Choose to be Teachers and Students

My daughter and son-in-law asked me to speak at their wedding. I was honored but also hesitant–what could I, of all people in their lives, say about marriage? The only thing I know without a doubt. With their permission, here’s my speech:

As we gather to celebrate your journey together, I want to share with you a little wisdom I’ve acquired along the way. After 15 years in education, I’ve realized a very important fact: We never stop being students. As a matter of fact, even without an education degree, we are all teachers as well.

This concept applies perfectly to our relationships. Every thought, word, and action speaks volumes for those willing to listen, watch, and engage. If we choose to be diligent observers of the people in our lives, we learn the important aspects of who they are. But as much as people observe us, they can’t know everything about us, unless we teach them. We must not be afraid to share the inner workings of our hearts with those we love and trust.

Therefore, Nicole and Tripp, you must choose to be teachers and students of each other.

As much as you think you know the person standing in front of you, there is always something to learn about each other. You must be willing to teach the other what makes you happy, angry, or sad; you must be willing to learn how to ease each other’s burdens and how and when to give each other space.

I know from watching the two of you together, that you have already learned much about each other and are not afraid to teach each other about your needs.

But as time goes on, each of you will change and grow—sometimes together; sometimes apart. But if you make the commitment to always be a student and a teacher, you will learn about the changes and teach each other who you are becoming. You will learn to give each other space and comfort when you each need it because you will teach each other when and how. Just as teachers can’t expect students to know what they have not been taught, you can’t expect the other to know how to meet your needs.

Teach each other with patience and love. Engage with each new stage with diligence and passion. Be dedicated students of each other and your relationship.

Just as you have chosen to marry each other today, Nicole and Tripp, may you choose to be teachers and students for the rest of your lives.

“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.

TED Talk from Sharon Brous: It’s time to reclaim and reinvent religion

Sharon Brous powerful TED Talk is a great part of the global conversation that needs to happen to heal the brokenness in our world. It fits perfectly with my message of optimistic realism. You can watch her video and/or read some of the highlights below.

 

4 Principles of Religion

Wakefulness. Our world is on fire, and it is our job to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames. We suffer from psychic numbing: The more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. We shut down at a certain point. Somewhere along the way, our religious leaders forgot that it’s our job to make people uncomfortable. It’s our job to wake people up, to pull them out of their apathy and into the anguish, and to insist that we do what we don’t want to do and see what we do not want to see. Because we know that social change only happens when we are awake enough to see that the house is on fire.

Hope. Hope is not naïve, and hope is not an opiate. Hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and against a culture of despair. Because what hope does for us is it lifts us out of the container that holds us and constrains us from the outside, and says, “You can dream and think expansively again.”

This is what religion is supposed to be about: It’s supposed to be about giving people back a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, a sense that they and their dreams fundamentally matter in this world that tells them that they don’t matter at all.

Mightiness. It is true that I can’t do everything, but I can surely do something. I can forgive. I can love. I can show up. I can protest. I can be a part of this conversation. “I am strong, I am mighty, and I am worthy.” In a world that conspires to make us believe that we are invisible and that we are impotent, religious communities and religious ritual can remind us that for whatever amount of time we have here on this earth, whatever gifts and blessings we were given, whatever resources we have, we can and we must use them to try to make the world a little bit more just and a little bit more loving.

Inter-connectedness. It’s so hard for us to remember how interconnected we all are as human beings. And yet, we know that it is systems of oppression that benefit the most from the lie of radical individualism. Phobias and racism of any type are all of our problems. Emma Lazarus was right when she said until all of us are free, we are none of us free. We are all in this together.

Our hearts hurt from the failed religion of extremism, and we deserve more than the failed religion of routine-ism. It is time for religious leaders and religious communities to take the lead in the spiritual and cultural shift that this country and the world so desperately needs—a shift toward love, toward justice, toward equality and toward dignity for all. Our children deserve no less than that.

Healthy Choices: Essential Oils

I’m happy to announce that I have joined doTERRA Essential Oils as a wellness advocate.

I was introduced to doTerra by a friend who has been using essential oils for years now. In the past she has given me oils for stress/anxiety, stomach aches, fever and body aches, and they have worked every time. At first, I thought it was coincidence, honestly, but the more research I did on essential oils, the more sense it made. People have been using essential oils for food preparation and health-care since the beginning of time.

In fact, many of the products we purchase in stores now are just synthetic versions of these natural oils. I truly believe that many of those synthetic, chemical products have created a health crisis in our society. Most of you know all too well about my son’s rare, cancerous brain tumor. Could his cancer, as well as so many other health problems around the world, been caused by these foreign chemicals that surround us?

In response to this belief, I have eliminated as many chemical products as possible over the last six months, and it has improved both our lives significantly. We are eating healthier, cleaning healthier, and allowing our bodies to heal with natural products instead of chemically created medicines. Not only do we clean with and ingest these oils, Ian and I also use a diffuser with essential oils for sore throats, congestion, and insomnia, and we wake up feeling healthy and rested.

img_2201A few products that I’ve been using on a daily basis for the last three months are lemon and peppermint oils. I have used other oils for specific reasons, but these two I take daily in my water and the effects are amazing. Every morning I mix about 5-6 drops of lemon oil and 2-3 drops of peppermint oil (too much peppermint can be overpowering) in a 2-quart container of regular tap water. I drink this water throughout the day. At first, I just liked the taste. It was a cool, refreshing drink without sugar or chemical additives. It helped me to fulfill the daily water requirement experts say our bodies need to stay healthy and hydrated. That in itself was a win for me.

As time went on, I started to notice that my desire for alcohol started to wane. I used to crave (for a lack of a better word) a glass of wine or a bottle of beer at the end of the day to help me unwind, but that craving stopped. Interestingly enough, I celebrated my 52nd birthday in October and was drinking, but it actually felt like I couldn’t overdo it. I was aware how much I was drinking because I was worried about the hangover I was sure to have because the older I get the worse those hangovers have become (like an all-day-long hangover). On my birthday, everyone was buying me drinks, but I didn’t feel drunk, while those around me were pretty intoxicated. The next morning, I wasn’t hungover at all. If anything, I was just tired from the late night. I thought that was pretty weird, but didn’t think much about it until I became a doTerra wellness advocate and started learning more about these two oils that I was using on a daily basis.

First, Lemon Essential Oil cleanses my liver and kidneys, and Lemon and Peppermint oils are known for their digestive benefits. I now know why I didn’t get a hangover. My liver and kidneys are functioning so well that my body just removed the toxins immediately. Because of the digestive benefits of both oils, I didn’t feel nauseated either. I no longer “crave” alcohol because these oils also have emotional benefits. Lemon oil helps with clarity, inspiration, and confidence. Peppermint oil opens the heart to joy and happiness, settles anxious feelings, and dissolves fears. I don’t need to “escape” from my day, which is why I craved alcohol.

If these things aren’t enough, here are a few other ways I have seen a difference in my life:

I started menopause in June, and I was struggling with intense hot flashes, especially in the middle of the night, which affected my sleep. During the day, I would go from a hot flash to chills, usually while teaching. I would lose my concentration and often forget what I was saying. After I started using the oils, besides putting the two oils in my water, I also created a body spray with lemon, peppermint, and lavender oils. My hot flashes stopped.

Whenever I have an upset stomach, I crush a DoTerra Peppermint Bead (a drop of oil in a beadlet) in my mouth, and the stomach ache stops immediately, almost like a Pepto-Bismol, but without the chalky taste and harmful chemicals. I also crush a peppermint beadlet after I eat at work to counteract any bad breath from the meal. It’s better than chewing gum, especially since I’m a teacher and shouldn’t talk while I’m chewing.

Ian is going through that painful growth spurt where his knee joint swells. It’s a common ailment for children between 10 and 15, and the only cure is time, but I have been putting Deep Blue oil-blend rub on his knee, and it instantly lessens his pain.

The other day, Ian was coughing and his chest sounded congested. A few days before he had spent the day with his sister who had a cough and congestion. I thought he must have picked up her cold. I gave Ian the bottle of On Guard oil blend, just to inhale the scent, and he stopped coughing and didn’t get sick.

I am looking forward to discovering the other benefits. I will keep you posted on my experiences with essential oils. Let me know if you’d like more information or would like to try any of the oils. I’ll be happy to assist you!

Here is my page on doTerra if you’d like to look at some of the products and the information on the company: https://www.mydoterra.com/paulinehawkins/#/

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?

 

YouTube, Armor, and Winning the War

Me and IanAs some of you know, Ian has a YouTube channel (link). He’s been making and uploading videos since he was 7 years old. I have been monitoring his site. I get an email whenever someone comments on his videos, and then I delete and report anyone who makes a nasty comment. He’s been called names like retard, idiot, and fat. Up until now, I have protected him from the harshness of social media, waiting until I felt he was old enough and strong enough to deal with it on his own. However, I didn’t sit idle, expecting Ian to develop armor without help; so while I’ve been deleting comments, I’ve also been “training” him for these realities. Elementary school is the perfect time to build up the necessary armor. What used to be a middle school battleground has now filtered down to the younger years. Ian has had many opportunities to practice what I preach. It may seem unfortunate that someone so young would have to deal with children and adults attacking his intelligence, integrity, motivation, and character, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a blessing to be present and involved in these battles. Is there a better way to train him and strengthen his armor than while he’s in my presence, surrounded by my love and guidance?

So, when a child tells him, “I hate you!” Ian and I talk about what happened before that comment. Did Ian do something to that child? If so, we talk about making better choices and apologizing for his behavior if necessary. If not, we talk about the fact that we don’t know what’s going on with that other child. Maybe he has some difficult situations he’s dealing with, and the best course of action is not to retaliate and just walk away.

If someone says, “You’re stupid or weird,” I explain to Ian that those types of comments say more about the other person than they do about him. If Ian is just being himself and other children think he’s being weird, Ian doesn’t have to change to please other people. He can tone it down, if he wants, but Ian is allowed to have his own personality and be his own person, as long as he is being kind and not hurting anyone.

I constantly repeat this mantra to him: “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do need to be kind to everyone. You can’t change how someone else behaves or feels, but you can change how you react and whether or not you let someone else control how you feel about yourself.”

That all sounds cut and dried, but situations aren’t always that simple. Yes, I teach my son to be kind, but I also teach him to stand up for himself and for others who are weaker than he is. We had one situation in which a girl his age got so angry with Ian’s goofy personality because he was “annoying” her, that she dug her nails into his shoulder to get him to stop repeating his “Chuck Norris” phrase. Ian knocked her arm away. Even though Ian had claw marks on his shoulder, she ran home accusing Ian of hitting her, which started a small group of children, along with this girl’s parents, calling Ian a bully—of course they only heard the story from the girl. No one present at the incident believed Ian was a bully, but there is nothing we can do to change how those other people feel.

In another situation, Ian defended a friend against a much bigger person. Ian stood on tiptoes to get in a high school boy’s face about something this boy did to one of his friends. Luckily, this older boy called him “little man” and appreciated Ian’s loyalty to his friend, resolving the situation immediately. Ian and I did talk about choosing his battles wisely though.

Usually, I let Ian take care of these situations on his own and give him advice when he asks or I see he really needs it. However, there have been times I’ve had to step in, like when two mothers ganged up on Ian and accused him of “bullying” their daughters and being a “liar” … about everything, I guess. I know Ian is not perfect; I need to discipline him for some of his choices, but the things they accused Ian of did not happen, and Ian had a number of other students who witnessed the situation and came to his defense. He was eventually vindicated, but there are a few people around him who still believe the lie.

As you can see, we have had many opportunities to practice these lessons over the last few years, which has helped Ian to develop a pretty tough armor. He’s strong and confident, and mostly immune to the nastiness around him.

The other day, someone made a mean comment on one of his parcour videos from a few years back. Ian made that video before he really knew what parcour was. This person decide to say, “You suck” on his video. Now that Ian has his own iPad, he received the notification of the comment as well. We both looked at our devices at the same time. Ian told me, “Apparently, I suck.”

“Don’t worry, bud. I’ll report it.” My heart hurt a little for him; I knew there would be more of that down the road, especially with his older videos, so I suggested, “You know, if you want, we can delete some of the older videos you have on your channel. You’ve grown so much that those videos aren’t really a reflection of who you are now.” I fully expected him to say, “Yeah. Let’s do that.”

Instead, Ian said, “No. Let’s leave them, Mom. We can just report the people who say mean things. That person’s words didn’t hurt me. Besides, how else are people going to see how much I’ve improved as a director, if they can’t see how I started?”

My mouth hung open for a little while. If I taught him that, why was I so shocked by his answer? Maybe the answer is that I just gave him the necessary tools so that he could fashion his own armor, according to the situation.

We all want to protect our children from pain, but pain is a requisite for life. Protecting my son isn’t about keeping him out of the battle; it’s about helping him develop the armor he will need to win the inevitable wars.

Friday Writing Challenge: I Miss High School

Prompt: Something you miss

Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014
Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014

I miss high school—not my teenage years but the years I spent teaching high school English.

A few weeks ago, I went to the local high school with my son to see his friends play a 10-minute exhibition game as the half-time entertainment for the boys’ basketball game. As soon as I walked into the building, I felt the energy that only exists in a school: An energy fueled by youthful hope and ambition.

We were a little early, so we sat in the bleachers by Ian’s friends. As I looked at the faces on the court, I was disappointed that I didn’t know anyone. Then I immediately chastised myself. How could I know anyone in this building? I don’t teach here. I don’t teach at any high school anymore. My heart began to ache.

Ridiculously, I fought back tears. Why did I leave a place I loved so much? How could I resign from a position that defined my purpose in life? How could I leave the students who needed me?

I looked at the parents, siblings, students, and teachers sitting in the stands. In Colorado I would have had at least one if not five people approach me while I was sitting there—a student just to say hi or a parent thanking me for working with his or her child or an older sibling back from college telling me I made a difference. But here, in this high school, no one knows me: None know that I used to change lives for the better; none know that I would lose sleep worrying about students just like them; none know how much it meant to my students to see me sitting in bleachers just like these.

While Ian watched his friends play, I evaluated what to do with this surprising surge of emotion. Did this mean I should start applying for secondary teaching jobs? Would anyone even hire me after my public resignation letter? If so, could I really work fulltime in a public school again? That thought brought a new surge of pain and questions. How could I go back to a public school, no matter how much I loved it, when the reason I left still exists? How could I be part of a system that aims to replace hope and ambition with standards and test scores? How could I go back to a profession that is being exploited by corporate greed and destroyed by bureaucrats with little concern for our children?

As my mind and heart raced, I thought about my college students. I am still changing lives and losing sleep over them, but I’m not immersed in the community the way I was in high school. As an adjunct, I just show up for class. If a student has questions, I stay on campus a little longer, but I’m free to leave when I’m done. I know I am still making a difference with my college students, but at a community college, I have many nontraditional students who are no longer teenagers in their formative years. Nevertheless, they respond positively to my encouragement, tough love, and passion. Most of my students leave at the end of a semester better prepared for their futures. Some students, however, don’t make it to the end of the semester. They didn’t start this process with the necessary work ethic or resilience to battle through entitlement issues, to embrace the demands of a college class and grow stronger mentally and emotionally because of it—skills I made sure I taught in high school.

I also thought about my financial situation. I’m barely making it right now. I chose to work as an adjunct so that I would have time to write. But a part-time adjunct position has just as much work as a fulltime high school position with a quarter of the pay. So I have less money and still have limited time for writing. If I taught fulltime again, I would at least have money, but I wouldn’t have as much time with my son.

So where does this leave me? How do I get all of my son’s and my needs met without sacrificing my convictions? How can I still be part of a system that encourages and builds up students when they are at their most vulnerable?

This semester, I put a few things in place: I started tutoring a high school student, which has been great. I also am on the subbing list for the middle and high schools in the area. My son will be moving up next year, so I hope to have more jobs in the middle school—that would be the best of both worlds.

Last week, I had my first subbing assignment in the middle school—8th grade English. I felt the energy again as soon as I walked into the building. Being a substitute is definitely different from being the main classroom teacher: Some students tested my teaching abilities immediately. They brought their phones out, walked around the room, sat next to friends, talked while I talked, but they quickly found out I was in charge, but not with an iron fist. I smiled, laughed, and quietly controlled the room. Some students were sweet and wanted to talk to me. I loved it all! I felt like I was home. This was a viable solution for my heartache. Maybe, if I were there enough, students would remember and recognize me. I could be part of this system, encourage teenagers, and make some extra money.

Ironically, while Ian was jumping at Blitz and I was writing this post, a student from the 8th grade class I taught walked past me and stopped: “Hey! You’re the sub from the other day, aren’t you?”

I think this is going to work just fine.

This writing challenge was painful and cathartic. I cried while writing it, which helped me heal, but it also renewed my passion for true educational reformation.  After I published this post, I realized I had more to say about education and the teachers leaving the profession, like me, with broken hearts. I turned this challenge into a post that is now on Huffington Post. You can get to that post here.

Friday Writing Challenge: 10 Interesting Facts About Myself

This week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself.

  1. _MAC8790I’m a first generation American, born from Macedonian immigrants. This fact, however, is not what makes it interesting. What is interesting is what I gleaned from my family and what I have tried to pass on to my children. My parents and grandparents experienced America in a completely different way than people who were born here. They came to America with nothing but hope and ambition; they were courageous and relentless. Because of that attitude, they achieved their American Dream. With pride, each of my family members became American citizens while maintaining their ethnicity; my mother still cries when she recalls the moment she became an American citizen. They respected the abundance we have in our country because they lived without for so long. Entitlement was not a word in their vocabulary. My family contributed positively to our society, modeling and teaching all of those characteristics to my brothers and me. For better or worse, this is also where I get my views on marriage…
  2. One and done–When I said my vows, I knew it was the only time I would ever say them. I had hoped to grow old with my ex-husband, but that’s not how things turned out. Regardless, I don’t plan on getting married again. I have no idea if this feeling will change somewhere down the line, but for right now, I am content with being single. I wanted so badly to hold onto my marriage that I didn’t fight for the other things I wanted in my life—honesty, fidelity, love, partnership, security. I lost my independence and became completely dependent on someone who didn’t value the same things I did. What’s worse is that I saw how different we were but did nothing because I wanted to stay married. I never want to betray myself again. Even though it’s been hard to start over with nothing, I am just starting to spread my wings. I want to find out what I can do, what I can accomplish on my own. I’ve never lived on my own before. I went from my mother’s house, to college, to my mother’s house, to living with my husband. This is the first time I’m responsible for myself. I also don’t want any man coming into my life and thinking he can decide how I raise my son. I did that before and wish I hadn’t…
  3. My only regrets in life come from the things I didn’t do. I wish I had stood up to people who were wrong and defended the people who didn’t have a voice–more than I did. I wish I would have understood, created, and defended my boundaries throughout my entire life, not just within the last few years. I did learn important lessons during those years that I didn’t stand up for myself, but those missed opportunities still haunt me. However, I don’t look at those regrets as a bad thing. They just fuel my fire to stay strong and help others to use their voices. Now that I know better, I do better…
  4. I’ve become a minimalist, out of necessity at first, but now I am choosing that lifestyle. I’m not making a lot of money and haven’t for the last few years. It can be stressful, but I like my life a lot better now than when we had more money than we needed. We wasted so much money on useless stuff—stuff that we gave away when we left Colorado. The money wasted on things that ended up in a garbage dump makes me cringe. Now, I know exactly what is in my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. I don’t buy anything until we’ve eaten or used up every bit of what we bought. We don’t have cable, just the internet, which makes being a minimalist a lot easier–there are no commercials to remind us what everyone else is buying. Part of embracing this lifestyle is knowing the true value of things. Buying something that will last or give us better nutrition has improved our lives in so many ways…
  5. Ian and I are healthier now than ever before. Health and nutrition are simple—the more natural state the food is in, the better it is for our bodies. Some of the food might be more expensive, but our health is invaluable. These choices have made me realize that weight loss is not a mystery either: healthy food (not diet food), daily exercise, a solid night’s sleep, drinking water, listening to my body, and learning to enjoy every breathing moment have contributed to our well being. This healthy mindset has spilled over into my relationships…
  6. I can’t think of one person I hate. There are a few people I choose not to have in my life anymore, but I don’t hate them. I used to take things so personally that I could rattle off a list of people I hated. That hatred was only a reflection of my inner turmoil. I don’t have that anymore. Even people who have harmed me, I wish them well. I have learned that those people have their own issues, and their treatment of me is a result of their inner turmoil. I sympathize with those people, but I don’t own their behavior anymore. I have reduced my reactions to negative people to two choices: For those who want help, I try to help and support them. For those who aren’t ready for help and continue to negatively affect my inner peace, I distance myself from them. I have realized that I can only fix myself, which will help me be the best role model I can be for my children and anyone else watching, listening, or reading. I have removed negative emotions and people from my life…
  7. The art of letting go is a daily practice–I promise not to sing. (No one wants to hear that song in my off-key voice.) Knowing that I will never be a singer and being okay with that is part of letting go. I love Amy Poehler’s Yes Please for so many reasons, but most importantly for her “letting go” lessons: “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” I had to let go of pain, unrealistic dreams, and negative people, but I’ve also had to let go of things that I love for reasons that go beyond my personal comfort…
  8. I miss teaching high school English. My heart aches whenever I think about my students and the community I loved. I love keeping in touch with my former students on Facebook–more than half of my “friends” used to sit in my classroom, but I resigned from my position for many reasons–a few of those reasons make it impossible to teach in a public high school…
  9. I still get almost 100 hits a day on https://paulinehawkins.com/2014/04/07/my-resignation-letter/ –almost two years after I wrote it and posted it to my blog. I’ve noticed that around this time of year, the traffic to my letter increases exponentially. I struck a nerve with teachers, students, and parents. I think people (most of them at least) understand how much I love the profession, my students, and my colleagues. For that reason, people are drawn to my letter; for that reason, I continue to speak for those who do not have a voice…
  10. I have a voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Writing is my voice. I write in order to encourage others to use their voices. I write because it is my exhale. I write so that others have healthy air to inhale.

 

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.

 

 

Friday Writing Challenge: My first kiss and first love

Writing Prompt: Your first love and first kiss; if separate, discuss both

KissMy first kiss:

The sun was shining through the branches and leaves. His face was luminous and shadowy at the same time. Our faces were already close. The makeshift fort had just enough room for our young bodies to sit facing each other, our left legs touching. I looked into his eyes and saw him drawing close. My heart tightened. I was too young to understand what I was feeling, but I knew it was important. As his lips drew near, my eyes closed. I felt his lips on mine. They were soft and gently pressed mine for only a few seconds, but their imprint has lasted for decades. When he pulled his face away, he said earnestly, “You know, we have to get married now.”

“We do?” I looked at him confused. “Why?”

“Because we kissed. Kisses are special. You should never kiss someone you don’t plan on marrying.”

I contemplated his words before answering. “Okay. I’ll marry you, but we have to wait until we’re older.”

“Of course.” We lay down next to each other, my head on his arm as we looked through the leaves and felt the sun speckle our five-year-old faces.

My first love:

There he was, walking past me. His shoulder length hair covered part of his face, but seeing his profile, seeing his eyes look in my direction and acknowledge me with a smile and a nod was what I woke up for every day. I couldn’t wait to get to school just to stand in the halls and wait for him to walk by. His acknowledgement of me was proof that I wasn’t invisible. His nearness proved my aliveness. My breath caught in my throat every time he looked at me. Thankfully, he rarely talked to me at school. I could never speak to him in the light of day. I needed the cloak of night; I needed liquid courage to sit or stand next to him.

The entire year, I held onto the memory of his lips on mine, his liquid breath mixed with mine, waiting for the moment when he would accept my love and make me a real girl.

 

Next week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself