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A Guest Heart Speaks….Andrea Shearer

A fellow language teacher posted this piece on Facebook, and has graciously allowed me to share it here with you. May you and your students find not only safety, but peace on campus this week. with love, Laurie

Teenagers Are On My Mind. By Andrea Shearer:

Teenagers are on my mind. I love teenagers deep in my aching chest. I mean I literally love this one and that one and those two over there and group after group of teenagers. I didn’t plan it. I just do.

Elementary school teachers and high school teachers view each other equally incredulously of how the other can teach their respected age group. I will pass on a room full of 5 year olds. I’ll take a room full of angry teens any day. I love working with them. They make more sense to me. Even their dysfunction makes sense.

Just on the other side of puberty and the protective force fields of their parents’ love, teenagers’ grief for their fleeting childhoods and hope for and anticipation of their futures leave them almost in suspension. They are in the infancy of adulthood, still with the tender hearts of children but the intellect of adults, their stories aren’t written yet and they are just beginning to write them. Fledgling idealists. They are experiencing their first true loves beyond that of their parents. They are stunned as they get their hearts broken for the first time. Their understanding of the world around them abruptly shifting, their values being shaped by the daily battle between their intentions and their outcomes, they are in denial of many harsh truths. Denial is, after all, a stage of grief. Nothing in their lives up to now was their choice or is their fault and they haven’t had a chance to do anything about it yet. They are surprised when they screw stuff up. Their own weaknesses stand between them and what they would do if it were up to them. They are so full of everything they need except comfort and experience. It takes time and wisdom and cultivation to make a sensible place in this world for yourself.

But I’m experienced enough to know how to cultivate comfort. My wish is that my classroom be a refuge, offering a comfortable space to cultivate wisdom. A place to bring a tender heart and a budding intellect. A fertile garden in which to grow. In providing that refuge, I witness so many of their tragic realizations about this world. I try to be present as so to catch any opportunity for joy and exploit it for wind in their sails. The rest is up to them.

I’m failing right now to express how sad I feel about school shootings and the reality these kids are growing up in. Every time I try, I end up reducing it down to how much I cherish them. They are important.

When I meet people and they find out I’m a high school teacher, often times, the first thing they do is express how dangerous it must be, to work in a profession with such a high rate of violence. People thank me for having the courage, not to deal with their hormones or bad attitudes or to shape the minds of tomorrow, but to walk into a building every day that may very well host a bloodbath because, for some reason, we don’t know how to stop that.

My sadness and sorrow is perpotionate to the degree to which I love the particular creature that is the human teenager. They are my people. They deserve to be safe. They deserve to be protected. They are trying to grow up. We are treating them like they are worthless. They are hurting. They need us.
Be nice to teenagers.

And figure this out.

To the Sociology class…

Dear Sociology Class,

Thank you so much for having me in your class yesterday. The discussion has been on my mind all night. How can I explain to you how things have changed? Sadly, I have gotten so used to the changes that it has taken me some thought to remember how things were before Columbine and 9/11.

When I started teaching in 1983, I was only 21 years old….barely older than my high school students at that time. I was concerned that they would not take me seriously, that I would not appear “adult” enough to them. School violence was never, ever a concern.

We spoke yesterday about some of the changes: locked doors, ID badges, escape plans.I don’t think we spoke about the real changes.

In 1983, in school, students were afraid of bad grades, phone calls home, the principal and at worst, and rarely, a bloody nose or a black eye from a bully. There was still gossip, of course, occasional fights and the usual high school drama. There were still cliques and kids where loners. But the idea was that high school was temporary, and if you were miserable, it would eventually get better or you would get out. People that didn’t like school, for whatever reason, dealt with it by finding things outside of school that they liked much better.

In 2015, in schools across America, things are different. Here, we are lucky. I think that we believe ourselves to be “protected” from what “other” schools deal with. Things like:
Extreme cyber-bullying
Public humiliation of a targeted individual
Student suicide precipitated by the above
Student suicide in general
An attack by an intruder
A school shooting by a student
A bomb

I have been following these trends for my entire teaching career. I have attended workshops, listened to speakers, read articles, followed studies. No one has definitively determined why

But I’d still like to know…….What has changed? Can we change it for the better?

These are changes that I have observed and that I have my own personal opinions about…..they may help you to get a better understanding….


Technology is a wonderful thing. But….Before technology was readily available; we entertained ourselves in other ways. We hung out with friends. We interacted with people. We learned how to get along if we had to, or wanted to. We learned how to settle arguments. We learned to forgive. We learned to move on. If you held a grudge, you were lonely.

Were there still “loners”? Yes, but not nearly as many, nor were they loners for as long. They also found hobbies, interests and other activities that helped them to feel worthwhile and valuable over time.

Technology not only allows, but encourages us to disconnect from others. When students start using cell phones, tablets, computers etc. for entertainment at an early age, they miss out on years’ worth of human interaction….interaction that teaches them their own value and the value of others.

In the 1980’s movies were only available in theaters. Theaters readily enforced the PG and R guidelines. If you weren’t the right age, you didn’t get in. There were only a few local channels (three here if you were lucky) to watch. Nothing of debatable content was shown before 9 pm….often not before 11 pm. There just wasn’t media to watch.

We talked, we played cards, we played board games, we wrote letters, we had pen pals, we built forts/tree houses, we babysat, we mowed lawns, we took care of people’s animals, we joined school clubs, we joined church groups, we went to the beach, we rode bikes (all the time, everywhere), We threw the football around, we played “hot-box” for baseball skills, we shot hoops, played HORSE, we swam, we drew, we sewed, we crocheted, we washed cars, we picked vegetables…..

We didn’t watch much tv. We rarely saw movies…and it was a big deal..and often a family affair. R rated movies were reserved for adults.

The “action” film genre didn’t really take off until the 1980’s. Prior to that it was against film policy to show the actual killing. The views did not see bullets entering the body or blood exiting. The “slasher” genre became popular in the 1980’s as well, as the home movie genre grew. Imagine, en entire population of young people who have never seen the Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, or Hostel films. Now we can watch television series’ (Dexter, etc.) on a regular basis in the comfort of our living rooms. How does it change the mindset and perspective of a young person to see these on a regular basis? These are questions we have to ask ourselves.

Shooter video games

These games were not available, on a wide scale, until the late 1990’s. Many studies have been done on this issue, and you may have your own opinion on them. However, their prevalent use by teenagers coincides with the increase of school shootings. That is enough for me. Although “pretend”, they reward players for violent killings. Why would we want that? Why would we pay money for that? Why would we want to encourage that?

Very large percentages of teenagers are skilled at these games, which are used, quite effectively to train police officers and our military. Whether or not this is why students have become shooters is up for debate. However, it has been proven that it is the reason that student shooters are extremely accurate and responsible for abnormally high death counts. That is something we need to pay attention to.

Thirty years ago teens were interested in sports, books, carpentry, music, farming, earning money, repairing cars, creating fashion, and well….many other things that your generation is interested in as well….but they were not interested in racking high scores in games that kill (very realistic, fake) people.

Please don’t think that teenagers didn’t have problems. They did. A ton of them. The world wasn’t perfect either. Hunger, violence, fear, poverty…although things existed. But they were not glorified. They were not entertainment. We didn’t pay large amounts of money and spend hours of our lives to delve deeply into the dark, ugly and deadly.


Beginning in the late 1970’s, humor in movies and television took a decided turn. Sit-coms began to insert more and more sarcasm. It didn’t used to be funny to insult or mock other people. Now the primary form of humor is just that: making fun of or saying mean things about others. The second most popular topic for humor is extreme stupidity. Over the past few years, when I have asked high school students what their favorite movie of all time is, the number one answer has been, “The Hangover”.

Now I’m not saying that the movie isn’t funny, but I’d like you to think about what makes it funny….for high school students:

Grown men who have had so much to drink they cannot remember what they did nor where their friend (who was also drunk) has gone.
They used student field trip money to finance the trip.
Grown men who lie to their spouses/girlfriends/fiancée about their behavior.
One of the men drugs the others.
They are taking care of a baby…no idea where it came from. (Other things are done to the baby I can not and will not mention here, but which are NOT funny)
And a million other things that I won’t discuss with high school students…..

It is worth noting that this is the kind of movie that a vast majority of my students name as their “favorite movie of all time.” What does this say about what we honor and enjoy as a society? What does it say about what we want to encourage? What does this say about what we want young people to honor? What does this say about society when even middle schoolers have watched and enjoyed this movie on a regular basis?
How does this type of media exposure affect how young people look at the world?

Think about the films and tv programs that are most popular in your age group……How many of them base their appeal and/or their humor on making fun of others, people being irresponsible or people getting hurt?? Popular comedians? Do you know any that don’t base their humor on these issues?

We talk about bullying as if it is something bad, (and it is) however, look at what else we honor:
Comedy that makes fun of others
Comedy that embarrasses others
Violent movies
Violent video games

Is it any wonder that bullying has evolved to become such a powerful and dangerous issue?

What other questions should we ask ourselves about the society we live in? Sadly, the last 30 years of adults have not paid very close attention to this question and it has made life much more difficult for all of you.

What do you want for the society that you and your children will live in?

The life you live now, the things you value now, the things you invest your money and time in now will determine the future. Believe that.

With love,

Challenges of Poverty Archived Post 8.7.12

(Originally posted 8/7/12)

You are not an isolated example but you are a rare one. I’ve taught high school students for 30 years in a rural area. The students whose families are above the poverty line are the ones who, overwhelmingly, hear messages of hope and support for a financially stable future via education. Those whose families live at or below rarely see outside of their own reality. In many cases, in today’s world, they have more financial aid available to them..many could go to college for little or nothing…but they and their families see little value in education. They do not even consider future careers that require education. That is clear by the time they enter ninth grade.

First of all, school is a different world than it was. While wealth has always helped, my observation is that more and more, a family’s financial background comes into play. Because so much emphasis is put on the data, more and more rewards are given to students who do well, STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN. Students who do well often come from families who read to them from an early age, can afford a good preschool program, ate well and exercised well and slept well the first five years of life. Kindergarten teachers are remarkably accurate in their ability to predict who will graduate from high school and who will not. Some of that may be from experience. Some of that may be because, in kindergarten, we have already identified who will be successful, who will not, and treat them that way (whether we realize it or not). Families with means will encourage students to play sports, take music lessons, have art supplies at home, provide computers and computer access from an early age. They will travel. They will encourage behaviors that will be encouraged at school from infancy…whereas families from lower-income social groups will not…without even realizing it.

It is not just the availability of money that makes the difference (although I promise you that a third grader who uses a computer and can afford a trip to the nearest arts and crafts store for his Solar System project will receive a much higher grade than the kid who did his on the back of a letter from Social Services.) It is the MINDSET of possibility (my own term) that money brings that is the biggest difference.

I am sure that Pat Barrett could explain it far better than I, but what I see is that these families require each member (in the family and it also often includes people in their “community” to be HIGHLY interdependent. These students have emotional, financial and social commitments early on in life. They are EXPECTED to stay home from school whenever a baby sitter is needed, or some stressful situation arises and a family member needs support. They frequently have adult responsibilities by ninth grade: paying bills, child care, negotiating disagreements between adults, visiting family in jail, arranging doctor’s appointments etc. It is very very difficult for them to even imagine taking enough personal time away from their families to put homework first, give up work time for classes, or even worse, leave home to go to college.

The other issue is harder for some of us to understand, but I assure you that it is very real. There is a cultural understanding in these families, that going to school and doing better than one’s parents is an insult to them. That a student would think himself better than a parent, and to act on it, is in many cases, unforgivable and therefore, unthinkable. The family is not going to ‘move up” with the student. In order to do better, the student would, eventually, have to leave the social environment in which s/he lives. In this kind of “closed” community, that rarely crosses their mind. They simply would never think of it.

The third issue is that doing well academically routinely requires delayed gratification…and that is simply NOT part of their reality either. But that is a deeply rooted, psycho-social phenomenon that I;m sure is dissertation-worthy, so I’ll leave it at that.

There are students who do it. And we encourage every single child to become what God would have him or her become. But, teachers are one tiny OUTSIDE voice among many closer and louder voices that they hear every day.

For me, that is the attitude of the home and surrounding environment, and my experience is that it is closely tied to families without financial resources. Can addressing poverty help that? In the sense that students might then NOT have to take on so many adult responsibilities..yes.

In addition, I believe that it would surprise many to know how many students ONLY eat at school. 1. There isn’t food at home. Either there isn’t money or the money is used elsewhere and that is beyond the student’s control. 2. High school students from these families often work evenings and do not use their money to buy dinner. It goes for gas to get to work. 3. Believe it or not, many of these homes actually LOCK up their food. For some, it is a way of controlling their children. For others, it is a way of protecting the food, many of these folks live in “communal” family situations (3-4 “families” in a household) and this is simply how they protect their resources. Also, parents who are addicts often have paranoid behaviors that lead to this…as do many parents with untreated mental health issues. (two situations which are prevalent in my area in this income bracket)

The last piece that adds to the challenges that these children face is the fact that they rarely get a good night’s sleep. They may not know where they are sleeping. They may be avoiding sexual contact from someone in the house. They may have family members up all night playing loud video games, or drinking/using drugs, arguing, etc. They often have younger siblings to take care of at night if mom works overnights. They don’t get the medical attention and medications they need when they are ill and sleep very poorly due to a number of ongoing physical ailments. They often live in crowded houses/apartments with little personal sleeping space available.

One might think that given all that they face, that they would love to get the heck out of Dodge and take advantage of a good education to do it. Well…not if they have never seen that happen. Not if, from kindergarten on, only the “rich” kids do well in school. Not if they have been an integral part of a system that requires them to put today in front of tomorrow.

Exceptions exist, they truly do, but not as often as we’d like. All human beings have their challenges, each child, regardless of his/her background can become far more than his/her childhood has dictated. But before that can happen, the possibility of such a thing must exist in his/her mind. Your family may have given you that. Let’s hope that we can find the resources to help those who weren’t so blessed.

with love,

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You Are Not Alone ..Students and Tragedy Archived Post 4.15.13

(Originally posted 4/15/13)
Tomorrow will be the second time in the past few months that we will have to get up in the morning and go to school after a tragedy. These are the moments we feel most helpless, and yet, these are the times that we have the most to offer. We need to approach tomorrow with grace and dignity.

Parents all over the country would like to stay home tomorrow with their children…and won’t be able to. We will have the responsibility of facing the day with their children. We must take that responsibility very seriously. We cannot let our own fears, doubts, prejudices….anything negative…invade the space we bring to the classroom. Our students need to know, again, that adults feel and adults grieve, but adults are calm, strong, and caring when children need those things most. That is our job.

It won’t be easy. This tragedy too is personal for many of us. Newtown touched us because it took place in a school…in our home away from home…to children and teachers. It rocked us and it rocked our students. This situation in Boston hits close to home as well. Many of us have gone to college, or have loved ones with college connections, to Boston. Boston is a city full of American history. Many of us visited there or vacationed there with our families. Many of us are also runners. Many teachers run. It keeps them sane. Most of us know at least one person who has run the Marathon. Perhaps you yourself have run it…or have been there to see those runners pass by that exact spot.

What is hardest is that it makes us feel so very vulnerable. Particularly if you spent the evening watching the coverage over and over again. It will be tempting to share our sorrow, our frustration, and more with our students. We must be careful about what we say and how we say

it…whether we are speaking directly to students or to colleagues within earshot of students. Each age group has it’s own vulnerabilities.We must be aware of those even as we deal with our own emotions. Tomorrow, as always, the children come first.

So know that tomorrow, we will all be in this together. We’ll be tired. We’ll be sad. We’ll be worried. We’ll be angry. But we’ll be the only adult in a room full of children….who need us to be a source of calm and strength. So when it’s tough, close your eyes for a moment and call on the strength of a colleague who, that very minute, will be in the same position in another classroom.

You will not be alone.

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.