Tag Archives: education

The Discomfort of Unlearning

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This is LaDonna, a student at MCC who kindly let me paint her as she did her homework.

Today, I worked with a student who needed assistance with an essay. Intelligent and conscientious, this woman — let’s call her Alecia — makes thoughtful comments regarding the assigned reading material; however, because she writes the way she speaks – in urban English — her writing hasn’t been earning top-notch grades from her professor.

“I be askin’ him what he wants me to do,” she said. “He told me come here.’”

Together, we’re working to get her to recognize some of her most common grammar errors.

“I be writing like this my whole life!” She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Gettin’ good grades, too. How come nobody teach me this?”

When she expressed frustration about not being able to consistently catch her grammar errors, I encouraged her to be gentle with herself. “You’re learning a second language.” I told her. “That doesn’t happen overnight,” I said. “It’s going to take practice.”

Practice.

In our instant-gratification world, we want to be good at everything today.

Right now.

But it takes time to learn new skills.

And people are creatures of habit.

We learn something, do it for a while, and it becomes second nature.

We can unlearn a behavior or a habit, but it takes time. The longer we behave a certain way, the longer it takes to change that pattern or habit or behavior.

Unlearning is hard.

But it is possible.

Over the last few semesters, Alecia has been developing her book smarts.

Meanwhile, after living in an insulated bubble for my entire adult life, with only minimal exposure to people from outside my predominantly white, suburban community – I’ve been developing my life skills.

Over the last year, I’ve learned:

1) It’s possible to live alone. For the first time in decades, I’m making my own decisions about everything: how I want to live, where I want to live, what I want to do for fun, the type of people with whom I want to associate. A homebody by nature, it’s really lonely without having anyone to come home to. I need to get a cat.

2) It’s necessary to make new friends. When my marriage ended, nearly all of my friendships died.  One woman with whom I’d had a 45-year relationship actually shouted at me when I cried about being separated.

“You’re going to have to figure out a way to be happy and stop complaining about how hard it is to be alone,” she hollered. “No one wants to hear about this anymore.”

It was a clarifying moment. There was no “I love you” or “I’m here for you” or “This sucks” or “What do you need?” or “You’re not alone.” I was crushed, and had to realize that – despite out long history – that person was not a supportive friend. So I’m meeting new people by participating in activities that I enjoy. I joined a divorce support group, several art groups, and I’ve invited people over to my place to play old-fashioned board games, to paint, and to talk. It takes a long time to develop intimate friendships, but I’m doing it.

3) I’m not conventional. Conventional people have jobs they attend mostly Monday thru Friday from 9-5 or any other combination that equals a minimum of 40 hours per week. They have a certain number of weeks of vacation days each year. They marry and have 2-3 children. They look for happiness in things and enjoy shopping and accumulating stuff like computers, cars, homes, and cell phones. They are born in one country and remain in that country their entire lives. They own many televisions and use them regularly. They say things like “Be realistic” a lot. They don’t question authority and believe in doing things the way they’ve always been done. They criticize people who are different. What can I say? I have minimalist values. I don’t believe in big corporations or big government, and I can’t bear the idea of doing the same thing every day. Being unconventional means having the courage to stand up for myself. It means doing out of the ordinary things and, oftentimes, going against social norms.

4) It’s important to invest in myself. Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing things for myself. I became the person who did the shopping and the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning – and I stopped writing and reading and painting and riding horses and playing on swing-sets. I also stopped laughing. I’m trying to connect with the person that I was long ago. She’s in there. Somewhere.

5) Having feelings is normal. For over two decades, I lived with a person who was unable to express love, sorrow or pain. Unwilling to cry, he physically left the room whenever I tried to discuss an emotional issue. He often called me “crazy” when I showed even the slightest bit of anger or sadness. With the help of a great therapist, I’ve learned that I’m not crazy. I’m a whole person who feels things deeply.

As far as I’m concerned, Alecia and I are both warriors: learning how to take what has happened to us, good or bad, think about it, and learn to improve from it.

What unlearning have you done lately? What new idea/practice are you incorporating into your daily life?

*STBX = soon to be ex

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

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Adjunct of the Year & Concern About My Future Career

At the end of May, I was honored by the English/Philosophy Department at Monroe Community College when I was awarded Adjunct of the Year.

I didn’t expect the award to be a big deal — more symbolic than anything — so when I sauntered into the English Department on the designated day and the predetermined time, I was sort of surprised to be greeted by two Adjunct Coordinators and my Department Chair. They had plans.

First, one of the Adjunct Coordinators, Keith Jay, made a little speech about my service to the College.

Honestly, it was like my wedding.

I barely heard him. I saw his mouth moving, but my brain was all: Whaaaat?

Keith handed me a certificate.

Nice, right?

Honestly, the certificate would have been enough!

But then they gave me flowers.

Pretty, right?

And then my Department Chair handed me an envelope with ninety-six bazillion dollars.

Ben looks good in green, right?

Keith asked me to follow him into the hall.

(At that point, I would have followed him anywhere.)

“Your nameplate will eventually be there.” Keith pointed to a hook on an otherwise empty wall. “The plaque is at the engraver’s now.”

I followed Keith back into the English office where he picked up a white glove.

Because I am a dork, I thought: Oh, this is it. This is the part where I get hazed.

I’m not kidding.

I thought I was going to have to clean out the English office, or perhaps the supply closet where everyone goes to get pens and pads of paper and markers and chalk. It can get pretty messy in there, especially around the end of the semester. I seriously thought someone was going to make me pass a “white glove” test.

(What’s wrong with me?)

The other adjunct coordinator, Professor Yulanda McKinney, pushed a black box into my hands.

Nestled inside layers of white silk was a crystal prism.

“Put this on before you pick it up.” Keith said, handing me the glove. “You don’t want to get fingerprints all over it.”

As I lifted the prism out of the box with my gloved hand, I saw it had been engraved with my name on it.

It’s hard to take a picture of a prism!

And I was overwhelmed.

Because I realized no one was going to haze me Yulanda and Keith and Cathy and all the people in my department view me as a colleague.

I may not have my own office or full-time hours, but the people with whom I work respect what I do.

Which is an awesome feeling.

So I was filled with gratitude.

Professor Keith Kay, me (in the white glove) & Professor Yulanda McKinney

Not long after I received this award, I had a dream. I was on a ship with a bunch of my students. I turned around to call to them, but no words came out of my mouth. A voice told me to leave them behind, that they would be okay.

I’ve been struggling with my vocal cords lately.

A lot.

Obviously, the damage is worse.

I keep thinking about that dream.

I don’t know how many semesters I have left in the classroom because some days I just squeak.

Or cough.

It goes without saying that I will, of course, give 100%, but if this September is to be my swan song, 20 & 1/2 years in the classroom will have been a lovely run.

I don’t know what I will do next.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything else.

Especially anything that has required me to be quiet.

Have you ever had to stop doing something that you really love? What made you stop? Were you able to replace that thing with something else? Or do you still miss the activity that you had to drop?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

For The Slow Readers Out There: A #LessonLearned by Christine Wolf

Christine Wolf is a big time blogger. I cannot believe she is even here today. Her blog, Riding The Waves, follows the life of a woman embracing life’s transitions: changing careers, helping children to grow up, keeping a 20-year marriage alive — all while enduring Chicago’s ever-changing weather patterns.

Christine has written a middle-aged novel for readers 8-12 years old called My Life Afloat, about a 12-year-old girl from the affluent suburb of Illinois whose parents both lose their jobs in the economic crisis. After their home is sold to avoid foreclosure, they must live on a sailboat in Chicago’s Monroe Harbor. She hopes to see her book published in 2013.

It probably will happen.

And here’s why.

Not too long ago, Christine was 1 of 5 Americans to interview President Obama live during the first streaming Google+ Hangout from The White House on January 30, 2012. She asked the President how we, as a country, should speak to children about the current economic situation. The President provided some interesting answers and, at the end of the interview, he asked for a copy of her book. You know, when it comes out. How cool is that? Here’s the interview.

(Christine appears at minutes 2:15, 17:15 and 48:40):

Christine writes a weekly opinion column about happenings in Evanston, Illinois for AOL Huffpost Media’s Patch.com and you can check out her awesome website! You can LIKE her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @tinywolf1

Click on the teacher lady’s stick to see other folks who posted in this series!

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For The Slow Readers Out There

My 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Carolyn Leece will forever be my all-time favorite teacher. It helped that she looked just like Carol Brady without the flippity-do-dah shoulder curls from those later Brady Bunch episodes, but Mrs. Leece’s most notable contribution to my overall development was teaching me how it is acceptable to be a slow reader.

I must have always read slowly, but in the 1970s, it never really mattered how fast the kids read in elementary school. For God’s sake, no one timed us or tracked Reading Recovery logs on us. The educational highlights of my elementary school years were mastering the Dewey Decimal system, making a mobile of the planets (including Pluto), and winning first place in the Multiplication Competition for the number eight.  Before junior high, I read all my Nancy Drew books at my own pace, lingered on every article in Seventeen Magazine (wasn’t my mom so cool to let me read that?), and lovingly absorbed my Judy Blume books without a glance at a clock.

Once I hit junior high, though, it came to light that a) I used way more Love’s Baby Soft Musky Jasmine Scent than human lungs could filter and b) my silent reading was soooooo much slower than that of my peers.

Instead of reading in small groups as we’d always done in elementary school, our 7th grade Language Arts classroom was set up in a much more “mature” fashion with orderly rows of desks facing the front of the room. A grown-up classroom for grown-up kids! In my head, I pretended I was a college girl, and I loved it.

Look how cute she is when she isn’t freaking out about talking to the President of the USA!

That is, until the day I realized how different I was from everyone else.

Mrs. Leece had pulled down the white, overhead projection screen, covering her perfectly looped, chalky script on the blackboard. “Today,” she said, smoothing her platinum bangs to the side, “we’ll be discussing the elements of the front page of a newspaper.” She laid a clear transparency over the projector’s light, displaying a smudgy image of The Chicago Tribune. Every feature was slowly circled and labeled with overhead markers in a splash of colors: The Masthead – blue. The Ears – red. Headlines – green. Bylines – black.

Then, Mrs. Leece asked us all to silently read the first five paragraphs of the first article, then raise our hands once we’d finished

When I raised my hand, I realized I was the last one to do so…by far. Kids around me rolled their eyes and snickered. Who knows how long I’d been staring, slack-jawed, at the black letters on the white screen.

As my face burned and panic rose, Mrs. Leece put her pen on the transparency.

She looked directly at me and switched off the projector’s light (leaving the fan on, of course).  Everyone was riveted. And then she said, directly to me, in front of the entire class, “You know what? I’m just like you.”

I stared.

“I savor every word.”

I blinked.

“We both appreciate lingering on words, don’t we?”

I remembered to breathe.

“Good for you,” she concluded, then went back to the lesson.

One week later, Mrs. Leece asked me if I’d like to babysit for her son.

I was stunned. If the Language Arts teacher thought enough of me to leave me in charge of her own child, she’d probably meant what she’d said. She didn’t just use words to boost my self-esteem; she reinforced her message from an entirely different angle. Her multidimensional approach didn’t have modern-day monikers like Whole Language or Multiple Intelligence Theory, but she left a lasting impression on me. She gave me the message in 1980 that it’s okay to be who you are, and I’ve been sharing that message ever since with anyone who, like me, does things just a little bit differently.

Have you ever had a panicky moment that was quickly and magically transformed?

The Book Collector: Bar Mitzvah Tales

Two years ago, Tech and I found ourselves parked in a part of Rochester that we don’t usually frequent. A voracious reader, there was a particular title he wanted to read and only one library actually had it in all of Rochester. And that library was downtown. He was hell-bent on getting it, and he knew that I would not rush to pay for a copy at the local bookstore.

So we went on a wee road-trip.

After he checked out the book with his library card, I suggested he check out their YA section.

After two minutes, Tech returned with a frown.

“This is the worst library ever,” he declared. “There are no books.”

He dragged me over to the YA area, and it was true; the selection was dismal.

“Where are all the kids’ books?” he asked the librarian sitting nearby.

She looked at Tech and told him honestly that sometimes people checked out books from the library and didn’t return them.

“You mean people steal them?” Tech was outraged.

“Some kids don’t have books at home, so they take them from here.” The librarian explained. “Once our books are gone, we don’t have the resources to replace them. And of course, some books just get lost.”

Tech Support tilted his head, trying to wrap his brain around the concept that not all children have shelves filled with books in their homes, the way he does.

In the car, Tech Support made an announcement.

“I want to collect books and give them to kids so they can have books at home,” he said. “Can I do that for my bar mitzvah?”

“Sure,” I said as I screwed around with the CD player.

“Will you help me?” he demanded. “Seriously?”

I looked at my son’s eyes in the rear view mirror.

Tech has always been a collector. When he was younger, it was coins and LEGOs and Webkinz frogs. Later, he fell in love with mechanical pencils and magnets and rubber bands. He has a green bowl filled with origami stars and shelves filled with all kinds of weird stuff.

When my son gets an idea in his head, there is no stopping him.

He decided his goal would be to collect 1,300 books as a mitzvah project.

He picked 1,300 because the bar mitzvah usually occurs on or near a Jewish boy’s 13th birthday.

For him, the number 13 wasn’t unlucky.

It was super-symbolic.

I knew the collecting part wasn’t going to be hard for him.

I just didn’t know what we were going to do with them.

I figured we’d let them pile up and figure out that part later.

He started collecting just before Thanksgiving and by mid-April and, with the help of wonderful neighbors, friends and the folks at The Rochester Fencing Club, Tech exceeded his goal.

This picture was taken as an after-thought. After I realized we had boxed up nearly all the books.

One afternoon, we stood in the basement.

There were books in bins and boxes and bags.

Everywhere.

“Mom,” Tech said. “Can you find a place where I can give kids the books?” he asked. “So they can keep them?”

“I don’t know,” I told him.

Because I didn’t think I could.

I really didn’t.

I knew we would be able to drop them off somewhere where adults would sort through them and distribute them to other adults for use in classrooms.

But then I stumbled onto The Mercier Literacy Program for Children.

I called the contact person.  We did a little back and forth, and then it happened: a miracle disguised as an email.

It read:

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the RocRead program taking place in the Rochester City School District. Children read a book, write an essay on it, and once they hand it in, they get an incentive/prize.

So far, students have read 14,000 books through this program.

The details are being worked out right now – but the preliminary plan for Monday, April 30th is to have an event in the library of one of the schools to announce that every child present will receive a book as part of RocRead – with your son present to distribute books.

How does this sound? 

How did it sound?

It sounded like someone took a cup of totally cool and mixed it with three pounds of awesome.

The following Monday, Tech sat in the front seat of my Honda and I drove to school #41 in a car stuffed from floor to ceiling with books which we had sorted by grade level. When we found school #41, Tech borrowed a cart, loaded it up with boxes, and zigzagged his way back into the school.

The principal appeared. She greeted my son with a hug, and we all headed downstairs to the library. The custodian materialized with the cart and told us she would bring everything to the library on the service elevator. While Tech chatted it up with the librarian, the custodian appeared and I scattered books across two long tables until both surfaces were covered.

And then they came. Wearing uniform red shirts and khaki pants, the children sat crisscross-applesauce. The school librarian introduced Tech and asked him to speak to the students. I was certain he was going to freeze up. We had not prepared for that kind of thing. He did not know how to speak in front of…

…but there he was.

Doing it.

Explaining why he had started the book collection.

And when the librarian announced that each student was going to get to take home two books from Tech’s collection, the kids bounced up and down and cheered.

Tech smiled.

As the kindergarteners walked around the tables, Tech encouraged them to shift the books around and not to only look at the top layer. Once the children made their selections, they returned to their designated areas on the floor and another group came up.

I have to tell you, it was a beautiful sight.

They were all reading!

Or trying to.

Some silently. Some aloud. Some to each other.

The local television crews were there. Tech was interviewed three times, and even though he really wanted to downplay his role, he went along with whatever the people asked him to do.

I always knew that there would come a day that I would look at my son — the person who carries 50% of my DNA — and see him as the person he might become.

On that day, I saw my son as a person who doesn’t just have the potential to do good things, but as a person who is already doing them.

And I was amazed.

Because up until then, I just thought he was the boy who forgot his coat in his locker.

The kid who left his water bottle at fencing practice.

The dude who still needed to be reminded to brush his teeth.

But on that day, I saw my son as other people see him.

I realized that he likes to help other people.

And not because I told him to help people.

But because he really likes to.

On that day, I thought about the way he used to put together his elaborate LEGO sets, and I realized his tenaciousness was all about creating a person who would sets his sights on a goal and then surpass that goal.

My son is not finished.

Just today he asked, “What should I do next?”

I shrugged, confident he will figure it out.

Because that’s what he does.

This year, my son reminded me that individuals can repair the world.

I almost forgot.

How do your children inspire you? Have you ever done a community service project with your family? If so, what kinds of things have you found the most rewarding?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

When Your Teacher Goes Off Topic: #LessonLearned by Dawn Sticklen

Click on the teacher lady's butt to see other posts in this series!

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Dawn Sticklen writes a blog called Since You Asked… in which she explores… well… everything. This April she did the A-Z Challenge along with a lot of other bloggers who pushed themselves to post every day with a significant word or concept that corresponded with the assigned letter of the day. I don’t think Dawn has missed a single one. And they are at Y! (Why? Because we like you!)

Dawn started her blog to write about adoption and parenting, but these days she writes about everything under the sun — which is really refreshing because you never know what you might find at Dawn’s place.

Tweet with Dawn, and you’ll see she exudes a positivity which is infectious. But not like herpes!

Folks can Find Dawn on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @JoMoBlogger.

• • •

Ode to Sweet Jimmy

Mr. Padgett was my high school math teacher. While “Sweet Jimmy” had a disposition that was anything but, he nonetheless managed to endear himself to his students. (Well, some of us.) With arms covered in tattoos commemorating his service in the navy, Mr. Padgett’s imposing presence intimidated the typical mild-mannered high school student. In his booming voice he frequently offered his opinion about matters such as the low rate of pay afforded teachers in our district: “I am the ONLY certified mathematician employed by Nassau County and yet I receive no extra compensation for my credentials. Thus, I am compelled to teach night classes at the community college,”; or the district’s refusal to participate in the one Federal holiday deemed worthy of recognition by the ex-fighter pilot: “Once again it is Veterans Day and Nassau County is the ONLY school district in the entire state of Florida that does not feel it is important to show honor to our war veterans by giving us the day off.” This last declaration was always followed by a vivid depiction of how, while serving in Viet Nam, Sweet Jimmy’s plane was shot down and he was in a total body cast for the remainder of the war (or something like that).

Dawn's "Sweet Jimmy"

Mr. Padgett had quaint little phrases that he wrote on the board each year to help us better understand the material he was covering. Statements such as, “Pi R Squared Cornbread R Round,” helped us to remember basic formulas in geometry while, “O I C, I C Y, and I C 2,” reminded us that eventually the light will indeed come on during a lesson and we WILL understand the concepts presented to us (or else we would fail and end up in Mr. Roberts’ less challenging, albeit more practical, math class).

Mr. Padgett took time to teach us about the finer points in life, since Nassau County also refused to present solutions for the real issues teens in the 1980’s faced (you know, those unique dilemmas only those of us who graduated in 1984 dealt with – namely, sex, drugs, and rock and roll – but mostly sex). We never knew if a morning’s math lesson would also include a reality check about birth control (“You do, of course, realize that the pill must be taken more than just either before or after you have sex in order for it to work?”) or sexually transmitted diseases (“Herpes is forever; true love is not. Always use a condom.”)

One of the most memorable math lessons, though, was the day that Mr. Padgett instructed us to take our seats and prepare to pay close attention to a film he thought would prove enlightening to us. He proceeded to turn off the lights and cue the projector for a film hosted by none other than Ann Landers. For 50 minutes we listened as Ann interviewed couples infected with either herpes or gonorrhea. “What about…herpes?” became our class mantra as we tried to figure out what possessed those couples to agree to be interviewed on camera about such humiliating afflictions. (Remember, this was in the days before reality TV.)

Mr. Padgett taught us much more than just mathematics. He taught us about life, and somehow managed to teach me, personally, to respect myself enough to always put forth my best effort – no matter what the task before me.

Sadly, Sweet Jimmy died a few years after I graduated from high school. However, his legacy lives on not only as a great math teacher, but as one who helped prepare students for life in general. His impact on students’ lives has survived long after his own mortality – and how many teachers can say that?

What is the weirdest thing you ever learned in a class that had absolutely nothing to do with the course subject matter?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Shecky the Meckyl and His Technicolor Groove: My Seussian Self-Help Book

A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, Ohio

Image via Wikipedia

When my son was in 5th grade, he went through a rough patch socially. We had moved to a new house – which meant a new school for him, and there was one douche-bag boy in particular who made his daily life difficult.

In an effort to try to deal with what my son was feeling, I created a little picture book with weird little drawings of a funky little creature named Shecky the Meckyl — who just so happened to be getting teased by some other “Meckyls.”

My son let me read it to him.

Once.

When I finished, I asked him what he thought about my book. He exhaled with the kind of exhaustion that seemed too dramatic for a 5th grader.

“I get it, Mom. I’m Shecky. And some day some people will appreciate me for who I am. I just have to wait it out.”

In hindsight, my son’s annoyed tone wasn’t inappropriate. I was trying to simplify a complex problem. I was telling him “Be Yourself!” when he knew all too well the person that he was — his core self — was being rejected daily. He felt attacked, defenseless, and friendless.

Over the weekend, we found the old manuscript in a bin.

He didn’t remember it, so we read it again.

I thought I would share it. It may not have worked in the moment, but it reminds me that the woes of youth are, in his case, quickly forgotten. And perhaps my little story might offer something else to someone who is going through a rough patch.

• • •

Shecky the Meckyl & His Technicolor Groove

Shecky the Meckyl had a technicolor groove

He’d leave colors in his wake whenever he’d move.

Sweet Shecky had colors where shadows should be

He made rainbows on sidewalks for Meckyls to see.

Shecky loved colors, as most people do,

But Meckyls turned up their noses and said, “PICKLE-POO!”

Which was not a nice thing for a Meckyl to say.

It made Shecky sad, and his colors turned gray.

Said one nasty Meckyl on one nasty day:

“We don’t like your colors; we don’t like your hues

We step in your shades, and get stains on our shoes!”

“You are too bright!” said this nasty fellow,

“Your pink is too pink, your yellow, too yellow!”

“Why don’t you keep all those shades deep inside?

Lock them up tight,”

And so . . . Shecky tried . . .

He held in the purple

He held in the green

He held in the fuschia

And aquamarine.

But once in a while some blue would appear

And the Meckyls would laugh as they though he was queer.

Shecky was puzzled as Meckyls could be

He missed the bright hues which had filled him with glee.

Shecky sat himself down on a cold piece of birch.

And his smile flew away alone in that prickle-perch.

He was sitting deserted on his bum in the street

When who do you think Shecky happened to meet . . .

But his friend Schmeckyl Meckyl who was out for a walk

And when he saw Shecky he stopped for a talk.

“Where are your colors, Shecky? Where did they go?

Can’t they come back, Shecky? Please make it so!”

Shecky answered sadly, a tear in his eye,

“Other Meckyls don’t like them, so why even try?”

“Don’t let those Jabber-Flabbers rain on your parade.

I like you, Shecky and all the colors you’ve made.”

“Please make a rainbow, you know what to do.

Those Meckyls are just cranky. Don’t let them change you!”

So Shecky straightened the glockins which grew from his bum,

He squeezed and he pushed and hoped they would come.

And it started to happen, as things frequently do,

Shecky smiled a smile, and his colors shone through!

With colors flip-flapping, once more Shecky was high,

Ready for anything under the sky.

Some Meckyls still look at Shecky with shlock in their eye,

But now Shecky is thankful he is a colorful guy.

My son doesn’t like to discuss 5th grade, and he rolls his eyes at me when I mention it. Meanwhile, I remain on amber alert.

Just because he is able to “straighten his glockins” and refuses to allow the “Mean Meckyls” of the world to be his undoing, I’m not so sure the same can be said of his mother.

What would you do if you found out your kid was a “Mean Meckyl”? When do you let kids fight their own battles? And when, if ever, do you move to intervene? And would you ever have your child call to apologize to another?

When the Teacher Doesn’t ‘Get’ Your Kid: a #LessonLearned by Marilyn Gardner

I “met” Marilyn Gardner when she was Freshly Pressed with the fabulous post “Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables.” As a total neatnik, I immediately took offense. But I quickly calmed down. Marilyn had so many fabulous things to say.

Cool things to know about Marilyn: She was raised in Pakistan and tasted her first strawberry in Afghanistan. She has 5 children born on 3 continents – 2 born at a hospital overlooking the Nile River. She loves tea and scones, especially in London. And she wants to be buried with her Passport.

Marilyn’s blog is called Communicating.Across.Boundaries. You should follow her on Twitter @marilyngard.

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Click on the teacher lady's butt to see other #LessonsLearned

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When The Teacher Doesn’t “Get” Your Kid by Marilyn Gardner

The F could not be disguised. No matter how skilled my son was with the fine-point of a Sharpie, we could tell that it was not an A+ in English. If the pen smudge hadn’t given it away, then the comments would have: “Does not do his homework. Disorganized. Enthusiastic in class.”  Even though I had heard the comments before and knew they came from a drop-down list on a computer program, they still stung. This was my easy-going, bright, 16 year-old, and he loves writing. How can he be getting an F?

School had always been a challenge for Jonathan and by default, me. Had I the ability and had he been a first-born, I would probably have decided to home-school but he was the youngest of five and I had become a relaxed parent, learning that a poor grade in high school didn’t necessarily equate to a life of underachieving. I had also learned that I could occasionally indulge in the immature act of locking myself in my room to escape, that unless blood was flowing there was no need to panic, and that hiding a secret stash of wine and chocolate did not make me an alcoholic or a binge drinker/eater – it made me a mom who knew how to coddle herself and engage in “self-care”.

Except when they don't.

I have tremendous respect for teachers and early on I realized although we may differ on the details, we both had the same goal in mind – that my children achieve their potential in an academic setting. Or, mostly we had the same goal in mind. Occasionally there was the teacher that did not seem to think there was potential, and that was the challenge presented with the F. While on the surface it looked like the F was a product of laziness and disorganization, on further scrutiny it was clear that the F was a product of Jonathan and the English teacher butting heads. The English teacher was a newbie and a realist. My son is an old soul and a romantic. This is a kid that spent a Friday night in October at an event called “Waking Jack Kerouac” in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is not your average student. And if I am honest, she is not the first teacher to face frustration with him in the classroom.

So there we were. Jonathan on one side, teacher on the other, me in between. If there was ever a time to put in the ear plugs and shout “I’m not listening! I’m not listening” to both of them, this was it.  But the reality was (and is) that I need to hear and understand both sides. Life is not about others understanding us, although it’s nice when it happens.

Life is about seeing from both points of view and helping negotiate understanding between the two.

I don’t think this teacher will ever get Jonathan, and the outcome will not necessarily be a grade that is pretty, no matter how much he tries to disguise it with a sharpie. But she isn’t there just to ‘get’ him. She has a classroom full of students, many with far more difficult circumstances than my son. Although I desperately want her to understand and appreciate this child that drives me crazy and that I would give my life for, it’s not a requirement and doesn’t mean she isn’t a good teacher with other, more mainstream, students.

The great thing about this story is that in the midst of the defeat of an F from one teacher, another heard Jonathan playing piano two days later, stopped in and said “I don’t know if you know this, but you are known as an outstanding musician by the faculty in the arts department.”

“Thank you” he said. “My peers don’t think so.”

“Your peers don’t know shit,” she responded.

He grinned until he fell asleep that night.

@Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

wotz da big deal cuz u kno wot i mean

Tomorrow is National Grammar Day in the United States.

I thought I would share some real examples of email communications that I have received over the last 12 months from first year college students.

Please know my intention is not to poke fun at my former students. I respect them and see so much growth during the course of one semester. But I am ashamed of our nation’s education system because I receive communications from students that are peppered with errors like this all of the time. It’s time to pay attention to our children. If we don’t teach our kids to be solid writers, if we don’t give them the skills they need to read and write masterfully, they aren’t going to be competitive in this world which is becoming increasingly reliant on professional international communications.

7 Things That Can Interrupt Solid Grammar

1: Illness

2: Desperation.

3: Pushing SEND too quickly.

4: Contraception.

5: Music.

6: Missing the bus.

7: TMI

Which one is your favorite? Do you think this is funny or sad? Do me a favor, will ya? Show me your grammar skills. Pick one of these messages and fix everything that’s wrong with it. Make it pretty. Please?

The Horror of Public Speaking: A #LessonLearned by Chrystal H.

There's @gumballgirl64!

Enter my iPad cover giveaway

Chrystal H. has loved math for as long as she can remember.  In 6th grade, she decided to be a math teacher. At the time, she wanted to teach 5th grade math, since that is what she knew best. When she got to high school, Algebra I and Algebra II changed her mind.

Amazingly, Chrystal’s lesson learned is not from a favorite math teacher. It is a lesson that came from an English teacher who taught her more than English. How cool is that? You can follow Chrystal at The Spirit Within or on Twitter at @gumballgirl64.

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Click on the teacher lady's hand to see other people who have written about "Lessons Learned"!

The Horror of Public Speaking

In 10th grade, the English curriculum was set up so that we took one quarter of poetry, one quarter of essay writing, one quarter of public speaking, and spent one quarter learning how to write a research paper. The poetry unit was fun, the essay writing challenging, and the research paper was a skill I knew I would need the following year for US History. But public speaking? How I dreaded that part of the year!

As a child, I was painfully shy. As an adolescent, the idea of public speaking was terrifying. (I must not have realized at the time that teaching involves public speaking every day!) Mr. Tibbetts taught that part of the 10th grade year and was one of the few male teachers at my all-girls school. I was a little afraid of him to begin with, since he had a reputation as the only teacher who could spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces. Fortunately, I found out that he could also be kind and supportive when a student needed it.

We had to write and deliver informative speeches, persuasive speeches, and personal history speeches. We learned about breathing, eye contact, and speaking slowly.

It was awful.

And it was wonderful.

Although I hated having to get up in front of my classmates, worried that they would judge me harshly, I loved Mr. Tibbetts. He was always encouraging, constructively critical, and extremely patient with this shy math geek.

Senior year, we were given semester-long electives from which to choose, and I chose to take Mr. T’s classes both semesters – even though one of them was Drama, which had the requirement that we memorize and deliver a speech from a play.  I chose Hamlet’s soliloquy, and 30 years later, I still remember the first part of it!

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

Through Mr. T’s guidance, I “took arms” against the pains of public speaking, and by opposing them, I have found myself able to stand in front of a class, in front of the whole school, even in front of my church, and speak.

Not too long ago, I learned my amazing teacher — the man who took the time to help me in a subject that was a weakness for me — had passed away. He was truly one of the best teachers I ever had; he helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, encouraged me to work at things that did not come easily to me, and most importantly, taught me the ability to spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tibbetts.

What pieces do you remember reciting when you were in school? Could you deliver things with ease or were you a train-wreck?

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Thanks For Reaming Me Out: A #LessonLearned by Ermine Cunningham

Ermigal with some of her former students

Odds and Ends from Ermigal is a fabulous blog. A recently retired English as a Second Language teacher, Ermine Cunningham’s favorite years were teaching students from all over the world. (See them up there?)

One of the things that I love best about Erm’s blog is that she writes about everything and anything under the bed. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Well, that’s what it’s like at Ermine’s. One minute we are talking about salsa lessons and the next thing we know, she admits “Herman Cain Made a Pass At Me, Too.

If you like a good surprise, you will love Ermigal.

• • •

Click on the teacher lady's nose to see other writers who have posted about lessons learned as well as the schedule for who is coming up!

Dear Miss Brown: Thanks for Reaming Me Out

As a greenhorn seventh grader trying to maneuver my way around the unfamiliar world of Junior High School, I was introduced to the new concept of “Slam Books” in Miss Brown‘s homeroom one morning: a spiral notebook with names of kids written at the top that was passed around surreptitiously for anonymous comments — positive or negative — a prehistoric version of internet bullying or sucking up, take your pick.

Eagerly, I became the first taker on a brand new Slam Book in Miss Brown’s homeroom and tried to be clever and cool with my entries. My summer growth spurt made me taller than most of the boys in my class, and I’d been spotted wearing an undershirt in the locker room after gym, as my mother pooh-poohed wearing a bra until I “needed one”. Stationed at my vantage point on the fringes of acceptance, I took a stab at being popular; carefully dressed and wearing a bra I’d purchased at K-Mart, I wanted to fit in.

On the page with “Ginny Bloss” written at the top, I had written, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

I passed the book along and went to my locker before the bell rang to switch classes.

I was on my knees digging in my locker when my teacher faced me, her large green eyes blazing. “Did you write this?” she demanded, pointing to the page with Ginny’s name.

I remember this classmate as small and quiet in class–definitely not one of the “popular” kids. I’d figured out that some kids were cheerleaders or student council material, definitely the ones whose group I wanted to be in. Ginny was not anywhere near being a part of this select bunch; she even paid attention in Mr. Foster’s science class while a group of us fooled around and passed notes.

“Yes,” I whispered. My stomach churned with a feeling of impending doom.

Miss Brown proceeded to go up one side of me and down the other. I distinctly remember when she asked me furiously:

“Who do you think you are?”

That feeling of shame and regret, along with those words, have stuck with me. To this day, that moment in the hall influences how I view other people; on that long ago morning, I learned — in a most basic way — that we are all equal and worthy of respect.

It didn’t hurt that my parents reinforced this trait in me also, but Miss Brown brought it home in a way a thirteen year old could learn from if she chose to do so. My life has been, I hope, a reflection of what I learned that day.

Thanks, Miss Brown.

Have you ever had a “public shame” moment? What did you do? How was it handled? What did you learn?