I challenge you to burn the machine.

I’m a teacher, right? Yeah. That’s right. I teach kids. Which is often considered hilarious because I kind of still look like a kid (even though my ever-multiplying grey hairs would disagree).

But I do. I teach high school kids.

I have a really unique opportunity with them, you know? Like I get to see and hear them in ways that few ever do. Sometimes they don’t know that I’m listening or looking. But I am.

And you know what I notice? Adults aren’t fair. A LOT. Like, as adults, we pass a lot of judgments and generalizations off on kids. We spend a lot of time telling them that their generation sucks or that they’re snowflakes for getting upset about something. We don’t ask them about themselves or what they’re going through or why they feel that way. We just decide how they are because we’re older and we can do that.

We were young once, too.

But when we were young, we wanted to be asked why we did things or why we felt a way. We wanted to be trusted. We didn’t like it when older people told us we sucked or that we were fragile because we took a stand for what we believed was right. It just made us rage.

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Young. Prettied up for our first real dance.

And here we are, perpetuating the cycle.

So recently, I’ve been seeing our kids catch a lot of crap for things that I think should be encouraged. I’ve been watching us old people (yeah, dude, we’re old already), tell young people that they should shut up and be quiet. That they shouldn’t question authority because the old people “said so” and that’s how it should be. That somehow speaking up about how the feel is “wrong and disrespectful”. And yeah, maybe the way kids say things sometimes could be…improved…but they’re kids for Christ’s sake. They don’t have the benefit of experience to know how to express themselves and they’re trying their best–shouldn’t we, as their “elders” or whatever, help them do that?

Dear Young Kid,

I think you’re doing a great job. I know exactly how hard it is to be a kid–you’re at a really weird place where you want to have a lot of responsibility and also no responsibility. You wanna be a grown up SO bad. You have a lot of feelings about the things going on around you but any time you express them, someone is telling you that they don’t matter because you’re “just a kid”.
Well you’re not.
And those feelings? They matter.
Because here’s the deal, kiddo, one day you won’t be so young anymore. You’ll be the old person writing this letter and you’re gonna have a choice about how you treat those youngins around you.
So I’ve got some advice for you: a challenge, if you will.
I challenge you to challenge things. Challenge the system. Ask questions. If you’re unsure about how something’s done, ask. I don’t care if the person you’re asking is annoyed or is rude to you. GET YOUR EXPLANATION. Don’t settle for “it’s just the way we’ve always done it” or “because I said so”.
Those are lazy answers from lazy people who don’t care enough about the question. Demand answers and if the answers don’t satisfy you, develop new ways.
Stand up for what’s right and trust your gut–if something FEELS wrong, it is. Don’t let the glamour of fun or popularity influence you to walk away from the right choice even if it’s the hard choice.
If you feel something, SAY something. So many of you walk alone in your lives. In your loneliness and fear. You think that no one understands you or what you’re going through. But so many do and they WANT to help you. Find the good ones and hold onto them, they’ll hold onto you back.
Do not be afraid to be wrong, but more importantly, do not be afraid to be told that you’re wrong. Sometimes, YOU will be the one with the outdated ideas and ways–AND THAT’S OKAY. But when someone brings you something new and different, consider it. Give them credit and say thank you. They are making you a BETTER person because you now know more than you did 5 minutes ago.
I challenge you to do things with love–all things. And love challenges. It challenges hate Challenges hearts. Challenges ideas. Love challenges because it wants things and people to reach their full potential. I challenge you to stand up for each other, stand with each other, encourage each other and know that you are the ones who have the capacity to change the hearts of the people around you.

I know that there are some old people (like me) who believe in you, have faith in you, and know that you’ll make yourself and everybody proud.

So let’s do that.

Love,
An Old Person

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Senior Year, 2006. New York. Yeah dude, we were freakin’ SENIORS doing this. But we still wanted to be taken seriously.

Teaching the "Unteachable"

Ever since I can remember, I have been a teacher. 
I would teach my little cousins how to read, how to act, how to behave, how to, how to, how to.
As the daughter of a principal (one of the best, if I do say so myself), I grew up in schools. 

My favorite summers as a kid were the ones when my daddy was the principal on duty for summer school. Why? Because I got to take big kid classes. My daddy would take me to school, get me a binder and some pens and I would take class with the big kids.

It started at Edison Middle School. I was about 6, I think. My daddy told me that I would take English class with Mr. Dickson. I would take math with Ms. Davis. 

Mr. Dickson and Ms. Davis both taught 7th grade.

I can’t really imagine what either of those teachers thought when a 6 year old walked into their classrooms on the first day of summer school, but I was so excited to be there. I sat right in the front row. I sat next to a girl who WORE LIPSTICK. I was amazed.

Mr. Dickson and Ms. Davis were incredible teachers. They made their subjects palatable enough for me to understand while simultaneously engaging their 7th graders. I learned all kinds of things in 7th grade English and math that summer. 

A couple of years later, my daddy got moved over to Furr High School to take another Assistant Principal position. 

And I was SO excited to go to summer school. 11th grade English class. I was 9. Dr. Coulson gave me a 4 inch binder filled with literature strategy worksheets the first day. I was the happiest girl in the world. Static characters. Dynamic characters. Irony. I loved it.

So. Much. Fun.

And then I grew up. 
And I did not want to be a teacher. 
I wanted to run as far away as I could from education.

But it called me back. 
In 2011, I found my way back to the classroom. 

 It would be easy to say that Istrouma was a rough school. A lot of people told me that the kids there didn’t care about education. They didn’t care about learning. They couldn’t be taught. They were kids from the ghetto, after all the 70805 zip code has the highest murder rate in Baton Rouge, and all they cared about was being “’bout that life.” They were unteachable. I’d be lucky to make it through the year alive, much less hope that these kids actually learn something.

They were wrong.

I got to Istrouma and found a group of teachers who cared about their subjects, their students, and their fellow teachers. I found mentors who would guide me through bad days, tough curriculum, and frustrating educational endeavors. They were my family.

We wanted for some things, but we made do. I got to teach my kiddos about democracy, their constitutional rights, and how people decide who gets to talk at a meeting of the senate. We debated hot topics like legalization of marijuana, abortion, and designer babies. They led their own debates, choosing their own political parties to represent. They learned to budget and how investing in Jordans would be more financially beneficial than buying Jordans. They taught target markets to me by using hair perms as examples and explained to me that our national budget would be balanced if only “those rich old white men” had taken my economics class. 
To say I was flattered would be an understatement. 
They impressed me by being thoughtful and eloquent. They frustrated me with the use of curse words, the occasional misbehavior, and a sometimes lack of interest (which was often due to things far beyond my classroom). 

Most of all, they learned. 

They learned about social studies, but they learned how to respect themselves. They learned that sagging pants and excuses would not be tolerated. They learned to show their elders and their classmates respect. They learned that if they couldn’t communicate without curse words, then they couldn’t communicate at all. 

They weren’t all good kids, but they weren’t all bad kids, either.
People said my kiddos were unteachable. 
Teachers at Istrouma proved everyone wrong everyday. 

Yes, it was hard.
It was frustrating. 
There were a lot of days that we wanted to quit.
But we were there to give those kids what they needed: a teacher, a mentor, a parent, a guide, a shoulder.

I’m tired of hearing about “unteachable children”. 
Because they aren’t real.

Quit shutting down our teachers and handing our schools over to these so say “progressive teaching movements” where we’re teaching kids to be “college ready” by having a 2 step math problem completed in 108 steps. Where we constantly train kids to believe that in order to be successful, you have to have money and if you’re poor, you’re not going to be able to be anything else but poor.

Because none of that is true.

Let teachers teach kids. 
Let us teach them subjects, but better yet, let us teach them how to be people. 

Give us your “unteachable” and stay out of our way. 
Let us show you what we can do.