Monday, November 28, 2011

But It’s All For You

Barbara: I didn’t know what I was going to write about when I sat down at my computer today. Deb, Colin, and I have been ruminating alternate titles for our upcoming demo-pilot and that’s pretty much all I’ve been thinking about lately, so I did think that maybe I’d find myself writing about that. But then I realized I kept thinking about this conversation I had with a female acquaintance the other day, which has now niggled deep into my brain and which I would love to un-niggle with you guys.

This woman had finished teacher’s college a couple of years ago and is now trying to find her way into the system. It’s a tough field with tons of competition—and I will add, also sometimes frustratingly occupied by teachers who are sick of the grind and the grist and who offer their students little by way of encouragement or inspiration. She bides her time—as so many young teachers do—by substitute teaching. We found ourselves in quick catch-up mode and she was telling me that when she goes into the schools, every single high school student tells her that they want only one thing from their teachers: to be seen for who they are. That’s it. See me. Hear me. These kids, she said, were almost unanimously engaged, interesting, thoughtful (as in full of thought), but many of them felt they were being marginalized by sweeping stereotypes: the bad one, the rude one, the druggie, the apathetic, the asshole. She could only shake her head and wonder why they weren’t being heard, on the one hand, and why they were living by the label, on the other.

One of the “worst” of the bunch, a student who was routinely “bad”, began an extended confessional with her. She discovered a highly intelligent, passionate but frustrated kid. When she asked him why he didn’t work up to his potential, he asked why he should bother: no one would recognize it anyway. My heart broke for him and others like him. Kids who might never find their voices because they feel like they’re caught in an echo chamber—a vast, hollow and futile void.

But then I also remembered my parental philosophy, one I constantly remind my children of (and one I constantly have to remind myself of): we are hunters and gatherers of information. We search out and find what we need amongst the endless details of human life and natural phenomenon. The more stuff we catalogue and the more stuff we pay attention to, the more information we have in our arsenal to use for our own lives and for the lives of those around us. In the end, it can’t matter that there is an apathetic ear or ears in our periphery. As hunters, the prey doesn’t, after all, come to us; we have to seek it out. As gatherers, we have to keep doing a kind of archeology our whole lives long, this sifting through of mountains of detritus to find our own nuggets of gold.

I hope that we can all remember that we need to keep searching. And we don’t do it to impress teachers or loved ones or parents or some faceless “audience”, we do it to enrich our own lives, to find our own waypoints, messages, secrets, answers. Which might, incidentally, also turn out to impress our teachers, our loved ones, our parents, and/or some faceless “audience” out there, but that’s not the important thing. The most important thing is that we see our world. Not that we are seen in it. 

PS Let's keep a thought for Deb and her mom on the big move home today!!

Deb: Barb, I love this and I just had a conversation yesterday with someone about the concept of “seeing our own world”, but we did not phrase it just like that. You have now given me a phrase to encompass those feelings: “see our world”. This is my favourite part of the living experience. The hunting, gathering, and learning. Knowing that we will learn until the day we die is, on its own, a reason to want to be here. I remember a time of fear in my life when I actually tried to shrink my world. It was during a time when I was afraid to fly. Now I am at a point where I want to expand my world, explode with sights and sounds and knowledge. Because to “see my world” is to “love my world”. 


  1. Barb, I can so relate here. I too have raised my children guided my this philosophy. Sometimes,I have seen at risk kids being interviewed, and like the young man your friend engaged, they decry the lack of caring in their lives and correlate it to their lack of effort and passion. Now while may heart often breaks for them, I have to admit my visceral reaction is "You've missed the point! You have to try for YOU!" You have to realize early on, at the end the day, it's down to you alone.
    And I know its difficult...soul-wretchingly so in some cases...but I grew up without a lot of advantages and I realized early on if I was going to shine, I had to make my own light as the people who cared form me had a limited view of the world. I've told my children since they were little in the end it'll come down to you and your willingness to be brave and try. (In the interest of complete disclosure, they've already eclipsed any wattage I ever created for myself.)

  2. First comment! Yay!! :D

    Barb, I can so relate to this post, in more ways than one. I went to a high school that had an abundance of the apathetics, assholes, the rude ones, the druggies...except they weren't frustrated, they just didn't care! It was sad for me because I believe that everyone has potential and when it isn't realized, where does it go? See, at my high school, your options were either community college, dropping out and getting pregnant, or working at Wal-Mart or McDonalds.

    At the same time, the students I dealt with in high school have made me vastly aware of the students I deal with now, in college. I know so many that are academically motivated, but I also know others that are frustrated because their potential is overshadowed by stereotypes, so they too, just don't really care. And it's so sad!!!

    What makes this even sadder is that sometimes, teachers just give up and write them off. Then what? If a student is struggling, they HAVE to have someone to believe in, otherwise they're just going to give up. And sometimes I wonder if the apathetics, assholes, druggies, or rude ones...if they had someone like that, perhaps they would have succeeded. I thank God every day that my professors at Berea are willing to go the extra mile to make sure that ALL students realize their potential. It's rare.

  3. Oops, guess I'm not the first comment after all! ha!

  4. Something else I forgot to parents have always pushed me to go to college and do well, but I have realized on my own that my education isn't's mine! I am doing this college thing for ME! My friend at home struggles with this: she often says to me that she feels like she's in school because she has to be! But I keep telling her that she has to want has to be hers! You have to find the strength and motivation in YOURSELF. Eventually, YOU have to want it bad enough...teachers, friends, and others are just there to help you along.

  5. I think it's a hard message to send (unless you get 'em young!), but it's still vitally important that young people get the reinforcement and support. It does set a stage...

    Annette, your kids are a stupendous example of the truth of this message. Holly, you and your sister, the same. Thank you!

  6. I loved today's blog and comments. It is up to each person to find their own way but that can't be accomplished in my opinion without some model to follow. If it is not the parents it can be a teacher. The looking is the hardest part. It takes a very self assured young person to follow a path when no one stands beside them or next to them or behind them giving a nudge.

  7. where oh WHERE to start with this amazing post? I could write a post of my own about it. our family "suffers" from this sad lack of being seen in school & even social environments. I have thought about this subject deep and wide, and I think that so much of it lives in my family's unwillingness to take part in the cultural machine that is intent on churning out robots of a sort. we bring our children up to be critical thinkers, and to get involved in things that they organically relate to. and to know themselves. but the price we pay for being bohemian is to be judged--(which, let's face it there's a lot of judgement going on out there anyway). the end result is that we feel alone a lot of the time. I teach my children to fill that aloneness with self-study, with actions like standing up for what they believe in, with seeing art, seeing beyond the surface, with making art and making themselves into the people they want others to be. with observing how people make them feel and choosing to spend time with those who lift them up rather than make them feel judged. but having taught poetry to kids and been in many classrooms, I also see how both students and teachers are trapped by standards that seem to have no place for individuality and creativity and developmental stages. I just think that this is where our society is at a whole, and like so overwhelmingly many things in our world today, it needs to change. I read your line about how it's most important to see the world, rather than be seen in it. but as a child, how can they develop the skills they need to do so, unless they themselves feel seen? we need to put increased emphasis on things like creativity, self-expression, emotional intelligence and so on. I have gone off on a rant here, but it is all intended as support for the very heartbreaking and real issue you raised.

  8. Oh, Barb, quit taking snap shots of my life right now!! It's not that pretty. :)

    Honestly, this issue you bring up is a major crux of what's been going on in my son's (Odin - don't mentioned if I shared his name before) life. But, for Odin, it is the adults who see him and hear him, and values his insights.

    Odin loves learning. Loves, loves, loves, loves to learn. Have I mentioned he loves to learn? He's the only kid I know who said it was very bad news when the teachers went on strike in May.

    But I digress, Odin is bursting with all this "interesting" (at least to him) information and he wants to share with his peers. He wants to be friends. He's shared with me that he feels that he either has to be hyperfocused on learning and getting his education, or he has to "fool around" (his words) like the rest of the boys in his class.

    Odin is frustrated because he gets the message from his peers (goof off and quit valuing what he loves), and that is diametrically opposite to what the adults keep saying. As parents (heck adults), we have the luxury of having surviving this period of time, and using our wealth of past experiences, we can see the "16 by 9" picture. I can see, as other adults who interact with him, that what makes him currently isolated is what makes him so interesting to be around for adults (and when he becomes an adult).

  9. Jo, it sounds like your son needs some like minded friends. I know they are around.

  10. I am working on a degree in English Education at the moment and I agree with what you said, Barb. A few years ago I was eating in a Chinese restaurant and in my fortune cookie the little slip of paper said “the purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” This is a philosophy that I keep in mind while working towards my goal of becoming a teacher. And I know what it’s like to be put into a certain group in school and feel like you have to live up to it (I was one of the few art nerds/geeks, taking an interest in visual art as well as literature). Sometimes it was difficult to live up to, but then you have to realize that a title like that does not define you; YOU decide who you are.
    And thank you for commenting on how difficult it is for educator to find a teaching position! I am already looking and I still have a while until graduation! 
    Deb, I just wanted to say a good, heartfelt “Welcome Home!” to your mom and I hope everything works out for your family. At least the holidays are coming up soon and your mom will be home for that instead of in the hospital. I know you all have been through a lot, but I think you have handled it very well and your mom and dad are proud of their daughter! (didn’t mean to go all sappy on you!)
    All the best!

  11. It's a great reminder, isn't it? I think in these days of standardized testing we get so caught up in the evaluation that we can forget the learning and how it fits into the other things we know and care about.

  12. AHHH! I could rant and rave about this topic all day long! As the daughter of a teacher, I sometimes see things from another perspective.

    First of all, good luck with coming up for a name for the show. I love to name things, but I'm not very good at it. :) And I hope all goes well for Deb and her Mom today.

    I don't know the Canadian school system, so forgive my ignorance, but I know here in America, the teachers really have their hands tied in what they can teach and how they can teach. They can't fail the ones who refuse to even try and they can't praise the ones who are doing well. The elementary schools in this area have never passed the basic state requirement tests. That means the teachers aren't allowed to teach science, history and very few arts. The focus is reading and math, but they still never pass the state test. I have one friend who is a high school teacher and she is frustrated by the lack of respect the students have for her. She has been told her classes aren't entertaining enough. She's teaching chemistry. It's her job to teach, not entertain. Teachers can't do anything because if they defy the principal, they lose their job. There are many unemployed teachers who would love to take their job. Yeah, some teachers have forgotten why they started teaching and do label the kids and that is wrong.

    Then, in this area, the culture is mostly Hispanic. As a culture, they don't seem to value education much. I don't mean to sound racist, that is just my observation living here. The kids aren't encouraged by their families. Most of the families don't even speak English, making it that much harder for the kids. So, the teachers have classrooms full of kids who can't speak or read English, and really could care less about being there.

    Then, there are the individual kids. The ones who say they aren't going to try because no one cares, are so sad. It's probably true, but they are lazy to not even try just to please themselves. They don't look beyond high school. They don't think about what their grades might mean for college or even future jobs. If that is their attitude, they will forever be stuck in a job they hate.

    You work hard for yourself, not to please teachers, parents or the system. The teachers can only do so much when the kids have a bad attitude and those attitudes are probably what tore the teachers down from their enthusiasm to teach.

    I could go on and on. I've got 4 kids in the public schools. We haven't reached high school yet. I'm concerned for them. I'm so gald we are moving. I really didn't want my son to go to the high school here. OK, I'll quit now. Time to go clean a bathroom and work off some of this steam. :)

  13. Jo, I can relate a bit to what your son is going through. I went through that before going to university. When you love to learn, for some reason to become the minority in school, and the purpose of going to school is to learn, so...why the issues? Anyway, I had to search through the entire student body to find those few likeminded students and when I did, I made friends for life. They are there. I als became friends with some of the teachers in my school because, and I'm not trying to boast at all, when you are a bit above your classmates you have to look for someone closer to your intelectual level and that is often the teachers. My best advice to anyone having this sort of trouble in school is to look for those that are likemnded and to not be afraid to have those intelectual conversations with your teachers, they like hearing from students. Also, look for any clubs or organizations that the school offers that are in your area of interest; in these clubs etc. you can often find those that have the same interests as you; I did.
    One last piece of advice: forget about what the others think is "cool" or whatever term they use; go with what you want. It really isn't going to matter later in life if so-and-so thought you were "cool" but it is going to matter if you made terrible grades and have few skills, so focus on learning!
    Okay, education rant is officially over for me(for now anyway!)

  14. Jo--my kids all feel (or felt) the same way. and they spent a lot of time alone (home with us). I now think that in the current society, it's not a terrible thing to be with your family a lot. I'd prefer that my kid be home getting "fed" by us and contemplating the inner self than hanging out with less conscious kids just to hang out. of course I DO think it's preferable to have some like-minded friends, and for that we go outside of school--signing up for activities and classes and so on in things that they're actually interested in and have a chance of finding other kids that feel the same way. are you in Canada or the US? if you're near me, and your son is my middle one's age, we can get them together...they sound alike........

  15. Odin has the additional challenges of being autistic - on top of being scary smart. And then, combine that with generalized anxiety. Get extreme reactions when faced with new/unknown situations/people... And add in the paste of past bullying....

    I'm going to be meeting a local autism services group to see if/what/how they can accommodate Odin in some of their social programs. And, next year when he starts high school, things will be better.

  16. Jo, yes, things will be so much better once he is in high school I think. I struggled with extreme shyness when I was younger (and I still do, but I'm a bit better at dealing with it). It seems like when you get to high school, things start to mellow out a bit. Honestly, I used to cry a little starting each new school year and felt horribly sick. Even when I started going to university, I was horribly shy and nervious to the point that I didn't want to go, but it all worked out in the end. At least he only has a few more years left and then on to bigger and better things!
    Being "scary smart" is a blessing, so he's got that going for him too! I'm sorry that he has had to go through so much at such a young age, but he is clearly a strong young man with a mom that loves him! I hope I have some "scary smart" students like him in my classes whenever I start teaching!
    All the best to you and him!:)

  17. Hey all, I had to be in transit for the last few hours and could only occasionally check in to read comments, but couldn't post. It was tantalizing to read all your comments and want so desperately to jump into the convo again! You guys are so amazing.

    Lori, I totally hear you, and I agree with the supreme importance of the need to be seen/heard. As a writer/actress, it is the only way to keep doing what you do. But since we can't "force" that, as it were, we can benefit from shifting our attentions outward, I think. Ideally, our communities will continue to stress the importance of seeing and hearing one another, and especially our kids! I truly believe that these kids -- all of your kids who visit here -- will absolutely find their true voices because they are seen where and when it counts most: at home.

    Molly, your comment just emphasizes this point, in that what happens at home (especially in the early years) does colour your approach to learning and school.

    Jo, your son is so lucky to have you advocating for and supporting him (even despite the challenges). S, you sound like an extraordinary young person who will be part of our better future society.

  18. Jo--sending you and your son strength and love--you both sound special and you are clearly doing whatever you can to surround him with the important things like love and community and services outside the home.
    Barbara--you continually amaze/inspire me with your deeply thoughtful posts that obviously so many people connect with. you have your heart & soul on the pulse of what it's like to be human now and it strikes a chord....sending my thoughts to Deb today too--
    and one more quick thought Barbara: YES we can't force anyone to act the way we want them to, we can only control our own REactions and actions. I have always personally found comfort in making art, and offering love back out to the universe (and the people in it) doing my best to offer it even to those who I'm upset with. when one suffers, we all do. and on that note, I am off to take my daughter to dance class and steal an hour and 1/2 of my own (I love to curl up in the corner and draw while she's there).....xo

  19. Barb, I'm amazed that the kids were able to open up to your friend as they did. To hear kids talk about feelings, instead of grades, to get that deep with the teacher... says a lot both about your friend, and about how they're being encouraged, or NOT being encouraged.
    We were so used to having baby-sitter substitutes that our complaint was when the sub actually gave us work. :) (Can't say we weren't happy to have something to do in class,'cause it meant no homework.)

    For me, this is an "interesting" time to discuss this. Growing up, I was seen for my grades. I did VERY well all the way through school, so much so that, when I got a B+ in science, my mother went to the teacher to see what I could do to bring that up. (The pressure from my parents, both of whom have degrees in teaching, to do well was #1 priority for me. It wasn't expected as much of my brother. I don't know why, and won't ask anymore.)

    The kids who needed the help rarely had their parents show up to teacher's night, and that was a sin. I wish the kids had been encouraged more. There was a definite line dividing those headed to college, those headed to community college/vocations, those headed to Walmart, and those headed to jail. I've heard that many of these groups did go on to "achieve" exactly that. We hear about certain people and say, "Yeah, that's no surprise." It's usually about the kids headed to jail. I wish we could go back and as a group change the opinions we had, possibly change what did end up happening.

    If I accomplish nothing else in my life, it is to make sure my daughter enjoys life. She loves to learn and is HIGHLY disappointed that some of her teachers are "ineffective." She works hard, and wants to learn as much as possible about her chosen area, drafting and design.
    She has also recently learned how much she enjoys reading. It's happened over the past year or so. Suddenly she can't wait to pick up a book, go to the library, or just read by the streetlights while we're in the car. (I get a kick out of her.)

    I wish I could be a professional student, studying what I'm actually interested in, languages. Right now, I'm just hoping to find reason to be.

  20. I want to add that, given my psychological hx/diagnoses, I'm thrilled that my daughter embraces life as much as she does. The lines of communication are always open, and I feel reasonably confident that she does NOT take after me. Thank god.

  21. Nursing school, thankfully, has taken away a lot of my close-mindedness. I must admit though, while I was in high school, though I fell victim to countless stereotypes of "the teacher's pet" or "the smart one," many of times I found myself stereotyping my peers.

    However, some of these peers just embraced these stereotypes, figuring...well hey, it's what everyone else says. And they start to believe it themselves. That's just really sad. It seems like that a lot of students feel they don't have anything to show for their hard work. I've felt that before; it's a very dark and lonely place.

    But what got me through was the support that I received from my wonderful family. I do realize that some students are not as fortunate as me, Holly and my brother were. Or some just take it for granted. Individuals such as this need someone that just listens and says "hey, I see what you're doing, or trying to do. Good for you."

    Barb, thanks so much for sharing this! Deb, hope everything is working out with your mom and moving! Lots of good wishes!!!!

  22. Hey Dawn,
    I just wanted to say best of luck to your daughter in her education. I also know what it's like to have a teacher that is not really doing their job, i.e. teaching. That's just the way it is sometimes, unfortunately.
    One of my favorite quotes about education is this: "The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts."-C.S. Lewis.
    I also love this one: "I am not a teacher, but an awakener."-Robert Frost. more quote then I'm done. I love this one..."Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."-Mark Twain. It oddly makes sense, no?

  23. I’ve been thinking about this post all morning wanting to comment but unable to figure out how to express myself. I think the only thing I can say is that I can’t help but feel there is no such thing as a lazy kid only those who simply don’t have enough teachers.

  24. Lori, I love the quiet introspection for your creativity. Dawn, as I said to Jo, your kids have the benefit of an amazing support system. S, thanks for the wonderful quotes! Love them! And Erin, I know_ this is a tricky one. ON the one hand, this, on the other that. But we need to think about it, I think, to talk about it. To shift our thinking, to support, listen and hear our kids, etc etc!

  25. S,
    Thanks for the laugh. The cauliflower quote is my favorite. I only wish more teachers believed the first two, and that more kids would absorb the moisture from any desert they encounter.

  26. "Growing up, I was seen for my grades. I did VERY well all the way through school, so much so that, when I got a B+ in science, my mother went to the teacher to see what I could do to bring that up. (The pressure from my parents, both of whom have degrees in teaching, to do well was #1 priority for me. It wasn't expected as much of my brother. I don't know why, and won't ask anymore.)"

    WOW!!! That was exactly the same case for Kelly and I too! Crazy!

  27. Dawn, Let me just tell you that, at least in my opinion, the students that are working towards becoming teachers are endeavoring to become the best educators they can be for thier future students! Our courses of study are intense and we go through a lot to be able to teach, so I think that a lot of the "weak links" that maybe aren't as dedicated get weeded out by graduation. I have seen some of my peers change their course of study because they decided that they really weren't passionate about teaching. I am passionate about it and therefore I continue to put myself through the rigorous studies that I do so that I can be the great teacher that many students have never had! :)
    Glad that qoute made you laugh! I love it too!:)
    All the best!

  28. S-
    It certainly does require a passion to be an effective teacher, to engage the kids, to make enough of a difference that at least one kid doesn't stay in the mold he/she's been set in. I wish you the best, the strength, and the determination to maintain your passion. Good luck!

    Holly and Kelly, serious craziness!
    Love that pic of you guys with Colin! (That was me who commented on your FB pic. :) )

  29. A lot of teachers don't know the difference between bad and bored. I'm not a huge fan of teachers because once they label a student that student carries that label until they either move or graduates. I was labeled bad and stupid. I was neither, just bored and unchallenged. In elementary school we were given IQ tests. My teacher didn't believe I did as well as I did. She made me retake the test. Once again I made a high grade, once again I had to to be cheating. I complained and asked how in the world I could have cheated with her watching. I was given the test again, this time in front of her and the 2nd grade teacher. It was my best grade yet. Both of these idiots said I was cheating, got mad at me, and made me stand in the corner during recess. Nope, not a fan of teachers.
    I know there are good ones, just not nearly enough of them.

    Deb, I hope you mom's move went well. Hugs


  30. -S, so excited to hear your studying to be a teacher. We need more like you!! Karen, I cannot believe that story. Oops, I mean, I totally believe it, just makes me crazy!!

  31. Deb: Thinking of you, your mom, and your family! Sending you strength and hope!

    My mom is a teacher :), and I think she's a good one...She works with children, who suffer from disturbance of speech (?). And they often come from families, where there are many problems...but she can't say: Oh...that kid is stupid because the parents aren't rich / are foreigners / are alcoholics.

    But I know what you mean. I realized that I see things differently than most of my classmates. I don't drink alcohol. I don't like staying up that long, I don't smoke, I don't need many people around me...

    When I was in school, my friends (?) often forced me to give in, and do what they liked.
    I suffered...but I was too afraid to let them down.
    I had to learn to say: No.
    But I don't think they really understood me. As I explained my feelings to them, they only made fun of it...

    Now I don't give in that easily. I can say No.

    People need to learn to accept that. To accept me. My world.

    And I learned that I shall do what I want to. To discover my own world. To expand it.

    I began to write. I love taking pictures.
    I started to dance, and do gymnastics, because I always wanted to do it.
    I started to sew, because I love creating things.

    I go to concerts, even if I have to go on my own, because I love doing that.

    I try to make the best out of my life. I try to "fight" back. I try to create and change my own little world.

    And I try to accept people, who think and behave differently. We always are quick at judging people without really knowing them.
    I hate it, when people offend others for no reason at all.
    You don't have to like everybody, but you have to accept others.

    Because every single person is unique. And that's what makes us special.

  32. Becki, it seems like you've found the best way for you to grow and develop -- by finding all the things that are truly yours and you. This is soooo good!

  33. Becki, I had a similar experience, trying to discover myself and maintain friendships. You just got to decide that YOU are just as important as they are. YOU matter too. You have to decide what YOU want for YOUR life, regardless of what the masses say is best. I went from one of the sportyish (not sure if that is a it is I guess) types to the bookworm, art groupie (which was in limited supply in my school). I also love going to concerts and shows that maybe aren't typical for my generation to be a huge fan of (I tend to avoid a lot of the music and television programs that are big today because most of them can't hold a candle to music and television from the past, at least in my opinion). I am thankful for the experiences that I had in discovering myself (discovering...sounds like I was lost...guess, in a way, we are lost until we find ourselves) because they led me to where I am now.
    Karen, wow that was crazy that you had to take that test so many times and they still didn't believe you! Some teachers don't look beyond the surface (I also had some teachers like that, seemed surprised that I was as intelligent as I was as a child), but there are some that do, they just tend to be overlooked a lot because everyone is looking at and critiquing the teachers that aren't truly seeing their students.

  34. Barbara, at least I have the faith to try out new things. =) Will start on sewing an apron for my mom for christmas...

    You're right. I never had a strong personality. I hid behind my friends. I didn't want to disappoint them. Now I know that I care. And I do what I want! xD
    I think we all have to find our own we are kind of lost. But once we know what's good for ourselves, life becomes more colourful.

    Everybody has a different taste...and it's perfectly fine, if you like things others may find strange. ;)


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