Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Miss Shimmer, um, about this rating..."

Last Friday I took a half day's vacation to judge a speech and debate competition at a South Philly charter school. Ian's coach was desperate for help (each competing school has to provide judges), and since I particularly enjoy critiquing others, I volunteered. This wasn't my first time judging at one of these events, but on previous occasions I judged Oral Interpretation, which is what I competed in during high school (OI is basically dramatic reading). At last week's meet, I was needed to judge two categories that were new to me: Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas Debate. They're both debating contests, with the differences being that PF involves teams of two arguing pro or con on some predetermined topic (genetically modified foods, in this case), while LD has two individuals face off on a more values/ethics-based topic.

While I didn't particularly enjoy Public Forum (I kept wanting to interject), Lincoln-Douglas was especially difficult, mostly due to the two students I had to judge. On one side was a young man who seemed to be advocating for "the right to be forgotten," as in disappearing from social media if one so chooses. I say he seemed to be speaking on that subject because honestly, I wasn't entirely sure what he was trying to communicate. This was not an auspicious start for my first LD. Little did I know things were about to go from bad to worse. Or at least mediocre to bad.

The young lady, who seemed to be speaking for the public's right to know, presented an opening statement that was nearly incoherent. She stumbled while reading her notes verbatim, never making eye contact, and most of what she read hardly seemed relevant to the discussion.

The event became increasingly awkward when it was time for the students to challenge one another based on the statements they'd each made. The young lady referred to whatever notes she'd arrived with, and made points that were completely unrelated to what the young man had proposed. It was almost as if she hadn't listened or at least hadn't understood what he was saying. She looked either half asleep or under the influence of who knows what. It was painful to watch. She sealed her fate when, given six minutes for her concluding statement, she used only two. And of course, in those two minutes, she said nothing of any value.

My job was to rate them each on a scale that looked something like this (I may be off by a number or two):

26-30 - Excellent
21-25 - Good
18-20 - Fair
15-17 - Below average

The form noted that scores under 15 should be reserved for those who exhibited behavioral problems or issues with their conduct.

I should mention that prior to beginning the meet, the school host asked that we not judge too harshly as it is early in the year and we don't want to discourage students.

Talk about your quandaries.

I rated him a 21 and her a 16, provided lengthy comments and suggestions, and turned my paperwork in to the tabulation room.

As I walked away, I heard "Miss Shimmer (dear God, people, it's one "M," which makes it a long "I"), can you come here for a moment?"

You might guess where this is going. 

I was told, "We really don't want to give anyone less than a 20. Can you give her a 20 and him a 21?"

I replied, "There was considerably more than one point difference in their performances."

"Okay, then give him more points?"

Because I lack the cajones to stand my ground, I crossed out my 16 and gave the worst speaker I've ever seen/heard a 20. I bumped up mediocre man to a 25. And then I mentally began this blog post.

This is a classic example of where we go wrong with youth today. We avoid critiquing them too harshly for fear of hurting their self-esteem. We sugarcoat everything in the hopes they'll believe they can do anything. What's wrong with judging them fairly, pointing out both their strengths and weaknesses so they have a realistic sense of self? What's wrong with suggesting they need to work harder if they want to be better? By never using red pens on homework assignments or tests, by giving everyone a trophy for participating, by telling them they're good, great, or awesome, we're setting them up for a serious shock when they enter the real world where there's no "pass go, collect $200" just for showing up.

And while we're busy patting the back of the below average, we diminish the accomplishments of the standout. Or, we over-inflate the mediocre to establish a reasonable distinction between them and the lesser student, athlete, or artist. My mediocre student didn't deserve a score that had him on the cusp of an excellent rating, but in order for him to justifiably believe that he significantly outperformed his competition, that's how I had to score his performance. Tell me this - why have a below average rating on the scale if we're not supposed to use it?

Believe it or not, I'm not advocating that we crush spirits and kill dreams. I'm merely suggesting that we be honest with kids, crediting them with resilience, which they possess in spades as compared to most adults. If we don't prepare them for honest evaluations and critiques now, at the first sign of criticism on the job, they're going to crumble.

I expect some of you will disagree with me on this and I welcome your feedback. Just try to be gentle. No red pens. No low scores. You know I don't handle criticism very well.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Back Burner for the Book

It’s been a while since I've had that whole “What am I doing with my life? Will my time on this earth have meant anything at all?” meltdown. I found myself in that miserable mental state a great deal during the last year or two in my previous job. I felt unsatisfied and unfulfilled and spent a lot of time wondering what I was supposed to do with whatever gifts I’d been given. Of course, being me, I also spent a good amount of time whining and feeling sorry for myself, which was considerably easier than actually putting on my big girl panties and dealing with it.

Miraculously, despite breaking every rule of job searching, two years ago I found myself in a new position at Villanova University and I haven’t had that empty feeling since. Until now.  It’s not the job, which I truly love, it’s more about the rest of my life, which somehow feels increasingly hollow.

Rob wants to know why I go to bed so damn early? It's so I can avoid the void. A woman can only watch so many episodes of The Gilmore Girls in one sitting before she realizes she’s pathetic. You know it’s time to make a change when you beg your daughter to put down her homework so you can watch television together.

I have some sense of what has caused this rather sudden mental and emotional nosedive: 
  1. The season. I tend to retreat into my head as the days grow shorter and darker. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll drown given how much swimming is going on in my brain.
  2. My three-year sentence commitment as a church elder has come to an end, and I resigned from my committee work at the same time. What I failed to realize is that, while I bitched about it ad nauseam, serving actually gave me a sense of purpose.
  3. I lost my 10-hour a week consulting job. It wasn't much, but it was just enough to keep me busy in the evenings.
  4. My kids need me less and less, which I always thought would be heavenly, but now I’m discovering is actually kinda sad. The only things they want from me are dinner and rides to friends’ houses, neither which I’m particularly excited to offer.
I have determined that the main cause of my current funk, however, is book related. Nothing I've read, but rather the book I haven’t written. I've been down this road before, but at this very moment I know three friends/acquaintances who are enjoying publishing success. One has published his second children’s book and recently had a signing at a local store. A second is looking forward to the release of her first book in December. And a third is publishing her third book!

It goes without saying that my childishly competitive nature demands that I figuratively put pen to paper and write my own damn book. Not because I have a book burning inside of me, but rather because I hate when others succeed at something I always hoped I would do. Well, let me be the first to tell you that this is not the best approach to becoming a writer. Envy does not lead to success. Truth is, years ago I wrote the first paragraph of my novel. Trouble is, that’s all I've got. I have no idea where to go with it or how it would end. And I don’t want to write a mediocre book. I want to write a critically acclaimed book. 

I know what you're thinking: "Here comes the whining and excuses. All the reasons why Kim doesn't have the energy or the self-discipline to make it happen." But you're wrong! In fact, I have a solution for what ails me. Ready? 

Instead of writing a book, I'm going to become an actress!

Stay tuned...