Last night my husband I were talking about upcoming dates (To those of you that are military, do you find that this happens often? It seems like at least once a week my husband comes home with dates to talk about. Lately they’ve been good dates…something new and different for us!), when I interrupted him, “Is tomorrow September 11th?” He looked at the calendar, “Yes.” This led to a discussion on how each year the remembrance seems to weaken, the news stories are shortened, and only a few channels are showing footage from that day.

When I was teaching I would always have my students write about their memories from that day, and I would share my own. My most recent year of teaching, the freshman students wrote about how they were affected…in kindergarten and preschool (wow!). Amazingly, they did have actual memories of this day: most of them are military, and wrote about how their schools and bases went into lock down, and parents who were off-base were unable to get back onto base to reach their children. That is a fear I hope to never feel.

For those of you that do not know me, I grew up in a relatively small town outside of Chicago. It has since grown to be a rather large town, but it was small when I was there. I was a senior in high school, and was in Senora Auld’s Spanish IV class. I remember that we were sitting in groupings of four, doing quiet work, when she let out a gasp from her computer, and then an “Oh my god.” She jumped up and turned the television on, and told us to stop what we were doing. We watched the second plane hit the second tower and were equally stunned, and confused. My previous blog I mentioned that most high school students aren’t thinking “big picture” yet, and this was that way for me. I didn’t, couldn’t, comprehend the magnitude of what was happening.

After that period was over, I met my best friend in the hallway and we walked to our next class together. Along the way, we ran into one of my younger cousins, who I have always thought to be more of a brother than a cousin. He was completely distraught, in tears, and I ran to him. Through deep breaths, he told me how worried he was about our older cousin who lived in Manhattan, and about my father, who was a trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. I was worried about the same things, but he was thinking big picture. I took him down to the office to speak with our guidance counselor, and found that she wasn’t in her office. I will never forget the secretary in there, and how inconsiderate she was towards my cousin, still visibly upset, and myself. I kept telling her that he needed to talk to someone, and she could not have been more insensitive, saying that if I didn’t change my tone of voice she wasn’t going to give us a pass back to class. I couldn’t believe it; had she not seen what just happened? She didn’t know anything about us; what if we would have known someone directly affected? I think maybe that woman helped me to be as compassionate as I am now, because the sadness that fills my stomach as I type this is tangible.

I was a bit of a rebel in high school, so I had a booklet of passes in my locker. I wrote us each a pass back to class, signed it illegibly, and walked my cousin to his room. We later learned that our cousin was safe, my father was safe (after a pretty serious lock-down as well), and that our lives were seemingly not directly affected. But that isn’t the truth is it? Everyone’s lives were directly affected that day, but just on different levels. We didn’t feel the pain of losing a loved one, but we wept along with the rest of the country for those who did.

I know that September 11th will always be a day spoken of in history, like how our parents and grandparents speak of the JFK assassination. We will always remember where we were when we first saw, when we first heard. I hope that we can honor those who lost their lives that day by ensuring that the story is told to our children, to our grandchildren. It must never be forgotten…

Who is Responsible for Raising our Children?

If you’re on Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen the viral link to the blog addressing young women. I wasn’t going to comment on this, but after reading so many of my friends’ posts thanking God for parents like this woman, and only one pointing out the double-standard, I felt like it was something I wanted to address. Now that I am a parent, I think of everything in terms of how I would feel if that was my child. In this case, it becomes, “How would I feel if this was written about my daughter?” And the answer is simple: horrified. The woman, who seems to be a very attentive mother, states several times that these young girls, who are posting inappropriate pictures of themselves on social media sites, are, essentially, to blame for how they are being viewed/treated. I disagree.

For my entire adult life, including student teaching in college, I have been in the thick of classrooms, watching this evolution of our children first-hand. I fully believe that society, and the parents, are responsible for determining who these teenagers become.

I was a teacher’s assistant my first year out of college at a middle-school in the North shore of Chicago. If you know anything about this area, then you can guess what kind of students I had. Most were of very wealthy households, whose families would send limousines to pick them up at the start of winter and spring breaks, before whisking them off to some fantastic destination. The fathers were generally older, the mothers were generally stunning, and the children were a direct reflection of this. While working with one day, a seventh grade boy pointed to my watch and asked if it was a Rolex or a Patek Philippe. It was neither. I didn’t know what a Rolex was until I was a senior in high school, and I had to google “Patek Philippe” after he introduced that brand to me. The young girls that I worked with were always in the best fashions, which, at that time (2006) consisted of leggings and Ugg boots in the winter. Their shirts were usually equally as snug-fitting, and I remember thinking that they looked like they were wearing long underwear, as through they just came off the slopes of Aspen. I also remember thinking that these girls were too young to drive, too young to work, so someone else was responsible for paying for these items. I only ever shopped with my mom, so I figured that their mothers were fine with it.

What about the twerk heard ’round the world? The night that the VMAs aired, I got the baby down, and took my basket of laundry upstairs to watch the rumored ‘N Sync reunion. I pressed play, but was only half-watching while folding laundry. My husband, also only half-watching, was out-raged by the twerking and, within maybe two minutes, had spouted off that “this” was what was wrong with society, and our daughter would “never watch MTV.” :) I laughed and asked him what he thought her parents were making of all this. A moment later, they panned to her parents giving a standing ovation, and once again, I figured they were fine with it.

Of course I understand that at some point, we all become our own person. For me, that didn’t happen until I was in college. Up until then, I was always pretty aware of how my actions could/would affect my family. I remember one time, after a night of under-aged drinking, I sat there thinking about how mortified my parents, or grandparents would be, if my name was in the small-town paper for breaking the law. It may not have stopped me from ever having a drink again during that time, but it definitely controlled how much I drank, or how I behaved. I wonder if that is still something that these teens think about today? In the world of Facebook, I do put a lot of responsibility onto the shoulders of the parents. These teens aren’t thinking “big picture” yet; they’re not worried about how their pictures could affect how relatives, potential employers, schools, etc view them.

I have many years until my daughter is of the Facebooking age, and I’m sure many things will change by then, but I plan on being a very active “friend” on her page. My parents aren’t on Facebook, but my grandmother is, and I have refrained from posting a few things in fear of how she would interpret them. In life, one of the amazing things that we, as humans do, is code-switch. Code-switching is basically adapting to your surroundings; you speak differently to your boss than you do your spouse, and probably your children. In school, students code-switch between friends, teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, and so forth. There is the ability for little code-switching on Facebook (since most things are public), so why not encourage them to be their best self there? Instead of sending out blasts on how others are posting, I think parents should worry about their own children, and make sure that they are raised to be the young adults they wish for them to be. The mother that wrote this (probably) well-meaning blog, takes it a little to far, by saying something about praying for the women her sons will love, and then advises the young girls out there to become that type of woman. While, I think it’s great that she’s providing morals to live by, I want my daughter to be the best she can be for herself, not for a potential future boyfriend. That should be the added bonus for her achieving everything else that she will work so hard for.

I also think it’s unfair to judge these young girls that she knows nothing about. I am Facebook friends with many of my former students, and of course I cringe when I see a posting in a towel, or doing a hand-stand in a bikini, or references to alcohol/drug use, but only in knowing these students am I able to understand where they’re coming from.

Every first day of the new semester, I would tell my students that they have my word not to judge them on what I’ve heard about them, and that the way they behave in my classroom will shape my opinions of them. I’ve been able to hold myself to that, and have been pleasantly surprised along the way. I have been accused of caring too much for my students, but I can promise you that my students worked so hard for me because they knew how much I cared about them.

I have always used journals when teaching and each M/F they would write for the first ten minutes of class instead of doing a grammar or literature warm-up. They have rules of what can/can’t be written about, and they also know that I will be going through to check for completion. We do a post-it note system: if your post-it note is placed on the inside cover of your journal I will check for completion, but not read your entry unless I feel like I need to for safety reasons; if your post-it is placed on the first page of writing, you don’t mind if I read your entry or not; if your post-it note is flagged (partially exposed on the page of most-recent entry), I will read your entry and respond. I can’t tell you how well this helps me get to know my students.

One of my previous students was a sophomore when he probably should have been a senior. He was one of “those” kids that, when other teachers saw your class roster, said “Bless your heart!” and knew you were screwed. This student tried to prove those other teachers correct, but I worked hard to dig deeper. During our mythology unit, the first week of class, he called a female student a minotaur and didn’t even flinch when she threw a desk and tried to attack him. (Oddly, none of the other students did either!) He never turned in work, would sleep during tests, and offered only sarcastic responses when called upon. When I refused to give him the negative attention he sought, he eventually started writing in his journal, then moved his post-it for me to read his writing, then flagged his writing for responses. This troubled student had so much going on: his father was not in the picture, his mother couldn’t handle him, so she drove from up north and dropped him off with his grandparents a few years prior. He was a great skateboarder, but wasn’t allowed to do it anywhere. He was brilliant, but felt completely unchallenged in classes so he didn’t participate. Once I knew all of this, I was able to help put things into perspective and he passed my class with a rather high marking, all things considered.

One of my other students was a new student. He came from Louisiana, and held several state track records there. He was very good looking, and very well liked by his female counter-parts. He quickly developed the reputation of a player, when he moved from girl to girl, and seemed to have some extreme mood swings between happiness and total sadness. Although his code-switching when he was with his peers was rather shocking and extreme, he wrote the most beautiful poetry in his journal, and, after a few months of writing, told his story: his mother had passed away right after the previous school year had ended, and his father was in jail. He was forced to move to the area to live with his aunt and uncle, while his younger sister remained back in LA, living with their grandparents. He was constantly so torn between so many emotions and sometimes felt unable to deal with it all. All he wanted was to reverse the clock, and be back at home with his mom and sister, but you would never know that from surface conversations, or from his Facebook page.

My point is to hold judgment. Maybe these young girls are posting inappropriate pictures to get the attention of their parents that are inattentive at home. Maybe they see the celebrities on MTV and think that is how they should act to be popular, to be well-liked. Instead of pointing the finger, I think we should try to figure out what’s beneath the surface and help. It’s not okay for anyone to be exposed to offensive material on Facebook, but everything in life can be turned into a positive lesson. Let’s work on our parenting skills and teaching our children right from wrong before we judge.

If you disagree with me, and don’t think society influences our children, I invite you to go to your local Target store and peruse the clothing options available in the girls section. I think you would be surprised by the clothing choices available: short shorts, questionable slogans, animal print leggings, the list goes on and on…