Thursday, July 5, 2018
Sunday, June 24, 2018
I Can’t Remain Silent
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Cultivating Healthy Faculties and Staff
by Jill Jenkins
As a gardener, I understand the importance of balancing fertilizer, water and sunlight to create a beautiful rose garden. As a gardener, I understand the vigilance that is required to keep the plants protected from insects, blight and fungus, but as a former educator I cannot understand how state and district administrators are blameless when fewer college students are choosing to become teachers, more teachers are leaving the profession and those who are staying are demonstrating in the streets. As in other industries, cultivating the talent of employees takes not only resources like money and benefits, but also a fair amount of fertilizer, water and sunlight. By that I mean, treating employees honestly and fairly, keeping commitments and supporting them emotionally through stressful situations. A blog that I recently read by Seth Nichols “Why Teachers Are Walking Out,” seems to support my observation. In his blog, he compares teachers to abused housewife who abandons a relationship only after a cumulative effect of years of abuse. He exemplifies this position with the many hours of unpaid work teachers willingly provide before and after contract hours, the countless resources and supplies they purchase with their own funds and the barrage of abuse they endure from parents, students and the media. Finally, after years of endurance, educators like the abused housewife, walk out.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
by Jill Jenkins
For all those designing schools to maximize student safety, while placing a safety portal with school offices and resource police at the front of the building is a great start, there is more to think about. Preventing a child from becoming a maniac murdering his peers should be goal number one. Schools need to be pleasant places, not prisons. Providing students with a clean, well ventilated, well lit and brightly colored space will help create a lively, healthy environment. For all students school is a home away from home and each student needs to feel like an appreciated member of the community. Remember students are malodorous, messy creatures, so use building materials that are easy to clean. Don't put carpet on the walls. Use insulation in the walls to dampen sound from room to room. Provide colorful display areas to show students work and display happy pictures of the students in the school. Designing safe school building is only part of the answer.
The school atmosphere is important. Keeping the school clean and well lit will improve health and moral for the teachers and the students, but encouraging teachers to work together and find ways to recognize students' achievement will make students feel more loved and appreciated. Even as another school shooting occurred today in Texas, think about ways of preventing others by using training teachers to identify behavior or signs that a student is troubled. Observing changes in student behavior and referring student to social workers, counseling staff or school psychologists can prevent depression from escalating into disasters. Changing our focus on making all students feel safe, appreciated and loved is a good start. Schools do not have to stink. Instead make them smell like school spirit and make every student's education a positive one.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Friday, January 5, 2018
Students who are not intellectually engaged do not retain learning for long. Meaningless activities like completing worksheets or digital worksheets (which the on-line classes are) is a futile act that students recognize as meaningless and quickly disregard this learning because it is not applicable to their reality. Often the instructions given in these packets lack clarity. As a middle school teacher, past students frequently appeared at my door after school to ask for help. As a result, I met with these students for an hour or two after school to tutor them, but unlike the "for profit" college that provided these worksheets, I was not compensated financially for my time. I was appreciative that the student recognized that human interaction is key to learning. When my daughter was a child, her father and I took her to Florida to visit her grandfather and his wife. She was excited to find seashells on the beach, but when we arrived her grandfather's wife was appalled at the idea of collecting sea shells because they might be dirty and insisted we buy shells in the tourist shops. What she didn't understand that finding the shells herself made the shells meaningful to my daughter. These students do not need knowledge shoveled into them; they need to find the shells themselves.
Second, as a educators, we should be asking what is important for students to know? Since the world is rapidly changing most educators agree that helping students become "life-long learners" is key to their future success. After all computers were in their infancy when I was a middle school teacher. With the exception of my math teacher Miss Penniger who told me in 1965 that learning the binary code was an important part of learning to become a programmer, computers were not part of anyones life. As teachers, we do not know what careers will disappear and what new careers will be created. We do know that these students will have to learn new skills to stay current. Worksheets do not teach critical thinking, research skills and have little relevance to the the reality today or in the future. Repetitive drills do not engage students and stifle any intellectual curiosity the child has. As a result, the child perceives rote learning as dull and meaningless, and it is. Instead of spending tax payers' money to the "for profit" colleges to create meaningless mush, districts should spend that money on real teacher who could create summer school or after school classes for students earning high school credits. Socializing and group problem solving gives students human interaction skills that will help them in the real world. At home on-line classes may be an appropriate option for seriously ill students, but it is a poor choice for most students and should be eliminated.
What about giving students credit for out of school activities? Granted some of the music lessons and sports program may be quality, but as a school there is no way of knowing because they are not controlled or evaluated by the district. I have seen some truly substandard programs when my daughter was young and I has searching for a community theater program or a sports program for her to participate. Greed driven individuals with no credentials will be developing meaningless art or sports programs to grab some of the tax-payers money. This is not good for the children or the tax-payers. Quality art and sports programs enhance a school and create a sense of community. It is through working in such programs that students develop life-time friends and an appreciation for both arts and sports. Like any learning, students become healthier adults if their love for physical activity and creative expression become a life-long pursuit.
Education is an investment in the future of our democracy. When we short change our students by providing substandard education, we create a generation that cannot compete in the global market with highly skilled jobs in technology, medicine, science, business, finance, journalism and every other profession requiring a vast understanding of good communication skills, mathematics, technology, a sense of history and thirst to keep learning more. We need thinkers, creators, and leaders to solve the problems of tomorrow. Our schools need to provide meaningful challenges to every student. Don't "dumb-down" our schools to make data on graduation rates look impressive. THAT IS A SCAM. A scam that will cost all Americans dearly.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
School districts often provide too few bathrooms for overcrowded schools making access to facilities difficult for shy or less aggressive students to complete during class change or recess. Restrooms are often places for bullying and criminal activities (like smoking cigarettes and pot or exchanging alcohol or drugs) making timid students often afraid to use the facilities during class change. Teachers are often insensitive or unaware of the time restraints, the limited facilities and the bathroom activities. As a result, teachers perceive a child's pleading to use the facility as a ruse, an act of defiance or an opportunity to roam the halls. Sometimes, perhaps, it is. However, when a shy student observes the teacher rebuking a request by another student, he or she may feel intimidated to ask; thus, the student suffers both physical and emotional trauma.
Many teachers are unaware of the trauma many middle school girls face with the onset of their first menstrual period. Since the first few yeas of puberty is often characterized with irregular menstrual periods and the first period is always a surprise, girls often do not come equipped. Putting sanitary supplies in the main office may reduce vandalism and thefts, but imagine how intimidating a shy twelve year old feels asking a strange adult in a busy office for a sanitary napkin or a tampon. More than once in my career, have I had a quiet girl sitting in her desk after all of her classmates have left because she is drenched in blood and embarrassed to walk through the crowded halls to the restroom or office. I always kept an old sweater at my desk to tie around a girl's waist and escort her to the office where the secretaries allowed her to sit in the sick room while they called her mother and provided her with the sanitary supplies without destroying her delicate dignity. A bit of advice to teachers in middle schools and high school, make sure you are prepared with a sweater and a bit of assurance for some frightened girl. This needs to be part of teacher preparation because it is part of the reality of schools. Also be aware that boys going through puberty often get unexpected erections whenever they feel stressed. Asking a boy to stand to answer questions could be completely humiliating to him, because even if you don't notice, his classmates will and they will not let him live it down.
Small acts can have big consequences. When I was in junior high, I asked my math teacher for an eraser. He tossed it to me and it landed down my neck and into my bra. Some students (not me) would have been devastated by the accidental basket. If you do make a major faux-pax, apologize. Students know that teachers are human. An unintended action can be easily corrected. If a teacher knowingly humiliates a student, he is not only hurting his intended target, but all of the students in that classroom. Teachers who belittle and demean students should be weeded out by administrators. There is no place in education for anything other than respectful words and actions. Never call students names, degrade them personally or in anyway humiliate them. Students who feel confident and cared for can achieve amazing feats. Furthermore, teachers should be models of how to treat others. Examine your school and your teaching and try to eliminate all of the subtle ways schools and teacher humiliate the most timid among us.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
I had learned at workshops that many students have difficulties distinguishing between information that is important from information that is nonessential, because they don't have "crap detectors." To help them compensate, I used both empty outlines and V.E.N. diagrams and taught students how to complete them during lectures and readings. This helped them identify the main ideas and the supporting ideas, examples and evidence. I had not considered how extraneous noise might interfere with their learning. My classroom was located at the front of the school where the public came and went continually. Since I had taught there for decades, many of the parents of my current students were my previous students. As a result, they frequently stuck their heads in to wave, shout a greeting or ask a question. Furthermore, the band was housed next door, so music or sometimes something akin to music permeated the thin walls. For a time I was sandwiched between the band and orchestra making a cacophony of noise in my room. To make matters worse, I have always used small group discussion, so with forty students broken into ten groups of four all talking at once, students with difficulty deciphering conversations were in real trouble in my class.
For most of my students distractions like background noise was of little consequence to their learning as long as they were engaged in a learning activity; however, for students with a learning disability that just isn't true. Autistic students who are overstimulated by a change in routine often shut down or worse yet have a panic attack. Still, teachers are expected to meet all of the differing needs of the students while their classrooms are overflowing with students with various learning disabilities, language acquisition skills and emotional problems.
I am not sure what the answer is or if there is an answer, but I know some things I changed about my teaching.
- First, give instructions in clear, simple language and use a variety of medias to communicate it: tell them, write on the white board, give them a written copy of the instructions and put the instructions on your web site so parents and special education teachers can also help them. Limit the number of choices presented to students. Costco capitalizes on that idea. Students need to have a clear idea how to proceed. For some students selecting which seat to sit in when faced with forty empty desks is an overwhelming decision.
- Second, try to keep the distractions to a minimum by shutting the door.
- Third, arrange the room for quick access to each students individually. When a student needs extra instruction, kneel next to his/her desk, look into the student's face and whisper quietly so the child is not embarrassed while getting additional instruction.
- Fourth, vary the types of activities often in a class period to meet the individual needs of students with differing learning styles. The younger the students the shorter their attention spans are. With ninth grade students, I rarely stayed on one activity longer than ten minutes.
- Fifth, develop routines in your classroom, so students can move from one activity to another smoothly with little opportunities for chaos. Chaos hurts the most vulnerable students.
- Contact the special education teachers and the school psychologist often. Their advice on a particular child's needs is invaluable.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Although this Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne details the Comanche tribe violence and the violence committed against them, it captures the clashing of two different cultures and how both side committed horrible atrocities against each other in an attempt to obliterate the tribe and its life style. Most of the tribe did not survive, but despite losing everything, a sense of pride and a sense of responsibilities to each other continued. The book details the life of Quanah Parker whose mother, Cynthia Anne Parker, was kidnapped at ten year old by a Comanche chief. After having three children, Cynthia is rescued against her will, when her Native American husband and all of her companions are massacred. Her two sons escape, pursued by the soldiers and find their way back to camp. She and her daughter, Meadow Flower are returned to civilization. Meadow Flower is taken from her and dies. Her youngest son dies of fever and Quanah Parker, her older son, becomes chief. Quanah's struggle to free his people and finally to live in peace on the reservation is never without treacherous dealings with corrupt officials.
A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt is a fictitious account of child trafficking set in modern day China. Two twelve year old girls are abducted by a woman and sold to a family living on a junk. The family wishes one to become a bride for one of their two sons and use both girls as domestic servants. Many students will find the ending of this book unrealistic because one of the girl's father eventually finds them and all of the guilty parties are punished. I used to teach Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and my students complained that they ending was too contrived. They preferred Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame because the ending seemed more believable. (In the book everyone dies because of their character flaw.) I think most students are too sophisticated and recognize that life is often not fair.