Who Wants to Teach? (Hint: No One)

GUEST POST – This post is by Georgia Mae Lively, my favorite high school senior.  She’s my daughter, and will graduate this June.  Georgia Mae will be attending Temple University in Philadelphia this fall where she plans to major in Math.  She’s the greatest girl in the world, in my humble opinion.

A couple weeks ago, I had to go to a math themed TOK session. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the IB program, basically that means I was in study hall with a bunch of smart seniors talking about philosophical concepts as they relate to math. We watched some TED talks and then our teacher gave us the rest of the period to talk in our groups about how to improve the way in which math is taught in our schools. Eventually, my group exhausted the topic, and the conversation moved to, as all amongst high school seniors inevitably do, the topic of college. I mentioned that my school, where I’m planning on majoring in math, has a program where you can get licensed to teach during undergrad, and that it’s possible that I could end up doing that. Then my friend said, “God, I never want to teach.” And everyone in my group, including me, nodded in agreement.

The person who said that is an IB diploma candidate and national merit scholar. She is a very smart cookie. And looking around that room, I realized that we, the IB diploma candidates, are some of the smartest people in the country. And none of us want to teach. If you ask any one of them what they want to do, I will bet you good money that none of them will say teach. In fact, I know one person whose ambition in life is to be a teacher. One. Out of every person I know, one actually aspires to teach. And she doesn’t even go to school in my county.

I don’t think any one thing is responsible for the attitude we all have towards teaching as a profession. Maybe it’s because we’ve all hated high school so much we can’t stand the idea of going back. Or we see our teachers acting like it’s the absolute worst profession they could have been doomed to. Or we just know how much a teacher makes per year (and in spite of what Taylor Mali might say, making a difference is not enough). Teachers are underappreciated and overworked. A noble profession, meant for cultivating knowledge and producing world citizens capable of thinking and creating, has been perverted into a grueling task that seems both useless and endless. We all can’t wait to get away from our teachers. Why would we ever want to become one of them?

Last week, my mom (middle school teacher, main author and curator of this blog, and a spectacular lady all around) took me to my college for an admitted students event. At the College of Science and Technology event, my mom spent most of the time I was talking to a math major, trying to talk the teaching program representative out of being a teacher. “Don’t do it,” she hissed, “Get out while you still can.” She was maybe 15% joking. My mom is very good at her job. But my mom’s job is not good to her. And I see that every day. But later, I told her she shouldn’t have said that to the boy who wanted to teach. “How is teaching ever going to get better if we don’t have more teachers? Teachers who actually want to teach?”

I don’t know if I’ll get licensed to teach in college. I don’t know if anyone in my high school IB diploma class will either. I hope one of them does, but I doubt any of them will unless something drastic changes this country’s overall attitude towards teaching. But I’d like to hope that if I go to my high school reunion in twenty years, and one of my classmates says they became a teacher, they won’t be met with looks of pity, but as much congratulation as if they had become a doctor or engineer. Because at the end of the day, teachers, doctors, and engineers all exist to make humanity better and stronger, but only one out of those three has a salary on which a single family home could not survive.


Student Voice Is Quashed Again…

Why do adults do this to teens over and over again?  As I have written before the rules of expression seem to stop at the schoolhouse door, which is a horrible truth.  Just at the time when teens are spreading their wings and starting to explore and express their beliefs, we silence them and tell them that their opinions not only don’t matter, but as in this case, we tell them that they don’t even exist!

Here are the basics.  An Ohio Middle School student named Sophie wore a shirt to school on which she had hand written the word Feminist.  She had worn the shirt to school several times before and did not think twice about wearing it again.  When she wore it on the day that pictures were taken, she didn’t think much of it. When the pictures came back, she checked, like many of us do, to see if she had her eyes closed or was making a silly face.  What she found was that the word ‘Feminist’ had been blurred out of her shirt in the picture.  She was furious and has taken to the media.

The decision to blur out the word was made by the female principal, which makes my head spin.  Apparently, the principal was concerned that people would find the word ‘feminist’ offensive.

Now, I am a feminist.  That anyone would think that other people would find a t-shirt with the word “Feminist” offensive, boggles my mind.  That a principal would take her time to alter a photograph to deny a student her right to express her thoughts makes me furious.  I wish I had enough money to send her many t-shirts to write more of her thoughts on and to wear proudly around town and in her school’s hallways.

You can support Sophie by posting a photo Instagram with the tag #IDESERVEFREEDOMOFEXPRESSION

Sophie, you have my full support! I will be posting a photo and tagging it appropriately. Please keep speaking your mind!

Here’s an MSNBC story about this incident and Sophie. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/school-erases-feminist-t-shirt-class-photo

Please let me know what you think in the comments.



Getting the Word Out So Teens Can Get Their Words Out

School has never been a bastion of creative expression for students.  In this age of testing and huge curricular requirements, teachers have fewer opportunities to offer their students to say what they want and have their voices heard in meaningful ways.  Some teens take to the internet and open themselves up to the cruelty of trolls – some of whom are their peers. Others turn to private writing that can move them to introspection or to feeling more isolated and hopeless.

How can at-risk youth speak out?  One brave artist, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo has taken on the challenge of giving at-risk youth the opportunity to speak out.  One school at a time and one student at a time, she is listening and bringing the salvation of the arts to teens. From her website, http://nevercountedout.com/

Welcome To The Creative Revolution!

We want … to rock … the world of at-risk youth!

Never Counted Out is a movement in the making dedicated to empowering at-risk youth through writing and the arts.

We believe art saves, and youth on the fringe are forever changed by engaging with professional artists.

Inspired by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s unconventional Fat Angie book tour (documented in the film At-Risk Summer), NCO continues her mission by bridging the gap between artists and at-risk youth in their community or communities they travel to.

We are emerging —with a fire—to inspire the kids who are often counted out!”

This is the kind of revolution that teens need and is literally life saving.  Here is the inspiration from the website describing the goals of the project, “If Someone Only Knew.”

On March 3, 2015, sixteen-year-old transgender youth, Ash Haffner, committed suicide. A victim of bullying, Ash left this note:

“Please be WHO YOU ARE…Do it for yourself. Do it for your happiness. That’s what matters in YOUR life. You don’t need approval on who you are. Don’t let people or society change who you are just because they’re not satisfied with your image.”

Can you be who you are?10559814_10152780717852379_874218585006211106_n
What is stopping you from being yourself “for your happiness”?

What’s your truth?  
What story do you have to tell?
Does your truth or story make you feel alone?

In honor of Ash Haffner’s challenge, we ask you to tell your truth.  Be heard.  Be seen.  Stop feeling alone.  Write an essay or create a piece of art that answers this sentence:

If someone only knew…

In defiance of Ash’s choice of suicide, we want you to publish your story with Never Counted Out and never as a suicide note.

Suicide is never the answer.
Suicide does not make you look strong or show others how badly you feel.
Suicide doesn’t offer second chances.

Writing Truth can be your answer.
Because Words and Art are Power.
Because Words and Art offer Second Chances.

Could you words inspire others to be who they are?

A selection of writing, art, photo, slam, and film submissions will be published to the Never Counted Out  blog. There will be a place for people to comment with ideas, resources and support. This section will be moderated to exclude unhelpful or hateful comments.

Select essays and art will be published anonymously in 2016 in a paperback anthology entitled If Someone Only Knew…


Everything about this project is important and powerful.

Empower teens.  Point them to this project. Visit the website and point your local high schools and middle schools to this amazing opportunity.

Here’s the video trailer of the film. Watch it. Share it.

Speak to the teens. Listen when they answer.


Multiple Choice – A Poem

“Ms. Lively, what’s the name of a city in Paris?”

As they answer perfunctory questions in their workbook

Filling in the blanks stops them in their tracks

They’ve been trained since the age of eight

To answer multiple choice

To pick the “best answer.”

Blank spaces are road blocks of uncertainty.

Multiple choice – they know.

They’ve trained and drilled and practiced for years

To find the best answer from the list of choices.

Now, as teens the choices are harder

More multiple

Less choice

When you’re in Middle School, who will help you when you:

a) Don’t get enough to eat at home

b) Start having sex at age 14

c) Get punched in the face by your father

d) Have to care for your 2 year old sister all day and night so your mother can go to work

Who will check those answers?

Where can you find the answers?


What You Shouldn’t Have to Expect When You’re a Teen…

My daughter is turning 18 in less than a month.  She’s been accepted to a college and can’t wait to start making more decisions for herself and living her own life. I remember when she started Middle School at the ripe old age of 12.  I told her, “Middle School sucks for everyone. Nobody knows what they’re doing and many teenagers are cruel.  It sucked for me.  You just have to figure out how to be successful in school over the next two years so you can go on to high school and then leave there with as many choices as you can have when you graduate. ”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had such a talk with their teen child.

What kind of message is that?  I thought I was protecting her, but I really was setting up an awful expectation.

In the US children are precious and must be protected.  Adults have civil rights and enjoy the full protection of the law. What about the time of life in between?  If you ask most adults to characterize teenhood or adolescence, they’ll likely tell you that it’s awkward, frustrating and confusing.  We tell twelve year olds the same thing, and they enter this phase of their lives with dread and an expectation of suffering and struggle.

Why are we surprised when they stop telling us that they’re having problems? Most of their decisions are seen as having enormous impact on their futures. Every grade they earn, person they date, sports team they make, club they decide to join feels like a life changing event.

Many adults, when asked about what they were like as a teenager, wince and say something like, “Oh God, I was a mess. I had no idea what I was doing. I was awkward and didn’t have a girl/boyfriend and I wouldn’t go back to that time in my life for anything!”  We just seem to exclaim, “Whew!” and then start living our lives in a post-adolescent world and try to ignore or not deal with all the important events that shaped us during that time. A.S. King described adolescence as a kind of “hazing” that has to be survived, and I think that’s tragically accurate.  As with any type of hazing, those going through the process do so in isolation and are expected to prove themselves by surviving horrible conditions. That’s what our teens and young adults go through every day.  This unavoidable lonely struggle is a great myth that is reflected in our Young Adult literature which more often than not, features parents and other adults as mere background figures who have little influence the teen characters’ lives.

There’s a catch 22 here that leads to much more suffering than is necessary.  Teens enter adolescence knowing that suffering and unhappiness is inevitable.  When they encounter difficulty they think that it’s nothing exceptional and is just what is to be expected, so they don’t even report it.  It’s not newsworthy. It happens to everyone.  As adults (parents, teachers, family members, or potential allies), we let ourselves off the hook at the same time.  If the suffering is unavoidable, what can we do about it?  We can help them to get help once they’re adults.

Adolescence shouldn’t be equated with suffering.  Yes, it’s a time of growth and change and of figuring out your identity and where you fit in the world, but I feel like my whole life could be described that way!  We need to rethink our cultural view of teen development and not view it as an inevitable and “untreatable” disease or stage that must be merely survived and give our teens hope that they can thrive through their teen years on their way to becoming amazing adults.

My two sons are entering this stage in their lives.  I will tell them something very different from what I told my daughter.  Being a teen is exciting and can be confusing.  It’s a time to be patient with yourself and with your peers as you learn how to make your way through school and to your first steps into adulthood.  No mistake you make will ruin your life forever.  I will be here to listen and to help you as much as I can. If you have a problem, we can work it out together and get help when you need it.  You are a fantastic person and are only getting better.