Why I’m Glad I’m Not a Kid: Part One

Recent trips into the classroom at one public school where I work has inspired a series of blog posts. In fact, it’s reminded me to be thankful I’m not a kid these days.

My main job is to be a writing superhero. My alter ego works as a substitute teacher in local middle and high schools. There are plenty of things there to inspire my creative side, as many blog posts attest.

Unfortunately, all is not magic and unicorns in the realm of public education.

I’ve known this to be true for many years. It’s the main reason I decided NOT to pursue a degree in education when I went back to college in 2010. But in the final weeks of the school year, it was reiterated to me.

Why am I glad I’m not a kid?

Because education in the 21st century is all about meeting regulations and ranking well on state assessments.

Back in my day, school was about learning to read, write, do sums (and other math you never use in real life) in a social environment where you were expected to get along with everyone.

Learning at School?

Isn’t school supposed to be for the purpose of learning?


And not learning how to bully others. Or make excuses for late homework. Or perfect the art of doing as little as possible.

Believe me. Spend a few days in the average public middle school, and you’ll start to wonder.

Who decides what kids are taught in school?

Did you say the teachers? You’re wrong if you did.

Not even the school board has the ultimate power over curriculum.

Nope. Big Brother gets to say what will be taught in school.

Or else.

The fact they require kids to spend weeks and months learning things that do NOT help them understand their culture or prepare them to be an adult isn’t even the worst of it.

It’s not?

High school teachers and counselors in our school district have been heard to say, “Middle school doesn’t really count.”

So, what are they doing there? Why are we wasting six or seven hours of our time hanging out in classrooms?

Every day of school should be preparing kids to be responsible adults. Primary school should focus on the basics of reading. Once they get to third grade, throw in the basics of math. Without those two things, they’re not going to be able to succeed in the upper grades.

Nor will they be able to fill out a job application or make a budget.

Citizenship in School

I’ll be the first parent to tell you that it isn’t the school’s job to teach my kid to be a decent human being. Sorry. If you wait until your kid’s five to start teaching courtesy, discipline and respect, it might be too late.

It is NOT the school’s job to teach my child values or how to treat other people.

School needs to be a safe place to learn the complexities of social interactions.

How do I react if I have to work with a stranger? What if I get stuck with someone I don’t like? What should I do if my teacher doesn’t like me?
And the answer is NOT tell my parents and have them call the school to put me in an ideal situation.

That’s not life. School social settings should prepare kids to face the interactions they will have in the workplace. We’ve all had to work with someone we didn’t know or didn’t like.

I might be the only one who’s ever had a boss that I didn’t get along with, but I’d like to think it’s a common occurrence. And my mom didn’t rescue me from that person because that’s not what being an ADULT is about.

Staff at school should model ideal behaviors, sure. They shouldn’t tolerate bullying. Yes, they should keep kids from beating each other up because school is supposed to be a safe place.

Natural consequences should be allowed to fall on students in cases when it doesn’t mean bodily harm. For example, if you’re late too many times to work, your boss will fire you. There should be consequences for being late to class.

And I don’t want to hear your excuse. You either have a note from an adult…or you don’t. That’s all I need to know.

We’re only hurting the future of our society by failing our students in school. They deserve to learn to read, write and do math, and they should be held accountable for obeying the standard of conduct required in the schoolhouse.

Politics in School

I’m not saying that learning and citizenship don’t happen in schools these days. But those aren’t the priorities.

Government has their fingers in the U.S. educational system, and they like to generate red tape. Schools rely on the government for funding, so they have no choice but to march to the regulatory drumbeat.

Or they can shut their doors.

What happened recently to remind me of politics in school?

A teacher who taught both of my sons and I’ve worked closely with for a decade is transferring to a different position. I didn’t know asking her about it would open a can of worms.

The school has decided to combine language arts and social studies for middle schoolers. This isn’t a new or unusual thing. We had it before when the students could have a humanities block—two class periods for this class.

That isn’t what’s happening. Teachers will be expected to cover the learning goals for both subjects in one hour.

Furthermore, they’ll only receive one day of training on how to do this.

I hope the trainers are handing out Time Turners or some other magical device that will stretch one hour in to two (or ten).

How can students be expected to learn twice as much content in half the time? How can teachers be expected to teach twice as much content in half the time?

The biggest problem I have with this: the school is doing this because of budgetary constraints. They will use fewer staff to teach in this way.
Because money is what education is all about in our world.

I’m sure schools were funded the same way when I was a kid, but there weren’t common core standards and annual state assessments back then.

We went to school to learn how to be a productive citizen of the United States of America. That’s why the founding fathers pushed for public education for all people.

Kids these days are getting the short end of the learning stick. And our country will reap its dues when these under-educated people are running our country in a couple decades.

Are there things you’ve noticed about kids in school that make you grateful to have grown up in an earlier era?

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It’s Month Six Already?

In honor of yet another month in the Dauntless year of 2017, today’s post will be mostly pictorial.

How about some poetry to start things off?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around here, no one is really feeling Frodo.

What used to be the end of school on June 14, is now more like June 22. (Snow days aren’t always a good thing).

I finished my senior year the last week of May. Because summer started in June. Remember the days when…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students aren’t the only ones who count down to summer vacation. You know what really gets a teacher wishing for the last day of school?

Every teacher and student in the world knows that June holds this imperative:

In Oregon, we can welcome the month of June with joy and anticipation.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll get sunshine over showers.

June means more time to write as my subbing days are over (well, for the last week anyway). This year it means traveling to a new country.

Summer is my favorite season. Not surprising since I love the sunshine.

What are you looking forward to in June?

 

 

The Author and the Creative Writing Class

It’s rewarding to walk into a classroom and have a student say, “You’re the published author.” For someone whose dream is to write for the young adult audience, it’s especially thrilling.
I would know. I do. And it happened to me.
The next words from this thrilled student’s mouth? Care to guess?
“What did you write again.”
Yep. The face was memorable but the book title was not.
Although, several students recognized the cover of the book I had discussed with them in November, months before.


And then there was the creative writing class.
What I Expected
When the middle school English teacher gave me “freedom” to teach whatever I wanted to her creative writing class, I smiled. Maybe I sent the clouds scurrying from the radiant beams of joy.
“We’re finishing up a unit on mystery and suspense,” she wrote. “They have stories to read to the class.”
Long stories. I was impressed.
The fact many of the stories read more like horror? Not as impressive to my anti-scare self.
Based on the reaction from the regular English students (noted above), I expected the writers to fall all over me.
Not even a smile when I mentioned I was a published author. Oh-kay.
I did get a positive reaction when I told them we wouldn’t be moving on to the poetry writing unit. Cheers all around.
When I offered to comment on their rough drafts to see if they might want to make changes before they turned the story in two days later? Not a single taker.
My published status meant nothing to these young writers.
“I would have flipped if a published author offered to read my stories,” a little voice inside me whined.
Reality Bites
The forum the teacher used for sharing the stories invited only positive comments once the author finished their reading.
“I liked the description.”
“Loved how real the characters were.”
“You did a great job building tension.”
Sometimes what they said was even true.
I itched to mark up these stories. Several of them had great premises. Others were a mashup of every police show and horror movie the student had seen.
My lips were sealed.
And I didn’t get to comment on even one story of the nine that were read over the first two days I worked in the room.
Happily Ever After
None of these stories had a happy ending. Apparently, suspense stories involve the narrator dying (in two cases), lots of minor characters’ deaths (in over half the stories) and fathers who were really mass murderers (in three instances).
Yikes! Should I report this to the authorities? Perhaps these stories had a hint of auto-biography in them.
I offered the class two choices for our Friday writing activity. As I expected, they chose the “finish the story” write around.
I selected nine young adult genres (not mystery or suspense), and wrote down a first line. Most of these I took from published books of that genre. A couple leapt from my imagination reservoir.
And they wrote.
But the suspense unit was still too fresh in their minds. With the exception of a few stories, the variety of authors chose to steer the contemporary diary toward suicide and murder. In fact, the actual horror story was less horrifying than some of the others.
On this occassion, however, a few of the students asked me to “finish” the stories that didn’t find resolution.
There were three. Two of them didn’t involve murderous parents or homicide in any form.
It was great fun pulling all their threads together. My favorite? The fantasy, of course. Although the steampunk story had a more interesting plot line.
An author teaching creative writing might not be the smooth fit you’d imagine. Even if imagining is what you do for a living.

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Three reasons why I avoid Guilt trips

guilttrip

Come along on a recent guilt trip I took! No, really. It will be delightful. I promise!

“Did you know Lily’s foot was hurt?”

My stomach plummeted lower than the soles of my manure-encrusted boots. This friendship detonated in front of me. I’d done the unthinkable – injured her horse.

“No. When did this happen?”

Explanations ensue. Part of my brain is processing the input, determining guilt or innocence with the finesse of an experienced judge. Sounded like it happened in the field. I worked her in the arena. Whew!

“She was wondering why you trotted a horse with an injured foot.”

The guilt swells again, almost exploding my chest. What sort of imbecile would lunge a horse that was limping? But she wasn’t limping. Apparently, all that head tossing she did – low rather than high – was supposed to clue me in.

Except I’m a greenhorn. Yes, I noticed her stretch seemed shorter than usual. She moved sluggishly to a trot when she normally snapped into that gait.

Let me tell you, when an expensive animal is involved, the guilt trip can be bumpy.

My mother could put me on a guilt trip with less than a blink of the eye. One well-placed glare, saturated with condemnation, and I was gone.

vacationwatsthatIt made me appreciate the fact that this sort of trip was hardly a vacation. There wasn’t anything fun about it. Did it lasso me into conformity? Certainly. Until I decided I was done being controlled by someone else’s whims.

Mothers are expert “travel agents” for guilt trips. Older siblings learn the job well, too. Most of these must become teachers since, next to Mom, teachers have perfected the art of launching an unsuspecting soul into guilt orbit.

I decided to be atypical. As a mother and a teacher, I refuse to employ the guilt-inducing tactics that produce the desired compliance for sons and students. I have my reasons. Three of them.

Guilt trips damage self-esteem

You don’t normally hear me spouting to protect self-esteem at all costs. I think focusing on low self-esteem is a form of pride. Let’s focus on edification instead.

Guilt tears down. It makes a person second-guess their ability to make decisions. With one good swing of its hammer, guilt can make a decent person feel lower than pond scum.

“What was I thinking? How could I have done that? I’m stupider than dirt.” Doesn’t sound like healthy self-talk to me.

Guilt has a silent partner: shame

At the end of many forays motivated by guilt lies the ugly companion of guilt: shame.

While on the little trip, we fill our heads with the negative self-talk demonstrated above. By the time we reach our destination, we’re feeling about one centimeter tall.

You can be sure that the inevitable whammy life will throw at us as we disembark the Guilt Train will shove us under the wheels. Slicing through our soul with a hefty dose of shame.

“I’m going to stay in my room for a week. I’ll never go near another horse. I’m a danger to everyone.” Sounding more desperate all the time, right?

Guilt doesn’t teach responsibility

This is the biggest reason I despise guilt trips. My job as a mother and teacher is to help my sons and students grow into rational adults. They need to learn to be responsible for their own choices.

Too many guilt trips and those people start blaming us for their mistakes. After all, we’re the only one who seems to condemn them and send them down the dark path to shame.

I believe in natural consequences.

In the event of the stupidity revealed at the outset of this post, I suffered natural consequences. Lily needed shoes on her front feet to reinforce the walls of her hooves so her soles wouldn’t get bruised by the hard ground. The ferrier couldn’t come for almost ten days.

The natural consequences of exercising an injured horse: no working or riding her for at least two weeks.

Every choice has a consequence. You choose not to go to the family reunion regardless of mother’s attempt to guilt you. The rich uncle you’ve only met twice writes all attendees into his will. Guess what you aren’t getting?

What do you think about guilt trips? Do you employ them? Have you been on one recently?