Mentor Me

make the big time where you are.

-frosty westering, football coach, pacific lutheran university (1972-2003)

several months ago, i had the privilege to spend some time with some young men and women who were mentoring other young people (teenagers) through a local faith community (one of the most amazing faith communities i’ve ever had the blessing to be a part of — upper room community, minneapolis).  the young people they were mentoring were adolescent boys and girls.  for my part, i spent the majority of the time with the male leaders.  we talked about what it means to be a man in our world today, specifically in american society, and how to teach and guide young boys–so that, they will be great men one day.  it was a really great opportunity, to sit with these male mentors–to hear from them and to talk about doing life together in this way (they are a really awesome group of committed men, i can tell you–and the boys they work with are lucky have these kind of guys in their corner)!  as a part of the time together, we viewed the first 25 minutes of the video, tough guise 2–it’s about the challenges and struggles that men face today, the expectations and pressures imbedded in our society, and what it means to be a man in america–and what we teach all boys and men in our society.  what is the core message of the video? to bring awareness to mainstream society’s ‘tough guise’ posture–which teaches boys and men to never back down, to never show weakness, to be able to dole out verbal abuse at a moment’s notice, and to use violence as the “go to” for resolving just about any problem or conflict–shtuff that can be really damaging to the world at large–trust me, i teach criminal justice for a living 😉  the video is based on research done by sociologist jackson katz and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least.  all in all, good things to think about if you are teaching, raising, or guiding boys today.  especially, in a faith community, where the emphasis and importance in how you live your life can and should challenge the expectations and  goals of each individual–as well as the very fabric of our society--to the good!

after we watched the video clip and discussed some of the challenges of being a man in america–and being a christian man at the same time–one mentor asked…

how do we teach this stuff to the kids we mentor?

well, you’re probably doing it already.  by showing up every week, hanging out with a teenager, spending time talking to them, that’s huge right there…how many men do that every week?! 

then, i told them three things:

1. teach from what you know. in your twenty plus years of life, you’ve had experiences that can be meaningful to these young men.  you know the pressures and expectations that our society puts on boys and men–because you’ve lived it (at least in some way, shape, or form).  now, technology has changed the game.  because of social media and phones and instant messaging–the stakes are higher for these boys.  the pressure is more intense and unrelenting today.  kids can’t escape the shtuff that they once left behind at school (peer pressure, bullying, harrassment, etc).  it follows them, everywhere.  that makes what you’re doing every week even more important.  your ‘being here’ is big time.  and, the fact that you (a young, cool adult) are showing up in these kids’ lives every week is most likely because you know that there’s more to the story than what the world gives us, at least you hope there is.  so, you’re already heading in the right direction. run with that.

[teacher’s note: in my opinion, every single man in america should watch the video ‘tough guise 2’ (and read everything they can by jackson katz).  it gets at the core issues of how we teach some really harmful things to men in our world today, while still giving men room to think about things without thinking the worst about themselves.  importantly, to know that you can still be a tough, gritty man–without harming those around you.  from a faith perspective, a lot of what the world teaches boys and men, is pretty much the complete opposite of the life of Jesus–and in that space and tension, understanding and change is waiting to happen.]

2. don’t lie.  one of the quickest ways to undermine the rapport you are building, and ultimately, your own self–is to lie.  hard to recover from that.  be as honest as you can be within the bounds the experience–share as appropriate.

[teacher’s note: most kids can sense bullshit before most adults do.  and since we’re all human, we’ve all lied.  some of us are really, really good at it.  but, it can be really destructive.  so, tell the truth–as much as you can, as often as you can.

and, to be honest, some kids want to know more about you and your personal shtuff than is appropriate–just tell ’em: no comment, or that’s personal to me, or some things are just for my family — because, get this, they don’t get to know some things.  gotta have those boundaries.  at the same time, honesty and directness go a long way with kids.  especially, when there’s already so much bullshit floating around out there in the world.]

3. spend time around men who are older than you on a regular basis.  older than me, too, for that matter;)  i’m talking grandfather types. if we’re only relying on each other, people who are our peers, then we’re in trouble.

[teacher’s note: one of the ways men get into trouble is by just relying on themselves or their friends/peer groups for guidance.  if we are just around other guys who…look and act like us, who are the same age us, who just have the same experiences as us–then we reinforce those same things–and some of these things aren’t at all healthy for ourselves and the world at large.  and, because of that, we can mislead the young men we’re working with because we ourselves have been misled.  unfortunately and nowadays, we often think that our peers are the best ones to lead and guide us.  that is wrong thinking.  today, we are not often enough around our elders.  we intentionally and deliberately abandon and sequester them away in rest homes and care centers.  and, in isolating them–and us–we are missing out on some of the most important generational learning and wisdom that can be passed down and exchanged.  honestly, these people need to be around and among us–and we need to be around and among them, regularly!]

Last, I finished off by telling them that this job doesn’t require that they are perfect, that they are doing a really good thing for these kids–and that most of what we’re talking about with ‘men in the world today’ is about awarenessso, keep doing the good job you’re doing, but keep ‘what we talked about’ on the forefront of your minds as well!

Honestly, speaking with these men about this stuff was one the of the highlights of the past year.  Kudos to them and to the church staff for the chance to have this kind of conversation!  I wish communities everywhere could have these kinds of discussions–they’re big time!

*A special thanks to my friend, the Rev. Katie Sanders, for her great leadership of these mentors and for inviting me into this time and topic–thank you so much, it was an honor and a privilege!!!  How many years have we be talking about doing this?!  At least three?!  Additionally, it was a pleasure to team with my friend, Jeannette Vickman, a strong woman and professional counselor, who led the breakout time with the women (which, based on what I saw from the puffy-red eyes of the women in the crowd…was a success!;)–great to work with you!!!  Cheers!!!

Student Teacher

for seasoned teachers, it becomes easy to demonstrate mastery over their subject matter, answer any type of question, come up with lessons at a moment’s notice, and more…often times, their passion about the material drives their own continued curiosity about their field of study, and that is what keeps them sharp (and what inspires their students, too)…and over time, the mastery of their craft may even exceed their own wildest imaginations–to really know more than you thought you were capable of (and then) learn something new–again and again and again?! after all, it is absolutely crazy how much you can learn about one small part of the world!

at the same time, veteran teachers may find the opposite is true for their emotional mastery among their students…almost as if the interpersonal and ‘soft’ skills are worn and weary–brought down to the ‘bare bones’, if present at all–and, as the intellectual expertise and curiosity grows and thrives, this other force works inversely and develops along another trajectory.  it moves in this way…in silence and in shadows…until it doesn’t.  then, it arrives, brutal and raw and visible for all to see.  almost as if the time and energy teaching students has robbed the teacher of understanding, compassion and patience–or, to be truthful…it’s almost as if the teacher has intentionally and willingly handed these things over, through the years…

what then, shall a teacher do?

a teacher must become, once more, a student teacher.

[with emphasis on student]

how then, shall a teacher do this?

a teacher must leave the warm comfort of what they know.

and do something unknown to them.

only when a teacher leaves the safety and security that they have built can they become a pupil again. and only then can they see, hear, and feel what it is like to be a tenderfoot, a greenhorn, a first-timer once more.  this is true for me (and maybe it is true for other teachers as well).  this is the path that i am seeking–renewed compassion, patience, and understanding.  and the first steps are the hardest, because the only way to go forward is to submit, to bow, to acquiesce and to admit that you know absolutely nothing.

recently, i have started taking karate classes with my children.  it is awesome, difficult, and very, very frustrating (at times).  the other day, i watched one of my instructors show me a punch–and he gestured, now you.  i did what he did.  i felt good about it.  for a minute.  until he said, that was completely wrong do it again (and again and again).  in that moment, i was frustrated and impatient with myself and my instructor provided correction and encouragement.  he showed patience, compassion and understanding to a complete novice–as i fumbled along, my karate ugly, looking like a stumbling and clumsy oaf.  but, he stayed with me.

the process is humbling.  but, it can bring you back.  i think it’s doing just that for me–i can feel the start of it, you know…

maybe, it can stir something in you, too.

so, what will you do? what new thing awaits you on the horizon?  will you…

learn how to swim? paint a portrait? speak a new language? learn how to dance? write a book? take a trip? build a shelf? cook a meal? repair a watch? volunteer?

whatever it is and whenever it happens, i wish you good speed.

what are your plans for the future?

this is the question that all high school seniors face every year…the dreaded, unwanted, ill-fated question…

and here, is the absolute best answer ever given…

congratulations, graduates!

 

our last day with our day care provider…

yesterday, we said goodbye to one of the most important people in our lives…our day care provider…

given the impact this woman had on our lives, i am re-posting (below) a post i shared more than 3 years ago…

everything in this post is still true today…or, more true…meaning, you just need to “times” all of the good shtuff i said below by ten thousand (x 10,000) and then you’ll be close to just how much my wife and i love and appreciate her, our day care provider…

note: in the first version of this post, i didn’t give out her actual name–for privacy reasons–but i’m gonna do that now…because if you’re out there (in the twin cities)–looking for a place for your kids–look no further, sign up today!!!

thank you, stefanie berge/sharon (owner/operator of tender heart childcare) you’re the best around!

to see what i’m talking about, please keep reading…

before i was a teacher, i worked with kids in many different settings…coming through a gauntlet of years in youth work & (now) teaching, it takes a lot to impress and inspire me in this field…

but, i have been truly impressed and inspired over the past 3+ years…

with our in-home day care provider…

and yes, i said in-home daycare provider!  …in-home daycare programs are often regarded as marginal, “fly-by-night” operations that may be alright in an emergency….but not as a “serious long-term consideration”…because people think that “they’re just not as good as centers” or a mom/dad staying home with their children…nor are they viewed as “safe places”–you get the feeling that this is one of the most horrific decisions you can make for your children–tantamount to sending a kid cross-country on an orphan train (esp. from my parent’s generation) …like your kids will end up abducted, abused, neglected, abandoned, in the emergency room, dead in the street and on the nightly news if you leave them there!!!  i heard the world saying, please report to the shame corner and turn in your parent card, now!

…this is not the case with our person, sharon–yes, her name has been changed to protect the innocent–or in the many cases of parents who use amazing in-home daycare providers each and every day…anyways, my wife did the first drop-n-go routine, through a river of tears (mind you, this is a person who cries over  the voice🙂 and i did the job three days later…and this is what happened…

i entered the house, took off my shoes, and proceeded downstairs to find my children…i was excited to see them…arriving downstairs, i made eye-contact with my son and daughter…they recognized me and smiled…but, they weren’t that excited to see me…they stayed where they were–by the side (son) and in the arms (daughter) of sharon…i thought, what the hell is this?!  i’ve been your father for nine months–you think that was a piece of cake–i was there when you were colicky, when you wouldn’t sleep, when you had that “projectile shit”–the rapid fire, .50 caliber shtuff that ‘took out’ the nursery room door–and this is how you repay me…how dare you?!  i mean, i had envisioned my children running from sharon, bounding towards me–their father–with outstretched arms (press play on can’t hold back by survivor)…but, it didn’t happen…so, i made funny faces, talked to them, waved for them to come to me…but still, they stayed with sharon…so, i hiked back upstairs, put my shoes on, went out to the van and grabbed the wonder bar…so-to-pry my children off of their in-home daycare provider!

…since those early days, we’ve seen and heard all about the amazing things they’ve learned from sharon…sign language, “how to wear a helmet with style”, music, how to pronounce their “t’s”, please and thank-you’s, “how to help”, potty training–you name it…she is unbelievable …so, let me just take this moment to say…thank you, thank you, thank you, sharon…for teaching our kids, for loving our kids like that…i am impressed and inspired…you’re the “+1” to my wife and i, you’re the best around…

kickstart my heart

it’s new year’s eve…the end of one year and the beginning of another…a time to think back on all that’s happened…a time to reflect on life…

with that in mind, let me tell you one of the best stories of 2015–it happened about four weeks ago…

so, there i was…

out on the street corner in downtown minneapolis, waiting for a cab to take me and my friend, LA, down to the motley crue concert — final tour, baby! 🙂

and there’s a couple (husband and wife) waiting for a cab right by us…so, we start talking to them…small talk…which normally i hate…but, i’m “super-amped”…i’ve always wanted to see the crue in concert (and my amazing wife got me a ticket for christmas!)…and, here i am…in this surreal place, within hours of the metal storm that will ensue…so, i engage…

turns out, that the couple we’re talking to is going to the concert as well…they make special mention of really wanting to see the opening act–alice cooper–which takes me a little bit off-guard…i’ve never heard anyone say that before 🙂

anyways, i don’t judge it (i’m seeing motley crue, after all;)…and they seem friendly and as excited as we are to see the show…so, we continue to wait for the cab, which takes way longer than it should to pick us up…so, as the conversation goes on, it turns out that they’re from the town that i teach in…so, right away, upon hearing that, my shields go up, i pull back and regard them suspiciously…

and i think to myself, do they know my school?!

[LA recognizes this reaction, he’s seen it before…occasionally, i’ve crossed paths from community members and parents that are familiar with the alternative/career-technical school that i teach at…usually it turns out o.k., but you never know how it’s going to go–because of our school…because despite having amazing teachers who do amazing things for students…we’ve been fighting some negative perceptions and stereotypes for years…as an example, some of the reactions we get sound like this…oh, you work at the ‘alt-school’ (the tone lets you know what they really think–that it’s not a real school, it’s not real education, it’s just a place for outcasts and throwaways)]

and i know it’s coming…the what do you do for a living question…so, i come clean and tell them where i work…

[at this moment, i risk a side glance towards LA and i can tell that he’s ready to jump in and change the subject, if need be–possibly even throw down, if necessary…he’s a good man to have watching your back, if things get tense]

and then, the most unexpected thing happens…

immediately, the woman’s eyes light up…and she smiles…

[important thing to note here–she seems sober 🙂 ]

she goes, NO WAY–WE LOVE THAT SCHOOL–YOUR SCHOOL SAVED MY SON’S LIFE (turns out he was a student at my school a couple of years back and he and his family had some really tough years)–anyways…

she gives me a hug (i’m pretty sure she’s sober, seriously 🙂 …the cab arrives…and that’s that!

so, with that story in mind, i’d like to raise a glass to all my colleagues–here’s to you and the work you do! cheers!

happy new year and rock on!

name game

early in the semester…i was digging in…trying to guide my students and get ’em all moving in the right direction…you know, this is when they want to go their own way (press play on the fleetwood mac song of the “almost-same” name)…this is when they want to “buck you”…test you…see what you’re made of…

well, it was the last class of the day…and i had move three kids to new seats within 20 minutes because their behavior “told me to”:)

i was getting impatient and just wanting them to listen…and i didn’t think that was too much to ask?!

but it was…because when you’re at this point…it’s on, baby, it’s on…and, one student is always going to push it further…take it to the limit…and you’re always going to push back, even harder…

so, he started acting up…a young man in the back row (yep, back row crew)

so, i looked over the room (there wasn’t a lot of extra space with 40 kids in my classroom) and identified a spot for him to be moved to and said…

brandon, i want you to move up here.

he didn’t move…so, i said it again…with a little more edge…

brandon, i want you to move up here–to this seat. 

he didn’t move.

i couldn’t believe it!

so, i went again…

brandon, i want you to move up here, now.

he didn’t move…and after an uncomfortable silence…another kid piped in…

his name is bradley.

i cursed myself.

then, i said…

bradley, please move up here.

[which he did]

later that day, i thought about how i messed it up and about the importance of knowing kids’ names…and it made me think of someone i know…

it made me think of one of my wife’s best friends…

her name is nikki and she knows just how powerful it is to name someone…and she’s got it down to a science…she always makes a point of calling a person by their name…not only at the “meeting point” in an interaction, but throughout an entire conversation…i’ve never seen someone do that before–never, ever…but, it is an authentic, genuine, intentional thing…it’s something that captures your attention right away…it’s something that makes you want to listen…

it’s the kind of thing that you want to replicate, to mimic in your own life once you experience it…but, no one does it quite like nikki…

anyways, knowing kids’ names is really important, for a lot of reasons…not just during times of discipline…but, more often, when you want to start building that rapport, that trust…things that you need to have to do the job…calling a kid by their “right name” makes all the difference in the world…

post #100 – surveillance

yesterday…

there was a kid in my class who was being mildly disruptive during “reading time”…i had warned him a couple of times, but he wasn’t heeding my words…

since there wasn’t a lot of time left for reading …maybe 5-7 minutes…i sent him out to the hall (instead of sending him to the ISS program) and said…

i want you sit out there, right there (pointing to the mid-point on my classroom wall) in the hallway, where i can see you, where the video camera is.

i could tell he was a bit puzzled, so i walked out of the classroom with him…when we were both out in the hall and he was seated on the floor, i pointed up to the ceiling, to the small camera above my head and said…

see that, that’s a video camera…that’s how i can make sure you’re reading–i can see you on that camera.

i left him in the hall for a minute, then i went back out there and said…

you’re a little out my view/picture…move down the hall a foot.

he did…he got up, gave a weary stare to the camera, grabbed his backpack and book, and moved down the hall…thinking that i could see him on my laptop…

which i couldn’t…of course…the only people who have access to the video feed are the school resource officer and administrator…but, he didn’t know that…

[my goal was to separate him from his classmates while simultaneously making sure that he didn’t “make mischief” in the halls–mission accomplished!]

about 6 minutes later, i brought him back into class and we went ahead with the rest of the day — no other students were in on it, or really even knew what was happening…i’m not into the “shame game”, people! yet, it was still a jolly good time for me, myself and i 🙂

who says you can’t have fun as a classroom teacher these days?!

cheers!

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