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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Gifts To My Students - 2010 Edition

There are 15 days of school remaining form us this year. Actually it's 14 and a half, for those who really want to get out.  I'm not usually one of them.  I do not enjoy the 8-10 weeks off without students.  I know that sounds strange, but I get bored and restless.

Anyway, I shared a TED Talk with my classes today.  Ben Zander's Music and Passion talk. 

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

The setting.  Our school finished the CRCT state testing last week.  Our 7th grade Social Studies classes watch Sarafina in the days that immediately follow the end of the test.  I really like the movie, set in South Africa's apartheid era.  It is a musical.  The first song of the movie, the kids laugh.  The second song, they moan.  The third song, they are on the edge of the seats.  It is good.

At the end of the movie, Sarafina and Guitar (two students) discuss the possibility of having the school concert after the concert hall is burned down, their teacher is killed (or jumped out of a 10th story prison window), and they have been arrested and brutalized.  Sarafina says to Guitar, "I want to sing our song...just once."

Beautiful! Oh, that we could have that courage in life - to dare to "sing our song" at least once.

So here are my Gifts for my students, as you move on (but never away):

Gift #1 - FIND YOUR SONG - In earlier grades, when someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you were excited to tell them.  By the time I saw you, your answer was mostly, "I don't know."  Either too embarrassed to express your dream, or beaten down by the number of times you were told you couldn't, many lost your "song," your purpose in life.  That one thing that deep in your heart you know you are meant to do. Find your song once again.

Gift #2 - DARE TO SING YOUR SONG...AT LEAST ONCE - Thoreau wrote, "M[ost] men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them." That is sad, to have a dream and never act upon it.  They are desperate to sing out the song that is within them, but they fear something; something so great that heartache, depression, sadness, and despair seems better to them than what they might face if the melody of their heart was set free.

Gift #3 - YOU CAN RID YOURSELF OF ENEMIES IN TWO WAYS - The easy answer, the answer from our warped popular culture of movies and music, is to get rid of your enemies by killing them.  That's the coward's way my friends.  That is the way for the unthinking, lazy people of the world.  We do not rid the world of hate by being more hateful.  We do not rid our lives of enemies by killing them; it only makes their friends our new enemies, and multiplies our problems.  We rid our lives of enemies but making our enemies our friends. Many will say I'm naive in this...so be it. I'm singing my song, not theirs.

Gift #4 - YOU CAN RISE ABOVE YOUR RAISING - I've had many students tell me that they will need to drop out of school because it would be disrespectful of them to have more education than their parents.  The majority of the 5000+ students I have taught are from Latin America.  They love their families, and respect for their parents sometimes hinders them from achieving their highest level of happiness.  Listen, students, I have spoken with many of your parents who brought you here.  You are here because your parents wanted you to rise above their opportunities.  Do not disappoint them.  They risked much to get you here.  You are their song. Become the beautiful melody they dreamed you would become.

Gift #5 - YOU WILL STRUGGLE - I promise you that life will not always be easy.  You will begin to face many difficult decisions very soon.  You seek to be unique, yet you want to fit in.  You want to do the right thing, but what may be popular might not be right (and you know it). The friends you have today may not be as close in a few days, a few years, or a few decades. It will be difficult for you when you, or they, move on.  You will have to decide what you are willing to tolerate from others, and which is more important - your reputation and character or acceptance by peers.  You know, and you know you know, the right thing to do.  Have the courage to do it.

Gift #6 - EVERYBODY IS NOT DOING IT - Whatever "it" is, not everybody is involved in "it."  Drugs, drinking, sex, crime, whatever - if you choose to avoid these things, you do not need to feel lonely in your decision.  There are people who will understand.  Not just adults, but kids your age too. Imagine what our community would really be like if everyone was doing it.  Do not be coerced by those not as knowledgeable as you are now.

Gift #7 - OUR RELATIONSHIP HAS CHANGED - I have been blessed to have you as my students. We have spent nearly 180 hours together over the past 10 months.  We have laughed, worked, struggled, cried, cheered, and thought together.  In a few days, you will no longer be my students.  You will be my KIDS.  My promise to all my former students (my kids) is that I'm available.  I have been to weddings, quinceaneras, funerals, and delivery rooms; games, plays, graduations, and celebrations. If I know about it, and know you want me there, I'll do what I can to continue to support you, because you are My Kids.

Gift #8 - PURSUE YOUR HAPPINESS - It does not matter to me (within ethical, legal and moral limits) what you choose to be and do with your life.  Some of you will become doctors or lawyers or nurses or teachers or business people.  Others may go on to become musicians, marketers, actors, or dancers.  What does matter to me is that you find what you believe will make YOU happy, not someone else.  You cannot love those around you unless you are filled with love to give.  You cannot be filled with love to give until you love the life you live.  Pursue the things that make you truly happy, and you will come to love your life, yourself, and those around you.

Gift #9 - DO NOT SETTLE FOR BEING GOOD WHEN YOU CAN ACHIEVE GREATNESS - Being good at something really isn't very hard.  You can mimic others and be good at something.  Just copy what others do and you'll be considered "good" at it.  Until you begin to create something in addition to doing the good things, you cannot become great.  To become great, you must love what you do.  You will have a "natural ability" to see more than one way to do the things you do.  You will have the ability to "see" in your imagination things that will work (and things that will not work) before you even try them.  You will "know" why you do what you choose to do about something.  To be great, you must follow your passion, pursue your happiness, sing you own song.  Otherwise, you will just be frustrated in life.

Gift #10 - ACHIEVING YOUR GOALS IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO, IT IS ABOUT WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO NOT DO - If you want to be the best at a sport (anything) you must decide to practice.  Everyone knows that.  That's good.  But what everyone does not know, what few people are willing to accept, is that there are more things you must choose not to do, than things you must do.  It is called discipline.  Discipline is what leads you to great.  Example: I once coached a good runner (a hurdler).  He practiced during the season for 6 years to get good at his craft.  He worked hard every practice.  He worked in the summer, when no one else in the area did.  He was alone, but kept on practicing. He was good.  He became great during his fifth year of practice.  Why? Because that was the year he decided to NOT DO some things.  He chose not to play other sports (which people did not understand, because he was good at them).  He chose not to go out with friends during his Junior and Senior years of high school.  He chose not to date, and only went to Homecoming and Prom and not every weekend as his "date nights" in high school.  He chose to not go to bed late, and stay on the computer or phone with friends.  Why did he do this? Because he used the time he would have spent dating, playing other sports, and talking on the phone to practice running and hurdling. He watched hours of videos (of him and professionals). Were those other things he gave up "bad things?"  Not at all, but they would not get him to his goal of running in college.  Did it work?  Yes it did.  He earned over $60,000 dollars in college scholarships to run in college and get an education.  He set three school records at his college, traveled all over the country, ran against some of the fastest runners in history, received an NCAA ring for competing in the East Regional Championships, graduated college, is now teaching, and coaching track in high school. He is my son.

Gift #11 - WHEN YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, NO ONE WILL STOP YOU, AND MANY PEOPLE WILL HELP YOU - There is something special about a person who is really passionate about something.  They can tell you everything about the thing they are interested in.  They can tell you things you didn't know about it, and things you don't want to know about it.  One young man in 7th grade entered a contest of his teachers to create a logo for their grade-level T-shirts.  He won.  His design was printed on nearly 500 shirts in his school.  One of the coaches saw the design and talked to the student about making a t-shirt design for their football team. A basketball coach did the same.  When the company that printed the shirts asked where the designs were coming from, they contacted the kid and asked if he could make some other designs for other schools.  At the age of 13 he was making t-shirt designs for more than seven schools in his area.  He was making three designs a month.  He also made enough money to buy himself a computer and software to learn to do even more.  The company asked him to do other work.  He was earning about $1000 dollars a month in the 8th grade.  He did this through high school.  His junior year, he became a part of the Youth Apprenticeship Program and worked a half-day at a local advertising company. His final two years of high school he was earning nearly $18,000 a year.  He went to college, but continued to work for the advertising company.  At the age of 20, he bought his own house, with no financial assistance from his parents.  He graduated from college in four years with a Business degree in marketing. He had people who saw his talent, but more than that, saw he was serious about what he did, and strangers helped him get to do what he loves to do.  He is my other son.

Gift #12 - YOU ARE MY KIDS (see #7) - I will help you when I can, like I did with my own boys.  I have written recommendation letters, made phone calls to colleges, met with college coaches. I have counseled hundreds of former students through difficult decisions. I will help you too.  I know many people who can help you.  BUT, you must understand the price that comes with my help.  It is a expensive to you.  I will expect that you will share your experiences with me.  I may ask that you share your experiences with my future students.  And this is the most difficult thing I will expect in return -- I will demand evidence that one day in the future, you will help someone else.  You must not pay me back, but you must pay it forward.  You must make your world a better place, where people help each other become better people, who in turn will continue to help others too.  This may sound easy, but it is not.  You will someday have to help someone who is helpless.  You will have to give hope to someone who is hopeless.  Trust me, it is not easy to hear the stories you will hear.  Your heart will break.  Your mind will change.  Your life will be different.  It will cost you hours of sleep wondering if they will be okay.  It will require you to give your time, money, influence, and thinking to more than yourself.  You cannot be selfish.  On the other hand, I will tell you - IT IS WORTH IT. 

RECALL - Remember in Hotel Rwanda, when Paul said all that mattered was "family?" Then he had to save the lives of his close friends.  Then he had to help the orphans.  Then he didn't get on the truck because he "could not leave these people to die."  Remember?  His life changed.  His worldview changed when he found the helpless and hopeless. 

We are in this life together.  We rise, we fall together.  I cannot be the best me, without you.  You cannot be the best you, without others. You cannot rid your life of hate by being more hateful. You rid your life of hate with more love.  You cannot get rid of prejudice by judging others before you are willing to know their situation. You do not end violence by striking first. You do not end poverty by becoming poorer.  We are here at this time, because there is something you must do for someone else before your time is over.

ASSIGNMENT - If you haven't seen it, watch the movie Pay It Forward sometime soon.  If you think you are too young to make a difference, think again.  Make the eyes of someone else shine. 

Posted via email from Murry's World

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