intergenerational communication

Is It Fair To Make Me Share?


         One thing I learned about junior high kids is that they are keenly tuned in to ‘what is fair’. While they don’t always act ‘fair’ themselves, they are very critical of anyone else not acting ‘fair’. Come to think about it, that’s not exclusive to junior high kids.

A few years back the idea of ‘distribution of wealth’ became a popular political football.   Some kids thought it was “fair”. Why should some people have so much money and others not have enough to live on? Others thought everyone should get what they worked for.

I decided the best way for the kids to understand the principle was to apply it to the classroom. The ‘wealth’ to be distributed was their grades. If your grade was 92 and another student’s was 56, then you would owe 18 points to the student with 56. Both would receive a grade of 74 for the assignment.

The next assignment I returned had two grades. The top grade was their personal grade; the other was a ‘distributed’ grade. The grades looked like this: 98/67 or 43/67.  The class average grade was the one everyone would receive.

Positive and negative reactions lined up just as I expected. The high scoring students were upset. The low scoring students and especially the ones that did not do the assignment were quite happy.

The next day, when a spelling/vocabulary assignment was given, the first question a student asked was how the assignment would be graded. I said that we would be ‘distributing the wealth.’

It was usual for 4–6 kids out of 32 not to do the assignment. This time 12 did not turn in the assignment and the average grade had dropped to around 50. I asked the kids to write in their learning logs what they thought of ‘distribution of wealth’ after our experiment.  The responses went something like this;

“I didn’t try too hard ‘cuz I knew I would get someone’s points.”

“I didn’t do it. I don’t want someone else getting my points that I earned.”

“I sometimes don’t do my work so getting points from students that get good grades seemed like a cool idea.”

A few days later, I gave the kids a chance for extra credit by doing a project on a novel we were studying.

Mark, a top student, asked, “If I do the extra credit work, will you take some of my points and give them to another student?

“What if I said, ‘yes’, some of your points would be given to other students?”

“Then I’m not going to do it!” he said.

“What if I said, ‘no’, you keep all your points?”

“Then I’ll do it,”

There were two results that every student realized after our little experiment in ‘distribution of wealth’.  First, the effort that students put into their assignments dropped noticeably.  Second, the brightest refused to go above and beyond.

Lesson learned! Everybody loses!!!



intergenerational communication

Cell Phones and Emma

I decided I needed a break from writing so I clicked over to my Facebook page. The first entry I saw was this.

“CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen and her interview worried me –Dr. Twenge started doing research 25 years ago on generational differences, but when 2011 -2012 hit, she saw something that would scare her to the core.   This is the year when those having iPhones went over the 50% mark.

  • This was the year that more kids started to say that they felt “sad, hopeless, useless… that they couldn’t do anything right (depression).”
  • They felt left-out and lonely.
  • There is a 50% increase in a clinical level depression between 2011-2015.
  • A substantial increase in suicide rate.”

I taught through those years. I can verify by anecdotal evidence that this is absolutely true.

It was the early 2000’s. Kids were just beginning to get their own cell phones and, of course, bringing them to school and, of course, using them at school, which was, of course, against the rules. (Kind of like Mary’s little lamb.)

I must tell you – cell phones were the bane of my existence as a Jr. high teacher. This story is one of the reasons why.

There was a young girl in my class. I’ll call her Emma. Emma was very needy. She had already had some drug issues and was failing all of her classes. She did not have a father in her life but did have a mother that found refuge in many men; a far too common recipe for disaster.

Emma had potential; she loved to write but was too undisciplined to finish and turn in assignments. Her only reason for attending school was wrapped up in her boyfriend. He was her only solace. School was their meeting place.

You see, a friend of Emma liked Emma’s boyfriend. Sue – not her real name – decided to go into the bathroom at recess, take off her top and bra and take some “selfies”. (I don’t even think that term had been coined at that time) Anyway, during the next class period, she sent these pictures to Emma’s boyfriend, who promptly decided to dump Emma and ask Sue to be his girlfriend.

OK, typical Jr. high drama. I get it, but there is more.

At lunchtime, John – not his real name – tells Emma he has changed his mind and his girlfriend. Emma, in her fragile emotional state was unable to handle this.

Meanwhile, I’m in the teacher’s lounge eating lunch and the bells go off. I rush outside to find Emma laying on a bench with yard duty aides around her calling for help. Emma had taken a knife (yeah – I know, they’re not allowed at school like cell phones and Mary’s little lamb) and cut her wrists. The police and ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She was physically OK but in deep emotional pain.

Emma came back to school a few days later, still troubled and very embarrassed. She was sent to counseling and put in a special class for emotionally disturbed students.

By the way, this did not solve her problems.



intergenerational communication

Junior High Pressure


Do you remember your Junior high years? My Junior high years could be summarized in one word – PRESSURE

  • Academic pressure – Will my grades allow me to take the classes I need to have in high school?
  • Peer pressure – Do I fit in? What is it that I want to fit in to?
  • Parent pressure – Why can’t I talk to my parents? I don’t want to talk to my parents!
  • Media (Self-image) pressure – Am I cute enough, sexy enough to be on the cover of a Hollywood magazine?
  • Time pressure – school, sports, chores, hanging out with my friends? How do I fit it all in?

It is not my intention to get into psychological, physiological or hormonal changes that form the basis of these pressures.

Rather, I want to share the voice of these young people who are dealing with them. I want to share their words that come from their gut, heart, and soul, their feelings, their observations and the humor many of them use to make sense of it all.

Their journey is taking them into uncharted territory and frankly, many are not interested in listening to those who have traveled before them. (Of course, that was not my problem. I was always willing to listen.)

Some are entering this territory with the armor of support from parents and a loving, healthy childhood that has instilled in them a sense of security.

Listen to the voice of a child with this armor.

I don’t really need a gift because I have everything a child could hope for: loving parents, a bed to sleep in, warmth for my body, and food in my stomach. Some kids out there would pray to have those four simple things. This technology now has corrupted our minds into thinking we need all those expensive things when in fact we don’t.

The gift I would love to give is things to the homeless. My family and I want to go out this year for Christmas and provide them with clothes and blankets so that they don’t freeze in these cold winter nights.

Others – too many others – are entering into this new territory with no armor at all, resulting from a childhood that has instilled in them a sense of fear and insecurity.

Listen to the voice of a child without this armor.

A gift I would like to receive would be love. I would like love because I want to know that someone cares. Another reason I chose love is because I could talk to someone who would listen and not ignore me. This is why I chose love as my gift to receive for Christmas.

Most of us know young people who are on this part of life’s journey.

Will their armor withstand the journey?

How might you strengthen their armor?



intergenerational communication

Present Meets the Past


I’m from the teaching era that required students to write their assignments in cursive. (I still believe they should, but that’s a topic for later blogs.) You know, the era when, if you wanted to say something, you wrote a book and tried to get someone to publish it. So “blogging” for me is definitely a step outside of my comfort zone. But how do you grow if you don’t stretch? Please, join me in my stretch.

When asked what I did for a living, my response usually received one of two reactions: either a hand on the shoulder along with a look that said, “I’m sorry” or a step back with a look that said, “What is wrong with you?”

Indeed, my profession deserved both responses. I often felt that way myself. You see, I was a Jr. High teacher…Yes, Jr. High…“Middle School” as it is more commonly referred to now. Ages 13 – 15…puberty. Actually, it is a very easy age group to teach. I mean, at what other age are you going to have students that know everything… you know, that age when they have all the answers!

All of life is a journey. My journey has been divided into four chronological periods. First, childhood and growing up; second, looking ahead and preparing for my future; third, living and accumulating experiences and lessons; and now, retirement and time to reflect.

Within each period there has been a blending and sometimes tension between my personal life and my professional life. Indeed, there were many times when I felt as if I were living two lives – my personal life which was sometimes a train wreck and my professional life which was successful and fulfilling. God has blessed me in the last 20 years of uniting these two into a life of wholeness. Until I truly experienced being “whole”, I did not realize how compartmentalized my life was. (I suspect this may be true for many of us)

I’m writing now out of the fourth part of my journey: retirement and reflection. It was initiated a few months ago when I was going through some of my students’ work that had been kept in my file cabinet. The work included the fruit of two assignments – a poetry unit and a journal response.

The poetry was the result of a six-week unit. The final project was a poetry book that the students were to write and illustrate. Their poetry needed to represent the various forms of poetry that we studied.

The prose responses are from students to the following prompt given to them at Christmas time: Write about what you would like to give and receive for Christmas but your gifts may not cost any money.

I’m retired now after a 33-year career of teaching. And yes, retirement is a very good part of teaching. But as I reread and reflected on this student writing, I realized that the greatest treasure of teaching is the memories I have and the blessing of having participated in the lives of many young people for a time in their lives.

This realization came in the form of a poem that had been written by a 14-year-old boy in my class over 18 years ago.


Lost or found, memories live on

Sometimes forgotten,

Sometimes remembered

Do with them what you wish

For they are yours to possess


Whether you cherish them or hate them

They are yours as they come with experience

They are not to be taken for granted

Lost or found, memories live on.


The irony of a student’s writing written under my tutelage at the beginning of his life’s journey has given direction and focus to me at this point in my life’s journey!

And that is what this blog is all about – the two-way street of ‘lessons learned’; those I taught to my students and those my students taught to me.