Posts tagged #Teaching

play in the pain

The other day, a student who graduated last year stopped by to see me. From the moment he entered the room, I knew something was different. His eyes darted around & he had difficulty standing [or sitting] still. "Hey. I just wanted to come say hi because I haven't seen you in forever."

It was good to see him. Although I never had him in class, he frequented my room in the mornings. Our conversations spanned a whole plethora of topics - college, life, religion, teaching, television, music, work, AP classes....I knew from other teachers he was a smart kid - sharp and witty.  Chatting with him as I prepared for each day I saw this first hand.

The other day was different. Although our conversation started off at surface level - I found out he decided to go to Baylor for college - he quickly jumped head first into deep waters.

The whole time he was in my room, he fought back tears - his chin quivering right before he swallowed his emotions and proceeded with his story. He jumped around a lot - unable to focus on one topic. The pain in his eyes though was evident.

Long story short: I wanted to turn away.

I wanted to hold up my hand, get him to stop talking, and push him out the door.

It hurt too much - listening to how his life spiraled out of control. I didn't want to know his family isn't talking to him anymore. I didn't want to know he turned away from the church because of judgment. I didn't want to know he turned towards the only community he knew.

I definitely didn't want to know how he thought his life meaningless and because of this, attempted to end it three times in the last few weeks.

But I did know. And something held me there - perhaps shock? Probably the Spirit. And as I stuck my finger in his face with tears in my eyes and choking out the words,  "don't you dare commit suicide. Don't you dare...."

He smiled at me and said, "Mrs. Ramirez. Don't cry. You'll make me feel bad. You should probably start singing 'You are my Sunshine' - that always makes me smile."

My heart broke.

I watched him leave after that - promising to check up on him via facebook and threatening him again with my watery eyes and shaky smile. "Your life isn't meaningless to me - remember this. And please, be careful. These people you're hanging with? They don't play."

He held up his hand, his lip curled up in a half-hearted attempt to grin. "Oh I know, Mrs. Ramirez. Trust me."

I turned around, shutting the door behind me and facing the students who are in my classroom now. I glanced around - realizing the similarity between them and the one who just left. Twelve months ago, you would have seen no difference. Now? You hear scathing remarks coming from the peanut gallery as he shares his nightmare.

I'm still reeling today. And I think, for the first time, I'm beginning to truly understand what Andrew Klavan meant when he said, "sometimes we just have to play in the pain."

Life is messy. People make mistakes.

But without the grittiness of the Cross, there would be no hope.

Without pain, there could be no redemption.

And if I believe there is hope for this student - which I do - then I have to take a moment and dwell in his pain.

This is the beauty of our faith. We all have stories - some more painful than others. If we aren't sharing this pain - if we aren't dwelling in the pain with others - than we aren't fully accepting the gospel. We aren't believing the power of the Cross.

Because [listen closely] - anyone can experience redemption. Anyone - despite the pain, despite the confusion -  can experience hope.

I'm holding on to this truth for my student - and for now, I'm holding on to his pain - hopefully one day, his story of redemption will be complete.

Posted on October 14, 2010 and filed under story.

mad as hell.

This past month, my students have been working through my favorite unit: "Mad as Hell - The Community's Response to Homelessness and Poverty." It's my favorite for numerous reasons, but mainly because it gives me the opportunity to see the heartbeat of this generation. And it's not what you think. This morning, one of my friends started talking about a girl in her class she was worried about because despite her desire to be the head of her class - in GPA, social status, and everything else high school requires of teenagers - she had fallen severely in her work since her boyfriend broke up with her. It's a common motif, unfortunately - one I see far too often. And I think the answer is simple.

Students need a significant task.

Once teenagers enter high school, something shifts inside of them. Seriously. Suddenly they aren't quite old enough for complete responsibility, yet aren't young enough to be passed over. It's this awkward stage of limbo - and as a society, I think we've done the students of America an incredible disservice not trusting their inclinations and ideas. Brain-based learning states unless a student emotionally invests in a lesson, schema is not built. There is no prior knowledge for a student to fall back on, because she's been detached the whole time. However, if a student buys into the lesson and emotionally invests in the topic - understanding the relevance to his or her life - schema is built and knowledge is retained.

And this, of course, should be our goal as educators. But. All too often, our best intentions are laid waste by the expectations already given to us by the state. There has to be some kind of in-between, though. There has to be  a way we can make lessons relevant and at the same time, meet standards.

I don't claim to know all the answers, but I do know what's happened in the past. I know about the student who quit cutting once she found a niche in Invisible Children. I know about the kid who finally let go of his anger once he realized he wasn't alone when we shared our stories. I know about the girl who felt the sweet release of admitting her history of drug abuse in a class discussion about ramifications of the drug culture. And I know the Mad as Hell unit hits more nerves than anything else we discuss.  When we watch GOOD's Skid Row documentary, students often respond with, "I didn't even know this existed in America!" Teenagers have an innate desire to know. They are insanely curious about the world around them. I can't tell you how many times students get down right angry at the injustice of human trafficking. It only makes sense - if we don't invest in their skills and believe in their ability to achieve change - they'll find something else to investigate.

This is why I believe so strongly in service learning. Service learning, at its core, empowers students to look around them and initiate change through creativity and at the same time, meet curriculum standards. Students are no longer just sitting in a classroom, memorizing quotes and facts and information not useful in a society influenced by excess and profiteering. Through this unit, I've learned the heartbeat of this generation is making a difference. This generation is no longer satisfied with the status quo, and it's our responsibility as educators to motivate and facilitate a learning environment where students can effectively create change.

Don't believe me? Here's what my students have said:

"America has always been about change. And we are that change."

"I never would have taken a Pre-AP or AP class with my weed addiction. My mom went into debt getting me out of addiction. I'm going to have a better life because my mom gave up hers."

"Our generation is where it starts. We have the creativity and ability to make a change."

"The biggest problem in our world is apathy."

"I'm just so sick and tired of talking about it and not doing anything. I say there's nothing to do, but there's everything to do. Let's start."

"People doubt we care about anything 'important' and they are wrong. We do. We care more than they think."

"I walked away from the man asking for change and thought about this class - and for the first time, felt guilt about not helping when I had the resources to do so."

Please. Before you go assuming things about this generation, know there are plenty of teenagers just waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Our kids are mad as hell about the injustices of this world and they aren't going to take it anymore. What are you going to do to help them create change?

Posted on April 20, 2010 .

standing on hope's shoulders

Much could be said of this generation. As a teacher, I hear a lot of judgments and assumptions about what teenagers are thinking and what makes them tick... but all they need is purpose.

Which is a huge part of me being the sponsor for Club ICU at my school. We've supported Invisible Children for four years. And while we are technically a "club" from the beginning we have believed that to be a misnomer. Justice has no elite membership. While our focus is n. Uganda, we understand social justice spans far wider than a tiny speck on the globe. Issues surface in our own backyard. Earthquakes bend the ground and waves crash against shaken poles. We never wanted to be the group who focused so much on one area we ignored all the rest.

So, when the earthquake hit Haiti, my students immediately began to question what we could do to help. We realized we had about 350 dollars in cash from fundraising the previous semester and it was just sitting in our cabinet - waiting for the next round of Schools for Schools. The students began to wonder - why wait? Why not give what we have now - all of it. So they did. And it wasn't very hard for them to decide to send it to Real Hope for Haiti and Heartline. I had been telling them stories from the Livesay blog and RHFH and they wanted to help. They had faces, names and situations. The perfect storm in giving.

Here's what they said:

After seeing the pain and suffering brought forth by the recent earthquake, giving to Real Hope for Haiti and Heartline was an easy decision. We as Americans are so privileged in every day life. Our ability to not only give but give generously to those in need is incredible.  It breaks my heart to see the Haitian people in this chaotic time, especially now that I'm a new aunt. The preciousness of a child is so much more personal to me, the well-being of a Haitian child is just as important as any other. Anything that is needed to help the people of Haiti should be done.

- Alex Leininger, 12th grader

A shockwave can be more than physical. It can be emotionally devastating, just like an earthquake destroys physical things. I remember hearing about the earthquake. My heart breaking I fell on to the couch, mouth agape as I watched the devastation and death. I wanted to help. Thankfully, our ICU Club came across Real Hope for Haiti. Not long after hearing about them I heard about Amos Ivey, Aaron Ivey's son. He is still in Haiti. What broke my heart even more, what really opened my eyes to the devastation the quake had on the kids was when Amos asked Aaron, "papa you comin'?" So many of the children in Haiti are orphans now. They have nothing and need everything. Real Hope for Haiti gives them the most important and valuable thing: Hope. Hope for a new life, hope for love. My heart goes out to all those who have experienced loss. I pray God's love and grace floods your life. Job lost all he had. He suffered great loss, just like those in Haiti, but in the end was blessed greatly. I am incredibly glad to be helping in some way. I am hoping and praying these kids have a brighter tomorrow. "I have told you these things that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

- Dane Kemp, 12th grader

**Note: Amos is actually on American soil. Dane wrote this just a few hours before Aaron and Jamie Ivey found out Amos was on his way to Florida. When I texted Dane to let him know, he replied: "Powerful emotions Aaron must be feeling. Only a daddy could feel that way. Papa found a way. Both did. Amos should be happy."

Much could be said of this generation. But I know what's true: this generation is not relying on standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. They understand change is not only desired, it's a necessity. They realize that in order to make a difference, they are going to have to blaze new trails and give generously. Risk will be involved. Adventure is a priority. Most believe this generation would rather sit in front of Mtv and daydream about starring in a reality show, but I know that most of these kids are discontent with the amount of excess they see in society and entertainment. Call it simple living, call it revolutionary thinking...call it what you will.

I know it's just them standing on hope's shoulders, her justice flag waving in the breeze. They will not be content with living normal lives. Not these guys. You watch. It's addicting, this whole "changing the world" thing. Once you get hope in your veins, you can't get her out.

Posted on January 22, 2010 .

oh the horror

Two days after the school year started, after I had completed my syllabus for my AP Language & Composition classes (juniors), I was told I would be taking on an AP Literature & Composition section in order to ease the number burden. Seniors.

I am going to be honest. I've fought for awhile the concept of teaching seniors. I mean, I remember how I was as a senior - why would I want to subject myself to something like...that?

It's been absolutely delightful.

Now, granted, we are still fresh & it is still the beginning of the school year, but many of the kids I have are repeats - students I've had before as sophomores or juniors. It's been a blast seeing them grow & change over the years, and now I get to end high school with them! One kid I have had the past three years of English. From sophomore to senior. I feel like Erin Gruwell or something. (just kidding.)

Outside of having these kids again is just the sheer brilliance of literature I get to teach. You know, the good stuff. A Doll's House and Heart of Darkness (totally pulling in Apocalypse Now for that sucker) and A Good Man is Hard to Find and Tess of the D'Ubervilles...I'm salivating at the mouth here, folks! But, I understand there are so many books out there these kids will never have the opportunity to read within a classroom because of certain...restrictions. So.  One of the things I will have the kids do is choose an outside book every quarter to read on their own. I knew some books could look interesting, but would be a bit intimidating, so I made a deal that I would read a book with one of them if they got to me first & I had yet to read it.

This nine weeks I will be reading The Stand by Stephen King. I'm more than a little nervous.

I'm not much of a horror person. And, before you go and freak out on me, I understand this book has deeper implications than say, Carrie, but it still is...well...Stephen King. Outside of The Green Mile, I'm not sure I have heard any of his stories that make me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. But, I promised, and so I will do it. And, I will certainly let you know how I feel about said book.

Any suggestions? Hints? Have you read this book & loved it? Hated it?

Come on, people. Help me out here. :)

Posted on September 8, 2009 .

...as I grade

It's one thing I won't ever forget. Getting back those college papers, with my professors' wisdom scribbled neatly all over my painstakingly prepared words, and seeing the same complaints. Every time. You'd think I learn.

Don't leave a quote hanging by itself. It gets lonely.

Don't end your sentences with a preposition!

Leave the period for AFTER your citation. Do not punctuate within the quotation.

Needs Substance.

(And my personal favorite): No.

While in graduate schoool, this didn't change. In my American Fiction course you were required to read papers out loud - both rough draft & final draft - in order for the class to help trouble shoot. After reading my paper, my professor said "that's one of the best pieces of writing you have done for me, Elora."

I was thrilled! Yes. Best piece of writing. And I wrote some pretty good stuff, mind you. At least in my opinion...

But my sense of accomplishment didn't last very long, because almost as soon as he said those words he said, "just remember to never use that unless absolutely necessary."

That. Bad word. Got it.

I sat down and forgot about it. Or so I thought.

I'm sitting here, grading my students' summer assignments, and it's like a robot has taken over my hands. Things I never think about begin popping out of their words and forcing me to correct or guide or remind them about certain mechanical strategies. I find myself uttering the exact same words as my professors did so many years ago - and Dr. Peterson's advice - albeit short lived and spoken as an after thought, has completely changed how I read, write, grade & listen to people speak.

You think I'm kidding. I can't even read a book without changing the words if there is a superfluous that. Thanks, Dr. Peterson. No really. I've written that very phrase so many times on my students' papers my hand is cramping.

I guess the more I teach, the more thankful I am for being so blessed with amazing professors who truly cared about what and how I wrote. I hope I can be the same for my students.

What rules from college/grad school do you find yourself remembering as you write or speak or read?

Posted on September 2, 2009 .