Learning by the Seat of your Pants is Long Remembered

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Looks like my library as a kid.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing standing in your way is lack of money and opportunity. To say that we’re all created equal and have the same chance at success is to overlook the stark realities and conditions of our lives.

Where you are born and to whom, and what color your skin makes a significant difference. If your parents are poor and uneducated, it isn’t likely that you will be any different unless they and you are motivated enough to make the choices that will determine your future.

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This could have been me, and yes I was shy and introverted.

Even personality traits play into the mix. A shy introverted child is less apt to reach out for help or make the necessary connections without considerable coaching and encouragement. If you are part of a large family it is even more difficult to find the resources needed for education. Getting a job and helping the family in the here and now becomes more important than planning for the future. Gaining access becomes the result of privilege.

My own mother never graduated from high school and was married at age 16. My father was 18 and barely fulfilled the requirements. He did go on to become a welder, but was forced to travel away from home to obtain work. When money was tight, my mother did odd jobs like candle eggs and work in the school cafeteria. Both of my parents worked hard and lived largely in spirit and faith. It wasn’t until I grew up and moved away that I realized how little they really had.

images (4)Children never experience poverty if there is joy and kindness of spirit. It is only by comparison that they recognize the disparity.

Mother was a divine creator of nourishing eye-pleasing meals incorporating the fish that dad caught in the summer, and the fruits and vegetables that she canned in the fall. Their garden was productive and they both enjoyed working together to provide for their family.

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I made up for their lack of education by becoming a voracious reader. I spent hours at the Public Library in pursuit of education. Thirsty for knowledge, I read through many of the classics before I even knew how precious they were.

I taught myself how to write. I devoured plays and then moved on to writing them for non-profit groups. Except for a few classes at junior colleges and universities, I taught myself how to write articles and children’s stories. I learned how to oil paint and went through every available book at my fingertips on various fine art topics from portraiture to landscape. I hungered to learn.

Having a large family of my own, there was seldom extra money for my education and barely enough for theirs. Everybody worked. Five out of six of my children all received degrees and three out of six are teachers, one is a writer, and one in finance. They were non-complaining about their student loans and grateful that these funds were available to them. All have since paid off their financial obligations.

In spite of never obtaining a degree, I was able to work as a freelance writer and have some measure of success in children’s and adult education and training. My scripts, which were much like writing a play, were financed by corporations in conjunction with film companies. I studied film making and video/movie script writing, and I prayed a lot.

Many students get through college on their parent’s dime and still have difficulty finding a job afterward. They go through the motions, obtaining that degree, but failing to absorb the knowledge that someone else has paid for. When you pay your own way and struggle not only to understand, but you crave and hunger for knowledge and success, the learning is remembered.  Your efforts are rewarded.

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Teachers should Nurture, Enlighten and Protect their Students

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"An Open Book" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

“An Open Book” 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

I come from a long line of teachers, and take pride in having five teachers in our family today. I revere teachers and respect their profession. As the mother of six children, I had a lion’s share of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Over the years, I’ve seen good teachers and bad teachers.

Ms. Morrell was my English teacher; a stern spinster, and the butt of jokes and complaints from her students. But without her, I may never have become a writer. She knew her stuff! She was firm, but patient. She insisted on good behavior and was a hard task master when it came to grammar. And she could see past the jeers and bluster of her students.

She encouraged me to enter the school’s literary contest and I won. She saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. I remember her to this day, not as the frumpy spinster with the stern look, but for what she taught me: lessons that stayed with me throughout my life.

"Looking Outward" 3-D painting in an actual window frame

“Looking Outward” 3-D painting in an actual window frame

Mr. Holmstead was my History teacher; a fun-loving man who walked a shaky line between likability and control. Somehow he managed; not because of classroom rules or rigid authoritarianism, but through his own charisma and passion for his subject.

Whether you liked history or hated it, you were bound to love how Mr. Holmstead told a story. He captured your attention and made history seem relevant and wondrous. The test questions were easier to remember because of the performance and the theatrics he tied to each fact. Those who thought history was boring were in for a big surprise.

By noon, Mr. Holmstead already had a five o’clock shadow. By the end of the day, his tie had been loosened, his jacket hung on a chair and his sleeves were rolled up. We loved history because he loved history. His teaching was infectious.

And then there are the not-so-great teachers. I met one of them at a parent teacher conference. She was irritated by my energetic son. “He fidgets too much at his desk,” I was told.

“And why does he fidget,” I asked? Turns out my son finished his work before the other students and then he became a distraction. He even turned over his paper and doodled on the back (imagine that!) making his worksheet messy and dirty (the nerve).

By the time I finished listening, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change this teacher’s mind. I did suggest that she give my son another sheet of paper to doodle on while he waited, but she refused, saying that she didn’t have time to cater to one student. Oh the “mind is a terrible thing to waste!” (Negro College Fund Slogan)

Here is the flip side to that story. In my son’s sixth grade year, he had a teacher named Mrs. Bush. The children loved her, not because she was lenient or friendly, but because they knew what to expect from her. Her discipline was consistent; her style full of expectation and follow through.

My son was still the same wiggly, talkative child, but she used that enthusiasm to their mutual advantage. When he sat fidgeting after finishing his work, she showed him how to use the classroom camera. He took pictures of designated materials under her supervision. And wouldn’t you know, the envious other children began to work harder to finish their work so that they could use the camera.

At one point, during their study of China, Mrs. Bush showed him a tiny picture of a Chinese dragon and challenged him to see what he could do with it. She gave him some brushes and paints and turned him loose on the classroom window. By the end of the day, he had completed a giant, colorful dragon; an exact replica of the original small drawing.

That painting amazed not only me, but the entire school. Mrs. Bush saw a glimmer in my son and harnessed his active mind and body; a true modern-day miracle worker. Teachers like this never scream for recognition or pay, but they deserve it. They simply do what they do best: teach children. I say God bless them!