Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101 – August 2, 2016

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Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101

Among the vast changes in California schools, one of the changes includes the need for restorative measures before suspension and expulsion can take place.  In the California Department of Education’s Code 48900.5, it states that:

“A pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, may be suspended for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons” (California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5).

The letters corresponding to the offenses include the following:

A–altercations, fights

B-sold/furnished a knife or dangerous object

C-use/under influence or possession of drugs or alcohol

D-look alike substance (offered/tried to sell)

E-attempted to commit robbery or extortion

(California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5)

 

What does this information mean? It means that unless the student is deemed dangerous, he or she may not be excused or suspended on their first offense for minor infractions. The subdivisions above represent extreme cases resulting in suspension on the first offense yet other minor behaviors such as defiance, cursing, wayward behavior, etc., may not result in suspension. To a teacher, these minor offenses, if continual in the classroom, are often the major things which deter from teaching.  If students continually feel that they can get away with such behavior, they will continue to do so until something is done to modify the behavior. When efforts to modify a student’s behavior fail, a teacher is left frustrated and powerless in certain cases.

Administrators must show documentation that other efforts have been made to change a student’s behavior. There must be evidence to present once students and administrators meet with their school districts for suspension or expulsion hearings. So where can this modification happen?  Restorative Justice programs are one option. They have been purchased by many school districts in an effort to help teachers and students work through behavior issues with the hope that this modification will allow teachers to teach and students to learn.

One current program is called Urban Essentials 101: Unleashing the Academic Potential in Urban Underperforming Schools.  Created by Mr. Julius Lockett, a former police officer and educator, his program is one of many programs seeking to help students modify their behavior in the classroom.  Julius is adamant that his program will work in the schools if everyone is motivated to believe in the components of his program.  These components include the posture or belief system of the school and the teacher-student mediation process.

Although there are various programs claiming that they are restorative in nature, there is only one that stands out and includes the terms, “restorative justice in school communities.” That program is Urban Essentials 101.  UE101 is being adopted by various California schools in an effort to meet the requirements needed to restore relationships between students and educators. In an interview with Mr. Lockett, I learned that although Mr. Lockett is a very charismatic and persuasive presenter and educator, he, like many young men, struggled in the school system as a young man.

In high school, Mr. Lockett was involved in defiant activity including truancy and defiant behavior which eventually led him to juvenile hall.  Growing up in the urban ghettos of Atlanta, Georgia, Julius quickly learned that life was dangerous and harsh.  He knew he wasn’t a good student and with the negative influences surrounding him, this realization made it hard to see any hope in the future.

He credits three individuals to his change in behavior as a young man.  These three men were his father, Reverend Julius L. Lockett, his science teacher, Mr. Charles Banks, and his basketball coach, Mr. Calvin Jones.  It was Mr. Jones who helped him improve on his academic habits and behavior which eventually helped Julius get into college.  In all three cases, it was the relationship or connection of a special individual which Julius needed in order to turn his behavior around.  So it is no surprise that the program he created stems from the need for relationship building.

As explained by Julius, there are two different models or sources of restorative justice.  The first model, a countermeasure to the criminal justice system, focuses on questions such as “What law was broken? Who was the criminal? What punishment was given?” In response to the CJ model, RJ (restorative justice) asks such questions as “What harm was done? What are the needs of the harmed that was done? What can we do to make this right?”

Lockett’s model is restorative justice in schools. It focuses on developmental stages rather than questions.  These stages include the following:

  • Gaining commitment – capturing the hearts and minds of those involved in the process.
  • Developing a shared vision – understanding where teachers are going and why they are there in the program.
  • Developing responsive and effective practices – how we think about the people involved and how we address the students in difficult situations.
  • Developing a whole school approach – addressing different departments and bringing them together to unify in thoughts and approaches.
  • Developing personal relationships – connecting with students and teachers, staff, community.

Whereas the first models focus on punishment rather than reform, the restorative justice in schools approach, Urban Essentials 101, focuses on the relationship of teacher to student and modifying behavior of the student.

In asking Julius why other restorative justice programs have failed, he explained that many restorative justice models are being brought into the school districts and do not include implementation experience or presenters who know or have worked in schools. Also, some of the programs do not include a designated room for defiant students when trying to modify behavior.  In his program, the defiant student is pulled out of the classroom, thus allowing the teacher to continue teaching to the remainder of the students. Some of the other restorative justice programs have not been successful, because they set a program in place that is centered on punishment of the student and does not serve as a whole-school relationship builder between teacher and student. In essence, the school change and mentoring aspect between teacher and student is the driving force for the program.  This is where Urban Essentials 101 fits into the schools.

With a background in law enforcement and education, Julius designed a program that understands both the justice aspect of society and its issues along with the educational and relational aspect of school environments. The Urban Essentials 101 program includes a schoolwide posture, which is basically an acronym representing traits which the school wishes to follow such as FAITH or PRIDE as possible examples.  All students and teachers learn the posture and are reminded of the traits throughout the school community.  Another aspect of the program includes the teacher-student mediation process in which the defiant student must complete a form stating what happened from the student’s perspective. The student is sent out to an in-school suspension room for the teaching period. At a convenient time, the student must return later to the teacher, and together, the teacher and student write an agreement about improving the behavior or situation which occurred (Lockett).

Is the program full proof? Not completely. Of course, there are setbacks that come along with any new program implemented into the schools.  The buy-in from teachers is one of the main setbacks which Julius has seen in implementing such a program.  Some seasoned teachers, who have seen so many implementations come and go, sometimes do not wish to alter their form of discipline with their students.  To them, a referral or citation equals power over the student.  Another setback is sustainability.  Even if a school can implement the program, it takes time for any new implementation to become normalized. The longevity of a new program is always difficult to measure at any given time depending on the culture of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.  Like Julius has stated, it means nearly everyone must be on board for his program to succeed, and many times, this is not the case.

Another setback is also the student’s attitude in this program.  Some students, despite all efforts, may choose to follow their continued pattern of behavior, thus leading them into the path of suspension and expulsion.  However, even in these cases, the program is designed to show the efforts of teachers and administrators and the various measures that have been taken to help the student curb their unruly behavior.  Therefore, the last measures taken against these students include suspension or expulsion, in extreme cases.

Have there been triumphs? Yes, there have been several triumphs. Since implementing his program in various schools which include Merced Union High School District, Keller Leadership Academy (San Diego), Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento) and Discovery High School (Natomas) just to name a few, there has  been  dramatic improvement in teacher-student relationships in the learning communities.  Student achievement has also increased since students want to remain in classrooms where they feel valued and connected to the teacher. The biggest triumph which Julius notes is the decrease in suspensions. 40% reduction in suspensions has been seen in schools where the program has been implemented.  Although there may always be unruly children despite the efforts made by educators, Urban Essentials 101 makes a conscious effort at establishing a connective bond between teacher and student so that students are taught, mentored, and counseled.  Students learn how to behave in situations where they might not have otherwise known how to act or change.

As a teacher at one of the Urban Essentials 101 trainings, I was intrigued by Julius in the way he immediately connected to his audience.  Somehow, he found a way to change many of our stubborn mindsets about mentoring, (or as he put it “Disciple-ing”), children by sharing his personal experiences, setbacks, and triumphs.  It is evident that his experience in law enforcement and education along with his spiritual connection to God has allowed him to change the way many teachers see education and discipline.

In closing, it is evident that as we look at the world with its current issues of hatred, terrorism, and violence, our children may be the next generation requiring extended counsel with issues they face in their homes, relationships, and community.  And although it has never been the place, our schools may once again play a part in counseling these students in addressing difficult behaviors and situations that otherwise would have been taught in the home. Although restorative justice in schools may not be the complete answer to discipline, at least Urban Essentials 101 is a starting point for teacher and student to unify, discuss, and peacefully resolve issues in a classroom.

 

Mr. Julius Lockett attended college at Georgia State University, earning a BS and MS in Public and Urban Affairs. He has also served as a police officer in Fulton County, Georgia.  In 1996, he took a position at VORP, (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), an affiliation of Fresno Pacific College, under the founder, Ron Claassen. While working at VORP, he earned teaching credentials in Physical Education and Social Science from Fresno Pacific College.  He later earned an Administrative credential from the University of San Diego, California. He has served in California schools as both a teacher and administrator in the San Diego, Sacramento, and Merced areas for twenty years. Currently, he serves as a Program Administrator and Facilitator for Urban Essentials 101, Inc.

For inquiries about Urban Essentials 101, Mr. Lockett may be contacted at Julius@ue101.com or his website, www.ue101.com.

 

 

 

 

 

an Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski – Book Review – July 23, 2016

IMG_5603In one of the early passages of this novel, an Invisible Thread, written by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, Laurie explains the idea of the “Invisible Thread”  and her relationship with an eleven year-old boy named Maurice:

“I believe there was a strong unseen connection that pulled me back to Maurice.  It’s something I call an invisible thread.  It is, as the old Chinese proverb tells us, something that connects two people who are destined to meet, regardless of time and place and circumstance” (Schroff, Tresniowski 6).

I came across this book in Barnes and Noble one day. I was intrigued that a professional sales rep and a young boy could strike a relationship that would last over years.  I began reading this novel one day and finished two days later.  The odd revelation that a busy professional felt compelled to return to this young boy, Maurice, on the streets of New York City, and the heartstrings that tugged and pulled at her to return to him each week made me want to keep reading. Any other person might have missed this opportunity in helping this young boy, but Laurie’s encounter proves that one person’s presence  is enough to change this young man’s life forever.

In the process of feeding Maurice and building a relationship with him, Laurie discovers that although their lives are very different as an adult and child, much of their childhood stories are similar. Maurice’s family life is very harsh and violent while Laurie’s early life is filled with tribulation and anxiety as well. What I enjoyed most about the novel are the chapters where the author returns to her childhood and explains some of the insecurities and trials she encountered in her own life.  It is in these chapters that the reader sees the connection of Laurie and young Maurice, who is in a daily struggle to survive something he cannot escape. Laura’s aid to young Maurice and all of the measures she takes to help him show what one person’s love and persistence can do to assist those in need.

To be honest, I did not think the novel would strike such emotion, but I found myself crying in several sections of Laurie’s account. Although I knew the novel would serve to inspire the reader, I found that the vivid descriptions of her life and young Maurice’s life made me aware of the divine intervention displayed in these encounters, and although I did not expect a spiritual read, this is exactly what I received.  What a great surprise to find hidden in the treasure of these pages, especially to an avid reader as myself.

Stylistically, Laurie’s account is not difficult to read by any means.  The authors, Schoff and Tresniowski, are straightforward in their writing efforts, and although dates and years are given to understand the timeline of events, it is by no means boring.  The structure of altering chapters between both characters serve the novel well as the reader sees the parallel issues unfold between the two individuals. Some inclusion of actual pictures and letters help to reinforce the strong bond established by these two individuals, Laurie and Maurice, in later chapters.

It is always a welcome joy to find a great novel among the millions of others on the book shelves.  I was thoroughly impressed by the tale of this woman, Laurie, and the young boy, Maurice.  Their love and friendship has endured throughout the years even to his adulthood.  I am always encouraged when I read stories of such magnitude that drive the human spirit to see beyond a simple encounter, and marvel in the divine connection that bring two people together.

See for yourself as you read an Invisible Thread.

Crossing from one world into the next

I’ve always been a spiritual person. Even as a child, I believed that there was more around us than what one saw presently on earth. By spiritual, I don’t mean a “holy roller” or “fanatic,” ready to convert the next sinner. Spirituality meant being connected to feelings or cues around me and seeing beyond the literal. 

The concept of spirituality has led me to the idea that there are angels or spirits among us who watch over us in our daily lives. I know many may think I am crazy, and this is understandable. Most people don’t take time to notice the small instances happening around us. 

When I was pregnant with my son, I was only about a week away from delivering. Nine days before I gave birth, my grandma (really my husband’s grandma of whom I claimed) passed away suddenly. With preparations for the burial and everything else which accompanies an event such as this one, there were so many overwhelming feelings. Our loss, more plans and arrangements, time to grieve. During this week, I sort of lost track of the days and realized that on the morning of the funeral, I would later be packing a bag for the hospital to deliver my son the next morning.

I began to ponder this concept of life and death. Here I was going to deliver a son and the day before, we had just buried and said goodbye to a beautiful and dear soul who had so impacted our lives. How was it possible that from one day to the next we were experiencing a pain so great in losing our loved one, and the next, marveling in God’s beautiful creation in our son’s birth? I remember feeling an eerie strange feeling after his birth, as if I didn’t know what I should be feeling, grief or happiness? sorrow or joy?  This was the feeling that lingered with me days and weeks after his birth which I didn’t understand. I knew I loved my son dearly, but the sudden loss of our grandma made this joy seem incomplete in some way. 

As my son grew, I began to notice that when I read to him, he would stare at me in an unusual way. At first, I couldn’t figure it out, but then I realized the look. His eyes would focus in a certain fashion and it was then that I knew. The look was the same stare which my grandmother gave me when we had our conversations. 

Grandma loved to read. As we drank coffee together, I could talk to her for hours on books and literature, so the connection soon made sense as I began to notice this pattern.  Something in her spirit was still lingering here around our newly born son as though she wanted to watch over us for awhile. I felt like she still wanted a little piece of time with us on earth.

There were other instances when my son gave me grandma’s look; it was enough to give me the chills as I thought of her spirit still with us. I know it was her and I could feel her presence with us in some way. 

After about a year and a half, that same look disappeared. In time, I figured it was her way of crossing back into the world she was now part of, the spiritual world of heaven. 

There have been other instances in my life when the presence of spirit has been very real. Skeptics will say that these ideas of angels and spirituality are nonsense, or a figment of one’s imagination. 

I say that if you pay close attention to your surroundings, you might just find a small piece of heaven lingering around you, asking you to take note of how precious your time is on earth. 

On Raising Daughters – October 30, 2015

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When I first became a mom, all I wanted was a healthy child.  I wasn’t set on one particular gender.  Whatever God gave me was fine by me.

So when I held my firstborn daughter, I was in love.  With each additional daughter (three daughters, then my son), I grew a heart for each of them.

Now, I look at my three daughters and my young son and I wonder, “How did I get through those early years?” The bottles, the diapers, the earaches at two in the morning.  I remember the endless anxiety of my children being sick or being properly cared for by their caregivers. It was a rough time.  I was like any other mom who loves their children and wanted to be reassured that they would be okay.

With a full time job, the anxiety increased tenfold as I questioned, “Am I giving them enough of my time?”  or “Am I being the mom that I’m supposed to be?” Balancing work and motherhood was always the struggle and there was never enough time to be the mom I wanted to be.

It’s not like you’re given an owner’s manual at the end of your hospital stay that reads, “Follow directions 1,2, 3, then proceed on with life.” No one prepares you for what is coming each day and most moms do the best we can as experiences emerge in our daily lives.  Eventually, I relaxed and started to feel comfortable in this role of mother to my children.  However, it was never easy.

I can say this — raising daughters can be a tumultuous, mind boggling experience when you consider the emotional and sensitive nature of our lovely daughters.

I say this in a loving yet reflective way since I can say that I’ve been through the teenage years with them (I’m still going through this stage with my youngest daughter) and I’m heading toward the early adulthood age with my eldest (she’ll be twenty-one soon).  And as I look at each daughter, in the fine complexity of each being, I have always tried to remember that although they come from me and are definitely part of my heart, each one is still their own person with different traits and strengths that I attempt to reach in their own time and way.

When I say “in their own time and way,” I’m referring to the cues I get when addressing each daughter based on their temperament and feelings.  Gauging this aspect of a daughter can be daunting in itself, because most of the time, I’m trying to see what I need to be for her and hope I’m correct.

I realize now that it is by the grace of my experience as a teacher that I have learned how to let them be their own person and have tried to let go of the fact that they are not expected to be “me.” I have seen many mothers try to be their daughter’s “friend” and then have it backfire when the mother didn’t like what the daughter was doing.  And I’ve also seen the opposite, the die hard mom, who insisted that her way was always right, and that was the end of it. Neither scenario seemed effective to me as I have viewed these examples over and over again in my years as a teacher. I think this has been a great lesson to learn early on as a mother, because it has released such arguments and anxiety to the question, “Why can’t you just do as I do?” “Why can’t you be me?”

There are still struggles that I have with each daughter, such as how to dress appropriately for each age level and how to speak respectfully to us in tone and manner, some of which, girls, especially, don’t realize they are coming across in a certain way. Again, this is part of all girls and their emotional characters.  Other struggles include what to put on social media in a world where every emotion, word, (and picture that goes along with it) is expressed for everyone to see.  With each daughter, there has been a unique struggle which I have encountered and had to embrace.

Since I have already been through these years, I now see myself very differently than them in many ways.  In my generation as a Hispanic teenager, there were certain things or expressions I never would have been allowed to express in any way. Like the question, “But how come?” or “That’s not fair.” These expressions alone would have been enough for a lecture in my household. I had no say so in my home at times, because my parents were my parents.  That was it. It was mainly out of respect that certain questions weren’t warranted.

However, I can accept that my daughters see things in their unique ways and still love them for their views.  And although I may not always agree, it is with my heart that I see them opening up to me  in our discussions and expressing how they see the world, in their own time and with the consideration of their generation.

As a mother and educator, I want my daughters to question and examine the choices made around them and wonder why things are being handled in certain ways. I really want them to think situations through and analyze their choices before acting on them.  And I want to be able to talk openly about marriage, relationships, expectations which we have of each other, and a multitude of other topics that they want to explore. Realizing this wish, it does come with many challenges.

We are vast worlds apart in our experiences.  The issues that they face and see everyday are concepts I couldn’t even begin to fathom at their age.  In trying to guide them in a world where I don’t have much experience with these issues, it makes these experiences very challenging to give advice and I hope it is correct for their situation. Everything in their world comes quicker and faster in their generation of technology and social media. I want them to question and then question again what is happening in their world. Their thoughts and opinions should still reflect integrity and respect in the ever changing world of individuals choosing to do whatever feels good at the present moment.

Also, the people and groups surrounding them are vast and unique. However, I want them to be tolerant of differences and love those around them in a way that they would wish to be loved themselves.  I find that now with the emergence of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals coming forth in many facets of our lives, my daughters are the first to accept those different than themselves and see them with eyes of compassion, and possibly more so than I could have at their age, due to my generation and the stigma associated with issues which weren’t even discussed in my teenage years.

And so, when I see each daughter, I remember her as the baby I once held long ago, with hopes and dreams of her future endeavors. Eventually, I am brought back to the reality that as I watch each daughter emerge into the beautiful young woman she was meant to be, she is taking pieces of what I say and do every day of my life, and shaping her own view of the woman she hopes to become. She is merging her idea of the present world with the world of letting me go as her mother, while still holding onto the pieces she dearly needs for security.

All I can do is be present for her, model what traits I hope she’ll take from me, and tell her that I love her along the way. I’m a mother who will always be by her side in her triumphs and failures. I will constantly be watching, guiding, and molding her, when she so wishes this action from me, and even in times when maybe she doesn’t. I will love her in times when she can’t love herself.

This is what mothers of daughters always do.

And the page turns….October 13, 2015

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The package arrived and in eagerness, I asked my boy to help me open the box.  I was anxious to see the contents of my first novel.  I had seen it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Others had already started reading and responding to the story with positive reviews. But, I wanted the moment to come when I would turn the pages to my own novel, Always Connected.

I had worked on this novel for over two years and finally decided to publish this summer. However, I knew that reading it for the billionth time in my own home on my computer wasn’t going to be the same as when it was done, completed, and finished.

So as my ten year old son pulled out the scrunched up paper from on top of my copies, I saw the cover, designed by my niece, Kayla Montemayor, a Senior at Clovis East High School.  Kayla is a gifted artist and when I told her about the story and my ideas, she designed the perfect cover. Her design captured the essence of the story, a young woman meeting her father for the first time in twenty-six years. The picture said it all.

What did it feel like to open my own novel?  Amazing! Pure and simple.  I looked at the names in my dedication and acknowledgment pages and marveled at how special these people were to me through this experience.  Something that had taken me so long was now locked into the pages of this new, fresh memory. It was captivating to look at the pages and see my name throughout the book and realize that I’m now a published author.

But really, I’m still the same exact person I was even before writing the novel.

What do I mean, you say?  Well, I never wanted to publish a novel for the fact of blowing up my ego a million times or to brag about what I had accomplished.  The love of writing is the reason why I wrote the novel and the feeling I get after I write something which no one else on earth can write in the same way. The fact that my ideas and thoughts are solely mine and embedded in these pages is enough for me.  I think most aspiring writers would agree.

And so, life continues as I head toward future novels, some of which I have already started to write.  The feeling of opening the pages of my first novel was awesome.  Nothing will ever replace that single memory. I also know that without a doubt when I open the page to another brand new novel which I’ve written, I will experience this same feeling once again and it will never get old.  Never.

April 14, 2015 – Imperfect in our Perfection

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All of us would love to be perfect.  It’s one of those concepts that the media, our religion, or our surroundings praise above all.  The idea of perfection — in body image, in success, in relationships, in our integrity.  The pressure to be perfect is all too overwhelming for most of us.

A  wise professor from my university once told us, “The older I get, the more imperfect I realize I become.” The quote may not have been exactly in those words, but we got the idea. Imperfection was being less than one expected.

Now, this one professor was my favorite professor of all time, mainly because he was the most down to earth teacher on campus. He often told us the most interesting stories and highlighted the details with the enthusiasm of a great storyteller.  I thought about what he said and wondered what an amiable man and pastor meant by his imperfection. I just couldn’t fathom the concept. He had raised wonderful children, been married to the same wife for numerous years, and was a pastor and respected professor.  Imperfection?  It couldn’t be.

As I look at my life now as a wife, mother and teacher, I realize exactly what he meant.  It’s not like each person is trying to be a phony or make a false persona for oneself, but it is true that as people from the outside (colleagues, extended family, friends) see us, they only see one image of us at certain moments. And that image, hopefully if one has integrity and a conscience, is a decent and upstanding image.  But now I know that as we age, we tend to make errors in different ways, maybe not to the same degree as other people might, but in our own specific ways.  We know when we disappoint ourselves and others around us.  Sometimes we know we’re lacking in our judgment, and we don’t even care.  I haven’t hit that point yet, but I’ve felt the sting of being the one not in the right. It’s not a good feeling at all.

For instance, as a wife, I know that I can try to be the best wife possible, but I will sometimes falter in some way, depending on the day, the situation, the mood I’m in, etc.  I know what I want to be – loving, understanding, compassionate, but sometimes the results aren’t what I expect of myself. Even being married to the same man for many years doesn’t guarantee that things are always perfect, but they can be nearly perfect depending on our actions to our loved one.  And it’s in these moments, that I remember my professor’s words loud and clear, even though I don’t want to admit it about myself.  I understand exactly what he meant, only now I’m the one admitting my imperfection.

The human side of my being is hard to deal with especially when you are halfway through your life and you think you have it (for the most part) “together.”  But, in this humanness, I am often brought back to my faith and what God expects of me.  Then, it truly saddens me that I gave into humanness because of weakness, or mood, or whatever caused me to not be the understanding person I normally am to my husband, or kids, or others. And I can say, for myself, that although it doesn’t happen often, when it does, it feels like my heart was torn out of my chest and thrown to the ground.  It doesn’t seem like this could be “me.”

As a mother, it has been apparent many times that what I thought was a good thing to say at the time was actually a mistake. Sometimes we as parents don’t understand how the impact of our words or actions (or the interpretation from our children) can cause pain, and not even intentionally.  We’ve all had the moments of true frustration with children when we didn’t know what to say, but said it anyhow.   Once we saw the look on our child’s face, it was already done and it was too late. We didn’t listen enough, or we heard what we wanted and overreacted, causing unneeded words to be exchanged. Again, imperfectly perfect.

In teaching, I am reminded that patience is so important in dealing with my students even when I don’t feel like being patient.  It has been one of those lessons which I learned early on in teaching, and for the most part, has served me well.  That does not mean that I tolerate disrespect or unruly behavior from students, because in those moments, they do need to be told that they will be accountable for their actions against me.  However, there are times when true understanding does need to outshine scolding.  I think of how much time I spend with kids each day, and how sometimes my students see me more than they see their own parents.  Again, I remember my professor’s words speaking loudly to me, reminding me to especially be abundant in the words I choose to uplift, encourage, or praise. His words remind me to improve myself for them, my students. However, there are moments when I’m not at my best and wish that I could be more patient in the most needed times.

Along with the lesson of imperfection from my professor, the gift of storytelling has helped me bring the gap of humanness in my students.  My students tend to only see the professional part of me when I’m sitting in front of them, conversing, teaching, analyzing their work.  However, at times, in sharing personal stories about my life, my children, or my teaching experiences, they are drawn to the human part of my story — when they see that I am not perfect, when I need forgiveness too, and when I can grow into a better person, even at my age.  Sometimes, they will look at me different, but not in the way you would expect.  They begin to open up more, relate my story to their own, and see me more connected to them. More human.

I still think back to my time at my Christian college and I still highly respect my favorite professor.  His words echo in my heart every day as a wife, a mother, and a teacher.  The idea of humanness and imperfection are two concepts hard to discern, especially with the image of others which is, for the most part,  very positive, (at least in my case).  His words remind me also that in viewing others we need to be understanding and forgiving when others falter against us and when they are sincerely sorry for their actions.

I know that part of our perception of the world comes from our background, our beliefs, and our experiences in life. However, the idea of being good, righteous, loving, and compassionate human beings is inherent in at least most of us.  I hope that at the end of our lives, we will have used the imperfect part of ourselves to create dearly loved selves, who forgive ourselves despite our mistakes, and continue to improve our ways and actions, not only because it’s what God expects of us, but because it’s what we expect most earnestly in ourselves.  Maybe we will become that beloved husband, wife, dad, mom, son, daughter, or favorite teacher to one of our fellow humans despite our imperfections.

In our humanness, we strive for the goal of perfection.  The trick as I see it is to continue trying to be the better self that we so wish to become despite our setbacks.  Learning throughout a lifetime of trials and triumphs will make us the people we were meant to be. So imperfect, yet dearly loved.

Taking the good with the bad – life and fibromyalgia

There are things in life that you choose to do to yourself and others that are destined for you, although you don’t quite understand the “why.”

One self infliction was when I got a really bad perm.  My hair was half way down my back and I believed that a perm would guarantee beautiful curly long hair, just like a model with her perfectly styled spiraled mane.  Mind you, I was already married with two small children, and felt that I just needed a change.  So, the perm came and what I believed would be something wonderful winded up being a scrunched up mess.  My hair and its kinky curls shrunk to just below my neck.  Nothing seemed to calm down the curls, so I tried to make the best of it.  This was difficult for my husband to ignore, with his quick wit and nonstop humor.  He would awaken, see me, smile, and blurt out, “Good morning, Harpo!” all the while pretending to have a cigarette in his mouth as he spoke.  All I could do was smile, even though it ticked me off, because well, it was my doing. So every time my husband saw me, the words “nappy,” “fuzz head,” or my favorite, “Shirley Temple,” poured forth from his unsympathetic mouth.  Thank God, I had a sense of good humor.  I knew that my husband said these comments lovingly in his playful manner. I also knew that I took full ownership for my locks of sausage curls.  A bad hairstyle equalled a few months of wrestling with unruly hair until I could eventually have it straightened out again.  It was something I could eventually fix.  Although I felt like a fool for a while, I knew it wouldn’t be forever.

Other things in my life have been handed to me by the Lord above and all I can do is take one day at a time.

It’s something I rarely talk about, because when people see me, they wouldn’t believe me anyhow.

Fibromyalgia is something that developed in me after the birth of my third daughter. I was thirty years old and I don’t know why at that point in my life this condition came to me.  And I had no clue what it was.  About six to eight weeks after my surgery, I began to feel searing pain down my spine.  It felt like my spine was burning.  I went to my family physician and even she couldn’t find the cause.  Numerous tests revealed no damage to the spine or back.  All sorts of scans, MRIs, blood tests, etc. revealed nothing.  Nothing.

I tried to backtrack in my mind the surgery, the anesthesia, the hospital — could these elements have been contributing factors to my diagnosis?  I’ll never know because what emerged in my body after that point could only be described as a foreigner.  After the initial pain, other symptoms came to me:  ice-like feet and hands, insomnia, migraines, brain fog, depression, joint pain.  The list went on and on and because no one could see anything physically wrong with my body, they simply didn’t believe me. This included my family, some friends, pretty much everyone, including the doctors. I never at any point felt like it was “all in my head,” which is what came across the faces of many doctors who I sought out for help.  Finally after two years of seeking doctors, and enduring numerous nerve tests, one neurologist finally told me she felt it was Fibromyalgia.

The only thing I understood about Fibromyalgia at the time was that it was a condition of overactive nerves, which I had never suffered from before in my life. All the neurologist told me was that there was no cure and that I could try to manage my condition with medication. Some of these medications were worse than tolerating the pain.  They left me feeling unresponsive to life around me and with three small children at home, this just wasn’t possible. I needed to be present for my children. One medication, which I can’t recall now, made me feel so dizzy that I had to hold onto the walls to walk. What I discovered in the early stages of living with Fibromyalgia was that many doctors were quick to prescribe whatever drug would make the pain go away.  Only in my case, the pain would subside for a bit, only to bring on other side effects into my body.

It’s hard to explain to people when you feel such incredible invisible pain.  For instance, when someone is in a crash, there are bruises, cuts, scrapes, etc,.. all visible signs of trauma that one’s body has gone through.  The visible aspects of trauma make the person looking at the victim see them with eyes of compassion because the person sees the victim suffering.  With fibromyalgia, there are days that you feel like someone used you as a punching bag with every muscle, every tendon, every joint radiating with tender pain.  And no one can see the pain, including yourself.  There comes a point when the fatigue makes you feel like you’re dragging around and you’re in a fog that may take a full day to get out of until you see some light.

At one point, I sought out a support group.  What I discovered were these women were far worse than myself.  After hearing their stories, I couldn’t make my way back to listen again. Although I felt compassion for them, I also saw many of these patients consuming various drugs which didn’t seem to be doing much good, if not making them worse.  Antidepressants and pain relievers were the main drugs being used by these patients, and by looking at them, I felt like part of them was already gone, mainly their spirits.  They were there, but the part of them that saw some hope no longer remained.  It seemed as though they were hanging on for dear life, which I could totally understand since I too could empathize with their suffering.  For myself,  the thought of putting more chemicals into my body made me shudder.  I knew for these women the use of these drugs was saving them at the moment.  For myself, I needed to find a way to cope without more medications or drugs in my body.

I began to see people in a different light.  Especially those who used walkers, wheelchairs, or were immobile in some way.  I  really began to think, that could be me one day.  I would observe from a distance, a person wheeling himself around in his wheelchair, or a handicapped person getting out of her car. As much as I knew the handicapped person was grateful for the mobility of their wheelchair, I became observant of what I still had which was the pain.   And in that moment, I was grateful.  I was tremendously grateful for pain and the mobility to still move even with such pain. I’m certain that even the person with the wheelchair or disability was also in pain; however, at the time, I was still grateful that I could adjust and move about as needed. I decided early on that I was going to take each day as it came to me, pain or no pain.  It was determined that a “flare up” day with its fatigue and pressure point pain was going to be rough, but a day with some slight aches and pain was considered a good day. It was my choice to see life as it came to me; it was something I still had control over in this situation.

My faith was also part of the picture.  I knew God had never deserted me, but I also knew that I needed to rely on Him more to help me through this condition.  I reasoned that before this condition set in, I could go nonstop with all sorts of chores, activities, and plans with still enough energy to get me through an entire day.  After my condition set in, I had to choose what was important  for that day and leave some things unattended, which was a test in patience on my part, since I tended to plan too much on any given day and was determined to get all of it done.  It was important to be happy with what I accomplished for the day.  It became quite simple,  even though at times I made it difficult, thinking that my previous body was still with me.

So for today, I can say that taking the good with the bad is something I understand all too well. Because although others may see fibromyalgia as a bad situation in my life, I can still choose to see it as a blessing.  To others, it may be a burden one carries, and for me, at times, it is a heavy burden, more on my heart than anything else. However,  in a sense it has made me appreciate, even more so, those grand days when I wake up with energy, slight pain, and the ability to enjoy my family and friends. What I saw before in this beautiful life is still there, only slightly different now in the way I am able to enjoy it. It is all the more beautiful.

New beginnings – December 24, 2014

Although this is a new venture for me (blogging), the concept of writing has never been foreign in any way.  It has always been part of my world, since my first beginning in elementary school at Monroe Elementary, to my years as a high school student at Selma High School, and now to my experience as a high school English teacher.

Writing (along with reading) has always been the awe of new, alluring words and vibrant ideas that jump from a page to the mind of the reader.  It has been, and will always be, my first love.  In the back of my mind and heart, there has always been a voice ready to speak to the world, and not in the same way as a wife, mother, daughter, teacher, or any other role.  It has solely been the voice of a writer.  Now, I find that I am all of these roles and more, and still that same whispering voice has been urging me forward to this place, this blog, and hopefully, to other projects in the near future.

And so with this introduction, I begin my journey with you and hope you stay alongside me for the ride.    Although my life has never been perfect, in its own little way, it has emerged into this reality — what it was meant to be, my life.  My belief is that gratitude (for both the good and the bad in one’s life) draws us closer to the blessings we receive in our hearts. By blessings, I refer to such qualities as patience, love, forgiveness, compassion. It is these distinct blessings which help us understand the world and make our lives so grand.  It is a beautiful life which we have been given.