Saturday, September 29, 2012

Education, diversity, and harder to teach children

I just finished a great week of teaching. We're a month into the new semester, so now the students are familiar with their teachers,  the environment, and their classmates. I teach at an alternative high school in which a majority of the students are Black or Latino, with fewer than a dozen White kids. When many new students come, they believe they are coming to a school for bad kids. Sometimes this makes them bring a bit of attitude because they believe they're coming into a survival of the fittest arena. What they bring more than anything is the brutal fallout of inadequate and inappropriate educational and life experiences, because inside, they are just like other teenagers.

Diversity is a strange thing. It works if people are comfortable with the traits and dynamics that all members of the population bring. It is the path to hell when the traits that participants bring go against the expectations that have been set beforehand. My former school superintendent, Lester W. Young, Jr., always said (and I paraphrase), "Schools should be able to adapt and change in order to respond appropriately to the children that come through their doors; the expectation shouldn't be that the children will change in order to fit into the school building." So when students, through a generally long and torturous road, find themselves at our high school, most usually feel accepted for who they are for the first time in many years (if ever).

  • Many of our kids are a bit tough, but often they and their families have really been through some things, and are still going through them. I have foster kids, homeless kids, and kids who live independently.
  • Many are not friendly up front, and can be downright rude, but they have often been rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, and left behind in a lot of classrooms-- and they are expecting the worse from their teachers.
  • Some don't listen very well, and that's because many have been taking care of themselves and their siblings for a while, or have been dismissed because they themselves haven't felt listened to or heard because they don't speak standard English, or have the right tone of voice.
  • And some can honestly be called mean as snakes, but that's because they are angry as hell because of what has happened in their young lives, and oftentimes teachers have been part of their daily misery. But it's hard to know and understand the "big picture" when there's a whole classroom full of personalities needing attention.
So they find themselves in our school because they don't fit well into the mainstream setting as it is generally constructed. But they are not the losers that they and many others will peg them. And many have been pegged losers since third grade when they couldn't pass the mainstream tests, and haven't been quite considered normal since.

But I had a great week because this is the time in the semester that the students know that I really do accept them for who they are, and I want the best for them. Most have fallen into the habit of working hard for me, and I have created a safe environment where some will begin to struggle and read aloud, and stumble over words that children 8 or 9 years younger can breeze through; and I dare anybody to make them feel less than courageous and hardworking. In such settings, the gap finally begins to close because they are met where they are, and they feel better about themselves as students. Some let their brilliance show for the first time because they can bring their whole selves with them--especially their unique perspectives.

There are a lot of grey areas in education, but my tips are really for people who work with children and young adults. Try very hard to like them and connect with them. You never know what they are going through and who they really want to be inside. Think of how it is in a large family where each child has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points. The parents' job is to juggle the responses and see with a large and ever-trolling eye. It's a juggling act, but that is the important and bottom line work of it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Health detective: Beware!

So this morning I take my supplements, and have my morning green drink, and I'm good to go. I get to school, and my neighbor and I have a lively philosophical chat. The bell rings and I take my post outside the door. Seconds later I feel like I'm going to faint. Literally like I will pass out if I don't sit down IMMEDIATELY. I never feel dizzy, so this is scary.  So I tell my other neighbor. She follows me with concern as I hold onto the wall and make my way to a seat!!!!! I'm afraid to stand up!

Things go through my mind! Am I having a STROKE! Is my blood pressure HIGH? Am I having a HEART ATTACK????!!!!  The students come in and I can't hover and traipse through the classroom as I usually do. I am dizzily confined to my DESK! I make it to the bathroom... holding on to make sure I don't collapse! I Google stroke and heart attack. I don't seem to be having either. I make an executive decision!To go home. The last thing I want is to pass out at school and be carted off to the hospital. So I go home an hour after arriving.

I drive home slowly and carefully (only 8 minutes away) and go to bed. I'm groggy and heavy-eyed, and I wonder how long I will be in this unfortunate state!

Fast forward! I am a supplement devotee. I can say with sincerity that vitamins and supplements have changed my life and kept me alive. My entire physiology has changed dramatically with the nourishment of vitamins and herbs.

So then I'm lying woozily, sleepily on the sofa, a little worried-- when I remember that I took the herb valerian this morning. Just because it happened to be on the counter, and who doesn't like to be calm? But there's also valerian in my new vitamin B complex. AHA! I had taken a strong dose of a supplement best taken in the evening! And I only take it at night if I'm really really busy and stress levels are high!

I was actually herbally over-sedated! Were I less "alternative" I would have rushed to the emergency room and submitted to a battery of tests. And had it been someone less alternative, I'd think they were crazy NOT to be in the emergency room submitting to a battery of tests.

So all is well now. Still a bit groggy, but I'm not dizzy, and I'm in no danger.

My advice....Be careful, because herbs and supplements are wonderfully powerful, so know the right dosage and cross-check what's in different formulas! And know yourself to the extent that you can be a health detective-- empowered to make decisions that are best for you.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I have a cousin who has some kind of spatial gift. Whenever I enter a place that he has organized, I feel like I am breathing deeper, cleaner air. He is not a clutter person. He always has clear spaces and surfaces, and sensibly organized items. I am trying to use him as my model, because I am not a hoarder, but I can attract a lot of stuff that I don't quite have a place for. Stuff I sort of move around from one pile to another. Standing in a room with a pile in your arms wondering where to put it causes stress.

So I recently cleaned out my office. I was amazed by how much better it feels to have an empty shelf or two. It feel s like I have room to grow. I love it in here now.

These are some of the things I threw out:
- old magazines with articles that I thought I might read
- cords to old electronics
- books that are not of interest to anybody (at least not anybody I have access to)
- old Christmas cards (some that I received, and new ones too yellowed to send to anybody)
- a pile of clothes that I was going to repair that have gone out of style.

I'm sure you have your own list of things that can go right now, and you'll never miss them. So, get rid of it. Just pick it up and throw it in the trash. Now!

That is not my book case, but mine looked a LOT like that. But not anymore.

Clutter 05

Monday, September 3, 2012

Me First!

For the past two weekends, I have gotten sooo much done that I wanted to. I've written a mini-story, updated (though I'm not finished) my website, learned all this crazy technology stuff that was hard for me to fathom! I'm thrilled.
I 'm thrilled because I did this even though everything else wasn't done.

It feels absolutely wonderful to take care of all this because no one is going to say, "Angie, just stop and spend some time on these things that are so important to you, but that you can't seem to fit in because you're always so busy doing other stuff!" Never in a million years is anybody going to tell me that. (Keep reading below this terrific picture!)

Lovers Doin' Laundry
This (and other similar housebound scenarios)is now only part of my weekend.

Soooo, I've gotten better at integrating my artist stuff into my schedule and actually sticking to it! I feel terrific, and when I feel terrific, I'm more pleasant. When I'm more pleasant, I get along better with everybody. When I get along better with people, they are kinder and more helpful. When people are more helpful, I have more energy to do all kinds of thinking and writing, and fun stuff. Sooo, life works better all around when I make time to do the things I want to do. Try it!