MAKING SENSE OF MIDDLE SCHOOL--Mr. Nixon taught 7th and 8th graders for thirteen years in the Churchville-Chili School District, a suburb of Rochester, NY. During that time, he wrote and delivered twice-weekly messages to the school community aimed at helping students make sense of the middle school experience. Topics included dealing with change, being a good friend, handling conflict and building self worth. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Nixon has stepped forward to bring helpful new counsel to our middle school students and to make available a large library of previous "Words of Wisdom."
I have had many students ask me the same question over the years: “Why do we have to take a foreign language?” Said a different way, they ask, “Why doesn’t everyone just learn English?” My answer is always the same: “Je ne comprends pas,” or, “no comprendo,” or “Ich verstehe nicht.” In other words, I don’t understand you, and if you don’t understand me, we’re going nowhere.
This is foreign language week at Churchville-Chili Junior High School. This is the week where we recognize how important it is to understand one another. Language begins that process, but it doesn’t ensure it. Think about the times you’ve misunderstood a friend, a parent or a teacher, and they’re all speaking English. Speaking and understanding a language just gives you a chance to be on the same wavelength as another person.
Besides making understanding easier, learning another person’s language is a statement of great respect. You are saying that the other person is so important that you are willing to work really hard to try and understand him or her.
Not only that, learning another language, learning about another culture and discovering another part of the world is fun. So, “Bon voyage,” or “Buen viaje!” Enjoy your journey.
Feed The Wolf
The inauguration of President Obama has been dominating news coverage and rightfully so. It represents an historic milestone for our country. I was watching coverage of the morning after prayer service. The first woman to ever give the sermon at that event, the Reverend Sharon Jackson, spoke about a Cherokee story, which I thought I would share with you. It goes like this.
A young man is confiding in his Grandfather that he sometimes treats his friends harshly and sometimes kindly. He did not understand why.
His Grandfather said, “When I was your age…I felt like there were two Wolves fighting inside of me…one was mean and ornery, rebellious and committed to all things negative. The other was kind and gentle, respected nature and all living things, and always did what was best.” The grandfather continued, “These Wolves are still with me now; in fact, they live in each one of us.”
The young man asked, “Which wolf will win in the end?”
The Grandfather said, “The one you feed”.
Sometimes it is really confusing when we are torn between doing the right thing and giving in to our negative side. Understand that those two sides of us will always exist, but the one we let out the most, the one we feed, will become the most dominant part of our personality.
It’s interesting that Reverend Jackson chose to tell the new President this story. President Obama, just like you, will face daily challenges to his values. He will be called on, just like you, to treat people well or poorly. He will go forward every day, just like you, to decide whether to feed his kind and gentle wolf or to let out the negative ornery wolf. I hope he, just like you, will feed the right wolf.
One of the most popular words in education and in psychology is self-esteem. Sometimes I hesitate to use it because it is used so often. But, the truth is that self esteem is the most important goal we can have for ourselves, our friends and our family members. Lots of good things happen if we are feeling good about ourselves. The opposite is also true. We can send waves of destruction based on our own negative self perception.
We will make many choices today about how we will act. Each will raise or lower our self esteem. Take the time to notice how you are feeling after you act. If you feel better about yourself after you do it, the action increased your self esteem. If you feel like you want to crawl into a hole, you have lowered your self-worth.
Rochester’s Frederick Douglass said,
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
In other words, your value is determined ultimately by you.
A friend of mine told me the other day that the thing she regrets the most about her youth is that she gave away her own value to the opinions of other people. She said she let them determine, in her own mind, her worth as a person. Now, she says, she doesn’t allow anyone to decide how she feels about herself.
The bottom line is: do estimable acts and you will have good self esteem.
The last week or two, with their heavy rains and warmer breezes have truly reminded us that winter is gone and spring is gaining on us every day. I thought it would be nice to see what people have said over the years about the magic of Spring.
Thomas Tusser wrote the now immortal words in 1557:
Sweet April showers
Do spring May flowers.
In 1852, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:
In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
T. S. Elliot wrote in 1922:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
e. e. cummings wrote in 1923:
spring when the world is mud—
luscious the little
whistles far and wee
Robert Frost, the wonderful American poet wrote in 1936:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.
Enjoy the process of early spring and know that soon enough we’ll be baking in the summer sun.
I Am Woman
March is Women’s History Month in the United States. The celebration was begun with the National Women’s History Project in 1980. This year 14 outstanding American women are being honored for their contribution to this country and the world.
I think back to 1972, when a woman named Helen Reddy recorded a song that became an anthem for the women’s movement. It was called simply, “I am Woman.” At the time, I remember thinking, “Wow, that song really captures the spirit of the new American woman.” Now, 35 years later, I say, “Yeah?”
The fact is, women have made enormous strides since that song came out. They haven’t completely achieved equal pay for equal work, but they are on their way. Women represent more than half the future doctors and lawyers entering graduate school. They represent way more than half of the freshman entering college. A woman was just named the President of Harvard University. Here in Rochester, a woman is the CEO of Xerox. Did I mention that the leading candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination is a woman? The fact is, in the education field, one of the hot issues now is how to keep our boys from being left behind in school.
When National Women’s History Month was established back in 1980, it made sense to set aside one month for the women, but if things keep going the way they’re going, it wouldn’t surprise me at all, in 10 or 20 years, to have July declared National Men’s History Month. The rest of the year will belong to the women.
I remember when I was the age of my students, my father’s parents came to live with us for a period of time. I remember asking my grandfather how he was doing. He used to say to me, “I’ve got my health and when you’ve got your health you’ve got just about everything.”
It’s funny. Now I know what he meant. As you get older the number of things that can go wrong increases and the importance of being healthy gets larger every day.
When you’re a student, your parents take care of you. When you’re sick, your folks get you to the doctor so you can get on your way and back to health. Many adults here at school are taking care of their parents. The ailments vary from an inability to get around to a loss of the sense of who they are. In some cases, disease takes its toll on those growing older as well.
I mentioned last week how important it is to be good and kind to other people. Those are habits you can learn when you’re 12, but they are skills that you will carry forward throughout your life. You may be asked at some point to help with another person, a friend or a relative, and, if you’ve gotten used to it at a young age, you’ll be able to be there for them. Caring young people become caring adults. Start today by helping others.