Generation Homelander: Something Needs to Change!

homelandersHomelanders.

That’s what this generation of students is known as. That was the big lesson I learned at yearbook camp this summer.

They’ve never lived without security cameras everywhere. They’ve never known life without a cell phone. Their parents know where they are at all times. Their lives are orchestrated with calendars, every hour planned. Instead of play, they take classes. Even their time at the park is scheduled with play dates. They fear being alone and believe absolutely that evil is out there, and could strike at any minute in school, at the mall, at the movies, while they’re out for a morning run.

They grew up in the US after 9-11. After everything changed. And in an effort to keep them safe, I wonder if we’re not actually making the world a more dangerous place.

One common denominator I’ve heard time and again in discussions with other educators this summer is how many teenagers are on anti-anxiety meds. I’ve taught relaxation techniques to students for years. We can do the 13th floor like nobody’s business and Pilates deep breathing is a must. But this is different. This anxiety can’t be visualized or breathed away.

When we bought my daughter her first cell phone, I was excited. I remembered being a teenager AND I remembered the whole “we’re staying the night with… switcheroo.” With the cell phone that was over. Sort of. With today’s cell phones parents can just look at the GPS to see where their kids are. And they do. Constantly.

A couple of my former foreign exchange students recently posted pictures of their summer European trip. They’re not 18 yet, but they were traveling across the world without a guide or chaperone, just having fun, making memories, learning. When I saw the photos, I was shocked at first. I had a hard time letting my 18-yr-old daughter drive to Dallas. No way would she have gone on holiday around Europe without a parent present. No way. I’ve seen the movie Taken, complete fiction. I’ve watched the Natalee Holloway story again and again on the news, awful truth.

9-11 changed everything. We knew it when it happened, but I don’t think we truly understood. I hope we can change this overarching feeling that the world is evil, that the “bad people, terrorists, killers,” are out to get us. I hope we can find a way to give our kids time to breathe.

We have to. Our kids need a chance to have a new name. Something closer to Generation X and Y. Homelanders can’t be our future. It just can’t.

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Angel Eyes,Angel Eyes 6 The Guardian Book 3 released this week. Yay! And Dead Girl Walking, The Guardian Book 1 is free for the last day. Get your kindle copy now. The DGW audio book will be out soon! I can’t wait to share it with y’all. You Will Love It! <3

 

 

Kill Them With Kindness

DelTacoGrumpy old Walter came in every day, and every day he ordered the same thing. Del Nachos no tomatoes. He never smiled. Never said think you. Just placed his order, waited for us to call his name and then carried his tray to a table facing outside the store to eat.

Walter didn’t know our names–we didn’t think–but we knew his because calling orders by name was a must.

I loved working at Del Taco, but I Did Not Love grumpy old Walter. I also did not love little kids that made big messes. Or people who came in one minute before close and ordered the whole menu. Or wiping my eyes after chopping jalapenos. Good God that hurt.

Sorry, got sidetracked. Back to Walter…and the kids…and those last minute people out to ruin life as we know it.

Before you could work for Del Taco, you had to train. And training was serious business. You had modules to study and tests to take, and our bosses were intense about those training sessions. To this day I can tell you the history of Del Taco. I can also tell you Del Taco took customer service seriously. Those lessons I learned about kill them with kindness have been life savers over the years. But MAN they were hard to follow through on. At least they were until one day after about six months of Del Nachos with no tomatoes.

Walter shuffled when he walked. And he had silver hair and deep set wrinkles like Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. And he really liked those Del Nachos.

For some reason I set out to make Walter smile. Maybe my friends and I had a bet or something, I’m not sure. I just know I decided to do everything in my power to get him to like me. Pretty soon all of us were doing it.

Walker would walk in and we’d greet him like an old friend. “Walter!” And then we’d yell back “Del Nachos no tomatoes.”

Then that six month day of reckoning.

A mom with multiple children made a mess around the table next to where Walter sat. And by mess, I mean HOLY FREAKING COW, KIDS, did you eat anything or reenact nuclear war?

So I had the sweeper out on the floor when Walter came in and we all yelled Walter like he was our very best friend. By this time Walter had softened a bit. He still didn’t smile, though.

When his order I came up, I grabbed the tray and took it to him and made sure to tell him how happy we were to see him. To be honest it had kind of become true. Somehow in the effort to trick him into smiling, he’d become a character in the daily life at Del Taco. A character I’d miss if he skipped.

Walter took the tray and Then. He. Spoke. He said thank you.

It was incredible.

It was just the start.

Because once Walter started talking, he didn’t stop.

He explained

Why he came to Del Taco every day.

And ordered Del Nachos.

Without tomatoes.

Turned out Walter liked tomatoes. But his wife didn’t. So they ordered their nachos to share, and he sacrificed the tomatoes for her. And when she died, it was like this one thing would bring her back. If only for a moment.

And then he said thank you again. Because every day he came in and we greeted him with smiles even though he knew sometimes he could be surly.

Walter taught me a lot about life that day.

I use Walter in my classes pretty often to tell kids they never know whose life they’re impacting. I was lucky Walter told me. People don’t always tell you, but rest assured, every person you meet could be a Walter. <3

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Angel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 released this week. Yay! And Dead Girl Walking, The Guardian Book 1 is free for one more day. Get your kindle copy now.

 

 

 

 

Dear Texas State Politicians

inkSince you dedicated your life, or at least a few years, to public servanthood, I have to believe you don’t want to kill the public schools. If you go visit them, especially those with high at-risk populations, you’ll find those schools struggling to survive.

I know when you pass laws, even unfunded mandates, you want the best for Texas students. Before you pass those laws, I’d like to propose a novel concept: talk to teachers. LOTS of teachers. Teachers from all levels in all stages of their careers. Don’t take the word of for-profit companies as law. They’re not in it for the kids. They’re in it for the almighty dollar. So, please, before you listen to them, remember their agenda.

And while we’re talking about for-profit companies and agendas, I’d like you to really think about the for-profit charters setting up shop in Texas. Are they truly serving our students, or are they raking in dollars and cents at the expense of most students attending? I realize all charters are not created equal, but I bet those turning a profit aren’t in it for the kids. Just look at the data from across the country and you’ll see this to be true time and time again.

When something isn’t working, set about fixing it. I know you were hoodwinked into believing our schools weren’t working. I know you’ve committed billions to fixing the “problem.” For your investment professors state-wide say students are less prepared for college than they were before testing began and our SAT scores have stayed the same. The one area data proves the test has actually helped is in lowering the achievement gap for our minority students. That is a fantastic result. I’d like to believe teachers would have worked toward that goal without the money lost to testing.

I know you can make changes based on real data. I know because this year we didn’t give 15 STAAR tests.

But we did give two language arts tests that were far too long. Especially for struggling learners. Try sitting still for close to six hours (or longer if you include lunch). You’ll understand what I mean. In fact, I encourage you to spend two days taking the English 1 and 2 STAAR tests in a classroom, in a desk. Some of the students taking the test are bigger than you, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe you could split your time. Take the test one day and administer the test the next. Experience testing from a student and a testing administrator perspective. That might help you make an informed decision.

That said, other than its length, the ELA STAARs are solid tests in some ways. They measure objectives students need to master before graduating, unlike the tests that came before.

Which leads me to another issue. Right now we have a system that revolves around the test. Teachers are measured by test scores, schools are measured by test scores, school districts are measured by test scores. The test scores reign supreme, and because of that, we have a serious problem in our schools. We have whole years where students aren’t taught subjects because they’re not tested in those academic areas that year. I know that’s ludicrous, but you have set up a system that revolves around the test, and this is the end result. It’s bad for our schools, our teachers and our kids.

Please talk to teachers. We do have the answers. They’re not easy, though. They’re far more difficult than bubbling answer documents and writing 26-line essays. Once again, I realize you never set out to destroy the public school system, but that’s where we are if something doesn’t change.

I appreciate your time.

Mary Beth Lee

 

 

Sometimes the Browse Button Loses

withinI love to listen to Within Temptation when I’m writing the Guardian books. I read online that the sound is called symphonic metal. That fits. The female power vocals with the metal background work together to create a feeling that fits the Sharlene Gallagher universe…especially when she finds herself in heaven.

In an effort to recreate the feel of the music for a different book, I browsed through Spotify and let it pick music for me.

BIG MISTAKE.

One minute I’m writing along to power vocals and metal guitar and the next some guy is screaming in a voice terrifies the crap out of me.

I stumbled on to Within Temptation through Grooveshark after listening to Angtoria’s What the Wise Woman Said. I’m glad I did because the music has inspired three books so far. I guess I’ll stick to what works for sure instead of looking for something new. <3

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Angel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 released this week. Yay!

Woo Hoo! It’s Here!!! Angel Eyes release day!

Angel Eyes releases today. YAY! It is an Amazon e-exclusive for 90 days. If you’re a member of kindle unlimited, you can read it for free, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for free. If you like paper instead, it’s available here right now and will be available at other retailers soon.

Angel Eyes 11I love how the Sharlene story is evolving. I knew Sharlene would save lives when I started the series. The Guardian save innocents from killers, so that was a given. I even knew there was an angels and demons storyline. I did not realize how big that secondary story would be to Sharlene.

I’ve had a few questions about Addison Karchusky from Dead Girl Walking. She’ll be back in book 4! Yay!

I hope you guys like Angel Eyes. Subscribe to my newsletter for up-to-date news on The Guardian series. And check out The Guardian Pinterest board. Right now the quotes are all from Angel Eyes, but that will change. :)

Have an awesome day. I’ll be writing. <3

 

Release Day Tomorrow!

Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 releases tomorrow on Amazon kindle. The paperback will be available everywhere books are sold soon. I hope readers will enjoy the third installment in the Sharlene Gallagher mystery series.

I’m starting a new book right now, and it’s sooooo hard to get back into the rhythm of writing new pages. I forget that sometimes. I forget that I have to write and write and revise and write and try different music until the perfect combination hits and then I write a draft Fast Draft style. That draft is nowhere near publishable, but it’s a start, a skeleton of the story that will be.

Earlier this week I read a post by a NYT bestseller that said the key to writing isn’t just writing. He’s right. Becoming a writer is about studying words and word craft. But he’s also wrong. I can study the craft all day long, but if I don’t sit down and write, it won’t make a difference.

I do love craft books. Donald Maass’s books are some of my favorites. Gary Provost’s Make Your Words Work is fantastic. The exercises are great for the classroom as well. The Artist’s Way is invaluable to releasing your creative spirit. I worked through The Artist’s Way with friend/colleague/former student Scotty Coppage the summer Sharlene Gallagher showed up on the page one day. The rest is history.

I’m looking forward to an amazing release week and a week of Fast Draft style writing. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll get one tomorrow! If you don’t, you can subscribe here.

<3

 

 

I LOVE Summer

when-someone-tells-me-summer-vacation-is-almost-over_o_2009133

I love my job. I can’t wait to get back to the business of helping my kids create yearbooks and newspapers and videos and learn the ins and outs of professional social media use, and this year I (might) get to do this AWESOME guinea pig class where I use a J approach with English, BUT I still don’t want this summer to end. I know the summer honeymoon will end before we go back. No way will we continue to have the amazing cool mornings AND evenings, no way will we continue to get these great rain storms about once a week. This summer has truly been a blessing. I’m thankful for the days I’ve had, and I’m going to embrace those left.

Happy summer y’all. It’s been a good one.

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Don’t forget to sign up for my author newsletter here. No spam, just give aways and free reads and new release news!

Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to Amazon Prime members to read for FREE!!!! Check them out. Dead Girl Walking will release in audio soon. I’m listening to the final cuts now! Brenna Frederick is a genius narrator. I can’t wait for the world to hear her interpretation of DGW!

Summer at Grandma’s

marybethlee:

Grandma Mary Ella VanderburgAn oldie but a goodie. Every year I hit mid-summer and remember the days of late nights at Grandma’s where cousins were best friends, gardens reigned supreme, church league softball meant the best kind of fun and homemade lunches were the norm.

Originally posted on A Writer's Life:

I loved summers. Rootbeer floats, fried chicken Sundays, biscuits and gravy for breakfast.
Cousins galore.
All of us sleeping on pallets and sleeping bags around Grandma’s floor, wherever we fit.
The last days of school were spent in anticipation. Not of freedom but of Oklahoma, the land of Grandma and Grandpa, the Blue River and then later, Tecumseh, husking corn, snapping beans and eating fried okra. Learning to make a bed the right way and clean a stove after dinner was done. How to sweep until a floor was clean.
And, the biggest anticipation of all once Grandpa retired from preaching, Oak Park Church of God.
Grandpa was a preacher. He had no problem calling us out from the pulpit if we talked during the service. It only happened once that I can recall.
I don’t know what it was about that church that made it different. Maybe it’s just…

View original 297 more words

Will the teachers in the room stand up?

super-teacher1You are awesome. You are amazing. You are selfless. You rock.

You are professionals who are off this summer, and you DON’T get paid for that time, even though people, especially politicians, forget that. Even though you’re off, most of you have spent untold hours earning professional development credit in classes over your content area or classroom skills, taking post-graduate classes to earn advanced degrees and/or attending, possibly teaching, workshops with students who will come back and play on your teams or work on your staffs.

Summer is your time to refill the well. Teaching is an art, and teachers are artists, so refilling the creative well is absolutely essential. Rest, relax. You’ve earned it, and you desperately need it.

But

Don’t forget the importance of what we do.

Years ago I attended a conference where a renowned educational speaker asked this question:

If Starbucks were to run out of coffee, what would their response be?

We all sat and laughed imagining that scenario. The manager would be on the phone to every nearby Starbucks looking for more coffee. The baristas would be ready to jump in their cars to go retrieve that coffee even if it meant a 90-minute drive to make that happen. The Starbucks team would work as a unit to get that coffee, whatever it took. In all likelihood they wouldn’t be OUT of coffee…if they waited until it was too late and there was no coffee, the consequences would be severe. People would lose hours, jobs would be lost and customers would be irate.

If a student isn’t learning or is struggling to learn, and we don’t work together as a team to do everything in our power to help them learn, we’re not talking about hours and jobs lost and irate customers. We’re talking about the failure of the United States as a whole. We’re talking about kids who become adults on public assistance for life or worse.

One day I was talking to a nurse who said, “I realize your job is hard, but my job is life and death.”

I agreed with her then.

Now that I’m working in a city that is drastically changing from upper middle class to middle class to lower middle class to where we are now…where most of the children in our district qualify for free or reduced lunch, I totally disagree. It might not be as visible, but when we walk into the classrooms, our jobs ARE life and death.

Remember that as you go to your workshops and classes and think of the cool lesson plans for next year.

I know we can’t do this alone. It takes a village and all that. But we are on the front lines. When we walk on our campuses, every student there belongs to us…not just the ones in our classes. We are the heroes, and this is more than a job.

Enjoy your summer. You’ve earned it.

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Don’t forget to sign up for my author newsletter here. No spam, just give aways and free reads and new release news!

Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to Amazon Prime members to read for FREE!!!! Check them out. Dead Girl Walking will release in audio soon. It’s soooooo good y’all!!!! I can’t wait to share!

The extroverted introvert dilemma

stressI sat in the back of the auditorium, my speech in my notebook, ready to share with the staff what I’d learned about professional learning communities and how they could change everything if teachers were given the time and resources to make them work.

My hands were shaking, I was sweating, I thought about blowing the whole thing off. My friend, our speech teacher at the time, Debbie gave me a thumbs up. Okay. I could do this.

And I did.

And it was amazing.

I was shaking the whole time, but the adrenaline rush was tremendous.  People listened to what I said. Everyone didn’t agree with the outcome I proposed, but everyone appreciated the effort. And they had ideas of their own. Ideas that would lead to student achievement.

(Leadership Cohort changed me, challenged me, made me speak up. First post about those days here.)

But still, over seven years later, I have to force myself to speak up in a room of people. Small groups, no problem. Big groups…gulp.

I’m an extrovert on the inside, an introvert on the outside. It makes for some hilarious self-talk, let me tell you.

I’m working on this. If my inner extravert weren’t trying to come out on a regular basis, I’d wrap my introvert self up in quiet awesomeness. BUT that’s not the way it is. I want to speak up, I want to talk to people…even people I don’t know. So here goes.

Another pledge. I’m going to embrace both sides of myself. But I’m not going to let the introvert win. No more sneaking out of meetings as soon as they’re over without talking to others, no more WANTING to share with the group but keeping my mouth shut because I’m nervous.

This is turning into a July of pledges for me. Good thing I’ve got The Success Principles to help me succeed! <3

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Don’t forget to sign up for my author newsletter here. No spam, just give aways and free reads and new release news!

Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to Amazon Prime members to read for FREE!!!! Check them out. Dead Girl Walking will release in audio soon. It’s soooooo good y’all!!!! I can’t wait to share!