Learning vs Schooling

My son was picked on by one kid last year. Repeatedly. It never got physical, but it was a daily torment. People with Aspergers or HFA can come across to us neurotypicals as abrasive, headstrong, disruptive, etc. That never excuses name calling, being picked on or having teachers turn a blind eye. My son was singled out many times by the school’s PE coach, who seemingly enjoyed power struggles with a 10 year old, and failed to read and implement his 504 plan until a month before school was out for the summer. (I had submitted all documentation at the beginning of the school year when we registered.) His new class has 37 students. There is no way that even if every student had no extra needs that 1 teacher could, or should, have that many students in his or her charge. They might as well be in a college lecture hall.

My daughter complained of stomachaches multiple times a week last year. There was some social drama – what we deem “normal” and marvel at how young it seems to start. It got bad enough last year, we sought counseling. There’s popularity, boys and multiplication tables, but there are also teachers who are tired. Teachers who perhaps would be better suited for other vocations. My daughter overheard her teacher swear in frustration. She shared with me that she would get a lump in her throat when called on in class because if she gets the answer wrong, the teacher will humiliate her in front of her peers. A student should be allowed to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. She cried every week not wanting to go to school. This from a girl who has loved school up until this year.

When cleaning out the daily lunch boxes, I asked the kids, “Why didn’t you eat your lunch today?” I was often met with the same response – no time. They cut down the lunch to 20 minutes. Line up, sit down, be quiet, stop talking, sit still. Get up. Line up. Walk to class. My mom made the comment that it’s like they just want a class of robots. It sure feels that way.

There are benefits to public schooling, when it is done right. I also get that as a parent, my involvement is key to a school’s success. That said, I fear that schools that get it are few and far between. We were fortunate to have been a part of such a school in Texas, but not all the schools even in that district were so fortunate. I didn’t necessarily love all aspects or subjects in school, but overall, I liked it. (Okay, I loved school supplies. And the smell of books. And paper. And the crisp way a freshly sharpened pencil writes.) When I overheard my kids state they hated school, my heart broke. I asked them if they were at their old school, would they still hate it? It was an attempt to see if the work itself was challenging or if it was the social/teacher/atmosphere they were dealing with that caused such a visceral reaction. It was definitely the latter. It was as if their love of actual learning was being eroded away.

Homeschooling was something that we agreed was never off the table. It’s been something we’ve been open to, if needed. My sister has homeschooled my nieces off and on through their school years. They have been involved in all kinds of extra curricular activities and are well-rounded, social, and bright, critical thinkers – and isn’t that what we want? A population that thinks critically? Adults who can function, are polite, and well-educated? There is a clear difference between schooling and learning.

We’ve decided to homeschool our children this year. We have a curriculum that is well-laid out and meets all state requirements. It will allow for working ahead on subjects in which they excel, as well as the time and flexibility for areas in need of work. The idea of going completely against the grain feels scary – but in a really exciting way.

Kids learn more from our actions than what we say. I hope they will learn through this process not only the things required from an academic perspective, but also how to do what’s right for them. I pray they have the guts to go against what everyone else does, or what they think they “should” do when needed. I hope to instill in them that different isn’t wrong – just different – and different can be wonderfully freeing.

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Greatness is Contagious

I was watching her – not only as a bootcamp participant, but as an instructor. Early on in my heart of hearts, I knew that I was watching and learning to become an instructor myself. Yes, I was getting my own fitness on track, but deep down I felt like this was something I would love to do. Concentrating on my form, sweat beads dropping from my hairline down my back and trying to eek out each rep, she hollered at us:

“Greatness is contagious! Don’t be that person that quits half way through! The person next to you is watching! You drop out, then she does. It is contagious! Don’t be the downfall of the people next to you! Be great! Catch the greatness!”

Needless to say, that when given that little gem – somehow you manage to find what little strength you have in the tank and give it your all. She was, and is, full of these fitness gems. (You can check out Christina and her other awesome Christina-isms at her website dumbellfitness.com.)

What she said was, and is, so very true. I see it as an instructor myself all the time. You may think that while you’re in your group class, stopping mid workout to check your phone that you are only affecting you, but you’re not. Everyone in the group feels that focus and that energy detract from the room. During indoor cycling class, I’ve threatened to bring in a basket “depository” for all electronics for the hour. I crack jokes in class to get the point across without singling anyone out – because a lot of the time I think it’s just become so customary. We have these screens attached to our fingertips all of the time that to set it down and (GASP!) actually turn them off seems to make us feel naked! For one hour – just one – take a break. Work on you. Leave all of your life at the door. Trust me – it will be there when you are finished. Fill your cup – then you can get back to filling others’. 

If you are coming to a group class, understand that you are a part of that group – even if it’s just for that workout. Your presence, your energy, and your focus is wanted and needed. It’s not about the instructor or ego or anything like that – it’s about your fellow participants. When you half-ass it, they see that and it is contagious. But so is greatness. If you are giving it everything you have, so will those around you. This isn’t to say you have to be perfect, or do every rep – it’s that you are doing YOUR best. Giving it your all.

In fitness, we don’t half-ass it. We use our whole ass. Why? Because greatness is contagious!

Teaching Gumption

“Pull the dumbbell up like this,” I told her, “as if you are pulling the cord on a lawn mower.” I had borrowed this phrase from my trainer, because it accurately illustrates the movement I wanted her to perform. To this day I cannot start my lawnmower and not think of this move, and my trainer.

“My mom told me never to learn how to start a lawn mower so I would never have to mow a lawn,” she replied. “My husband takes care of that.”

Whaaa?!

Years ago I remember working in the bank and a recent widow came in, understandably bewildered by the many decisions and paperwork that comes with the death of a spouse. “My husband took care of our finances and gave me cash to spend for household items. I don’t know how to balance a checkbook…”

Jamie Oliver’s experiment with some U.S. schools a few years ago was shocking. He presented grade school children with a whole potato. Not one child could tell him what the object in his hand was. He did this with many fruits and vegetables, and other than just a couple of things (apples, I think) these kids didn’t recognize most produce in it’s whole form!

Why the rant today? Well, let me tell you.

I trained a 12 year old girl the other day who broke my heart. I was able to decipher through our conversation that she is a very young 12 and doesn’t know how to do much, simply because not much is expected of her. She is obese. She is no doubt made fun of by her peers. She was self conscious and insecure (more so than the average tween). When I asked her (and her mother) about the kinds of foods they eat, the mother laughed and said, “I don’t cook.” She said this as if it were beneath her, as well as something of which to be proud.

While training another client, I discovered that she hadn’t eaten anything all day, just her morning cup of coffee. It was 2:30pm! She doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t know what to do to make things quick in the morning, but yet cannot figure out why she has no energy, feels sluggish and cannot resist the afternoon treats her customers bring in to the office! For her, the thought of breakfast was an all or nothing proposition. It had to be a huge undertaking – bacon, pancakes, eggs, etc. We had a great conversation about how to not only eat breakfast everyday, make things quick (hello my favorite: hard boiled eggs!) but also to do what I call “easy prep” so things are grab and go through the week when time is more limited.

As a military spouse, being independent and having some gumption to even attempt to do things on my own is essential. Granted, I grew up with a mother who worked right along side my father building houses. She hammered just as many nails, installed can lights, laid tile flooring and everything in between.  Even now, my parents are building a structure on their property and my mother literally raises the walls with my father. I get that not everyone has that example to follow, and it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the some of the mindsets I’ve described.

Here’s the thing; regardless of what we’ve been exposed to, if we neglect to teach our children how to perform basic tasks, essential life skills, how are they ever going to learn? School?! Not likely. It’s unrealistic to think that school should, or even could, cover everything. That’s our job as parents. We do our kids a great disservice by doing everything for them. Feeding ourselves and taking care of our bodies is a basic skill. We teach our kids how to use a fork and spoon as toddlers, why wouldn’t we teach them how to prepare food when they are older?

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Give a child a fish, and you’ll feed her for a day. Teach a child to fish, and you’ve fed her for a lifetime.”

Getting Back in the Saddle

Do you ever have one of those moments?

Those situations that seem somehow orchestrated? That you are simply being carried along by the situation? I’ve had a few of those, adopting our dogs definitely had that “preordained” vibe. Today was much the same.

Last week, no one showed up to teach spin class. I am certified, and I had the job application from the gym in my car all week. I even whipped up a playlist, you know, just in case. I knew in the back of my mind, I would probably not need it, but had it on the back burner. I’ve been listening to music and unconsciously determining if it would be a good sprint, jump or a recovery song. My wheels have been, ahem, spinning.

The thing is, the last time I tried this – it lasted 6 weeks and the class got cancelled. It was a huge blow to my confidence, so much so that I’ve only recently wrote about it. Should I be doing this? What if I suck? What if it happens again? What if….what if….what if…. There are also the minions to consider. They will be out of school during the summer. How will logistics work, etc. Not a deal breaker of course, but definitely some planning would be necessary.

Basically – this is all my mental bullshit. It’s real, but the bottom line? The bottom line is I’m afraid. Afraid of not doing well, not having anyone who wants to come to class and essentially getting kicked in the gut again. Rejection is HARD for everyone. I take it REALLY, REALLY hard. Having “kids/hubby’s schedules” to consider is a convenient out. I kept telling myself, perhaps in the fall. I’ll practice all summer and then be ready to really hit the ground running. (Procrastinating is another one of my favorite defense mechanisms against doing things that scare me.)

Heading off to spin this this morning, I was really hoping there would be a good instructor. I just needed to get in a good workout. I did a fantastic DB4L leg and shoulder workout before class time so I was already kicking a great endorphin high! 10 minutes after the class was supposed to start, there was still no instructor.

My stomach doing flip flops, I spoke up. “I have a spin playlist ready to go, if everyone is game…” My friend piped up, “She’s certified!!!” No one objected so I plugged in my phone, said a little prayer and got back in the saddle. After the first track, I looked around and people were grinning! (And killing it!) YAY!!

Half way through, a gym employee walked in. I hopped off the bike, expecting to be chastised and asked to leave since I am not an employee, the gym could be sued, etc. He put his hands up and said, “Not interrupting, continue!” A few moments later, the other spin instructor (whom I love!) popped in and slapped down an application. “Fill this out when you are done! We NEED someone for Saturdays!”

Class over, participants sweaty and happy, I walked down to fill out the paperwork and possibly talk to someone about getting hired. The gentleman that had walked through class earlier sat down and coincidentally happened to be the manager of the personal trainers. (Gulp.) He then introduced me to the other hiring manager and the 3 of us had a wonderful conversation about goals, what I wanted to do, a brief history, etc. and set up an interview for Monday. While freaking out that someone was going to boot me out because I jumped up and led a class, these guys thought it was fantastic! YAHOO! My feet never felt the pavement as I glided into the parking lot.

I did not know how bad I needed this confidence boost. I was shaking and in tears as I got into my car. Even if I don’t get hired, while it would be sad, I shoved my foot in fear’s face today and got up there and did it. My good friend, and fellow spin instructor, always says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Bring on the uncomfortable – because it’s time!