do like to remind myself that I was able to play one teeny, tiny role in their development.

So this is life and this is what we can do. Certainly we can and should get involved in large movements about issues we feel passionately about, but we can also begin sending ripples right now. My family was able to sponsor a child in Uganda who is attending a school that a former student of mine built with his own hands and hard work. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the number of children in this world who do not have access to education I can, at least, ensure that ONE child receives an education. And sure, in the scheme of things, that’s a baby ripple, but you really never know where that ripple may lead and how strong it may become over time.

And now that is what I think about before I fall asleep at night.

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.” – Rebecca Solnit

How This Election Has Changed Me

this election.jpg

I’ve spent the week since the election in a limbo between shock and grief. I’m a pretty progressive democrat, so Tuesday night did not offer me a lot of good news, from a “winning” standpoint. Initially I was shocked that Trump was elected. But as the days passed and I read more, listened more, and spent more time thinking about it, I decided it really shouldn’t be that shocking. This nation has been moving towards change of some sort for a while now. Our national conversation about race has become emotionally-charged and explosive; our nation’s distrust in the “establishment” has taken center stage; we’ve become painfully aware of the rich-poor gap; the frequency with which we, as a people, have turned away from fact and science is overwhelming – yeah, in hindsight – this was coming. But none of that actually matters now, because, here we are.

I stayed away from social media for a few days because my liberal friends were posting about their own grief and disbelief as well as more anti-Trump articles and images. My republican friends were posting “get over it” type of things and both sides simply sent me into a deeper funk.

So here I am, one week later, still trying to decide how I feel. I still feel sad and down-trodden and can’t seem to figure out why I can’t shake it. Then I have a light bulb moment while teaching my freshman English class.  We are beginning A Raisin in the Sun. Before we begin the play, I have the students do some research about the time period, segregation in housing, red-lining and block-busting, Chicago’s “Black Belt” and the Fair Housing Act. As the kids share their research, I add on and find myself telling the kids that it can be hard to wrap our minds around legal discrimination. It can be hard to imagine the government passing outwardly racist legislation. In my mind I’m thinking, “And hopefully we won’t see this again with a Trump presidency”, but I don’t say that out loud, of course. Although, as I’m discussing the historical impact of segregation on the Black community, I find myself wondering if there are kids who are thinking to themselves “Blacks should be segregated.” I’m explaining that thanks to the Fair Housing Act you can’t be discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, religion, family status, disability, etc and I’m wondering if some kid is thinking “too bad.” I’m explaining how difficult it is for groups that have been subjected to discrimination to achieve or even reach for the American dream and I’m wondering if someone is thinking, “then they should go back to where they came from.”

This is how the election has changed me.

I don’t consider myself a Pollyanna. I consider myself informed and highly critical of the world and the systems that run it, yet I think I always assumed that when I was talking about segregation of the past, the kids were, for the most part, agreeing with me that it was wrong and that our country is better for having moved past it. Sure I knew there were a few narrow-minded students among each class, but I think I got complacent in my assumption that “those people” who are racist or bigoted are somewhere else (tho in hindsight, I don’t know where!).

Now I’m wondering if they represent the majority, not the minority. Were they always there, but just keeping their mouths shut? This election has made me second guess what the people around me are thinking. I keep telling myself that these students, my co-workers, friends, and neighbors are the same people they were a year ago, that this is all in my head, and yet, in the back of my mind I’ve become more suspicious of the true nature of those around me anyway.

And I’m white.

So I imagine what it might be like to be gay, or Black, or Hispanic, or Muslim. How might I feel about the people around me? Terrified, I imagine. As a white, U.S. citizen, I really have little to worry about. Sure legislation may be passed that I disagree with (as a woman, some of this may affect me), but even if the rhetoric of anger and hate continues, I feel fairly certain that I will not be a target. How must it feel to be a member of one of these groups that has been targeted though?

There has been much debate and discussion about whether or not these fears are justified, but that doesn’t really matter. When my 3-year-old is afraid of the dark, I don’t dismiss him simply because I know there is nothing to fear. I validate that fear. I comfort him. I offer support. The reality is, this fear, this paranoia, is real. It’s not about whether or not it should be here, it’s about the fact that it is.

And so, I challenge you to consider this viewpoint from a targeted group’s perspective. Whether or not this fear is justified, consider that members of the LGBTQ community may be feeling afraid, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, and women may be feeling afraid. You might not be afraid, but others are and, just as you’d comfort a child afraid of the dark, acknowledge this fear and bring compassion to the table, rather than judgement and hate.

As a warm-up activity, I asked my students to rank, the following in order of “most likely to hold people together” to “least likely”: family, shared interests, religion, race and/or ethnicity, and a student said, “You forgot to include Trump on this list. He brings people together.” Now I’ve been a teacher for 13 years, through other elections, and yet, this comment sent an emotional jolt through my body. I have a strong, personal opposition to the statement this student made and, while I’m used to this (I rarely agree with 15-year-olds) I rarely find it so difficult to respond in a neutral manner. Likewise another student in one of my classes has been an active Trump supporter all along and after the election he asked me, “Don’t you feel better now? You can breathe easy knowing that the country will finally be in good hands.” Generally I use humor to diffuse situations such as these, but this time around, I was speechless. I simply responded with, “I don’t know how I feel” and smiled. And that was the truth.

This is how the election has changed me.

I am a club adviser for my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and the morning after the election a student was in my room sobbing, absolutely sobbing. She was terrified about what this means for the LGBTQ community. I tried to reassure her, our country has been through tough times before, right? And she said to me, through tears, “But this time it’s so personal.” I felt like crying myself; not just because my candidate lost, but because this whole process has left her sad, disheartened and afraid.

And I might be feeling the same way.

In the meantime, I will work to find that fire that once burned so strongly in my heart. That desire to fight, to be heard, and to make change. That flame is weak right now, nearly non-existent. But I do know that giving in to fear will cause me to pull back from life, to push people away.  I’m sure my passion will return, but figuring out my feelings seems to be a place to start and fear is currently the most prominent.

And so I will leave you with these words from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi,

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

 

Saving Humanity One Comment at a Time

saving-humanity

As a comment on how things have changed since I started teaching English 10 years ago, my freshman now have to complete a blogging unit. As a blogger myself, this is one of my favorite units. I show the kids different examples of well-written blogs. We read some writing advice articles about ways to appeal to readers and organize thoughts.  I let the kids choose any topic of their own interest. I teach them how to upload images, links, and embed videos. They get to play around with photo-editing apps and catchy titles. It’s a fun unit and this year the kids really got into it.

Then we come to the end of the week.

Students have written 3-5 posts and they all upload their blog’s URLs to a google doc. I share the document out and they are able to read and view each other’s posts. This is a day that causes me much anxiety. I remind them repeatedly that what they are writing is public and others will be able to read it and yet, I worry about their emotional safety. Will they treat each other with kindness? Acceptance? Will they respond to each other in an intelligent and thoughtful way? Will this assignment empower their young voices or crush their spirits? So far, things have gone pretty smoothly, however, I notice that they only click on and read the blogs of their friends and, despite giving them specific guidelines for commenting, they still write general, “Great blog. I agree” types of things.

This year, as “read and comment day” approached, I considered nixing it altogether. Was there any educational value? Was it worth the 2 class periods it usually takes?  Could I trust them to just read each other’s’ work without the requirement of commenting?

As a blogger, I love comments. Nothing makes me happier than to hear feedback on my thoughts and ideas. I feel validated when readers appreciate my thoughts and challenged to think deeper when readers disagree. I wondered if they kids would feel the same way.

I was still mulling this over when I found myself in a Facebook thread with someone with a vastly different opinion than myself. This person was making the “all Muslims are terrorists” argument and I was making the “you can’t judge an entire faith on the actions of a few” and he responded with “Andrea, you are a dumb idiot” and then proceeded to berate my intelligence (which he attributed to public education – gasp!) and that’s when I knew that the commenting lesson wasn’t optional. In fact, as I prepared for the lesson I spent a significant amount of time reading Facebook threads and comments on a variety of articles from a variety of websites. This only reinforced the notion that we needed to have a conversation about this small section of human society.

For example, I read a story about a school that had recently been vandalized. I assumed the comments there would be generic and it was a topic teenagers could relate to and hoped I could find some examples to screenshot and use in a lesson. I shocked to find how many posters seemed to find this a place to unload some really awful, racist thoughts. Comments ranged from “Gee it happened after a basketball game…and we all know what kind of people play basketball. Why is anyone surprised?” to things like, “A perfect example of why inner city schools should not receive extra funding or grants – they don’t know how to appreciate nice things.” These forced me to reread the article about 3 times. The article said NOTHING about race or type of neighborhood. Unless the commenters knew something I did not, they were simply MAKING this a commentary on race and class.

Originally my plan was to set aside 25-30 minutes to discuss the “art” of commenting. I found a great article that listed some concrete guidelines and planned to screenshot some'I've found that I can get away with posting nasty comments if I end them with a 'wink' emoticon.' good and bad examples. Unfortunately, I found that most of the comments were not only bad examples, but they were so offensive I didn’t dare use them in class.

Instead, I recounted my experience. I told the kids how hard it was to find examples of quality dialogue. I told them that I read articles ranging from politics, to education, to celebrity news, to local events and that in most places I was overwhelmed with name-calling, hate speech, and general ignorance.

Look, I’m not Pollyanna, I’m not under any illusion that we, as a population, have solved racism, sexism, or any -ism for that matter. I understand that anger, hate, ignorance, and fear exist are are running rampant, especially during this current election cycle. And yet, even I was shocked, not so much at the subject matter, but the sheer quantity of awfulness.

So I asked the kids, “How many of you have ever posted something on social media that you probably should not have and that you know you wouldn’t have dared say in person?” About 80% of the class sheepishly raised their hands. And I did too.  I have found myself feeling pretty confident sitting safely on my couch, behind a computer screen. I have justified to myself that the person on the other end isn’t a “real” person anyway – just a name on a Facebook thread.  I’ve had moments where I’ve forgotten that we are all the result of a collection of experiences and that these experiences are what shape who we are and what we believe. I had forgotten that we as individuals come to the table (or computer) in different points in our own lives and that we sometimes, unwittingly, apply these feelings of frustration, anger, depression, and fear to our social media threads.

And the kids had their own stories. Stories of comments they’d seen, or been on the receiving end of, regarding sexual orientation, physical appearance, race, and intelligence. And the lesson that begin with my intention to tell the kids about a trend online, turned more into a round table discussion about a problem in our contemporary society. At the end of the hour one student said laughingly, “I love how we just spend an entire hour discussion internet comments.”

How this all played out, was the kids ended up with a day or two to read through each other’s posts and comment. This yielded A LOT of conversation. Many of them took disagreements, even respectful ones, personally and wanted to fire off snarky responses. Some were disappointed when they didn’t receive any comments at all. I was surprised how much conversation the kids had about the comments they received.

In the end, I decided this whole comments activity was worthwhile. I told the kids that their generation was inheriting the internet next and that maybe they could be the ones to change the comments sections from “place where society’s sludge settles” to “place of valuable discourse.”

THAT may be wishful thinking, but at this rate, I’m willing to take the gamble.