Tag Archives: Self-esteem

Life is for living

I first published this post two years ago. I am sharing it again as I continue to hear of similar things happening. I apologise to those who may have read it the first time around. 🙂

Many would agree that to enjoy life to the full we must live in the present moment, appreciating what we have and being mindful of our surroundings and others.

Most would also agree that a certain amount of preparation for the future is necessary to both enjoy and deal with what lies ahead.

marshmallow 5

In previous posts I have referred to related ideas including The importance of emotional intelligence and the ability to delay gratification, for example when studying towards a degree or saving to purchase a car. Recently I wrote about future-proofing kids by preparing them to embrace the future. Schooling is often considered a preparation for the future, for ‘what you want to be when you grow up’.

firefighter and nurse

Are the concepts of living in the present moment and preparing for the future contradictory?

Generally I would say that a balance is needed. We need to live in the present while making some preparation for the future. Hopefully the choices made can still be appreciated now and enjoyment is not all delayed until the future “When I . . .”

Recently I read an article that caused me some concern because, it seemed to me, there was little balance between appreciating the present and preparation for the future. Of greater concern was that the one for whom balance was lacking was not the one making the choice.

 

The article described a situation in which a 3½ year old was being taught to use scissors by an occupational therapist. The teaching, which had been occurring in regular sessions for over seven months, began before the child was three years of age.

Like I did, you might assume the child had a developmental delay which required regular sessions with the occupational therapist (OT). However no mention of that was made in the article.

The parent, writing the article, described feeling sad while watching the child experience difficulty in using the scissors.  Additionally, it was mentioned that the child had not been requested by the parent to use scissors at home as it just made the child miserable.

After seven months the parent finally broached the subject with the OT, asking why the use of scissors was being pushed at this time.

It was the reported response of the OT that caused me greatest concern.

The OT explained that when the child entered kindergarten at age five, the ability to use scissors appropriately would be expected. The lessons in learning to use scissors were being given to avoid the child being behind when beginning kindergarten. The OT went on to further explain that the use of scissors was not developmentally appropriate until age five!

The OT, presumably a trained professional, who believed it was not developmentally appropriate for a child to be using scissors until age five, began teaching a child to use scissors before that child was even three years of age!

The child was miserable when using scissors and the parent was saddened when viewing the attempts!

If using scissors is developmentally appropriate at age five, then when the child is entering kindergarten, unless there is a development delay, coordination or muscular problem, that child will easily learn to use scissors appropriately, without the need for lessons from an OT. Forcing a child to practice a skill before developmentally ready is definitely not in the child’s best interests.

Think of the wonderful things about a child of two or three years of age; the things they are learning and doing. I am always amazed at how quickly children learn and progress. They grow up so quickly and are only little for such a short time. Why try to pressure them through to stages beyond their current development? These years of enormous growth and potential are precious. We are adults for most of our lives. What is wrong with appreciating the special two-ness or three-ness of a child? It will not matter in the future if scissors can be used at age three, age five or age seven.

If the child is constantly pressured to perform in ways that are not developmentally appropriate then feelings of inadequacy, loss of confidence and self-esteem may ensue, resulting in an ‘I can’t do it attitude’, a fear of failure and unwillingness to have a go. I believe many perceived behaviour problems are problems only because the expectations are not relevant to a child’s stage of development.

When adults strive for a child to achieve beyond the age expected norms they are not appreciating, but rather showing a lack of respect for, who the child is and for the stage of development. This is not living in the present. It is attempting to live in the future, which can become very scary if one does not feel it can approached with confidence.

One may hope this scissors example is an extreme and isolated incident, but sadly pressure placed upon children by expectations that are not developmentally appropriate is far too common.

Teaching colleagues here in Australia often express their dismay that children in the first three years of school are crying every day because they find the expectations upon their learning and behaviour too great.

I hear similar stories about trying to rush the children through from the UK, Canada and the USA. Maybe it is happening in other places too. Sadly the pressure of unrealistic expectations doesn’t achieve anything positive for the students, the teachers or the parents.

How different would schools be if, instead of being considered a preparation for life, they were focused on living life now? If three year olds were appreciated and respected as three year olds, five year olds as five year olds, and eight year olds as 8 year olds, rather than as apprentices for the adult they will one day be, how different would their school situation be?

An affirmation song I used to sing with my classes is one by Anne Infante called Just the way I am.

The song is made up of a series of verses about appreciating oneself just as one is – now, not in the future – including characteristics such as responsible,  lovable, confident and friendly; for example:

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

Just the way I am.

I have written about using Anne’s songs of affirmation in previous posts, here and here.

What do you think? How have you seen developmentally appropriate programs in action? How have you seen them disregarded? What have been the effects?

Further reading: The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Eroding thoughts

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about erosion, but not just the literal kind. She says “It can be natural, cultural or something different.” Of course I must answer my usual call to tackle the “something different”.

Generally, erosion refers to the wearing away of the earth. Sometimes it signifies the disintegration of our resolve, our self-image, or of our spirit. Just as various strategies can be employed to prevent erosion or to repair damage incurred by the land, there are strategies that can be used to shore up one’s resolve, build self-esteem, and mend a sagging spirit.

rejection slip

Perhaps nobody knows this better than writers with their stashes of rejection slips rated from encouraging to just plain rude, or non-existent. Few have achieved success without first receiving a downpour of those slips, who haven’t had to work at their skills and accept the edits without eroding their intended message. Sometimes it seems that, with every move, one lands on the “Go back to start” square; and that, while it feels like things are in motion, the end doesn’t appear any closer.

go back to start

Or maybe nobody understands the fragility of the spirit and self-esteem more than does a teacher; and of the importance of building on prior learning to take children from where they are to places they haven’t thought possible; to ensure their esteem stays strong and is not eroded by unrealistic expectations and the tedium of a repetitive diet of something meaningful only to others.

Welcome pack

Welcome pack

I have written many times previously about the importance of establishing a supportive classroom environment, and of using affirmations in growing children’s confidence and self-image.

This doesn’t mean a diet of empty praise, but it does mean that all individuals are recognised for what they can do, and are valued for the contribution they make to the classroom community. Included in these writings was a series, inspired by a Twitter discussion with Anne Goodwin, on praise culminating in Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited and including a guest post by Anne.

The Clever Children Resource

I have also developed resources to support children’s growing confidence and self-image for inclusion on my in-progress website readilearn. One of these resources is a story called The Clever Children which teachers can personalise for use with their own class.

The Clever Children printable

Children write about and illustrate something they can do. The pages are then added to the story which is printed and collated into a book which can be placed in the reading corner or taken home to read to parents and siblings.  My children always loved being a part of this story. I am looking forward to other children being a part of it too. The story aims to build, rather than erode, self-esteem and a love of books and reading.

Which brings me back to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion.

The Nature Principle

For my flash I combine two ideas:

  • Richard Louv’s suggestion in The Nature Principle that, for physical and mental health, we need to be more attuned with nature
  • the need for resolve and inner strength when faced with issues that would erode it.

It’s not really a story, perhaps, but a moment in time. I hope you enjoy it.

1 (7)

The rock

The rock, promising permanence, beckoned: perfect for contemplating expanses beyond while pondering life and one’s significance. She sighed, and succumbed. The waves, licking repetitively at the base, soothed somehow; as if each grain of sand stolen from beneath her feet loosened her tension. Becoming one with the rhythm, her heart sang the melody as her mind slowed, releasing all thought. Feeling whole again, as solid as the rock, and with renewed strength, she prepared to face those who sought to erode her. Though tides would rearrange and redecorate, and often do their best to annihilate, they could not obliterate.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Don’t gloss over glossophobia

 

Many crepuscular animals freeze when caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. With vision more suited to dark than light, they are temporarily blinded by the brightness. They become confused and, not knowing which way to turn, freeze. Others, like the Australian kangaroo, may panic and move erratically with unpredictable changes in direction. Any large animal on the road puts itself and any unwary motorist in danger.

Freezing in fear is a reaction not exclusive to animals. Humans are just as likely to freeze in fear, or perhaps panic and behave erratically unsure of how to respond. Some people find being “put in the spotlight” quite unnerving and exhibit similar responses to animals caught in the headlights.

While Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was talking about a real deer caught in the headlights this week and challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health, I decided to apply the challenge to a human situation.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is quite common. Many people suffer mild symptoms of reluctance, “butterflies” or sweaty palms. Others suffer more severe symptoms including total avoidance, panic attacks and other forms of physical distress.

Being called upon in class can be distressing for some students, particularly if they have been singled out or ridiculed for not knowing the correct answer in the past. Helping a student to overcome this fear requires patience and understanding. It may require an approach from many different angles and the support of a variety of personnel, as well as a desire by the student.

The student will require support to develop self- esteem and self-confidence as well as knowledge of the subject. A sensitive “not yet” approach by a teacher who offers support, and encourages other students to be supportive, will contribute greatly. It may take time for improvements to be noticeable as changing an established mindset, from “I’m a failure” to “I’m learning”, takes effort.

In her post Charli included a quote from the Tahoma Literary Review which included the suggestion that rescuing a deer and nursing it back to health may be used as a “metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s.” It is not too big a stretch to think that, for some teachers, “rescuing” their students could enable them to “rescue” themselves; improving the lives of others improves their own through the ripple effect.

I have chosen this “rescue” as the theme of my response to Charli’s challenge: a breakthrough for Marnie in the development of her confidence and willingness to have a go in a class where students are developing a growth mindset under the guidance of a sensitive teacher.

Like a deer in the headlights

Like a deer in the headlights she was immobile. She’d dreaded this moment. Although she’d tried to fade into the background, she knew she couldn’t hide forever. The room suddenly fell silent, all eyes on her. Would she fail?

“Marnie?” prompted the teacher.

Her chair scraped as she stood. She grasped the table with trembling hands attempting to still her wobbly legs. They waited.

Marnie squeaked.  Some looked down, or away. Some sniggered. Jasmine smiled encouragingly. Marnie cleared her throat, then blurted the answer.

“That’s right!” congratulated the teacher.

The class erupted. Marnie smiled. Their efforts had paid off.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

 

A garden party

The purposes of education are many; but perhaps one important purpose of “free” public schooling is to ensure that everyone is provided with the opportunity of being educated. While this goal is achieved to a certain extent, inequalities of opportunity still exist, many of which are related to socioeconomic status (SES).

letter from Camus

While there is no doubt that a teacher can have a powerful effect upon the lives of students and any teacher would love to receive a letter such as that written by Albert Camus, socioeconomic status is often considered to be the most reliable predictor of success in school and, therefore, in life. There are many reasons for this, few of which have anything to do with intelligence.

According to Macquarie University the majority of students in tertiary education are of mid to high socioeconomic status. The parents of these students may have professional backgrounds and may have attended tertiary institutions themselves.  Most have an appreciation of the benefits of higher education and are able to continue supporting their students, to some extent, while they study.

While students of lower SES are attending tertiary institutions in greater numbers they are disadvantaged in doing so by a number of factors, primarily financial in origin. Although Australia is supposedly free of class distinctions, attitudes towards those from lower SES areas are often demeaning and unsympathetic. Students from these areas may battle to develop the self-esteem that seems to be a birthright for others from more privileged backgrounds. The negativism with which they are viewed, and some come to view themselves, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ready for school - year 2

Ready for school – year 2

I was a fortunate one for, while I grew up in a family with low SES background, my parents saw the value in education and sacrificed much for their children to have the opportunities it provided. The high costs of tertiary education that are now incurred could not have been afforded, but I achieved well enough in school to obtain a scholarship to teachers’ college and a three-year bond (guaranteed employment) when that was finished.

Nowadays there is no such thing as guaranteed employment and few scholarships. Many families cannot afford to have post-secondary/adult students continue to live at home and not contribute to expenses while they undertake further study. This means that students have the additional burden of working while they are studying. Many opt out of study altogether to seek long term employment, often in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. And so the cycle continues. The lack of permanent employment even for graduates makes deferring earnings less desirable again.

caravan

Of course the disadvantage doesn’t just begin when approaching final years of school. The impacts can be observed from the earliest age. (My suggestion for an early learning caravan addresses this in part.) Although education is provided “free” to students, there are many other associated costs that families may struggle to meet, such as books, equipment, and extra-curricular activities such as excursions and incursions.

In most Australian schools, the wearing of uniforms helps to minimize differences that may otherwise be obvious by choices of clothing and footwear. It also helps to reduce costs. Sometimes additional activities can be a drain on family expenses, and while many schools will fund expenses for those in need, not all families are willing to ask for that help.

DCF 1.0

Studies have shown that many children arrive at school without having eaten breakfast. While this phenomenon can occur in any family, it is more prevalent in low SES areas. Some schools are now providing a healthy breakfast for students when they arrive at school. I think this great as hungry children tend to have difficulty concentrating and learning, are often lethargic and may suffer from mood swings and negative attitudes. I know how irritated I become when I am hungry. My family “joke” about not getting in the way of me and my food! How much worse for children who come to school with empty bellies.

Of course these issues are compounded for children who live in dysfunctional families. As much as we may try to be inclusive and equitable in the way we treat them, these students are often the ones who notice their differences and inadequacies and become most self-critical. It can be a very difficult task to change the attitudes and habits of generations.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills talked about attending a garden party. The hosts and guests at this party had obviously enjoyed some of the finer things that life reserves for a few.

lake-pend-oreile-cruise-may-21-31

Charli shared a photo of a rather idyllic spot on an island and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the above photo as a prompt.

Well the photo is beautiful, but I couldn’t get away, I was stuck at the garden party. I thought it was a wonderful analogy for the rewards that can be had from an education; rewards that may be obvious and perhaps available to many, but rewards that may be out of reach to others because of circumstances over which they have no real control. I thought of Marnie who suffers the double disadvantage of a dysfunctional family in a low SES area; but who knows there is something better out there and wants it for herself.

Thanks to Charli for her prompt, here is another episode from Marnie’s life. I hope you enjoy it.

The garden party

Marnie’s face pressed into the bars of the tall white gate with amazement: white-covered tables laden with food; chairs with white bows; white streamers and balloons; and a band!

But the ladies had her spellbound with elegant dresses and high, high heels; flowers in their hair and bright painted lips.

A man in uniform opened the gate to guests arriving in limousines. Marnie followed.

“Not you, Miss,” said the uniformed man.

Marnie held out her invitation, “Jasmine . . .”

But he’d closed the gate and turned away.

Marnie looked down at her stained dress. What was she thinking?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

The power of words

writing

The ability to learn language always amazes me. Given a supportive environment most young children will learn the language of the home effortlessly; forming their own hypotheses about its use and very quickly understanding the complexities of language structures and nuances of meaning.

I am also impressed by the fluency and comprehension of many for whom English is not their first language. I briefly touched on some of the difficulties experienced even by users of English as a first language in a previous post about spelling.  Sometimes I wonder that communication is possible at all, especially when considering local idioms and sayings that make little sense out of context, but largely go unnoticed. What must a new speaker of English  think when encountering “Bite the bullet, break the ice, butter someone up, or even bring a plate”.

How difficult it must be too, when words, like vice for example, have multiple meanings.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has been talking about vice. Her article is about the not-so-pleasant type of vices. As usual, I like to be the contrarian and consider alternative viewpoints. That might be considered one of my vices. Sometimes I laugh when a thought takes me to a context far away from a speaker’s intended message. Other times I fail to see the intended humour, reading beneath the surface intent to hidden messages.

To illustrate this I will use two recent examples:

bicycle

The cyclist and the flight attendant

He: a cyclist, just entering the last third of his life (about 60, give or take 5 years)

As his bike was being loaded onto the plane he explained that he had ridden from Alice Springs to Uluru, the long way. (I’m not sure of the distance of the long way, but the direct way would be more than long enough for me!)

Alice Springs to Uluru

She: a flight attendant still in the first third of her life (about 25, give or take 5 years)

“That’s so awesome! I hope I continue to exercise all my life.”

I didn’t hear his response; I was laughing too hard: the innocence and blindness of youth. How well I remember thinking anyone over about thirty was at death’s door. What amuses me now is the number of people my age who think we are much younger than those of the previous generation at the same age. I think the blindness and selective sight continues throughout life.

Of course I interpreted her words to mean: “You’re so old. I can’t believe you could do that. I hope I can still exercise when I am as old as you!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The joy of fatherhood?

Waiting for the same flight was a father and his daughter, approximately two and a half years of age. The daughter was doing what any child of that age would do: looking around, exploring a short distance away from dad before returning to his side. From what I could see she was doing no harm and was perfectly safe. It was a small airport, she could not wander far.

Each time she moved away he barked a short command at her. Although his words were not familiar to me, I had no difficulty interpreting them. As with most children, sometimes she heeded them, sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes he repeated the command, or retrieved the child. Sometimes he didn’t.

Then I saw his t-shirt and read the word emblazoned on the front. I am a reader. Sometimes I wish I were not. The words read, “Guns don’t kill people, Dads of daughters do”.

I have never “got” the need for messages on apparel, and definitely not a message as negative as this. I assume it was meant to be amusing, but I could see no humour in it. Maybe he didn’t understand the message underlying the words (he was speaking in a language other than English). Maybe I read too much into it. Apparently though, according to this Google search, there is a sizable market for shirts and products extolling these sentiments, some even with the inclusion of the word “pretty”.

My interpretation of the subliminal message is one of acceptance of a number of vices, and my belief is that until we can obliterate the insidiousness of messages such as these from the common psyche, our society won’t much improve. To me the message commends: disrespect for others, sexism, murder, violence, antagonistic relationships between parent and child/father and daughter, an absence of nurturing, an acceptance that children are difficult and a burden . . .

Perhaps I should stop there. I think this father and daughter team would be prime candidates for the early learning caravan project I wrote about recently. I would love to help this father see, not only the power in his words, but the treasure his daughter is and the importance of their relationship.

As I’ve explained, I sometimes see humour in words where it’s not intended, and fail to see it where it is. I’ve attempted to include humour in my flash response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vice, by using three different meanings of the word. I’ll be interested to know if my “humour” matches yours, but won’t be surprised if it doesn’t!

This one is definitely not about Marnie!

 

Vice-captain

She almost danced along the verandah. What would it be: medal, certificate, special recommendation?

The door was open but she knocked anyway.

“Come in.” The command was cold. A finger jabbed towards a spot centre-floor.

Confused, her eyes sought the kindness of the steel blue pair, but found a vice-like stare.

She obeyed.

“In one week you have led the team on a rampage:

Smashing windows

Uprooting vegetables

Leaving taps running

Graffiting  the lunch area . . .

We thought you were responsible. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“But sir,” she stammered, “You made me vice-captain!”

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

The story behind brown paint

muddy brown

Over the past few months in response to flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch, I have been writing snippets from the life a character, Marnie, whose story is beginning to emerge as I respond to the prompts.

A couple of recent prompts had me writing about a particular situation which involved mixing paints in an art class.  While all flash fiction stories relevant to Marnie’s story can be found on her own page, the two specific to this post can be read here and here (scroll to the bottom of each post for the flash fiction).

I was appreciative of the comments on both posts, with those specific to Marnie’s story encouraging me to reflect and think more deeply about the art class situation in relation to both Marnie and the teacher. While I am still mulling over the appropriate response the teacher may make, I thought I would write a longer piece to explore one possibility from Marnie’s point of view. This episode also relates to other flash fiction pieces, but hopefully the longer episode will be strong enough to stand on its own.

Art class

Marnie looked at the paints. The bright colours reminded her of a rainbow, and her unicorn. Her gaze dropped. She needed her unicorn now, but it was up in the office, drying out on Mrs Tomkin’s desk.

“It will be here waiting for you at home time,” Mrs Tomkin had said, smiling. “Okay?”

Marnie nodded, reluctantly, knowing there was no other choice. At least there was only the afternoon session left, and that was art with lovely Miss R.

Miss R. always wore beautiful dresses with colourful patterns. She had long wavy red hair, the colour of Marnie’s and her nails were always painted brightly, sometimes decorated with stars, sometimes with hearts, and sometimes with other patterns. She smelled of paint, and chalk and crayon and other scents Marnie found delightful. She noticed everything about Miss R.; because Miss R. noticed her. Miss R. always had a kind word to say:

“I like the way you used this shade of blue for the sky. I can see a storm is brewing.”

“Tell me about this picture. What’s it all about?”

“I can see you worked hard to get that looking just right.”

Marnie liked it best when she said, as she often did, “I like your choice of colour, Marnie. Your pictures are always bright. They make me happy when I look at them.”

But not today.

Miss R. stopped and looked at Marnie’s work. Her paper was covered in paint the colour of brown mud.  Marnie felt Miss R.’s eyes on her work, then on her. She didn’t look up. She didn’t want Miss R. to see the tears that were threatening to fall, that would fall whatever was said. Her lip quivered.

Miss R. moved on.

“I am not crying. I am not, not, not . . .” but it took all her strength when her insides felt as muddy as the paint on her paper. She felt like mud. Maybe she should look like mud too. She smeared her paint-covered hands on her shirt, and wiped the strand of hair away from her eyes. She wanted to tell Miss R. She wanted to tell her about Bruce and what he had done. But she dare not. Bruce had threatened her and she knew he meant it.

Bruce had tripped her at lunch time and she’d fallen into the puddle. The mud had covered her from head to toe. She’d tried to hold her unicorn high; tried to keep it out of the mud. But it had fallen as she hit the ground. It was all muddy too. Everyone had laughed. Everyone except Jasmine, that is. Jasmine had taken her to Mrs. Tomkin, who had helped her clean herself up and gave her some clean clothes to wear. Mrs Tomkin had said she’d call her Mum, so that was another problem looming. At least things would be okay in art with Miss R.

But not today.

Bruce had pulled faces at her and made threatening arm movements as they lined up. He made fun of the oversized shirt Mrs Tomkins had found for her. Everyone was sniggering at it; at her.

Marnie looked straight ahead, trying to ignore the stares. “I am not crying!”

Then Miss R. was there and she suddenly felt protected, like everything was going to be alright; for a little while at least.

But not today. Today was a bad day, a very bad day. It had been bad in the beginning, and it was going to be bad at the end too. Nothing she could do.

Miss R. handed out the papers and paints. Everyone had their own brush but a small pot of water was shared by four.

Marnie couldn’t wait to get started. She knew what she was going to paint: a rainbow and a unicorn! Maybe a tree and some green grass, with some flowers. She couldn’t have her own unicorn but she could paint it. Miss R. would like her bright happy colours, and her pleasure would make her feel better, for a little while at least.

But not today.

While Marnie was contemplating which colours to mix for her unicorn’s mane, Brucie reached over and snatched Marnie’s brush. With one flourish he had dragged the brush through the middle of each of her colours leaving a dirty brown trail. Marnie had opened her mouth to speak, but Bruce silenced her with a threatening motion of a finger across his neck, as it to slit it open. He stashed her brush on the shelf out of reach, and turned back to his paper, innocent-like. Marnie’s eyes searched for Miss R.’s hoping she had seen and would come to her rescue. But Miss R. was talking to Jasmine and some others at the front, and didn’t see.

Marnie looked at her palette. “I am not crying,” she thought as she tried to still her quivering lip and stop the tears that would give Brucie so much pleasure.

She looked at him and poked her tongue. He held up a fist.

Marnie rubbed first one hand, and then the other into the coolness of the paint, blending all the colours. It felt soothing somehow, the way her hands slid easily through the paints. She watched each colour disappear into the muddy brown she was creating, wishing she too could slide away and disappear where no one would notice her anymore; where no one would taunt or bully or harm. If they couldn’t see her, if she was invisible, maybe she’d be safe.

She looked at her palms – covered in brown, just like the mud that had covered them earlier. She smeared the paint on her paper, covering it from edge to edge so nothing of it remained. She wiped what was left on her shirt. What did it matter? She couldn’t be in more trouble than she already was. They were already going to kill her. Sometimes she wished they would. Sometimes she wished she’d never been born. Sometimes . . .

Miss R. stood beside her desk. Marnie could hear her breathing; could still smell her marvellous scents above that of the muddy brown paint that was now her camouflage. She longed for Miss R. to paint her life away, to ask her about her work and what it meant. But she willed her not; and it must have worked because she walked away. How could she tell her? Her life was as muddy as the paint and she could see no way out.

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. I’d love to know what you think of this as a possibility of Marnie’s thinking.

 

 

 

 

A sprinkling of semicolons

wordle semicolons

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about semicolons; but not the little squiggles on a page, the semicolons that are sprinkled liberally through life as new beginnings. Sometimes we see them and grasp the opportunity for renewal, other times we ignore them and miss the chance to revitalize. Sometimes we get pushed down and it takes all our strength to pull back up, grasping onto the semicolon as if it was a dragon’s tail.

Charli was inspired by Project Semicolon that provides this explanation:

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence if your life.  Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.”

Every day can be a new beginning in some way. With our thoughts, words and actions we can change our own lives, or the lives of others. The impact may be deliberate or unintentional. We may be aware of the effects, or we may never know the consequences.

Without wishing to diminish the importance of helping those “who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury”, which is the focus of Project Semicolon, my focus as always is on education and the importance of maintaining curiosity and an interest in and love of learning.

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly   https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

What better analogy of a semicolon of life than the transformation from a caterpillar in a pupa to the beauty and flight of a butterfly. An inspiring teacher can mean the difference between full stops and semicolons in learning.

To illustrate this I refer a post called Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work written by Ron Berger and shared on Edutopia.

In the article Berger discusses his obsession with “collecting student work of remarkable quality and value . . . the work of regular students in typical schools around the country . . . (whose) teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm”.

Berger discusses ways of engaging students in authentic work, work that can have an impact on their communities and on the way they see themselves as learners. I remember Charli Mills telling me about similar work that her children were engaged in when they attended The School of Environmental Studies in Minnesota; and I shared some of Chris Lehmann’s work at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia here.

Berger says,

“Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom — work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful — that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.”

Semicolons in teaching and learning, all.

As with the three cited above, the situations referred to are often of teenagers in high schools. I am an early childhood teacher and, while I find the work exciting, I sometimes struggle to see the relevance to my situation. However, in this article Berger shares the work of Austin, a year one student from Boise, Idaho doing a project about a tiger swallowtail butterfly.

Austin was to illustrate his project with a detailed scientific drawing of the butterfly. His initial drawing was what I would consider to be fairly typical of a year one child. However he received feedback that was specific and not mean from follow students; and through a series of six drafts finished with a drawing that was much more sophisticated and demonstrated more careful ‘scientific’ observation.

Berger also shared work by year two students at another school, demonstrating what can be achieved “when students are allowed, compelled and supported to do great things”.

 

Last week Charli’s flash fiction challenge “the day the earth turned brown” prompted me to write about a student mixing all the colours together to make one muddy brown. The teacher paused before responding. There are many such pauses, (semicolons) in a teacher’s day. The teacher knows the power of every remark and must consider the impact that a response may have.

If you had provided each child with a palette of primary colours and black and white expecting them to mix a variety of colours and shades and tones to create an interesting picture; then found that one child had mixed them all together to make one muddy brown, how would you respond?

There were a number of comments on the flash including one from Geoff Le Pard  who said that there were “So many questions as to why the little girl is making muddy browns and lathering them everywhere.”

So true. The teacher’s response would be influenced by knowledge of the child’s background, interest in art, and behaviour that day, among other things.

Charli Mills said that “It could mean many things and nothing!” She recalled, “mixing paints as a child hoping to create a vivid new color and (being) disappointed to end up with mud.Anne Goodwin agreed, saying that “mixing paints to make a muddy brown, (was) a distinctive childhood memory”.

In my experience there was usually one child who ended up mixing all the colours together, often for no other reason than to see what happened. Sometimes the process of discovery gave as much pleasure as would a colourful painting of a house a tree and a sun.

house and sun

However, there might be more to it than that. Charli Mills sympathesised with the teacher, saying that “So much is put on the teacher to figure it out.” She thought that the child “might be disturbed, highly imaginative or confident enough to experiment”.  Sherri Matthews suggested that perhaps the child was “troubled . . . living in a dark, mixed up world, but . . . trying to find their way”.

So much to consider. So powerful the response. Will it be a full stop, or a semicolon?

This is my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a renewal story that proclaims, “This isn’t the end; I will go on.

muddy brown

She paused. The muddy brown extended beyond the paper virtually cementing it to the desktop. The palette too was brown with little trace of the beautiful primary colours she had prepared. Looking from desk to child she observed two large smears adorning the shirt. A bruise-like smudge on the cheek showed where an intruding hair had been brushed away. “Oh!”

She breathed; she counted to ten; and back again; “Breathe,” she told herself. “Why?”

She moved on, observing the assortment of smiling suns, houses and garden paths, but her mind was on the mud; the child . . .

What would be the appropriate response?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.