It’s not a funny story

When DD was almost two a new kid named Stevie started in her class. DD loved Stevie. When she saw him she reached out, almost touched his skin, then yanked her hand back. She thought his skin was hot because it was black.

Her teacher told us about it and we laughed. Stevie’s mom, me, the teacher, the other moms. Everyone.

And DD and Stevie went about their business, fast friends in the toddler room.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize that Stevie’s hot skin wasn’t really funny.

Stevie was the only black person my daughter knew. She was almost two and knew no black people.

IMG_9108Not long after that DD ended up with her black dolly, Miss Sally. She named Miss Sally because her teacher had brown skin and the doll reminded DD of her teacher. DD loved that doll. I still have Miss Sally even though DD is 26 now. But other than Stevie, DD didn’t really have black people in her life until she started elementary school.

The second year of DD’s elementary school life she was labeled the bad kid. I was a young mom, a dumb mom, and I let that happen, but I knew enough to go up to the school. She wasn’t bad. She was bored because she was in first grade and they were doing math on a chalk board and she’d read all the books in the teacher’s library. The other little boys sitting on the “bad kid” wall with her weren’t bad either. They were rambunctious. And they were black. The rambunctious little white boys were precocious and precious. Bored, hyper girl=bad. Black boy=bad. I was outraged but silent. It was the only blatant racism I saw in DD’s school career, but it stayed with me.

And still, DD did not have black people in her life. Not really. That wasn’t until later. Much later.

It wasn’t intentional, but in my separation, in my homogenized existence of whiteness, I contributed to this world we live in today where people of color feel less than.

Now I’m listening to the aftermath of  what was supposed to be a peaceful protest where shots have been fired and up to 10 police officers are down. CNN just said three are dead.

God help us all. Violence is not the answer. Silence is not the answer. What is the answer?

 

 

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

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18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome

Don’t feed the monster

One of my students came in with hurt feelings yesterday. The kids were a little overzealous with their yearbook marketing and some people were mad–one of the things they were mad about were standard marketing ploys, one crossed a line. Instead of coming to see me, some of those upset kids took it out on my student instead. Not okay. 
BUT

The lesson here was huge.

See, some of the kids who were mad DID come to see me and my response was either I’m sorry that was not okay OR oh, come on, you know that was funny. In both cases the issue was resolved immediately. Overzealous: window chalk. Those kids who were upset said, you know what? It wiped right off. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. Standard marketing: you’re right. That was funny.

The thing is the kids who didn’t come see me weren’t interested in really fixing anything. They just wanted to gripe and complain. They like drama. They live for those Real Housewives table flipping moments. OR

They weren’t really all that upset until they ran into the drama is my main game person and the little thing turned into a big thing. Not a REAL big thing but one of those righteous indignation over cold oatmeal problems.

Both negative groups can be tough. But you need to be aware of which you’re facing and you must NEVER feed the monster. (Drama, drama, drama!)

It was a good conversation for me to have because I’ve been the grumpy make an avalanche out of a snowball person and I’ve avoided facing issues that could easily be diffused when I’m facing those dramafied people. I actually think I learned more in a five minute conversation than my student did! 

Peace

It’s so easy to get to end of a school year and reflect on the things that made the going rough. For me, once again, I struggled this year with letting go and letting God. It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I want to jump in there and control the mess even when it can’t be controlled. It’s like trying to reign in a tornado, it’s just not going to happen, and still I try. 

I’m sick and it’s yearbook delivery week, so I have to be at school. Yesterday I prayed seeking peace instead of that urgency to “fix” the messes. 

Today there were so many messes, but the peace was there, too. A complete acceptance that there truly are things I can’t fix and that has to be okay. 

And it is. Okay, I mean. Usually I say the words with all the sincerity of a cereal commercial. This time, it’s crazy how completely okay I am. (God, please let this continue next week with yearbook distribution!)

I guess I’ve stumbled on to the perfect let go, let God combination: sick+end of year stresses+mayhem=peace. I don’t understand the psychology of that equation, but it’s working. 😊

Happy Mother’s Day

To all the moms in my life now and in the past, thank you.

To my mom, I love you. I don’t know how you did it, growing up the lone girl with seven brothers. You became Mom in such a time of change. You raised me to be a strong independent woman, to believe in myself and chase my dreams. You encouraged me to think and to learn and to read everything. You prayed and played with me and still do, thanks to Phase 10, where playing and praying go hand in hand. 

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

*this is one of my favorite family photos. ❤️

Wherein I venture into TMI Territory

I thought about starting with one of those clever little stories that make people laugh, but ditched that idea to get straight to the point.

I started menopause early. As in before 40. As in almost a decade ago. (If the word menopause freaks you out, stop reading now because EVERYTHING that follows is about that.)

Dr. said it was unusual but since I was healthy, no big deal.

And I bought that. I mean I had an 18-year-old daughter at home going through all those preparing to leave the nest growing pains. Who the heck cared about a little menopause grumpiness added in for good measure?

The next year I was fumbling through empty nest syndrome AND recovering from a nasty injury. A few extra tears meant nothing.

I’ve gained and lost 140 pounds–70 pounds TWICE–since then. (I’m on the losing side of things again now. It’s Low Carb High Fat for life where I’m concerned from now on. Feel free to eat cake in my presence. I’ll be snacking on a ribeye and maybe a cheese stick.)  I’ve always been a yo-yo dieter, but dear God in Heaven menopause made things crazy.

I gained enough weight this yearbook season to make yearbook distribution a symbolic birth. No kidding. My ability to hold tight to positivity in the face of darkness has switched to snarky sarcastic bitter don’t-mess-with-me-I’ll-go-Mommy-effing-Dearest on you. I’m usually pretty good about keeping those moments to myself….but sometimes it ekes out, and boy is it ugly.

Hot flashes….ha. More like dips into the Lake of Fire.

Simmering rage….uhm…never mind.

Stress…I used to love stress. I used to LIVE for those double deadline computer crashes, teenage drama, come on guys let’s have a dance party moments. Let’s just say there’s been a flip in feelings there. And OhMyGod if a kid gets mouthy, something I used to laugh off…no. Just no. I have to literally bite my tongue.

Exercise helps. Low carb helps. Escaping into a great book helps. Large groups of people make me want to rip my hair out. Large groups of rude people nearly send me over the edge. This year it’s like I’m not even me.

I’m giving it three months to get better, and if it’s not better, I’m going to the doctor and saying give me the hormones who cares about the side effects. It’s that or take up daily doses of tequila. Never mind. Tequila gives me hot flashes and God knows if I have more of those I’m liable to find out that X-Files about spontaneous combustion was actually based on fact.

So pray, people, pray. Something has to change.

 

 

Reality Check

I got to cover a class outside the newsroom today. Enough said.

UIL Success

I can’t believe I didn’t post about District UIL. Since I read back over old posts, I want to make sure I document these moments. This year’s UIL journalism team was so different from last year’s. I had five kids on the team, four returning writers, all fantastic. (Last year I had nine kids on the team–all fantastic.) We placed in all events and won the journalism team champs. Three are moving on to Regionals in several events. To top that off, our entire UIL team won overall academic champs for the first time in 10 years. We’re a smaller school this year, but that hasn’t hurt our successes at all.

I love UIL. It was one of my favorite parts of high school. I hope my students say the same thing. ❤️ 

    
  

Put Up Your Phone!

“Mrs. Lee, Can I please be passing by today? If I’m not, I’m going to be grounded starting this weekend.”

The question wasn’t new, but my frustration was. 

See, this girl is what could be a great student. She LOVES writing features and she has incredible voice. She calls herself redneck and when she writes it’s like listening to Miranda Lambert sing.

And still she turned in a crappy story with ridiculous mistakes, no paragraphs and other sloppy work.

She’s one of those kids who’s perfectly happy with a 70. But her feature voice is NOT a 70. It’s an A with a little attention to detail. And the reason she doesn’t focus drives me crazy. 

I grabbed the iPad mini off her desk and handed it to her. 

And I lectured.

You’re a great writer, you love features and still you turned in crappy work as a final copy. Work you KNEW was awful. And still you turned it in because of THAT (I pointed at the mini). You let it control you. It interferes with your work in here, and I’m sure it interferes with your work in other classes. You’re tired every day, probably because you sit on this thing texting or FaceTiming until the early hours of the morning. Technology can be wonderful, but it can also be destructive. It will ruin your life. It will kill your grades and suck up all your time. It will hurt you on the job and in life. You have GOT to learn to turn it off and exist without it.

Lecture over. 

She turned the iPad mini off and got to work.

I love technology. We use it constantly in my classroom, and good LORD, I don’t want to go back to the days of cut and paste and light boards, but we’ve got a problem. A serious problem. So many of our kids are addicted to their phones and tablets. So many adults are too. It’s interfering with life. 

I hope we can fix this before it’s too late. 

Endorsements Aren’t the Answer

I’m one of those teachers who drinks the koolaid on a regular basis. I jump on board with lots of new fangled ideas, especially when they include words like research based and data driven. If you’ve spent any time reading my blog at all, you know that. So when I first heard about endorsements–sort of majors for high school students–I was excited. Kids need a path planned for what comes after high school before they leave school. When you have a goal, you can have a plan, and with checklists and timelines and something to measure, plans lead to goal success. 

This year I’m wary of where endorsements are taking us. That’s where this post is coming from. I’m open to discussion here, so please join in if you have an opinion. Endorsements are new and new is always tough. But what I’m seeing feels a little more worrisome than the uncomfortability brought by change. 

THE POST:

In an effort to make sure all students are college or career bound upon graduation, Texas has adopted an endorsement program of study. On the surface, it seems like endorsements are a great plan for student success. 

However, endorsements get it wrong. Yes, ALL students should have a plan in mind when they leave high school. No, endorsements are not the answer. Endorsements are things. They’re like band aids for a giant problem. A true plan for what comes after high school comes from relationship with a kid. It comes from a counselor who spends true time with a student, who maybe works through Myers Briggs with them and a mentor teacher or two or three who helps a kid through the rocky teen years. It takes a team of people at the school paying attention and staying on top of grades and family issues.  Endorsements don’t do that. 

Working with a student, really working with them, guiding them in a direction that leads to success after high school is an essential component to a school that works. 

If a student plans on a career in any of the trades or education paths offered through CTE centers, they should take that path because those classes are fantastic, and they give kids a foundation for success in a career outside of or alongside college. It’s FANTASTIC that Texas politicians finally understood that college bound only education was a huge failure to so many students. 

However, high school is not ONLY about a plan for the future. And when education is so pigeonholed, so precise, so completely focused on what comes next, it ends up as disasterous test-based only education has been.

I’m a student media adviser. When kids leave my program, they’re definitely ready for a successful future as a mass comm student. They’re ready for ALL successful paths after high school. Because high school media isn’t about a career or college major. It’s about community, the school community a student works and lives in. I have students who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, engineers, actors, directors, city workers, stay at home moms, computer programmers, social media directors, office managers, writers, journalists, photographers,  cinematographers, DJs, professors, ad account managers…the list goes on and on. I’ve done this for 22 years. I have A LOT of kids who have gone through my program. 😊

However, with endorsements, suddenly kids are telling me they can’t take my classes because they’re going to be doctors and they’re taking only STEM classes or they really have to focus on what they want to do after graduation. Kids are FREAKING out because they have no idea what they’re going to do and they feel pressured to choose a path and stick to it at 14 years old. That’s NOT what high school about. It cannot be what high school is about. 

The real answer is to give counselors and teachers more time to nurture student success after high school and to teach students how to plan for success. Endorsements don’t do that.