Thursday, August 28, 2014

Leave a Mark, Not a Stain

I do not remember where I came across this statement, but I thought it insightful and profound.  I like it.  There is a lot of imagery in those six words.  It also struck me that if I were in one of Mrs. Steffens’s writing classes I could have my six-word memoir right there.  There is no question that I am wordy.  My wife is always exasperated when I share something with her because in her opinion I could get right to the point and save her a lot of time listening to me!  I guess I have an insecurity or need to be thorough in my explanation.  But I read this statement and it is very clear and concise, and in reality, it needs no explanation.  So why do I have a need to explain it right now?  Maybe because I see a lot of depth to those six words that I want to share.
Each year at graduation I give a great deal of thought to what I am going to say to the class with the goal of focusing on characteristics they have as a group.  Each class that I have worked with has distinguished itself from others, and that in large part is what I want to point out to them, and the friends and family that join them for the celebration.  What I have found each year as I am writing my remarks is that I believe it is extremely important to challenge the graduations to make a difference in the world.  I firmly believe that every student that graduates from our high school can have a positive impact on the world.  They need to think beyond making a difference in their family or the town they work in because they have the potential to do more.  But I realize as that the six-word title above points out something that I have left out in my words to the graduates: they could leave a stain.
Graduation is a time for celebration and I have always tried to say something meaningful when I talk to the seniors, something that is positive.  Who wants to be the one to put a cloud over graduation?  That said the challenge I issue has been to make a positive mark on the world by doing things that will benefit others.  When I came across this quote and started thinking about this column, I realize that I have shared this message with kids that did make a mark, but it was far from positive.  I have had four students that I know of that have been convicted of felonies and have or still are serving time in prison, one for life for murder.  That’s a stain.  There is former student of mine who killed his wife and children before taking his own life.  That’s a stain.  There are graduates that I know of that have abused their wives and children, and some that have abused themselves with drugs and alcohol.  Others have vandalized property and committed petty crimes.  Those are all stains.  So maybe my message needs to change.
I have thought through the remarks I want to make to this year’s seniors.  There are some good things to say about them and some positive words of encouragement that I will make.  At the same time I wonder whether that’s enough.  I know that most of the kids won’t remember what I say on that day.  They have far more important things to concern themselves with, but maybe there will be one or two that will pick something out and really hone in on it.  Maybe something I say about not leaving a stain will resonate with them at some point in their life when they are face with a choice, and they will opt to leave a mark, rather than a stain.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Some Smart Smartphone Advice For Parents

I was wandering through cyberspace looking for some information regarding teen smartphone use and came across this web site.  There is simply too much good information here for me to even try and summarize or condense into an article.  Neither of my kids have a smartphone, but both have a regular cell phone and iPod.  Both of them spend way too much time on them, and we have had to put rules in place in our house that we had not thought were necessary.  I don't want to take anything away from the article, but do want to make a couple of points.  First, nothing in my nearly thirty years of being an educator has had an impact on students at school the way the cell/smartphone has.  Nothing!  I won't belabor this, but for the most part it has not been positive.  We have a generation of kids who "need to know" right now!  We have some kids in our school who have an addiction to their smartphone and the messages they anticipate are coming from folks via text or Twitter.  We also have kids who are handcuffed in some respects by parents who text them while they are at school.  That's right, the worst violators of our cell phone policy are parents who text their kids during school!  Whether it is to check if they picked up the check for lunch money, confirm after school plans, or to give them a motivational message for a competition after school, parents are putting their children in a position during school hours where they violate the cell phone policy.  DON'T TEXT YOUR CHILD DURING SCHOOL  HOURS!  The  kids don't wait until after school or lunch to check it.  They check it right away.  There are many students who discretely carry on conversations with friends while instruction is going on, and some of them are really good at remaining undetected.  When they are doing this, they are not learning.  Some students use the "I need to go to the bathroom" excuse to leave class to check out what is going on, again, missing out on instruction.  Like so many other things they confront, teenagers make poor choices when it comes to using these tools.  Yes, smartphones are great tools, though I am looking forward to the day when I toss mine away.  But, they are an obstacle in school and right now, education is losing the battle.

Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens and Teens