Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Social Experiment

My social experiment has been  almost 14 years in the making, long before I knew I was performing a social experiment. I'll leave off all the normal disclaimers. What is working for me will undoubtedly not work in every situation, nor for every person who tries it. However, what I've learned is working. I thought it was something that I mostly employed in my chosen career, but as I continue experimenting, I'm finding many practical applications outside of education.

I started working in developmental education when I was 20, a senior in college. I had very little training in education, no formal training at all, and yet I instantly found a connection with my students. I was silly. I was often preposterous. Most of all, I genuinely enjoyed my students.

I was so young. I had no idea what I was doing. 
Developmental education on the college level has changed monikers several times throughout the years. Academic support, college preparatory. In a nutshell, I basically worked with students who had not been academically successful. Low test scores. Negative attitudes. Behavioral problems. Lack of study skills. Poor concept of education. Intuitively, I acted like they were all simply marvelous and diamonds in the rough who just need a bit of positive polishing here and there. Even back then, one of my favorite activities was taking a student no one else seemed to like much, and encouraging that person to shine.

Over a decade later, I'm still working in developmental education, but in a very different environment. I am still getting the students that other teachers have labeled troublesome, deficient, delayed, problem, behaviorally challenged. In fact, in 2004 I gave birth to a son who would go on to be similarly labeled by the public school system (Ha! Thanks, Universe, for giving me my very own test subject!).

My little social deviant in need of frequent in-school suspensions. In kindergarten.  
At my current place of employment, I was given a six year old referred for remediation. I could write pages on how I don't think a six year old should ever be told he needs remediation, but let's skip over that for a moment. A cursory glance through this boy's file will show a negative relationship with his teacher, behavioral frustrations, low performance on testing, and a hint that perhaps some emotional/behavioral/psychological testing is in the works. A cursory glance at the actual child will show you a very cute little boy, with a quirky smile and a vocabulary older than his years. Look a few extra moments at his eyes and you will see the insecurity, the uncertainty, the self-doubt and the questions lurking there. "Am I smart? Am I liked? Am I ok?"

He writes his S's backwards and spells "Pikshre" for "Picture." Adorable! 
I gave this kid a goofy nickname, started calling him "My favorite [insert child's name withheld to protect the innocent]" when he walked into my job, and began praising him every single time he did something right, while completely minimizing his mistakes. As he opened up to me, he would ask, "Am I smart, Miss Kara?" And I would grin from ear to ear and answer with a resounding, "So smart!" Now when he is working independently on his little phonics workbooks and manipulatives, I can just barely catch him whispering to himself, "I really am smart!"

Instinctively, I believe we should tell all six year olds that they are smart. Every single one of them.

I have a middle-schooler who is simply fantastic. Somewhere along the line she has been told she really stinks at math, so now she is in remediation for math. She has a flair for the dramatic (how's that for redundant: dramatic middle schooler!) and frequently puts herself down about how dumb she is. I think she is charming and nothing short of hilarious. At first, she was a little surprised I laughed at her jokes. Quite frankly, I was a little surprised everyone in the vicinity wasn't laughing at her jokes. Also, I take pictures of her drawings because they are awesome.

This is Sad Giraffe. So sad. So freaking awesome.
I have hundreds of these stories, stories of these kids I've worked with. The quirky little characteristics about them that I fall in love with and have no shame in telling them so. And as I love them (oh, yeah, I have to teach them sometimes, too), I start to see amazing things happen. I watch as they blossom. I see them gain confidence. What is more, I see their own developing confidence helping them so much more than just curriculum and drill-and-kill and worksheets and textbooks and even elaborate projects. I've been watching this phenomenon in my career for almost 14 years.


One day, an indefinite amount of time ago, I met someone I was instantly unfond of. You know how it is. You more than just "don't click" with someone. You pretty much off the bat can't stand them. It happens. It's regrettable.

This is the face I used to give people when I didn't like them. And then I wondered why they didn't like me, either.
I've grown up a lot since then. 

I had been thinking a lot about my positive success with students over the years, mostly about how just acting like I was thrilled to see them and thinking they are ever so smart and funny, and that they absolutely have something worthwhile to contribute changes them on an intrinsic level. And then I thought, what if -- WHAT IF! -- what if I started treating... wait for the epiphany... what if I started treating everyone like that? What if I started treating -- oh goodness, my brain is coming up with the impossible! -- people I don't like very much like that?

It's Christmas, and I just pulled a miniature frying pan out of my gift bag.
This face adequately expresses how I felt about my epiphany. 

I'm game for social experiments. Why not? In all honesty, what's there to lose? I picked that one really hard-to-like person who had come unexpectedly into my life. This time, when I saw her, I smiled hugely and waved and generally acted extremely pleased to see her. When she said something funny, I laughed. Then one of the most interesting things happened. She began to not be so annoying. Or rather, I began to not be so annoyed by her. It's hard to pinpoint exactly who changed, her or me.

This social experiment is still in progress, but I think I'm on to something.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Stripping off spandex
or toga
or laurel crowns
Laying down scepters, and walking away
A hero, the antagonist,
head shaking as words muttered

What if the hero struggled
Weighed the pros and cons
Decided superpowers were too costly
The world can't be saved today.

What if those heroes
fallen from grace
were weighted by their choice to give up
but didn't know what else to do.

What if the choice
were braver than to remain
super-human strong

Hardly chivalrous to break
fall, fail, flounder
One half-hearted shove
at marble walls,
but really just not care
to be anyone else's hero today.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Say, "Cheese!"

One of these days, I'm going to get a real camera. I've tried getting real cameras as gifts for Christmas or my birthday in the past, but these gifts are never real cameras. When I get my real camera, I'm going to do something I love doing: Taking over 70 pictures at a time and finding 4 I actually like out of the bunch. Haha!

I took this one of the boy. He's hard to photograph because he's at the age where "Smile!" means pulling his lips unnaturally over his teeth and giving a wide-eyed psychopath expression. That can be cute sometimes... just... not very artistic to have 70 pictures that look something like this:

One can easily see that the first picture has a much softer, more artistic feel to it. I like it. It captures the sparkle in his eye and the glow to his naturally brown skin. While the second picture is good for a giggle. And to save to show future dates he brings home (insert low, maniacal laughing).  

The girl is even harder to photograph. She loves posing for the camera, but her poses are a little too dramatic to translate well into pictures. That, and her facial expressions are intense and fierce, but don't include natural smiles very often. And she's two, so she moves. A lot. My best bet with her is to give her props to play with and stand back snapping picture after picture to hopefully get one good one. 

She's my little imitator. She wants to do every single thing I do. It's humbling and adorable. So I give her my high heels. 

What I really want when I take pictures though, is not to have pixilated end-products with low resolution. The blur ruins perfectly good moments. Like this one:

So I want a real camera. A good camera. A real, good camera (I dare someone to try to correct my grammar there...).

I think it would be extremely fun if at some point I could do bigger things with my photography. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The New Confidence

The scar is getting better, slowly but surely. It's still very noticeable, but I'm getting used to it.

I use helichrysum hydrosol and argan oil on it every day, but instead of the scar bothering me, I imagine all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. Like, painting my neck green and drawing on big stitch marks so that I look like Frankenstein's monster.

Or, draw eyes above it and make it a weird smiley face. This really makes me giggle.

My poor scar is so embarrassed when I blatantly ridicule it.

 Now it wants to go incognito.

If I keep this up, it might go rogue on me, and then who knows what kind of fanged beast it will turn into.

Yes, I've taken to mercilessly making fun of my own scar. I do something similar in my college developmental writing class. When I get just a little too excited about grammar, I make fun of myself for my own enthusiasm. This kind of self deprecation is a good deflection.

If I'm making fun of myself, it kind of takes the steam out of anyone else making fun of me. Laughing at myself, I'm totally brave and confident.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Please don't call Hoarders...

This is my craft table right now.

And I'm using all of that stuff.

(Except the sippy cup. I've mostly outgrown those)

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I've remembered something in the past week and a half, something that I forgot was critical to my happiness and mental health: creating brings me inner peace and focus. Creating anything, really. I remembered that the times I am not making something are the times I am the lowest.

Writing proved to be a little tricky, so throughout the last week, I've thrown myself into creating. I wasn't even that intent on the product, but the process. Sitting at the table my grandmother just gave me, I made things, immersing myself for hours in a blissed-out world of creation.

First I made flowers. And then I put those flowers in my daughter's hair.

And speaking of my daughter's hair, she finally has enough to do this:

I also made French bread. 

And then I ate French bread. I will say, making bread for two hours and eating said bread in mere minutes was one of the most satisfying pastimes I have indulged in. 

And I made preschool games for the class I'm teaching this term. 

(By the way, why in the world did I sign up to teach preschool this term? As I struggle with healing and muscle weakness and chronic fatigue, teaching 2, 3, and 4 year olds is a bewildering task for me to take on. They are most exuberant little people.)

While the finished products might not seem impressive to the casual passerby, the process of making and putting aside all the physical and emotional struggles in favor of creation has been more healing to me than medicine. 

The laundry pile can fall down around me, the kids can climb the walls, the dishes can stack on top of each other. I'm busy re-making myself during one of the most challenging times in my life. And doing random interpretive dancing in the woods, just for giggles. 

Friday, September 7, 2012