Tag Archives: adolescence

Volunteering and School Credit

I blogged a few weeks ago about how important it is to give back to a community, and with students in High School requiring a minimum of forty volunteer hours to graduate, know that many wait until their final year to grab the credit while others get “hooked on volunteering” from their grade nine year.

Students please be aware that mockery is a form of bullying.  It shouldn’t need to be said but indeed some students are so disturbed by what they see when they go to volunteer, they later adopt a bravado and can be heard joking about the very people who only a few hours earlier they were meant to be helping!  Empathy is aparently not as natural an emotion as we would like to believe.  In fact volunteering itself becomes a skill, and each station or space where one offers to be of service will have its own guidelines or rules for new volunteers to first apply, then with commitment and practiced observation skills, share their own techniques and what might further the organization.

It is important though to think carefully before signing on to volunteer, even if only to gain those needed High School credits.  Are you a behind the scenes or front line person? have you an actual interest in learning more about the particular situation? Can you do the work as it is described?

Agencies in the service industry might also appreciate office help and provide a solid reference for the needed first job. When the sign goes up to volunteer consider the following:

  • have I patience?
  • will I be comfortable in an unusual setting (as in some place of worship, or community hall where one might not regularly attend)?
  • is there a language requirement?
  • is there any minimum amount of hours for the training which could require more than the school demands?
  • am I comfortable in a crowd?
  • is it a hands on position ( hospital help, working with children or adults…)?
  • is it one to one after the training or will I always be part of a team?
  • will I have a chance to learn something new? ( always one is learning-here perhaps a new skill)
  • if athletic could I share these skills and help others?
  • if academic could I share these skills and help others?
  • have I a particular interest in any field where volunteers will be welcomed (could range from gardening, to robotics, or museum work, or learning a trade and shadowing a skilled worker, apprentice style, while helping as required)
  • have I truly considered trying something new and where my skills might be most useful?

Having worked with volunteers who ranged from High School age to seniors I have learned some come with high anticipation to simply “begin” and others shyly wait at a door pondering the fit.  Both are extremely useful once shown the ropes and allowed to choose where and how they feel they may contribute most.

Please do take it seriously and recognize that whichever place you decide to help with your time, energy, and enthusiasm will begin to count on you- and be respectful as if it were a paying position.  Some organizations are only able to do the work they provide due to the help of caring volunteers.  And don’t be frightened to try something “unusual” as you may learn something about yourself in the process.

2015-2016- a year to explore!

Not Censored

An adult student shared with me the other day the existence of a website that features racist jokes! Now I am a believer in Freedom of Speech, and the need to not censor material- to put one’s effort instead towards educating people about the difference between funny and mean.  Yet I wished I could shut down such a website – initially I had thought how to interpret the joke- then realized it ought not to be explained.  We live in a world that is increasingly censored- and this too is bad for too much “protection” from the way some people may be raised, the ones who were taught intolerance instead of understanding and who become frightened of the “other” members of society and therefore resort to mean- in the form of jokes, in the form of actual violent actions, in the form of joining groups that encourage violence towards others- in short, bullying on a grand scale- may result in a generation that is unprepared to fight the “bully” either in a formal fashion (voting down any bigot who chose to run for power) or in an informal fashion by declaring such “jokes” not funny.

Yes I too had moments when my children were little when I wished I could simply wrap them up in bubble paper and coat them with some type of protective shield.  And teaching is a strong reminder that thinking and doing are symbiotic, and that we must expose our children to the underside of society as well as to “all things positive” if we are to be raising thinking, feeling, adults who will participate fully in society.  So in spite of truly wishing that such websites as the one mentioned didn’t exist,  I recognize that not only does the promise of “Freedom of Speech” allow for anyone to say anything, I am going to also be aware that when selecting and suggesting books for the YA set, that we look at what the act of censorship has over time restricted- for example why or how a book might have “enraged” a community or an individual enough to request that schools pull it off their shelves, or that libraries not feature a copy.  What was in the story, the writing, the setting? what actions did the characters ask us as readers to consider?

A simple example are the writings of Samuel Clemens- aka Mark Twain.  When one recognizes that Twain was asking readers to see the wrong in racism, and doing so by giving a reader a child’s insight into the adult society of his time*; or that a reading of Wuthering Heights** suggests that education and upbringing might not only challenge the status quo, but also challenges us as readers to consider in what ways social status continues to affect individual actions, then we are giving students a chance to consider for themselves what makes a book a “classic”; what messages resound across both time and space and continue to be questions that people have yet to answer fully.  We may strive for a  Utopian society, and may enjoy along with students the action adventure that went into a series such as  The Hunger Games, while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that today’s world is not the one depicted in the dystopian*** novel.  But how to continue to improve; to encourage the best in others? Reading continues to be a strong means of encouraging dialogue- and through dialogue- real freedom of speech- as in genuine communication, perhaps we are taking one step forward- I continue to hope so.   

*Huckleberry Finn

**Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte- the blurb for the novel states “Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Brontë, was asked to pay some of the publication costs”

For a list of Dystopian literature see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_literature

Experiential knowledge and Story time

Thinking of Reading Strategies and what might work best for each age group when found myself circling back to the simple concept of “story”.  We tell a story; we share a story; we read a story; and we critique a movie if the story within it lacked “substance” or simply asked us as viewers to work “too hard” to follow a plot and grow with the characters.  And readers of all ages too want to identify somehow with the characters- to be taken on a Roller Coaster Ride, perhaps, to be given a slow and steady walk from beginning to end- maybe; Readers “know” if a book appeals, even before we teach students how to formally analyze plot and character development and where to look for symbols and themes.

Had the pleasure yesterday evening of being reminded of this when a student became enthusiastic about the social issues within To Kill a Mockingbird– a modern “classic”, filled with so many nuances and options for discussion that I had to marvel anew how the book had actually been taken off of some reading lists.   The characters in this story have become near stereotypes, representing segments of society to be either admired or feared.  Racism, social conscience, economic differences within society, justice- a justice system for all?, children versus adults and understanding of “big” issues, social norms and social responsibility, individual versus society- the list of discussion topics goes on.  And though Harper Lee’s book is not the only one to call attention to the discrepancy between the way the world ought to be and the way the world often- in fact-is, this text may either make a reader grateful that it is now 2014- and issues depicted belong to the last century, or sad, that it is now 2014, and issues depicted may still be prevalent, in spite of many reasons to believe that by now, “everyone”  should know better.

Story then is what keeps a reader’s attention; the young child laughing as Mortimer climbs up the stairs “thump, thump, thump, thump”, the older child learning Greek Myths along with following Percy on his adventures, the high school student reacting to a character in The Help, or marveling at the formality within Pride and Prejudice, is absorbing how others- writers- have seen their society, and chosen to encapsulate in written form aspects of social interaction, some comedic, some tragic, some simply “as is”, that we, readers, might gain a little bit of insight and also question what we take for granted- how we interact with others; how others interact with us.

Story, oral and written, keeps us engaged. Young students require help in building vocabulary that will later be used to decipher the stories they are expected to read and make sense of through their academic years. One of our bigger tasks then is how to encourage vocabulary building, vocabulary usage, vocabulary extensions. And this task begins in preschool, where we sing songs, use movement and gesture to get at emotion, encourage play acting of various characters, and in general start the foundation for literacy acquisition. In doing so we are also encouraging the beginning of empathic relating, the ability to care about another and to feel that the other’s experience matters. Stories help us to move across artificial and real boundaries, boundaries of time and space, boundaries of religion and race, boundaries of culture and country. And while I am one who finds reading can actually transport a reader from the here and now into the story itself, I work with struggling readers daily. So I look for as many variations of story as possible, to cultivate an ability to encourage the reader to move beyond his or her own stereotype- a label possibly imposed by an academic institution- and to read first for pleasure in the story, then to evaluate the story; to read at a level that allows for absorbing the big picture within the tale, and to connect that image with what the student already has experienced. And regardless of age, to allow for the recap- the retelling of the story, the part when the student is able to say “I did this” (meaning I did the reading) for while retelling may not be the same action as summarizing or analyzing, retelling offers a strong practical reward- the student hearing his or her own voice while sharing ideas.  Isn’t this a central goal of a writing conference?

Singing in the shower…

Looking out my window at a beautiful sky, a current strong contrast with the heavy rain showering down a few hours ago.  Right now, calm sky, true blue, powder puff clouds, and that feeling one gets when the air is so clear one can feel bathed in possibilities.

The window is wide open, and the screen hardly visible; yet as I type I find myself marveling that there may be teachers and students who dread a unit on poetry- when poetry as an expression of feeling is what I know a poet would be able to do with my current view.  To freeze frame it for a second and third look through words which could express that combination of new day, new desires that the calm after a rain seems to unceasingly bring.

Am I writing poetic prose? Not in the mood to critique myself this morning.   Yesterday I had the opportunity we each are given at a birthday; a chance to wonder anew at life itself and the gift of another year.  I spent the early part with a large crowd of strangers brought together for a good cause; cheering or running ourselves to raise funds for a relatively new centre at a local hospital; a centre geared toward making it easier for parents to navigate a hospital health care system- and one geared especially to mental health.  Kudos to the families whose hard work and caring developed the second annual  RBC RUN FOR THE KIDS; my son ran 25 kilometers and though he didn’t hear me cheering amongst the crowd when in just under two hours he crossed the finish line (!) he, and all who ran, cheered, volunteered and/or organized the event made this a truly special birthday. For in looking back over all that we as a family accomplished this past year, I am truly amazed. Mother of two, my daughter was at her part time job, so couldn’t be with us at the event, but her diligence and work also suffused my day.  When I work with children or adults, I am so aware of how emotions affect our ability to absorb information. The RBC run is for all the children and their families who might for a period have forgotten how to sing; mental health and all its variety of issues was recently brought home with the unexpected death of famous actor Robin Williams- a man who appeared to be sharing his very soul with his audiences, yet who hid his pain until the pain took over.  His death a tragedy; and within our cities today, young people suffering as well- some who it is to be hoped may be helped by the Sunnybrook hospital Family Navigation Project- the more awareness, the better chance for healthy living.

Knowing how much I care about big picture goals as well as the details to make such goals real, and having children who are able to put into practice some of my dreams- I am not a runner-but am a believer- in the fact that opportunity allows for change, and that people working together be it running for a cause, or alerting the “world” that such causes are worthwhile, can and do, daily through little acts of kindness, create that wonderful word- GRACE – for each other. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to choose?

Profession or calling, enterprise or extension of self- how does one really decide?
Students entering grade 12, or first and second year University, or even earlier- here in Ontario, in grade eight, being asked to project forward, to pick their own learning stream, to choose applied or academic, to “guess” which courses truly will fulfill the goal of satisfied, independent adult “one day”. And then, to their surprise, when at University, to learn how many students ( just like them) are now changing direction, “discovering” through course selection new interests, new opportunities, and their own voice. Such a beautiful discovery; recognizing when to take to heart the comments of advisors and professors, when to decide one’s own goals, when and where to focus both attention and action.
When we look at pictures of High School students from the early 60s when streaming was in effect, almost an entire class when off to University in the pursuit of similar goals- I have heard first hand stories of a class in which all but one entered sciences, followed by medicine, and that one, first obtained a degree in commerce, then entered medicine as well! Today’s more individualized timetables suggest a more personalized approach to course selecting, but is this the reality?
A VIP for a Bank told me he hadn’t been considered good at math in High School, not showing interest- then took a commerce course and loved discussing what to do with “widgets”. For the record – he deals with a tremendous amount of “math” today. There are similar stories, and of course the current jokes about how it might be more worthwhile to put one’s hope into the non academic aspect of school, and encourage a student to focus on an area where showing talent; schools for the arts, and sports oriented programs seem geared to recognizing that there is more to an individual’s “one day-someday” plan than the letter grade, however, when a student’s inklings are for academics, then let us not put down the high scoring community. Too many students still suggest to me their middle school fear of being considered nerdy (actually they often use a much stronger term) if they do achieve, and wish to achieve top grades. It is therefore not surprising to recognize the way in which highest awards are often given to the newest newcomer students- students whose families continue to focus on education, students whose families risked a great deal to make life anew in Canada, and one of their dreams was a full education for their children.
When we collectively consider “school” we may need to reassess the messages we are sending to the very students involved: are we creating an inclusive environment where students needn’t wait till post secondary or later to begin to find their voice? Are we offering within the school the safety of genuine communication, between peers, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, between administration and the entire community? Somewhere, between “get 100” and “fail forward” we need a new slogan; a concept of opportunity shared, versus hierarchical put downs that seem so accepted within our educational settings.

Together- whole child, whole heart, whole community; holistic education. Let’s get it together !

CHANGE

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice

 To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.  

I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom.  I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished.  I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.   

“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment.    And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia-  can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.  

Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages.  As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.

Change-  Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction.  People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives.  Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion.  I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action.  Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions.