Saturday, September 17, 2016

I wanted to be a cheerleader.

When I was seven years old, my parents packed up the house and everything we owned, put my sister and I in the back of the car, and moved us from Burleson, Texas to Oklahoma City. I remember it like a movie scene, staring out the back glass off the car with tears streaming down my face, gasping for air in between sobs as I watched the culdesac of Tracy Lee Court fade into a distant memory on the horizon. My seven year old self was being forced to leave everything I knew and loved because a new church had hired my father as pastor three and a half hours away. I was leaving my elementary school, my friends at church, my best friend Sarah and our matching dresses. I was leaving our house and my bedroom, and my box that housed my imaginary friends, a family of toads. In my seven year old mind, I was losing absolutely everything I held constant and dear in my life. And upon my arrival in Oklahoma, apparently I didn't do much speaking for a while. I didn't do much of anything for a while. My mom says she couldn't understand why I wouldn't get off the couch.

She and my father took me to a child psychologist. I remember the elevator ride to the top of the building. I remember the doors opening to a hallway filled with glass windows looking into large offices. I remember kid friendly posters of smiling families on the walls.

In the quest to find out what was wrong with this seven year old girl who was listless most of the time and seemed so sad and wouldn't budge from the couch after she had just been separated very suddenly from everything she loved, this doctor in his infinite wisdom had me draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I drew a picture of myself as a Mansfield Tiger cheerleader.

My babysitter back in Texas was a cheerleader at Mansfield High School, and it was the highlight of my year when she gave me a uniform to play dress up in. So on the page I scrawled a girl with dangly earrings covered in big swaths of Tiger yellow and black on the page.

She's angry, the doctor concluded. Yellow and black all over a seven year old's paper equals angst. That's silly. She just wants to be a cheerleader, my mother concluded. They both were right.

Eventually I got off the couch, started school in Oklahoma and made wonderful friends that I still talk to today. I tried out for the cheer squad in seventh grade and fulfilled my lifelong dream of finally becoming a cheerleader. Oklahoma ended up not being the gradeschool disaster I feared it would be. But all these years later, something still sticks with me about that ordeal of packing up and moving and not being sure of my new surroundings that summer after second grade.

How many times in life do we take difficult situations and complicate them more than we have to by not just acknowledging that things are tough, breathing through them, and letting them be until they pass. That's hard to do. As humans, most of us don't like stress. We want to fix the uncomfortable thing as soon as it rears its ugly head, and move on about our lives unscathed. But that's the thing about life. Those situations that pop up in life are there to teach us something- even if it's just how to react, to ourselves or others, during the hard times.

I'm sure it seems fairly obvious now, looking back, to both my parents and myself that a visit to a child psychologist may have been a bit of an overreaction. Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe my parents did recognize that as a seven year old I was deeply sad about leaving my home and my friends and they needed resources to help me. Either way, moving to a new state and beginning a new life can be an immensely stressful time for a family. Being there for each other, communicating about feelings, and moving through the difficult moments together during the adjustment are all normal things that should happen during the course of such a huge event in a family's life.

Letting the feelings breathe. Letting them be. Acknowledging them, their importance, and letting go of them as easily and as often as they came. With or without the broo-ha-ha of an appointment with a child psychologist.

Sometimes we want to kick and scream. And that's okay. I still move in and out of days where I want to kick and scream and say WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AND WHEN WILL IT STOP? But that little voice in the back of my mind still says to me, it will stop. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. I have to believe that. My dad has always told me, "If you don't like the way things are right now, just wait. They'll be different tomorrow." Then he laughs and says, "They'll probably be much worse tomorrow, but they'll be different!" And he's right, that's the nature of life. Everything changes and the pendulum swings. In the meantime, I have to let myself be angry and frustrated when I need to. And then I have to let go of that and make room for hope, even if it's just for a minute. Because that three hour tearful drive to Oklahoma doesn't last forever. How we move through the difficult moments is a choice we make. We breathe, we let the feelings come and go in waves, we fight, we kick and scream, we enlist the help of experts; the time passes the same regardless. Hopefully we come out the other side having learned something; even if it's just that we will survive-- and someday, finally get to be a cheerleader.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Old days!

Friday, January 29, 2016


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A sign off and a new beginning.

I just got test scores back from the last class class I'll ever teach. The kids were kind enough, and worked hard enough, to let me go out on top. Out of the 1,839 kids in the school district sitting in the same course, taking the same test, my kids were the best. When I realized this and saw it in black and white on paper, I sat down and had a good cry.

Being a public school teacher is one of the hardest jobs in this country. And if you're a high school teacher, it's pretty thankless, too. This is my eighth year of sticking out and pressing forward, even when I felt like I didn't want to. Even when it felt like it would be easier to just give the kids a free day. Even when it felt like it would just be easier to write a kid up and send him out of class instead of pulling him out to have a conversation with him and try to get him on my side. Year after year of battling a system that's designed to fail kids, especially the poor ones. Day after day, week after week, year after year of this. And it's paid off.

This, the year my students and I decided from day one that this would be an English class, not a test prep class. That we would read and write and talk a LOT and not use acronyms like SAQ and STAAR and EOC and write essays in boxes with twenty-six lines. Instead we would read interesting books, and talk to each other, and discuss the hard topics even when it felt uncomfortable. We would write even when we didn't feel like it. I say "we," because we wrote together. They watched me draft and revise and draft and revise and mess up and start again, just the way I watched them. This is the year we decided we were going to actually SAY SOMETHING. And we did.

So thank you, kid who tried to burn down my classroom five years ago. Thank you for teaching me I could stick it out even when I felt a little scared. Thank you kids who broke into my portable three times six years ago. Thanks for reminding me that you don't need a cute classroom or ANY TECHNOLOGY to teach kids how to think critically. Thanks, super sweet kiddos, from the wrong side of town for showing me that sometimes, it's okay for me to be your mama or your auntie and teach you how to move through tough things in a graceful way both inside the classroom and out. Without you guys, my kids today wouldn't be at the top of their game.

This is it for me, one on one, teaching the classics to a classroom full of kids. A new adventure awaits. I'm committed to being as open, as determined, as persistent, and as successful in my new world as I was in the classroom. It's been an awesome ride, and I can't wait to start the new one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I had a conversation yesterday that most people will never have in their lifetimes. And I had it with a student. It was disturbing; it was honest; it was fascinating, and it was frightening. I can't go in to particulars, but it if you're imagining what it might entail, you haven't gone nearly far enough. This student is struggling with some serious mental demons and is only back at school for a week-long trial run at being around other people. And while the rest of my class was working away on research, this kiddo sidled up to my desk and proceeded to spill his guts about his last two weeks as an inpatient in a mental hospital. And I listened.

This kid has been on a downward spiral school-wise all year. His behavior has always been excellent. He is never disrespectful, he never distracts others during class, and I've never seen even a hint of temper or violence from him. But he's quick to shut down- just put his head down and do nothing during class. Around the turn of the semester, it started getting worse. As a campus, we jumped in to offer support, but not much seemed to be making a difference. Finally, he was gone for two weeks and his mother called to tell the school he'd been inpatient at a local mental health facility. So when he pulled a chair up to my desk to talk- I couldn't NOT listen. In that moment, I was his teacher, yes, but I wanted to be his friend, too. Which is why I didn't gasp when he told me some of the things he deals with in his mind on a daily basis. I nodded and said, "That sounds intense," and he would tell me more. This conversation went on for forty-five minutes.

This child has lived in poverty all of his life. He shoulders the majority of the burden of raising his three siblings. And he's brilliant. He started telling me some of the things he sorted out in his mind over the last two weeks. He told me he thinks he's figured out why he hates being around men- because of what he's seen them do to his mother whom he loves very, very much. He told me he struggles with trusting anybody, even himself. I told him that was fair- when you can't even trust your own thoughts in your mind, that must be a scary thing. He told me how the people at the mental hospital made him feel like a monster with the questions they asked him. He said, "I DO have some good in me. I know I do."

And I said, "That's not even a question. I see the good in you every time you come to my class," because I do. His smile is one of the most gentle I've seen, and he's quick to come to the defense of people he feels are being treated unfairly.

He talked to me about the obsessive thoughts and feelings he's had as far back as he can remember- even in preschool. And he told me that he doesn't know where they came from, but he knows they came from somewhere, and he's afraid they'll never leave.

And I explained to him that he probably wasn't born with those thoughts and feelings- that his brain learned how to think that way as a reaction to some kind of trauma he may have suffered when he was tiny- something that he in no way was responsible for. And he said, "Yeah, that's what we talked about in the hospital. I couldn't think of anything, but that's probably true." And then we talked about the good news: if the brain can learn to think that way, it can also learn to NOT think that way with lots and lots of hard, gritty work and probably with the help of medication. He smiled and said, "I never thought of it that way." Then he paused and said, "You know, I'm thinking maybe I should've been working with YOU in the hospital the last two weeks!"

I was glad I could offer him a little hope.

For forty-five minutes I just listened and encouraged him as his teacher and as his friend.

Then after class was over, I had some time to sit and try to process all I'd heard and what we'd talked about. I started thinking about it from a mother's perspective. That's innate to me now that I have a little boy of my own. And I started thinking about how absolutely imperative it is that we protect the minds of our little ones.

I had a fantastic counseling professor in my graduate program at OU who broke down parenting in two phases: parenting to protect and parenting to prepare. If we get these two phases twisted or backwards, we can cause emotional damage in our children's lives. We protect our little ones from harm and we prepare our young adults for life in the world on their own. So I started thinking about this notion of "protecting." And it's not one of protecting our children from every curse word and every bit of flesh flashed on the television screen. It's protecting their hearts, their inner-selves, their sense of who they are in the world- where they fit and how they function in it- their senses of humanity and compassion and community. We can protect our children from all the things in the world deemed "inappropriate" for kids and still neglect what we teach them through our own relationships in our homes and with our family members.

The world is cruel and harsh and unforgiving sometimes. Our homes shouldn't be. Mamas, protect your kiddos, so they don't grow up to be lonely, confused adults.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My One Year Old's Christmas List

I saw this post that's going viral and decided to make one for my own toddler! We spend so much time and money getting our little ones things we think they'll love, when all they really want is the simple things in life, right?

Dear Santa,

At Thanksgiving, I heard Nona asking Mama what I wanted for Christmas. She kept saying "outdoor toys". And while toys to play with outside would be okay, there are a few things I REALLY want for Christmas. I'm not sure why people even have to ask what I want. Isn't it already obvious? But if I need to spell it out for you, here it is.

First, this:

My parents have tried in vain to replace my favorite dump truck. I've got Hot Wheels, I've got a huge dump truck that hauls sand outside, and I've got a smaller, industrial version that I accidentally tore up as well. But I want this one. Only this one. Why does no one understand this? If you could get me another dump truck exactly like this one, that would be great.

Also on the list:

If you could make music come out of my headphones when I plug them in, that would be the best Christmas present ever.

Next, this:

See that hole right there on the right side of the back of the vacuum cleaner? I'd like you to bring me some things, anything really, that will fit into that hole. I don't care what it is. I'm not picky at all. I'll be happy with absolutely anything that fits into that hole. That would be so incredibly awesome.

Then, these:

I know we already have 2 iPads and 3 phones in the house, but I'm going to need at least 2 more. I AM the E-Trade Baby.

I also would really appreciate some help with this:

Much like my vacuum cleaner request, I need things that will fit into both the gas fireplace thing in the living room wall and the electrical outlet. Please note the different sizes. I'll need different things to fit into each. If you could also tell my parents to CALM DOWN when I'm playing with these, it could quite possibly be the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

Next, I would like unlimited access to these:

We're probably going to need to get this down on paper somewhere. There's no way mom's going to let me climb on the tables to touch the light fixtures unless I have a note from you saying it's okay. I like shiny things. I can't help it. So if you could hook me up this Christmas, that would be fantastic.

Okay, two more things. I'd like a couple more of these:

Santa, nothing makes me happier than unlocking the automatic lock on the front door, running in to the kitchen, and waiting to hear the sound it makes when it locks back so I can spin around and say "Who's that??" So if we could convince my parents to put these awesome locks on EVERY door in the house, it would just be that much more fun for me!

Last thing on my list: for the next year, I'd like mom to turn this thing on ON COMMAND:

Please let her know when I want her to turn it on, I'll say, "Chicky Chick-ON! Chicky Chick-ON!" Also, if you'd like to get me another mixer that I could have just for myself to turn off and on whenever I want, I would be SO happy.

I know Mama and Dada are going to get me new toys for Christmas, but if you could help me out with these few things that I REALLY want for Christmas, I think this could be the best Christmas I ever had. I've already had one and it was okay, but I think with your help, this one is going to be much, MUCH better.

Waiting anxiously,

Cash Cochran

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Getting down to the nitty gritty.

I read this blog post this morning about teacher burn out and how to be a teacher for more than five years, written by someone who put in an extra four and walked away after nine. The post is spot on and mostly about managing your time and expectations.

I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about why I love being a teacher and why I love the field of education. Prepare your face for shock and astonishment and possibly some judgmental disdain.

It's not because of the kids.

I should say it's not just because of the kids. 

Let me tell you what I've found. The people who truly are in education just for the good of kids (while a noble aspiration it may be) are the ones that fall the fastest and the hardest out of the profession. Here's why. Our public educational system is broken. Utterly, irretrievably broken. And teachers can't fix it. Try as we might, no matter how hard we kick and scream and shriek at the top of our lungs, "But we're failing our children!!" We cannot fix it. As long a lawmakers are regulating public education and as long as a constant flow of money is infiltrating our political system, teachers cannot fix public education. Period. So many teachers come into the profession with lofty ideals and visions of brilliant students and free thinking classrooms floating in their heads. Then it doesn't happen that way. And when it doesn't happen the way they envisioned it, they get mad at the things standing in their way- that Assistant Principal that is ridiculously hard to work with. That curriculum that is so boring and poorly written that it makes them want to poke their eyeballs out. Those constant assessments that eat up so much instructional time in the classroom. And they rage against the roadblocks and they scream, "This isn't fair to the kids!!!" And then nothing changes. And after about four or five years of fighting the broken system, worn out from all the kicking and screaming, disillusionment sets in and they quit, because they've bloodied themselves trying to fix a system that is unfixable. And they feel like they've failed their students because of it.

I'm on year seven and I've seen it happen more times than I can count. So I've been asking myself over the past few days, why do I enjoy being a teacher so much? Why do I want to stay in the field of education even though I know the system is terrible and there isn't much hope of change on the horizon? After all, all of my adult working years have been spent in either non-profit work focusing on under-served women and children or in education. I have been a non-profit program director and education director. I have been a CPS caseworker for foster children. I have spent most of my teaching career teaching children from some of the poorest communities in the state of Texas. It's not like I don't have lofty ideals about the importance of community and helping people. I've committed my life to it. So why have I stuck it out this far when so many people haven't?

Because my number one focus isn't the ideal of helping the kids which requires changing the system. My number one focus is facing and conquering the challenge that is public education. And the challenge is figuring out how to effectively educate children inside a broken system. See what I did there? When your focus shifts from the kids to the challenge of becoming successful with what you've got, if you're a competitive person, you retain some of your staying power. I've been in enough classrooms, districts, and schools to know this: You don't like your principal(s)? Tough, they're not going anywhere... this year. You don't like your curriculum? Guess what, that's probably not going to change either. You think common core is total BS? Well, it's the law in most states now. Get used to it. Kids are coming into your classroom several grade levels behind? They're coming to your class tomorrow regardless.

I'm really interested in what you're going to do to be effective in your classroom in spite of all of this. This is the challenge we face as public educators in every district in every state across this nation. All our gripes are the same. What will distinguish us is how we will take on the challenge. Will we be content just to scream as loud as we can how unfair the system is to our children? Or will we get down to the nitty gritty, face reality, and decide how we can still be effective in our instruction in our classrooms, even with the deck massively stacked against us and against our students?

This is what we call grit. It's such a buzzword right now. Everyone tells us we should be developing it in our students. But do we have it ourselves?

Our football team is in the playoffs this year. Friday night we will play the powerhouse reigning state champs in only the second round of playoffs. Our marquee outside the school this week, even though meant for our boys, echoes my sentiments in my classroom, "Any team, any time, any place." I'm thriving on the challenge. Bring it!