“Volunteering” by guest blogger Felicia Thomas

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Felicia’s essay on volunteering fits well with that mission and my own passion for reforming education. 

volunteerImagine a world in which we could feel confident enough to leave the major decisions and responsibilities that need to be addressed in our country in the hands of our young people. We would do this and feel secure that the oversights and misdirection our country previously was subjected to by its predecessors would be rectified by an involved, enthusiastic, emerging generation. It would be invaluable to have young idealists addressing the concerns and issues facing their communities before they turn into larger problems that then become national issues. What a world this would be if, instead of leaving the complicated issues our country faces on the shoulders of an unwilling and unprepared younger generation, we arm them with the value of community and the tools for successful civic engagement.

We all know that as the US. Population grows, newer and newer generations emerge, each one seemingly worse off than the last. Prior generations, unless otherwise affiliated with public institutions such as churches, private schools, or youth based organizations (where volunteering is required), were not shown how to offer impactful change in their community. Without these examples of how to care about more than one’s own immediate personal needs, each new generation of young people grows increasingly detached and uninvolved as time goes by. Alison Muller made an observation about what she witnessed during her volunteering initiative offered by the students that reside at the troubled youth facility she worked at:

One of our most successful volunteer activities was with a local senior nursing home. We had an idea of what we had hoped could be gained by volunteering with the elderly, but we could not have anticipated all of the benefits the youth received, especially for those deemed the most troubling. We found over time that the youth who were most problematic within the residential program were often the best volunteers or helpers. The same qualities that caused problems in the residence made them successful with our senior citizens. (Mueller)

Even with the most troubled of our youth, volunteering can have great impact on their social and individual development irrespective of the social/emotional challenges they may face.

I’m confident that most people can list a minimum of three or four issues they feel either their community and or state deals with, whether environmental, institutional, or public, that involve not only themselves but their fellow citizens directly. The need for change is obvious, and the need for volunteering is nationally recognized. “Volunteerism during the Transition to Adulthood: A Life Course Perspective” points out the need for more visibility of our young people in volunteering:

Concerns about the maintenance of American democracy and civic society is heightened by a presumed disengagement of the contemporary younger generation from the political process and civic life, as well as its greater individualism and materialism. The empirical evidence for the perceived disengagement of young people is mixed, however. While trust among young people has declined and materialism has grown, rates of volunteering and community participation have remained stable or even increased over the past two decades. Despite this evidence, concern about young people’s civic involvement and the future of American civic society continues. To be concerned is warranted, since learning a sense of civic-mindedness and being engaged in the community early in life is found to be of utmost importance in developing responsible and civically active adults.

Why is our younger generation so uninvolved? Are materialism and consumerism going to be all we demonstrate and pass on to our future generation? Can we encourage and promote community based problem solving?  I would say, “Yes, we can,” and “Yes, we should,” specifically while our students are attending school and while their minds are pliable and open to guidance.

There are those who have some definite opinions surrounding this idea of volunteering and students specifically in conjunction with the school environment.  Robert Grim weighs in on the topic:

School is a key area for youth socialization. Not only is it a place where youth begin to develop an identity apart from their family, it is also a context in which youth begin to develop a sense of a larger community to which they belong. In addition, previous research has shown that involvement in volunteering through schools, whether through community service or service-learning, can lead to improvements in self-esteem and academic achievement. In response to the overall decline in civic engagement among Americans, the past decade has seen a growing debate on the role that educational institutions should play in promoting civic education in schools. (Grimm)

He makes a great point. Volunteering adds a substantial enrichment component to the education of school aged children. Isn’t emphasizing a sense of community just as essential to our children’s education as other skills taught? We should equip our youth with the ability to facilitate group projects that are beneficial to their community, state, or country. How can we truly say that we are preparing our children to become the best people they can be if we are not somehow tracking the way their minds and ideas are developing and whether those ideas will hinder or fall in line with civic engagement fundamentally?

A good solution for dissolving the unappealing image volunteering has will be to familiarize/normalize volunteering and civic education. It should be written into curriculum starting from third grade and up. Most adults hold the impression that volunteering is time consuming or that they get no direct immediate benefit. Some feel that they simply don’t know where to start. All of these misconceptions could be dispelled through early engagement and information on participation.

There are those who feel that forcing students to perform mandatory-volunteering is an oxymoron. This is not completely inaccurate. This is precisely why more attention to and the creation of service learning and civic education curriculum should be implemented as soon as possible into public and private schools alike. It’s important to remember that not all the benefits of volunteering go only to the students.  Large scale volunteering itself sets the tone of the community in which it’s frequently offered. Implementation of this idea not only would make the process familiar to each new emerging generation, but also for the current members of the community. The relationship between volunteer and recipient is a unique dynamic:

The new pattern of volunteering offers challenging and meaningful activities . . . the engagement is for short term and the turnover in the organizations is rather high. These developments are linked to a general process of individualization, which however cannot be totally identified with egoism. . . . nowadays the service-oriented attitude is emerging, which creates a climate of trust and results in a more satisfactory and productive relationship between volunteer and recipient, in contrast with the earlier “merely” helping attitude, where reciprocity was not necessarily prevalent. (Feynes)

It’s not an easy task, trying to locate recent studies or statistical information on the frequency of youth volunteering. This is because volunteering is not a topic that generates enough conversation. There are organizations that employ the use of young adults to teach service learning to school age children in their community. They also facilitate and organize volunteering projects in those same communities. One such organization is called City Year, another is called AmeriCorps. Both organizations encourage youth volunteering and try to educate about civic engagement and leadership. Both also offer a presence within the local school systems as well. The relationship with schools and the organizations is a very idealistic initiative. However, on the part of the public schools, the amount to which each organization is allowed to introduce their objectives and volunteering initiatives is extremely limited. This seems counterproductive, even with organizations being readily accessible.

Think about how many times you’ve volunteered in your life. How did you feel after? Now place yourself in that same scenario with one major difference. You have a solid understanding of what it means to make the choice to step into leadership roles, and civil service has now become your instinctive. This could be achieved with our emerging generation, but only if we teach unconventionally:

These new ways of understanding and brain-friendly approaches to learning are creating waves of change in all levels and domains of education from the instruction of formal schooling in both private and state based programs, to education policy, to an increase in academic research institutes, to special needs education, to private educational and therapeutic enterprises. However, such new advances are still young, with research yet in its early stages of development and acceptance. Many educational systems across the world still adhere to more traditional approaches and more enlightened institutions are grappling with the transition from the old ways of thinking to the new. (Karabulut)

In conclusion, no matter what your political views or opinions are, we all want our country to progress and strive for improvement; we don’t want to continue to witness the corrosion of our “democratic” nation. This starts with us. But for everyone to carry the same sentiments it must be instilled early on.

Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016

paint-brushesHow can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.

Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:

If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and anxiety?

If students were allowed to embrace their creative sides, would they grow up into adults who needed art therapy?

If art is therapeutic, why do we give it so little importance and relegate it to an elective in secondary schools?

Why do parents and educators allow people who don’t really care about their children to make unhealthy decisions for their children?

Why does the very notion of school imply that everything that is taught there needs to be quantified? Can’t we just enjoy learning without testing or assigning a letter grade to it?

Why are math, science, social studies, and English classes more important in a child’s education, than art, music, dance, and theater?

Why do people think that studying the arts is a waste of time and not preparation for college? Why can’t students who truly love the arts immerse themselves in those areas and continue to do so in college?

Why is our society so bent on educating only half the child? Do people not see the damage being done to our children when we eliminate the things that bring them the greatest joy?

 

“Captain Trout” by Guest Blogger: Matthew Ferri

This is one of my favorite personal narratives from a talented student. One of the literary essays we read in College Composition is “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell. Matthew read that and remembered a similar event that has stuck with him. Here is his poignant story:

Just about a year short of being a “real man,” my father and my brother invited me on a week-long canoe trip up in the mountains of Maine, close to the border of Canada. My brother, Cameron, was part of the boy scouts and because I had done some community work designing the troop’s neckerchiefs, the Scoutmaster, Doug, asked my brother if I’d like to come. I was hesitant to give him a straight yes or no when they asked me to go, mainly because I wouldn’t know anyone going besides my brother and father.

Plus I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sacrifice a week of my summer to a canoe in the smoldering heat while listening to the sound of pre- pubescent boys squeaking their words at me. Out of guilt for not spending enough time with my brother and father, I agreed to go. I thought it might be a good experience to have before they forgot that I was an existing member of the family, rather than some sort of specter that haunted the fridge.

We packed our bags and set out on the road for a three-hour drive through the great scenic state of Maine. Mountains, old antique shops, road kill: They had it all. We drove up and down hills so steep our ears popped. When we finally got to the base campground, we got everything unpacked and set up our tents. We were on one side of a dirt road next to some docks and a lake that led out to the river we’d be setting out on in the morning. On the other side of the road were rows of RV’s and mobile homes people towed up there for their definition of “camping.”

The sun had sunk pretty low by the time two young men pulled up in their truck with a canoe rack hitched behind them. They got out and headed over towards us for some introductory conversation. One was not more than two years older than I was with a freckled face and red hair; the other was in his late twenties, much taller, and had a clean-shaven face ready to be filled in. These two were our river guides for the week.

The taller and older of the two extended his hand towards Doug and the rest of the adults chaperoning the trip and introduced himself as Seth, and the other, a little less confidently, introduced himself as Skylar. They all talked about the drive up, the troubles they had understanding some of the directions, and the types of snacks they got for their kids at the gas stations on the way up.

After a quick meeting about our plans for the morning, I retreated into my tent for the remainder of the night to write in my journal about a girl I liked. I felt a little like the odd man out. After all, that’s what I was. I was not a Boy Scout, and they had all been to campouts before where they had already formed their bonds. So, for the first night I sat in my tent writing and drawing bears while I heard the sounds of my brother and his friends laughing about dumb things each had been saying in hushed tones. They didn’t realize, however, that the tents were not soundproof. The adults, along with myself, could hear every typical inappropriate conversation one would hear out of the mouths of a group of fourteen or fifteen year-old boys.

I woke up the next morning to see their red embarrassed faces after the adults had told them how they kept them up with their chatter. Not one of them had anything to say that morning as they bashfully ate their breakfasts. I couldn’t help but smirk to myself at the end of the table as I ate my poorly prepared Boy Scout breakfast.

After breakfast, we packed up camp and hauled our canoes to an opening in the trees by the river where we would be taking off. My brother and I threw our gear in our canoe and started pushing into the water, my brother hopping in first once the bow was half in as I pushed behind jumping just before my feet touched the water. We took up our paddles and started rowing. We were off on our adventure, and for the rest of the week we would mostly be rowing.

The next day we left early and rowed gently down the stream. All of the canoes were always close enough that everyone could talk and laugh as we went along our journey down the river, and the man my dad had paired up with was named Pat. He was the father of the scout named Quinn who only ate raw meat because he thought he was part wolf.

Pat was boasting about his younger days when he owned a fishing shop with his brother in the Philippines as he cast his line behind him, making sure to avoid any scouts. I listened to his stories of fishing as I stirred the water beneath me, glancing over occasionally as he passionately spoke. Eventually everyone had grown tired of his rambling and began their own side conversations. I hadn’t noticed their exodus from the one-sided conversation and continued to politely listen and smile as he uncomfortably directed his stories to me.

Once we made it to our next checkpoint, he showed me a few of the tricks he knew on the shore. I slowly got a hang of the cast form and technique for luring fish with a slight jerking motion of the wrist to make it look like the lure was swimming like a tiny fish. I even managed to catch a few small ones on the beach.

The next day was a beautiful one. We got up, made the routine breakfast, packed, and set back out on the river. I had been talking a bit more to each of the scouts by this day, and they seemed to like me. They all started treating me with less and less awkwardness and more like their big brother. As they got more comfortable with me, they looked to me for leadership. I settled their childish disputes of who had to do the dishes and things like that, and eventually I played card games and told them about my experiences with girls. They sat in awe as I told them stories, far from the adults, in a packed tent with a lantern hanging from a hook in the center. I became an idol to each of them. That’s when I realized that most of them didn’t have older brothers; that’s why they were scouts. I felt like Peter Pan among the lost boys.

We eventually rowed ourselves into a tighter area of the river that had much more vegetation, where fish could easily swim and not be taken away by the river’s current. There weren’t any good spots to pull the boats up on, so we just tied them to trees and climbed up this dirt and rock wall that was used in the past as a sort of natural staircase. After I set up my tent, I began fishing, not expecting much. I borrowed one of Pat’s lures and didn’t use bait. I cast and reeled in a few times, using the motions Pat taught me, the lure reflecting through the green murky water as I towed it through. It was almost strange how calm the water had been there, yet I knew there was so much happening underneath.

I felt a nibble and immediately jerked my rod so the hook would properly puncture the mouth of whatever I had on the line. I quickly realized this fish was not like any of the other bite-sized fish I had been catching that week. This fish was the king of the river. It was a nine-inch brook trout, bigger than any brook trout Pat had ever seen. The rod had bent a good 120 degrees as I wrestled this fish for its life. I saw the dark silhouette of its immaculate body as I pulled it closer to me and farther from its domain. My rod was on the verge of snapping when I finally got it out of the water; it was thrashing and splashing everywhere. I held it over the boat as I hauled it up. The line snapped, sending the fish to the floor of the canoe. It wriggled and sputtered about the boat as I tried to get a hold of it, its body still slippery from the coat of murky water. I grabbed a towel and grasped it firmly, and as I took the hook out, Seth looked over the top of the dirt stairs and shouted to the scouts, “Looks like Matty’s eatin’ good tonight boys!”

Brook TroutImmediately all 15 or so of the scouts ran over along with the parents to glance over the edge down where I was standing in the canoe with the trout wrapped delicately in a towel in my hand. I could feel his body rise and collapse, gasping for air. I wanted to put him back in the water as soon as I caught him and watch him slip back under the protection of the clouded water where he belonged to the river and the river belonged to him. I looked at the scouts as they peered back at me with anticipation. Waiting for me to say or do something with the exhausted fellow. I swallowed deep and said agonizingly what they wanted to hear, “I’m gonna eat him.”

They all went berserk as the adults smiled at their barbaric chanting of my new nickname, “CAPTAIN TROUT! CAPTAIN TROUT!”

They proceeded to take their chanting farther from the cliff where I was no longer in their view and could regretfully kill this fish for their amusement. I had never taken the life of anything bigger than a spider, and here I was about to slaughter a full-grown brook trout with my Bear Grills survival knife my dad got me for the trip.

I gently rested my hand, putting the trout on the seat of the canoe and pulled back the towel, past the gills, where I made an imaginary line that would end his life. I looked into his dark marble eye as I rested the knife across his shimmering body. “What a beautiful fish,” I thought. I pictured him gliding through the water with such mystery and momentum, without a care in the world. I thought of how he might have thought nothing could hurt him, before this, and in that moment I still had a chance to put him back in the water. I still had time. No one was watching, and I could make it seem like he got away from me. His chest was still rising and falling, slower now, showing his quickly draining life. I could just toss him over…but how could I bring back nothing to the lost boys? How could I lie to the scouts that looked up to me? I couldn’t. With one last glance of life the fish gave to me, I took.

The blade, short and feeble, didn’t cut through him easily like I hoped it would. No, it was painful; the knife barely made it through his whole thick body. As I sliced through him like an old tire, his mouth opened wide as if he were trying to scream. Expression of anything but regret left my face. Slowly, I slid his head off to the side, with his contorting jaw as a trail of blood followed my knife. I then turned his stomach toward me and sliced him down the middle exposing his innards. I could see everything that once gave the fish life, so I ripped them out too. When I was done, I looked down at the awful mess I had made. There were guts all over the chair with blood still covering my knife while the trout’s head stared at me, still moving his mouth. I drove the knife down through his eye to make his questioning stop, and with an angry motion of my arm, thrusted the blade outwards to the river where the head plunked into the water like a rock.

When I brought the “cleaned” fish up to the campers, the excitement had already faded. Now I had to cook him. We had no breadcrumbs, so my dad gave me pancake batter to use instead. I put the fish on the grill and cooked him, then dished him. By this time, I was not hungry. My stomach was noxious, and I couldn’t picture him without the rest of his body. I took two bites and passed him off to my dad. I slumped into my tent, while everyone else enjoyed my first and last catch.

 

 

Guest Blogger: The Sober Route

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students  discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Tommy’s essay on sobriety fits well with that mission. I have known too many people who have been affected by addiction, their own or a loved one’s; so I’m hoping this post will find the people who need that push to take the first steps.

By Tommy Costa

Do you find yourself drinking more than you wish? Do you drive while intoxicated? Have you ever been arrested while intoxicated? Do you consistently blackout while drinking or using drugs? Do you spend most of your days thinking about the next drink or drug? Do you spend most days drunk or high? Have you ever drank or used drugs even though the night before you swore it off forever? Maybe your family or friends are concerned about the way you drink or drug. If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are probably an alcoholic/addict.

If you have even an inkling of desire to stop drinking and/or using drugs, then you will definitely need help. The first task to accomplish is simply admitting it. Another is realizing that alcoholism and addiction are one in the same, which means a problem with drugs is also a problem with alcohol. The next big step is getting sober. What makes getting sober so difficult is the fact that addiction is a three-fold illness: body, mind, and spirit. Getting sober is not easy, but it is well worth all the effort.

12 stepsThe first step to beating any addiction is to cure the physical condition. That means you need to put the plug in the jug. Stop drinking. Stop using. Dump the alcohol and chuck the drugs. Physically sobering up can be difficult, even dangerous, so it is completely acceptable to seek medical attention. Many times the best place to detoxify your body is at a detox unit or drug rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, beds are not always readily available. It is absolutely necessary to consistently call any and all facilities in your state daily. A bed can open up at any time, and the waiting lists are long, so making it known you are serious about getting sober is vital. Your next step is to find a self-help group to attend. You have many groups to choose from be it Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, or any other self-help group. The important part is being able to identify with what other people are talking about within the group. One of the biggest hang-ups a newcomer can have is comparing rather than identifying, which means looking at how you are different from other people rather than how you are the same. The most assured way to stay sober is by working with another alcoholic or addict. Thankfully today it is quite easy to find a meeting to attend; all you have to do is look one up online. You are bound to have meetings in your area; just pick a day and time, then go.

The type of meeting you choose is not as important as making it known that you are new. Most meetings have a moment for newcomers to introduce themselves, which is an opportunity for you to ask for help. Raising your hand to introduce yourself in a crowded room can be quite daunting, but willingness is extremely vital to the process of getting and staying sober. Once you have made yourself known as a newcomer, people will introduce themselves to you. This is the perfect chance to get phone numbers and make new friends. More than likely, all of your old friends drink or use, so having new ones is extremely important. Another good move is deleting contacts from your phone of people who will hinder your sobriety. Whether it is people you were drinking with or your dealer, it is best to delete them from your phone. In some cases, you may have to block phone numbers or outright change your own number. A great suggestion for any newcomer is to go to ninety meetings in ninety days.

Unfortunately, simply going to meetings will not keep you sober. There are twenty-four hours in a day and a meeting will only take away one of those hours; the best way to fill the rest of your day is with fellowship. Fellowship is quite simply spending time with a fellow sober alcoholic or addict. Fellowship can easily chew up the other twenty-three mind-boggling hours of the day. Any alcoholic/addict in recovery, new or old, can attest to how insane the alcoholic/addict mind is shortly after removing the only solution known to him or her, which is alcohol and drugs. Spending plenty of time with fellow alcoholics/addicts in recovery can help you keep away from another drink or drug.

Meetings and fellowship will only help you with curing the body. The insatiable desire to drink or use will not fade in the short time it takes to cure the body of the physical portion of alcoholism/addiction. Alcoholism is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit, so all three must be brought into balance before one can truly be seen as recovered. Curing your mind will require working the program. The alcoholic mind has a curious mental obsession that allows for blind spots when relating to alcohol and drugs. Alleviating the obsession comes with a bit of time and plenty of hard work. Any knowledgeable alcoholic/addict can attest to the fact that simply knowing of the disease will not keep you from the next drink or drug. In order to successfully work the program, it is best you follow the suggestions of others and get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is willing to guide you through the work and assist you in staying sober. Generally, a sponsor is someone of the same gender who has already done the work. During meetings, there is a point where people willing to sponsor announce themselves; the simplest advice is to ask someone who has what you want. The first person you pick to be your sponsor may not be the right fit for you, but it is always okay to change sponsors until you find the right one. You do have to ask yourself why you want to change sponsors though, because changing sponsors in order to avoid the work is a wrong choice. Whomever you decide to have as a sponsor, it is simply their job to walk you through the work; your sponsor is not in charge of your sobriety. Keep in mind that doing the work, which are the twelve steps laid out in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is exactly what will relieve you of any mental obsessions you have relating to drinking or using.

The final and most important piece to staying sober is sharing with others what has been freely given to you. Giving back is what will heal your spirit and bring about full recovery. Keep in mind that there is no returning to drinking or drugging. Once someone has crossed into the realm of alcoholism/addiction, there is no return to normal. Giving back is the easiest part of being sober; you only need to give back to those in need. Simply shaking the hand of someone new or giving your number to someone still suffering can make a great difference. Staying sober is all about turning your life from being a selfish existence into a selfless existence.

The Philanthropic Experience: A Student’s Perspective

One of my current college composition student wrote a personal narrative essay that beautifully illustrates one of my ideas to reform education (

https://paulinehawkins.com/2012/11/21/high-school-reformation/

).

This is what I proposed in that post:

The Philanthropic Experience

For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Travel/Pix/pictures/2013/12/5/1386262243685/Pelourinho-Salvador-Brazi-008.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=2da05ce1061654577044b90f7c90a3c8
Salvador, Brazil

This is what Justin had to say about being one of those students and having that experience:

“A Brazilian Soul” by Justin Moore

From September to December of 2015, I spent three months volunteering in Salvador, Brazil, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. My comfort bubble was absolutely obliterated, and because of it, I am mentally, physically, and socially stronger. A year ago, I had no plans of doing any traveling or any plans in general. I was lost and unsure about what to do, and the future seemed like a terrifying monster called life that was going to chew me up and spit me right back out. I have always been that friend on whose shoulder people cry, and I have always been fascinated with foreign cultures. These two seemingly unrelated attributes led me to volunteering abroad. Thank god for Brazil.

Brazil helped turn me around even before I set foot in the country. With three months to go before leaving through the Cross Cultural Solutions program, my parents started nagging me about what I would do until then to make money. Their pressure and message of how only failures sit around all summer really impacted me. So I did something I had never done before: I got a job. It was a part-time, telephone-surveying job and paid about nine dollars an hour. The first week, I was terrified of making a mistake and felt as though I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I received my first paycheck that I finally experienced a sense of pride and confidence. I never applied myself in high school, did terribly grade-wise, and never really achieved academically. After my first paycheck, I had this unfamiliar, rewarding feeling. I had worked hard at something and received something back from it. That money made me independent. It motivated me to work hard. And it showed me that I could succeed in life if I put my heart into something.

            After a couple months of working, it was finally time for me to saddle up and head out. It wasn’t until I saw the people of Brazil that I accepted I was abroad. I had landed in a third world country in a city that was 80 percent non-Caucasian, was poor, and spoke Portuguese. It was a strange feeling to be the minority now in seemingly every aspect of life. A taxi picked me up at the airport and drove me to my home base in the heart of the city. Boy was that a drive! Here I was, an 18-year-old, middle-class, white Justin from America, looking out the window at what could have been Pluto for all I knew. All I could think was, “Justin, what have you gotten yourself into?”

I settled into a modest apartment and realized I had a few days before any of the volunteering began. The other volunteers hadn’t yet arrived; I had nobody to see an no place to be. I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined samba (Brazilian dance), capoeira (Brazilian martial art), and Portuguese (Brazilian language) classes. These classes helped me immerse myself in the local culture, make some friends, and boogie down too!  Three months of samba and capoeira were amazing. Socially, I learned how to interact with those from other cultures and be more open. Physically, I lost 25 pounds and got into the best shape of my life!

The other participants of the program started to roll in the day before we began volunteering. I soon realized that not only was I the youngest, but I was also the youngest by 14 years. High school had taught me that the upperclassman were in charge. Strangely, that’s not how I came to think of the other volunteers. Living and working closely with my “elders” for three months, I began to feel more like their peers. We learned to respect each other, regardless of age, religion, and background; because of it, our group turned into one big happy family. I was not their son; they were my brothers.

The first place, and originally the only place1, where I volunteered was Orfanato Vo Flor (Grandma Flowers Orphanage and Daycare). Here, children between the ages of four to seventeen live or are dropped off each day if their guardians cannot provide a “safe environment” for them while they are at work. It is almost completely unstructured, and the children there run amok in a maze of broken glass and filth. One might say this is not a viable “safe” substitute, but these kids had parents who were drug addicts, physically or mentally disabled, and with little or no means. Sometimes they didn’t even come from homes at all and lived on the street.

I was incredibly nervous on my first day. When they dropped me off, I could feel every eye on me. I walked alone into the favela2 and stuck out like a sore thumb. I sought out the director of the orphanage and poorly understood the directions she gave me. We parted ways, and I stumbled back into the main area where all the kids were hanging around. I had no idea what I was supposed to do at the facility. I was terrified of being an awkward waste of space that just sits there and does nothing but consume oxygen. Then, out of the blue, a young girl named Ana Lucia ran over and pulled me into the best experience of my life.

Ana was the first out of all the children there to approach the intriguing but intimidating beast known as the American. Everyone else was too nervous. Once she did, however, every other kid swarmed in and started jabbering away and pulling on my clothing. I felt like I was in a petting zoo where I was the animal and they were overly enthusiastic humans. I spent the first day being dragged from place to place and shown a kind of love I had never experienced. The love was a sweet mixture of foreign fascination, friendship, and trust. It was insanity, and it was beauty.

I quickly went from exceptionally anxious to incredibly overjoyed at my situation. For the next three months, I spent my time cleaning, feeding, and playing with those kids. Every day, I would walk in and suddenly be absorbed into the gleeful screams and hugs of 30 children. The children loved me for who I was, and, in return, I gave them the love that they weren’t receiving at home. To them, I was American father, chio, –which is Portuguese for “uncle”—and brother. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how much I loved them, and how they were like my children.

When the volunteering ended and I flew back to the States, the experience and change in my life didn’t hit me until I lay back in my bed for the first time, crying, realizing what an unexpected miracle Salvador had been for me. The combination of the way I lived, the culture, and the work with the kids mixed together to give me a truly euphoric feeling. I had grown so much as a person, and the way I had gone outside of my comfort zone had allowed me to develop into a man who was ready to take the next step. I was confident, determined, and prepared to move on with my life. It was time to stop dwelling on the mistakes of the past and work towards my goals for the future.

Brazil is what gave me the confidence to start classes at Great Bay Community College as a full time student. Brazil is what gave me the energy and motivation to apply for a job at a software company, rock the interview, and then get the job. Brazil will always be remembered as the place where I blossomed into the man I am today. The friends I made and the experiences I had have helped me understand myself in a way I could never do in high school. I was that kid who had no idea what he was going to do. Now, I feel like an unstoppable force ready to take on the world. I miss my South American friends, Salvador, and the gift they gave me. I can truly say I will always have a bit of a Brazilian soul.

Footnotes:

1 I originally only volunteered at Orfanato Vo Flor, but I also ended up teaching two separate English classes for adults and teenagers (Centro Redentorista Missionary) and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS (CAASAH).
2 A favela is an urban slum in Brazil.

How different our world would be if more “lost and unsure” students could have this type of experience.

 

 

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: April

“How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?”

Guest blogger: Karyn McWhirter

As a teacher of Advanced Placement students and students preparing to be in Advance Placement classes, I may have a different relationship with high stakes testing than many other educators. Since a central goal for my AP students is that they acquire the tools to pass the AP test at the end of the year and get college credit, much of my classroom time is dedicated to preparing them to meet that goal. However, I would not invest my time or theirs completing practice essays and evaluating them if I did not think that those writing tasks and the ones they will encounter on the national exam were not authentic, valuable thinking and writing tasks. I never feel as though I am balancing preparation for the test with teaching and learning; they are one in the same. I am not teaching to the test; I am teaching analysis, argumentation, and communication, and the test asks students to demonstrate those things.

If teachers feel that they are wasting time preparing students for high stakes tests, then the assessments themselves are probably to blame. Authentic assessments engage students in critical thinking and communicating. They incorporate performance tasks and have relevance to what students learn in class and to the world. If an assessment is not a quality thinking/communicating task, then giving it to students is a waste of time. When teachers are forced to use class time teaching test material and formatting that is not educationally authentic to protect their jobs, the purpose of assessment has been lost.

The reality of education at all levels is that many high stakes tests matter to students and to professionals. How do students get accepted into undergraduate and graduate programs? SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT. How do professionals obtain licenses to practice? Professionals of all kinds (lawyers, medical professionals of all kinds, teachers, technicians, and engineers to name a few) take certification and licensure exams. If we do not prepare young students to face high stakes exams with confidence and skills, then we are doing them a disservice. Are we over-testing most students these days? Certainly; but by swinging the pendulum in the other direction and abandoning tests and test preparation in the classroom, we leave students unprepared for some challenges they will face.

Many educators feel enormous pressure surrounding the high stakes of some standardized assessments because the results affect teachers and schools but do not always affect students. Truthfully, all learning is high stakes. What our children learn in their K-12 classrooms and beyond shapes them and ensures their futures (and ours). We need to spend classroom time engaging students in learning and activities that prepare them for the multitude of experiences they will have academically, professionally, and personally. We need to spend our classroom time shaping students into productive, happy contributors to society and future world leaders. Our assessments need to match these needs and support our teaching. If they do, there will be no balancing act to speak of.

For more on this topic, go to CMRubinWorld or Huffington Post

Karyn McWhirter has worked as an English teacher and yearbook sponsor at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, CO for fourteen years. She has taught all levels of students and courses from basic skills classes to Advanced Placement. She has served on traditional and online curriculum design teams, technology integration committees, and participated in, as well as taught, professional development related to inclusion and co-teaching of students with special needs.  She was selected Liberty High School’s educator of the year in 2008-09. She holds a BA in English with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she also obtained her teacher education. She earned her MAT in Humanities from Colorado College.

How to Put Yourself First and Still Love Someone

By guest blogger: Thomas Fitzgerald

F.L.Y.I will start with two truths: You will never be able to meet all of the needs of a single person, and no single person will be able to meet all of your needs. You should not view these statements in the negative; they are only meant to make you pause and reflect.

The information I present to you was learned the hard way. I am by no means a relationship expert. In my twenties, I dated a woman who was obsessed with proving herself to her friend. She spent so much time and energy doing things for her friend, but her efforts went unreciprocated. She told me that, one day, her friend would realize everything she had done and they would have the friendship she felt she deserved. This never happened. The notion that a person would toil away in obscurity to finally have her efforts recognized is romantic, but foolish. It would be wonderful to have someone sweep into our lives understanding everything we needed and, fulfill those needs, someone who just “gets us.” Sometimes we meet these people, but you could spend a lifetime waiting for them to come.

I was no better. In this same relationship, I did everything I could to make my girlfriend happy. Whenever there was a problem, I tried to fix it. I went so far as to propose to her because I thought that would make things better. Even after our engagement, I still could not seem to make her happy. My female friends told me what a great boyfriend I was and how much they wished they had one like me. If that were true, why was I unable to make the woman I loved happy? In my mind, that was my job. You work to make the person you love happy, and she will do the same for you. That is how it works, right? It was years after the relationship ended that I realized I was wrong. You cannot make someone else happy, nor can someone else make you happy. Others can only help us be happy. The weight of the responsibility for happiness rests on the shoulders of each individual. As much as I tried, there was no way to make my girlfriend happy unless she wanted to be happy. I had been so consumed with this Sisyphean task that I had completely neglected my own needs.

In all relationships (with friends, family and romantic partners), there is normally a natural ebb and flow of time and energy satisfying the needs of each person in the relationship. A problem arises when this give and take becomes unbalanced. This may happen abruptly or slowly over time and is not inherently malicious. Life is a process of constant change, and humans, over time, change behavior from conscious to unconscious. The things we do for others start to become automatic. Behaviors that once required our full attention to perform require less conscious effort and become routine, similar to the way our drive to and from work becomes automatic; you may find yourself in your driveway at home with no memory of the time after you left work. In a relationship, the comfort we find in the unconscious routine we have developed can be taken for granted. Our unconscious behaviors stay constant without the conscious thought required to take notice of them or change them, while life does not. When the things we have come to expect are no longer available, we may not immediately detect their absence. This leads to a feeling of being unfulfilled, and the source may not be obvious to us. The obligations of life take precedence in our conscious mind: You are aware of what needs to be done at work and home and of the needs of others because they are being constantly communicated to you. Your needs and desires may become drowned out in the cacophony of everything in life that seems to demand your attention. Eventually you may find a gap between what you give to the needs of others and the attention being given to your own needs, which creates a deficit in your mental, emotional, and/or physical energy. Like a battery, if we expend our energy without being recharged, we become drained. You need to receive as much as you give. The deficit between give and take can be tolerated, but not indefinitely. You must find a way to recharge and ensure your needs are being met and will continue to do so. This is not a guide to becoming egocentric and selfish; it is a method to obtain self-awareness and to stop being selfless in an unhealthy way.

“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.” ~Barbara De Angelis

Perspective

The first thing you will need is distance from the constant needs that are draining you of your energy. This can be as literal as removing yourself from the people making demands on you or as simple as finding some time to quietly be by yourself. You need perspective. The old saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees applies to an inability to understand a situation that you are in the middle of. To be understood, a situation requires an objective viewpoint and enough distance and time away from the situation so that you are not influenced by its circumstances. You need to be able to view yourself without the influences of others. Often we become what we do. People view us by what we provide to them and others. You need to be free of this influence so you can see yourself, unbiased.

Introspection

Next you will need understanding of your personal situation. In this time of distance, you must reflect on what you give, what you receive, what you want, and what you need. The definition of the words “Want” and “Need” are specific to each individual. I will define “Need” as something that you must have and “Want” as something that you would like, but it is not essential to your peace and happiness. It may seem like looking for the missing piece of a puzzle without knowing what the picture even looks like. Take your time and be patient with yourself. Self-awareness is not immediate and may take more time if you are usually more concerned with the world outside of yourself. The key to unlocking the door of self-awareness is introspection, looking inward. There are many processes of introspection, but they do not have to involve meditation or guided questions to greater self-understanding, just take time to think. In an environment without distraction, reflect on how you feel, without guilt. What you feel is honest. Don’t be concerned with being angry with someone you love. You feel that way for a reason. Your emotions are legitimate; leave yourself open to them because they are trying to tell you something. Once you have allowed yourself to feel, think about why you feel that way.  This is the point at which you may start to understand which needs are no longer being met, and how they came to be unfulfilled. If you are feeling lonely, maybe an intimacy in one of your relationships has dwindled or may even seem non-existent. Friends or family may no longer be nearby, or you or your significant other may have become busy with new obligations and have less time to spend together. Even after you feel you have come to understand your need, keep digging. Continue to think about how you are feeling and why. Think about what changes might fulfill your need. You may even come to understand that what was making you feel a certain way was not as important as you believed, or something you thought was inconsequential is critical to your peace of mind. Two points to remember: Emotions are not rational and reason has no empathy. Consider that what you feel is a symptom of an underlying malady, and reason is the method to diagnose the cause of what afflicts you. The problem is that reason and emotion come from two different places and both are necessary to understand ourselves. Self-awareness requires repeated introspection; a process of feel then think, feel then think, until you reach a point where you recognize an emotional response without being overwhelmed by it. Then you can investigate the root cause of a feeling with both reason and emotion.

Communication

After coming to understand what it is that you need, you must communicate that need to yourself and others. If you do not ask for something, you have no right to expect it. You must first be honest with yourself. You have at this point come to an understanding that something that you need is missing. Now believe it. Don’t tell yourself, “It’s not a big deal” if it is, in fact, a big deal. It has bothered you enough to get this far in the process. It matters. Next communicate your needs to others. Tell your friends that you want to hang out more. Tell your family that you can’t make it to a holiday gathering because you have something else that requires your time, even if that something is you. If all of the overtime at work is taking away from your time with your family, talk to your boss. You don’t have to be demanding, but you may be surprised at how understanding he or she may be. Your boss might not give you time off but, he or she may have a greater appreciation of the time you are giving to your job. Make sure you use tact when you communicate your needs, help them understand what you think and how you feel, and listen to their feedback. If you are calm and clear when you communicate your needs, you have no need to feel guilty for asking. It will not always be about asking others to fulfill your needs. Communicating your needs to others (and yourself) can just be informing them that you need something and your plan to meet that need. Know, however, that you may be the person who has to meet your own needs.

A single cycle of these steps may not be enough to ensure that your needs will be met. More than likely it will be repeated multiple times, and it should.  Your life and needs will change as will the lives of those around you. Something we want may fade with time or become a need we cannot be without. Without stopping to assess your needs regularly, you may find yourself with another deficit that requires balancing. Spend as much time considering your own needs as you spend on the needs of others. Putting yourself first ensures your needs are met, that you are healthy of body, mind, and spirit.  When your needs are being met, you will be better equipped to meet the needs of others.

Thomas is a current student and future writer (if he listens to my advice, that is). His process analysis essay on putting yourself first was so well done that I had to share it on my blog (with his permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

Anxiety’s Guide to Public Speaking

By guest blogger: Mirade Leigh

Public Speaking          Some people have no problem speaking publicly. They can get up in front of a group of people, large or small, with confidence, without breaking a sweat; their hands do not shake; their face will not flush; they do not so much as stutter. If you are one of these people who can confidently breeze through any kind of presentation, performance, recitation, or speech, then this essay is not for you. I am not one of those people and can only write about what I know: fear, humiliation, and crippling anxiety.

Opportunity. Your teacher or professor has assigned a presentation. It could be anything from a personal narrative, an informative speech, a persuasive speech, to a PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of what your assignment is, you must stand up in front of a group of people, and that is terrifying. For me, it started in senior English. One innocent afternoon when I thought the world was working in my favor, I walked into class to hear my teacher assign a poem recitation. This was a class I did not so much as whisper in. I could not speak in this class without fear ripping any tiny amount confidence I had to shreds. Now, I was being asked to stand up, all eyes on me, and recite poetry? With no dramatics, I believed this to be the worst news I had ever received; this assignment would be the end of me. If you have had this “opportunity” in your life, then you know what I am talking about.

Denial. The “opportunity” has now forcibly made its way into your life and you will create any excuse possible not to participate in this assignment. There may be many absences involved. You might even flat out tell your teacher you are not doing it–that you cannot do it. The word “cannot” will not benefit you and will only get you into trouble. It is important to understand in the early stages of the public speaking journey that you are not unable. If you can walk, talk, crawl, or mumble, you are in fact able. Questioning your ability will only set you up for failure. Now, with all that said, you will still attempt to tell your teacher or professor that you cannot do it. You might say it through stifled tears, avoiding eye contact. You might be wearing the saddest puppy dogface this world has ever seen, but I am telling you with 100% certainty that they will respond with, “Yes you can.” This will feel like a punch in the gut. You will leave feeling defeated and misunderstood with no compassion or sympathy within miles of you, that the world is out to get you and nobody seems to care. Push aside all feelings of self-pity. I understand being nervous and I understand fear, but you will not move forward until you give up this idea that you are unable to do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary, immediately.

Acceptance. Sometime after your somewhat emotional breakdown, you will realize the assignment is necessary, you will not be taking a zero, and you must go through with it. I would like to tell you that your nerves will soon settle, but that would make me a liar. The fear you were experiencing when you first heard of the assignment is most likely the same, if not worse. This time there is no avoiding involved. Instead, day-by-day your anxiety will build. The only way it will stop is when you say that last word in front of your class and step down from the humiliation. You might as well take your coat off and stay a while because you have a ways to go.

Thoughtful decisionmaking. Before you can begin the actual presentation process, you must have the written piece you plan to present. Whether it is a speech or poem, your specific assignment might require it to be a personal piece you have written or plan to write. For my poem recitation, I had to choose from a variety of poems written by others. Regardless, if it is your writing or someone else’s, the subject you choose to go with must be something you are passionate about. You cannot expect to speak about just anything in a monotone voice with no feelings toward the subject at all; if you do not enjoy it, neither will your audience. What you say has to mean something to you, make you feel something, so in turn you can make your audience feel something. Anybody can say an assortment of words in front of a group of people and consider it public speaking; however, it is not public speaking done well.

Memorization. It is not only important if it is required for your assignment, but memorization helps calm your nerves. Do not focus on how you present until you understand and have memorized what you are presenting. You may or may not have a paper template with you for your presentation. If you are presenting a speech, of course you will have it in front of you for your presentation. This does not mean you should not have almost every word memorized. You should have read through it enough times that each sentence comes out with ease and flows so you can make eye contact with your audience rather than looking down at a piece of paper reading word for word. You will only have it with you as a guide. Your assignment may also require complete memorization, with no paper template, for example, a poem recitation. Do not become overwhelmed by this. Memorize line by line. Read each line repeatedly. When you have it down, add the next line, and recite them together. Repeat for each paragraph or stanza until you no longer have to read; you can just recite. From the moment you know what you are reciting until you step up on stage, you should be, either aloud or in your head, reciting every chance you get. Knowing that you have every single word memorized can take away the anxiety of forgetting a line while you are presenting.

Expression. When it comes to what and how, sometimes the how can be more important than the what. This is where the present in presentation comes in; it is how you express, articulate, and gesture. When speaking publicly, your hand gestures, your articulation of words, and your expressions not only help your audience understand what you are talking about but also make them feel what it is you are talking about. Get rid of this preconceived idea that judgment will follow your expression. This is how good public speakers get their message across. The reality is that those who do not care, will not remember your presentation even an hour later, and those who do care, will remember the positive influence it had on them and how you made them feel. Twenty years from now, people are not going to be ranting about how much they disliked your presentation and how they still experience second-hand embarrassment. Once you stop flattering yourself with the fear that people care that much about what you do and how you do it, you ease the fear of judgment. You will be practicing a lot in front of the mirror. You might even have to research certain things to understand fully the meaning, so you can present it with confidence. Good presentations do not come easy; they take time.

Final Product. The day is here. You are up on stage with the lights beating down on you. You might be sweating; you are probably shaking; and you still are not sure if you can do this. I would suggest you just go through with it because running off stage will cause you far more humiliation than a couple of stuttered paragraphs. You might become so overwhelmed that right smack in the middle you forget the next line. Do not sigh. Do not roll your eyes. Do not make an awkward comment followed by an awkward laugh. Pause. Your mouth is working faster than your brain can form coherent thoughts; you know this inside and out. Continue. Nobody noticed; it was just a dramatic pause. Also, talk slower. Look out at the audience. Notice people nodding, closing their eyes with their heads raised, soaking in every word. Right at the end of my poem recitation I noticed one of the judges reciting the poem with me, nodding, absorbing the meaning. Look for those people; the reassurance will calm you. When you are done, take a deep breath. It is over; you did it.

Your first mistake on this journey was seeing public speaking as a dreaded task instead of an opportunity. Any chance given to you to face a fear is not one you want to give up. After my poem recitation, I ended up going to the school wide competition. I placed second. For the first time in my life, I could see my fears sprawled out on the road ahead of me, and excelled despite it. You do not have to perfect the art of public speaking. You do not have to become a professional public speaker. You do not even have to overcome the fear. Just be afraid, and do it anyway.

 

Mirade is a current student and rising star. Her process analysis essay about public speaking shared such great advice about life in general, that I had to share it on my blog (with her permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you are fearful about anything, follow Mirade’s advice: Be afraid, and do it anyway.