Friday, December 30, 2016

This Property is Condemned: Three Ways To Limit Students' Potential

This Property is Condemned:

Three Ways To Limit Students' Potential

by Jill Jenkins
     In the one-act play, "This Property Is Condemned" by Tennessee Williams the fate of a thirteen year old girl orphaned, uneducated and abandoned  after the death of her sister, a prostitute is explored.  Like this girl, many students are equally ill-fated.  Three problems hamper their potential: first, a culture that does not value education; second, incarceration of one or more parent destroys the supporting family for many students; and three, low wages and unemployment require many students into the workforce prematurely. 

Cultural Disparity

    To many people providing their children with a quality education and ample skills to be successful is paramount; however, to others regular school attendance and homework is an inconvenience. These parent often undermine teachers' efforts and disrespect educators convincing their children that school is not important and sabotaging any efforts their children have in pursuing an education.  Some members of lower socio-economic groups share an attitude that if they have successfully provided food and shelter for their children without a formal education,  their child certainly don't need an education.  Others  in more affluent homes allow their children so much personal freedom that the children never develop the self-discipline to complete their education. Regardless, the children are handicapped. Some children never leave their parents' home or become self-sufficient.  Worse yet, homeless shelters are filled with children who were unprepared to fill positions that paid more than minimum wage.  The rising costs of housing and food further hamper these unprepared individuals.  Furthermore, the jobs available for those with limited skills are disappearing  The world is becoming more technical; as result, those lacking an education are being left behind. 

Incarceration Crisis

According to the article, "Law and Disorder" in the December, 2016 edition of Smithsonian Magazine  2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States which translates into 690 people of every 100,000 people, more than in China and Russia.  According to the article, "Innocence" by Matt Ford in the December, 2016 edition of Smithsonian Magazine  these incarcerations have a devastating effect on families.  As many prisons are far from urban areas, it is difficult for the children of those incarcerated to interact with their parents.  Incarcerations of even one parent puts an undue financial and emotional burden on the remaining parent.  When both parents are incarcerated the negative impact on children is even more devastating.  Some are sent to live in foster homes with strangers.  Others are sent to live with relatives: aunts, uncles or grandparents.  Many are impacted by mental illness and/or addiction.  One of my former students was left to raise four siblings on his own at seventeen.  Children raising children.  The financial and emotional burden made it almost impossible for him to concentrate on his own education.  Many lower socio-economic neighborhoods are significantly impacted by this epidemic.  Substance abuse and incomplete educations lessen these children from reaching their full potential.  According to Matt Ford's article, "Innocence", one in nine African-American children have at least one parent in prison.  As a result, in communities with higher percentages of minorities, there is a high likelihood that many students have parents imprisoned; however, the social sigma surrounding incarceration keep many students quiet or others ignorant of the parents' plight making identifying those who need help difficult. 

The Problem of Poverty

    I once believed that education is the great equalizer. It is true only if equal education is available to everyone.  It isn't.  The truth is upper middle class and wealthy parents provide their children with enriching activities, trips, tutors, private music lessons, summer camps and private schools.  Many lower socio-economic parents require their children to work and use those wages for financial support of the family.  There are child labor laws, but they are rarely enforced.  Many children work eight to ten hours a day on top of their seven hours of school daily.  Parents of these children cannot afford tutors, summer camps and music lessons let alone a rich environment filled with books and computers; they can barely provide food, housing and clothing.  In neighborhoods where employment is available, children work on farms, in family businesses or movie theaters; in neighborhoods where employment is not available they sell drugs or steal.  As a result, it is highly unlikely these children will escape poverty or the criminal justice system. 

Are there solutions?  Teachers are the first line of intervention for these students. They should get to know their students and connect them to counseling staff, social workers and outside agency when needed. Parenting classes, group counseling, social workers who can connect parents and students to agencies, after school and before school tutoring would help.  Enriching activities in the school and community would help even more. One such community activity is a drum program in New York captured in the linked video by Jeanette D Moses.  Schools and communities need to invest in the future of these children.  Education can be the great equalizer.  Don't condemn children: embrace and enhance them. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Three Ways to Reduce Division and Hatred in Classrooms

By Jill Jenkins
     The Daily Beast reports over 300 hate crimes since the election of Donald J. Trump and by far the most troubling are those occurring in schools.  It seems the violent rhetoric has opened a flood gate of hostilities toward Hispanics, Blacks, Muslims, LGBTQ students and women.  In schools, all students need to feel safe and cherished. How do we safeguard our students when middle school students in Michigan are chanting "Build A Wall" according to U.S.A. Today, Swastikas and hate-filled messages of bigotry have appeared on various campuses and one Muslim student was threatened with a lighter until she removed her hijab according to CNN?  The list will continue to grow until everyone in the school community take a firm step against this.

 #1 All Students Need To Feel Wanted. 

 To combat the trend all students need to feel like an essential part of the community.  In Jordan School District in Utah, one elementary school hung posters of Uncle Sam with the slogan: "We Want You!"

 and Granite School District in Utah sent this beautiful letter to all faculty and staff reminding them that the language teachers and staff members use is powerful; as a result, they should refer to students as "Our Students" and not "Those Students."  It is unlawful for educators to treat students differently because of their documentation or any other grouping.   Make classrooms feel warm and inviting to all students and do not tolerate students who mistreat others verbally or physically.  Inclusive classrooms encourage students to interact, increasing learning while decreasing fear.  By having students actively engage together they will come to know each others as people and the differences will disappear.  Ignorance separates people. Some proven methods to make your classroom include:
  1. Learn your students' names and use them.
  2. Greet your students as they enter your classroom and chat with them.
  3. Listen to your students. Having a positive relationship with your students makes it more likely they will share any incidence of harassment with you.  If you hear something, say something to an administrator so the problem can be curbed quickly.
  4. Provide feedback to students by starting with positive statements and limit suggestions to a few at a time.  Don't overwhelm them.  Be care to choose your words carefully so students understand you are not attacking them, but directing their progress.
  5. Require students to interact in small groups of two or three and carefully select the groups.  Remember the more students get to know each other the less they will fear and hate each other.
  6. Talk about the dangers of stereotyping.  

#2 Get Involved in Your Community

    When teachers become active in helping students and their families in the community, students and their families perceive school and teachers as advocates. HUD recognized this power when they offered to sell houses to teachers and police officers at reduced rates if they purchase homes in economically deprived neighborhoods.  Helping the community is another way to reduce fear and build bridges.  Research opportunities to tutor students in your neighborhood or city.  Here are a few that appear on "Let's Get to Work: Practical Ways for Writers and Teachers To Get Involved Right Now." by  Anu Jindal 
If you don't live in New York, Los Angles or Boston, check out the local opportunities to get involved.  In Northern Utah where I live, I found these: 

Groups and Family Opportunities

Opportunities Just For Groups

#3 Require Your Students to Volunteer

Nothing reduces hate like understanding and appreciating other people and their culture.  Engaging in activities where students get to communicate and interact directly with a culture or a group that is foreign to them is the fastest way to develop understanding and reduce hate.  One year a colleague and I teamed up and created an assignment that required students to perform 30 hours of community service and write a paper about their experience.  Parents were very supportive and I received a number of thank you letters from parents telling me how meaningful the experience was for their child.

Being proactive and talking with students can go along way to reducing hate.  Reacting quickly to any act of harassment teaches students that the teacher and the principal are advocate for their rights.  Get involved with the community and you will have their support.  More importantly evaluate how your own views of others might be effecting your word choice and your behavior.  Make changes in your own behavior to make your classroom more inclusive and warm.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Is Bullying So Difficult To Stop?

Why Is Bullying So Difficult To Stop

     Despite the signs hanging in each classroom declaring it a "Bully Free Zone," bullying continues. Why is eliminating bullying so difficult? Perhaps it is because it is so much a part of people. Bullying isn't limited to childhood.  Domestic violence and workplace manipulation are growing problems.  Is bullying innate or is it learned behavior?  Human beings are animals, no different from hens in a chicken coop who peck another hen to death at the first sign of blood; no different from dogs who bite and fight to be the alpha in the pack; and no different from chimps who work together to remove an alpha male from leadership.  Without the constraints of society, human beings stop using their intellectual capacity to solve problems and resort to dominate behavior.  Like other animals keeping peace in the group means that those who do not follow the norms of the group are brought into compliance one way or another. Those who seem different are often the victim of bullies.  As a result, eliminating behavior that is fired into our lower cortex is difficult.


     Further complicating the eradication of bullying, dominate behavior is exciting. Like the boys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, following Ralph and Piggy by creating shelters and finding appropriate food seems considerably less romantic than hunting the beast with painted faces with the tyrannical bully, Jack.  Peer pressure and the excitement of aggressive behavior makes bullying and the bully capture the imagination of most people.  The poor victims like Piggy seem expendable to those caught up in tirade making eliminating the behavior difficult. Wanting to be accepted by a group forces many children into bullying behavior that they might avoid on their own.  Making civilized behavior seem more entertaining  than aggressive behavior is not easy.

    Bullying behavior is promoted by some families, some communities and by our society as a whole.  I well remember my aunt telling me if I didn't knock my cousin's block off, she would do it for me and knock mine off for not defending myself.  Using violence as a method of solving problems was taught in my childhood family and many communities.  Survival skills are necessary where authorities fail to protect citizens, so children are taught to use violence to solve interpersonal problems.  This often means the less dominate children will fall prey to the more violent children.  Teasing, belittling and establishing unfair competition between siblings or students models bullying behavior and increases its likelihood of being passed on from generation to generation. 

     Competition is another problem.   As a society, we insist that being the best at any price is important; thus we promote cheating for academic dominance and aggression on the sports field. Cheerleaders chant fight songs to promote more aggression and students are told that being number two is still losing.  Politicians blare insults and worse at opponents.  As a result, our society is sending our children a mixed message: we put signs on our classroom walls indicating that it is a bully free zone, while we promote those who behave the most aggressively.

     Since our society stresses competition over cooperation, bullying behavior is always going to exist.  Offering instruction on cooperative behavior and modeling it, can greatly decrease bullying. Not tolerating bullying behavior can also help.  The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is a great example of what we need to strive to create.  Instead of competition, we, like King Arthur should be teaching and rewarding chivalry. Teaching good sportsmanship should be a priority in the classroom and the field of play.   Furthermore, practicing using  higher cognitive functions to solve problems without dominant behavior helps students recognize that they can choose how or if they react to a stimulus. Developing the emotional intelligence can help students make better decisions whether they are bullying others or the victim of bullying.  According to Daniel Coleman's book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, emotional intelligence can help a child be more successful than academic skills.  Perhaps someday, students will act with as much control as King Arthur who after finding his protege, Sir Lancelot lying with his wife Guinevere, he did not react with violence.  He was betrayed by his wife and his best friend, but chose to leave his sword and ride away.  Self control takes personal strength and is the key to prevent bullying.  To reduce bullying, teachers and parents need to teach students to cooperate with each other, to treat each other with respect and to use their intellect to react to stressful situations without resorting to dominate behavior.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Respect Is Expected Especially From Teachers

Respect Is Expected Especially From Teachers

by Jill Jenkins

     Recently I observed a mother bellowing demands and insults at her weeping teenage daughter.  The girl was inundated by a torrent of demands, insults and belittling comments about her father. Like all who experienced this tirade I felt extremely uncomfortable and had a difficult time making eye contact with the teen crumpled against the wall stifling sobs.  When one person injures another, everyone is injured.  Pain is contagious. Sadly as an educator, I have watched teachers berate students in a similar fashion.  Schools teach more than reading, writing and deciphering.  More important skills like respect should be taught.  First, respect needs to be modeled by every adult in the school.  Second, respecting the cultures, customs and religious beliefs is essential.  Third, teachers need to be sensitive to the students' socioeconomic struggles.

     When a teacher berates a student before a class of students, not only is that student humiliated, but the entire class feels that humiliation.  When I started teaching, the teacher in the next classroom screamed and berated his students daily.  Not only did his student transfer out in droves, but my students reacted in silent terror during each of his tirades.  Because we both taught the same class, my class grew and his shrank until I had over 60 students and he had less than 20.  When the counselors balanced the class size, those sent to his room were angry.  Ten years later I met one of those students at jury duty, she was still angry that "I had given her away to that man."  Scars from verbal abuse last forever.

    Treating students with dignity models behavior and helps students develop skills to get along with the diverse, an important life skill.  If we want out students to have people skills to be successful, we need to demonstrate respectful ways to treat others. Modes of communication can greatly affect students. I find that calling students "Miss Jones" or "Mr. Chavez" increases the likelihood that they will call me "Mrs. Jenkins."  When a teacher faces an angry student or parent use the calm collected voice the airlines employees use.  "I am sorry you are upset, but your assignment is due today. "  If the students continue to argue with you, keep your composure and repeat the line like a broken record.  Do not raise your voice or berate any human being,  Sometimes students need to vent.  First remove them from the prying eyes of their peers (a hallway or an office),  begin calmly, "You don't seem to be yourself today.  Is something wrong?"  I don't know how many times I've had a student burst into tears and share some devastating  home tragedy.  Sometimes students just need a sympathetic ear.  Don't be afraid to adjust a due date to help a child who is having a personal tragedy. That is money in the emotional bank, an investment in the emotional intelligent of a young adult.  Acknowledge the child's situation and negotiate a reasonable alternative that doesn't excuse him from the responsibility, but enables him to complete the work successfully. As for the classroom attorney who interrupts every lesson to support a peer.  You could either brush him off with some glib comment like, "I meet with attorneys at 5 P.M. on Wednesday," or  for a more successful result take that student into the hall and ask him for a favor.  If he could help you by using his leadership skills to make his peers more responsible all of the students will benefit and his help would be greatly appreciated.  You will bolster his self esteem and he will use those skills to help others, a win-win situation. 

     Disrespecting a students' culture, customs, or religious beliefs is the fastest way to alienate a student. To alleviate any inadvertent errors, teachers' training should include information about cultures, customs and beliefs of potential students. Teachers also need to be aware of their own prejudices and develop skills to prevent those prejudices from affecting their communications with students.  Since most inner city schools have diverse populations, this training needs to cover a diverse assortment of cultures, customs and religious beliefs.  The students' generations also creates a variety of differences in tastes in music, literature, and films from those enjoyed by the teacher.  Belittling those values also negatively impacts the child.  Respecting and embracing those differences can help students bond with their teacher.  Encourage students to share their views on books, music, and film.  Open yourself to the view their tastes and oppinions without ever berating their choices. My father as a boy loved comic books and used his earnings from mowing lawns to purchase and enjoy a plethora of them.  His step-father didn't share his enthusiasm and called him "a stupid and lazy boy for wasting his time and money" before tossing all of his prized comic books.  His step-father didn't change my father's opinion of comic book, but created a rift between them and my father loathed him.  Belittling what others value degrades everyone and closes the doors to communication.  

     Finally many students from lower socioeconomic groups may not have the resources of students in upper middle class homes.  Never create projects that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots".  Be sensitive to the students who attend school all day and work full time jobs to help support their families.  For example, one year I taught a student who lived in a homeless shelter with his father.  He owned one pair of jeans, one t-shirt, his gym clothes and a pair of athletic shoes.  Every day the gym teacher allowed him to come early, shower and brush his teeth while he washed and dried his clothing,  Other students knew nothing of this students situation because the teacher helped him solve his life problem without losing face.  That is respect.  
     The mother who disrespected her daughter may have been frustrated or angry.  Perhaps she was just having a bad day.  As a teacher interact with student in a more positive way.  Don't allow frustration or anger to waste valuable teaching time.  Passions often run strong when interacting with adolescents.  Be certain to use that passion to teach positive ways to communicate respectfully.  Respect is expected especially from the teacher.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

An Once of Prevention: Preventing Discipline Problems Before They Occur

An Ounce of Prevention

by Jill Jenkins

As teachers prepare their classrooms for the upcoming school year: cleaning and arranging desks, putting up bulletin boards and writing creative lesson plans, they need to plan to prevent discipline problems.  In Benjamin Franklins' words, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  A few simple steps can prevent hours of meetings with angry parents and students and save the administration a multitude of migraines.   

#1 Proximity is Power

Although many classrooms are packed with forty plus students, there are still classroom arrangements that will allow the teacher an opportunity to interact personally with each student.  Being physically close to students can quell many potential discipline problems.  A would be class clown can often be brought to submission by the teacher standing next to his desk or placing a hand on his shoulder.  Interacting one-to-one with students bonds them.  Students who feel bonded to a teacher are less likely to be disruptive because the relationship with their teacher is important to them.  It is disarming to a student to talk to a teacher on his own level.  Kneeling next to a student's desk so that the teacher's face and the student's face are close and speaking in a soft voice allows students to receive instruction without losing face. Students are often embarrassed by their learning shortcomings. Some classrooms are small and filled with too many students.  Faced by this dilemma, I moved all of the desks to the side of the room into groups of three.  The school banned backpacks in the classroom, providing me with even more room.   I was able to make personal contact with each student every day.  Teachers must be on their feet moving between desks to help each student stay on task and redirect any inappropriate behavior.

#2 Consistent Procedures

Before students arrive decide upon classroom procedures and stick to them.  Students thrive when they don't have to worry about what is going to happen every day.  Students with even slight disabilities become confused when the daily pattern changes, so be consistent.  Post classroom rules and consequences on the board and consistently follow through.  Provide a daily agenda on the whiteboard so students who easily become distracted can be more easily pulled back.  The strongest tool a teacher has is consistent procedures.  These should include what you do in the classroom, how the teacher expects the students to behave and how the  teacher responds when they don't meet expectations.  Some procedures should be fun and silly.  For example, each day I used "Daily Oral Language" where students were given two sentences and ask to correct any and all grammar and punctuation errors.  Playing on the students' love of Star Wars, when I gave a student the transparency pen and asked them to come to the overhead to make a correction and explain their amendment, I would say, "May the Force be with you."  The student who had "the power of the pen" bequeathed his power on any student he chose when he presented the pen to another student and said,"May the Force be with you."  To help the students who lacked some of the skills of his/her classmates, students could call upon the "Circle of Help."  Then students raised their hands.  The student selected a student who offered advice.  Students referred to this as a "Call Out" from a popular television show Cash Cab.  Using popular culture can help students relate to classroom activities, so like the world of advertisement, the teacher is hooking the students in.  Another teacher had students clap their hands twice together and once on their desks when they changed from one activity to another.  Transitions are often difficult for students.  Using a timer to keep students in line helps.  I used to give students ten minutes of silent sustained reading.  When they entered my room they got their books out and began without me saying a word.  When they heard the cooking timing ring, they put their books away and got out their Daily Oral Language paper.  Since this happened everyday, I could help individuals, take roll and pass papers back without the interrupting learning activities.

#3 Give Clear, Concise Directions

Many students get confused when a teacher gives directions and turn to their neighbor for clarification.  This chicken clucking can be confused with disrespectful behavior, but it really isn't.  Present directions in a clear, concise manner and call on several students (usually the most distracted) to repeat them.  Do not precede until each of the students understands the directions.  If they continue to cluck, the teacher should raise her hand and say calmly, "If you are listening, raise your hand."  Soon all students will be quiet and the teacher will be able to clarify.  Model the behavior.  If the teacher wants students to line up at the door and walk out into the hall,  she should do it.  If the teacher wants them to get their pencils out and put their books away,  she should do it.  If the teacher wants them to tighten a bolt,  she should do it.  Modeling helps to make it real for the visual learner.  Whatever the teacher does,  he/she should not run out of the room crying as one of my former student teacher did.  Repeat the directions in language they can understand, model it and have the students repeat it back. 

#4 Less is More

 Often frustrated teachers lose half of their teaching time disciplining disruptive students by haranguing the delighted students.  When a teacher has to discipline, less is more.  Too much makes the teacher appear weak and the students feel they are able to push his/her buttons for their own entertainment.  Work on the "teacher glare" and " disappointed face" but use these sparingly to reel in any disruptive students.  Using them too much is ineffective.  Work on vocal quality.  Lowering the voice and giving short commands also works on dogs and children.  A commanding voice needs to used at the appropriate time or it loses its power.  Often teachers feel they must present two faces to students: sweet teacher or strict teachers.  When the students are behaving, the sweet teacher appears; when they are not the strict teacher appears.  However, if the teacher is consistent with his/her rules and present him/herself as a confident leader, this psychos may be unnecessary.  Body language, eye contact and vocal intonation are essential to present a self-confident leader.  Reacting in a small way when a student becomes distracted can prevent larger more difficult discipline issues. Try moving close to the student first. Next, the teacher should hand on the student's desk or shoulder. Third, kneel next to his desk for a quiet but short redirection.  Fourth, taking a child into a hall way and having a heart to heart talk in often more effective to lure them into more appropriate behavior.  Fifth, move the child's desk next to the teacher.  Invite him in a positive way, "I think you need a little positive Mrs. Jenkins' time." There is a good chance he just wants attention.  Finally, sometimes it is necessary to have the child telephone his/her parent and discuss his/her behavior with his parents with the teacher present.  Word will be out to the other students once the teacher uses this method and few will wish to repeat it.  Whatever methods used, decide before the school year begin.  Have a discipline plan in line and share it with the administrators, so they know what methods have been used before the child was sent for administrative assistance.

While planning the next academic adventure, think about discipline.  Design a floor plan that facilitates proximity, because proximity is powers.  Create a consistent learning and behavior procedure before students enter the classroom and stick to it religiously.  Give clear and concise directions, model them and ask students to repeat them to ensure their understanding.  Finally, develop a discipline plan that reacts to the smallest redirection with the least punitive methodology.  Remember less is more.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Pitfalls of Free-Range Teaching

Today, Free-Range Parenting has become popular among young parents.  Instead of establishing boundaries for children, parents allow children to explore life and learn from their mistakes.  When I began my career as a teacher forty years ago, a similar approach to teaching was popular.  Workshops encouraged teachers to allow students to discuss rules and consequences and create classroom rules that all of the students could agree on with appropriate consequences.  The teacher behaved only as the facilitator and the students democratically created their own learning environment.  It sounds good, but it doesn't work. First, it wastes valuable teaching time, second, it jeopardizes the physical and emotional safety of other students and third, it does not prepare students to live in the real world.

The first problem with Free-Range Teaching is there are a plethora of learning skills the teacher is responsible to teach and a limited amount of time to accomplish it.  Having students reach a consensus on anything takes a lot of time.  Time that could better be spent learning skills that would serve the student  It is more time effective for the teacher to develop boundaries for the students to learn in a safe, inviting climate than to spend a week of learning time discussing if students should be in their seats or near their seats when the bell rings.  Furthermore, teachers have classrooms filled with thirty to forty students.  Imagine the chaos if each of those students were discovering their own behavioral limits, Nothing would be accomplished.  Classroom rules need thought. A teacher should create a few general rules that safeguard learning and student safety with reasonable consequences.  Too many rules and too specific rules both confuses students and provides ideas for the creative young mind to challenge.  There is no way to develop a rule for every possible scenario, so general rules are more effective.

The second problem with Free-Range Teaching is students who are exploring their environment are either making it impossible for others to learn or making others feel uncomfortable and unsafe.  One year an associate teaching The Diary of Anne Frank proposed a learning activity where half of the class would be superior to the other half of the class.  The superior half could ridicule, misuse and abuse the other half without consequences. She was hoping the students would understand the Jewish experience in Europe under Nazi rule.  Fearing that worse, I went to the principal and begged him to intervene, because adolescents enjoy bullying and I was certain that this project would end with a student either physically or mentally injured.  Fortunately, he agreed and stopped the project before it began.  The problems with eliminating boundaries is children are self-centered and do not recognize how their behavior affects others.  It is the responsibility of the adult to protect other children.  Eventually, these students will move up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and become developmentally  capable of empathizing with others. Children and adolescents are often amused by the pain they can inflict on weaker students. It empowers them.  Unfortunately students who are bullied, don't feel safe or comfortable in school.  When a child does not feel safe, it is difficult for him/her to concentrate or learn.    The negative feeling can ultimately cause them to avoid school altogether.  When I was teaching in California, a young lady was ridiculed and assaulted by a group of boys while walking home from school.  The girl did not return to school for a week.  When I learned what had happened I discussed the events with the  principal who felt that since it did not happen on school property, it was not his jurisdiction.  Since the young men were allowed to attend school without consequences, the girl was denied her educational rights.  As educators, we need to insist that rules are followed to protect the rights of all students.

The third problem with free-range teaching is it does not prepare students to live in the real world. People live in a world where there are rules.  Learning to accept and follow the rules of society is also an important learning skill.  Few of us make the rules of our society or live in a world where we can explore the consequences of our choices unhampered by rules.  Rules should be designed to help students be successful and safe.  There are those who say that learning from mistakes and making decisions about the classroom rules teaches students to govern themselves. Although that sounds effective and their may be some value to it, it is not going to help the child when he loses his first job because he believes punctuality is unnecessary or honoring the company's dress code is obsolete. None of us live in a vacuum. The choices we make affect others, so trusting that everyone follows the rules is imperative. If the child never learns to follow rules established by an outside authority, he/she is going to have a difficult time with authority figures. 

Finally, what gives the teacher the right to create the rules?  That is an essential part of the responsibility of being a teacher.  That is the primary role of the parent; that is the primary role of the teacher.  Being in charge, is never easy, but if the teacher behaves as if he/she is unsure of the classroom expectations, the students will lose respect for the teacher and the class will run amuck. When my daughter was in sixth grade, I received a phone call from the principal of her school.  "Jill," Mrs. Puhr said, "I have to share this with you.  There was a paint fight in the art room when a substitute was present and I called each student in one at a time to learn who was involved.  When I asked your daughter, Jeanette, who was responsible, she said, 'The teacher. She told all of us to do whatever we wanted when we finished our assignment, and when you are in the sixth grade, a paint fight might be just what you wanted to do'" After Mrs. Puhr and I finished laughing she said, "You know she is right."  Young children often are not capable of making good decisions. They need leaders. The role of the teacher or the parent is the leader, so be a good leader.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Three Methods to Motivate the Unmotivated

Three Methods to Motivate the Unmotivated

By Jill Jenkins

          Most people who enter the ranks of educators have been academic bound their entire life.  Like me, many love to read. Visiting a library or a book store was more enticing than an ice cream parlor. I slept with a flashlight so I could extend reading deep into the night and I secretly wrote poetry and the family newspaper on my father’s old Remington typewriter.  I also remember the first student who shrugged his shoulders and said, “So” when I informed him he could fail my class if he didn’t complete his project.  It was unfathomable to me that a student could be so apathetic, but unmotivated students are more common than novice teachers realize. Here are three methods that I used over my forty year career with some success to motivate the unmotivated.

#1 Focus on the Rewards

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

            Many students have never experienced success as a result they have no reason to believe that success is possible.  Instead of working toward being successful, they often entertain themselves with driving the teacher crazy by harassing other students.  When I was teaching in an alternative education school in California, I had many students like this.  From a workshop, I learned a method of discussing outcomes and rewarding students with frequent positive post cards when they had a small victory.  Instead of focusing on the grade, have them discuss what would their parents  will feel if they brought home a successful report card or how would they feel if they could make their parents proud.  Positive feeling is a strong motivator.  First, students must believe they are capable of succeeding.  Many students never realized that this was possible, but if the teacher takes baby steps, the teacher can sell "the idea of success" to them.  Like Peter Pan, a teacher has to help students believe that success is possible and then give them the skills to succeed.  The younger they experience success, the more likely it will continue.

#2 Confer With Each Child Individually

“Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have”. Margaret Mead
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            Students perform for other people that they care about.  They care about people who care about them.  As a result, if a teacher takes time to discover what difficulties a child might be facing and what needs the child has, that child is much more likely to perform.  For example, a young man, Randy, was sent by his parents to a parochial school to improve his academic performance, but Randy didn’t want to be separated from his friends, so he created havoc at the school hoping to be returned to his friends at his former school.  If his teacher had taken the time to talk to him and help him make the transition into a new peer group, the school and Randy could have had a successful experience.  Even if the teacher stands in the hall between class changes and interacts with students, a great deal of information can be gained.  Simply speaking to each student cordially when passing in the hall can increase the likelihood that they will be more successful in the classroom.  Students need to learn to set small goals and large goals to be successful in school and life.  Having frequent individual conferences with student enables the teacher to direct the student in creating and adjusting goals while reassuring the student that an adult cares about his/her success.  Remember some students have parents who do not have the time or the knowledge to have these types of interactions with their child. 

#3 Establish Classroom Procedures

“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures.” Tom Peters
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            Students with learning disabilities or are on the autistic spectrum are more successful when they know what to expect each day in a classroom.  As a result it is a good idea to establish a set of procedures.  When students are confronted with changing classroom procedures, they often become apprehensive and even aggressive. If they know that each day, they will need a book, a notebook and a pen or pencil, they are more likely to bring them.  If they know that each class begins with certain activity: silent reading, an interactive debate, or a problem to solve, they waste less time getting down to the business of education.   These procedures can be set to music, timed and my even involve movement.  I know of one teacher who had “line leaders” pass out materials while dancing to rock music.   I know another teacher who passed out treasure maps to students as they entered the room.  Her students had to find the answers to a quiz by searching the room for clues.  I know another who gave a daily quiz on the work from the previous day.  Repetition of the same pattern is the key to success. 

Final Thoughts

            There are many methods that can be used to reconnect students to their education.  Don’t give up on them.  The best method is to discuss with other teacher a tactic that they might be using that might work on that particular students.  Each child is an individual, so there is no one method that works on all of them.  For example I had one student who wanted to drop out of high school and get a job.  I brought the classified ads to class and sat while he looked at prices of apartments, cars and I made him aware of the price of food, utilities, gas and insurance.  When he added it all together, he decided to complete his education and try to find a job that paid more than minimum wage.  Years later, I encountered the young man who was married with children living in a nice home in the suburbs.  He thanked me because that small exercise had helped him understand the importance of completing a trade school education and learning a trade that he enjoyed.  Motivating the unmotivated: it can happen.








Thursday, June 23, 2016

Measure Twice and Cut Once

Pride: Measure Twice and Cut Once

 By Jill Jenkins

When my father was a child, he and his brother lived with their mother in his grandfather’s home.  To teach his two grandsons the value of work, his grandfather offered each boy a nickel if they mowed the lawns and clipped the bushes weekly.  During the depression, each boy could see a movie at the Tower Theater, and enjoy a bag of popcorn and a coke with their nickel. With their ticket stub in hand, they could cross the street and purchase a hotdog and a drink for lunch, all valuable commodities.  The lesson was also to teach the boys that a job done was well was worth the time spent.  When the boys completed their tasks, they would ask their grandfather to inspect their work.  He would point out the strips of lawn left uncut. (My husband calls these lawn-hawks, Mohawk haircuts for lawns.) The boys were instructed to cut the lawn again from another direction before retrieving their grandfather.  He would find the bushes that were uncut and they would return to work.  After a time, the two boys learned to take pride in their work and pay attention to the details before calling their grandfather. Each weekend, they cut the lawn twice in different directions to ensure that no “lawn-hawks” existed.   In today’s world, parents and teachers are often in such a hurry that they forget to take the time and require that a child complete a task correctly.  Teachers might recognize the value of having students’ revise their essays, but shirk at the idea of correcting each essay at least twice.  Who could blame them with over forty students in each of class? How do we promote a sense of pride in ones work to students who are also handicapped with demands from all sides?

Shop teachers promote the idea that students measure twice and cut once to avoid costly mistakes.  This is an idea that other teachers and parents need to promote.  Spending time writing and rewriting compositions and checking mathematical problems for simple mistakes will improve a student performance.  Perhaps like my great grandfather, teachers and parents will have to withhold reward until a child has not only completed a task, but completed a task correctly.  Students reach whatever expectations adults hold them to.  If teachers and parents hold students accountable to a high level of performance, they will achieve it.  Yes, it will be difficult, but it can be done.

During my teaching career, the teachers in my department demanded that students achieved a minimum level on all writing assignments to receive any credit.  Any student could rewrite a paper for a higher score, but those students who performed lower than an established writing goal were required to revise it until they reached the minimum score.  There was a significant improvement in the students writing.  Yes, teachers had to work harder.  Yes, some parents complained to the principal, but overall the policy improved struggling students’ scores. 

What about on end of the year tests where students cannot retake the test? Once students understand that substandard work isn’t appropriate, they begin to spend more time on their first draft.  Since most of these tests are untimed, encourage students to take their time, proof-read their essays and revise not only for technical errors but for content before submitting.  After one such test, one of my former students commented that even after he did this he wished the state recognized that writing is a process and if he had had an opportunity to revisit his essay two of three days later, he could have improved it because he would have seen it with new eyes.  There is some wisdom to that, but the test is what it is. 

As a teacher, I hope they skills they develop in my class have a longer effect than an end of the year test.  I hope they recognize that doing a job well may mean they take the time to do it right whether it is writing an essay, repairing an engine, or mowing the grass. 


Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Final Hours

The Final Hours

The end of the school year is filled with students driving motorcycles down hallways, a barrage of water balloons, book inventories and parents demanding that school remain meaningful until the last day. How does a teacher face this insanity without resorting to inappropriate means?   Unbelievable demands are placed on educators during the last days of school.  To survive everyone in the school needs to work together.  Put down the bottle and relax.  There are solutions to the end of the year blues.
To facilitate the nonsense, teachers need to work before school and after school to complete inventories and storage of books and equipment. Dealing with both the behavior needs of disruptive, agitated students and the requirements at the end of the year will drive any teacher crazy.  If teachers try to do both simultaneously, they will not do either well.  Furthermore, every teacher is going to need help.    Teachers need to be able to work together to find time-out places for students too full of anticipation to control themselves in classrooms.  This is much more effective than putting Duct Tape on their mouths which will get a teacher into trouble.  Teachers need to develop interactive lessons that require students to move to enable them to concentrate during the final days of school.  A good child is a tired child, or is that dog?   Administrators need to design a plethora of activities to redirect students’ inappropriate behavior to more constructive modes.  What about a faculty assembly, a field trip or a field day on the lawn? Help the children burn off that energy in positive ways.   In all, the school needs to work as a team to survive the last days of a school year.

            Parents often wait until grades for the year are already finalized to confront teachers about an assignment their son/daughter missed ages ago.  To avoid this, teachers need to be vigilant during that final quarter to not only grade and record assignments in a timely manner, but to call or email parents often throughout that quarter about any lapses in their child’s academic work.  There is nothing worse than being attacked by a parent the last hour of the last day about an assignment or project due three weeks before that the child failed to complete.  Yes, the teacher may have done everything he/she is required to do, but it won’t make anyone less frustrated when that mother is screaming at the teacher.  Please do not resort to the thoughts that are flying through a teacher's frustrated mind:   “I put the grade on-line, maybe if you didn’t take your son/daughter on a Caribbean Cruise during the last month of school, you would have had time to check them.” Or even worse, “The only hope for your child is retroactive birth control.”   This is like opening Pandora’s box.  No one wants to face that kind of heat. 

            To curtail the hallway shenanigans, teachers need to stand in the hallways before school, during class change and after schools.  Students are far less likely to throw those water balloons or ride their motorbike down the hall if they are being monitored.  I know everyone is buried in make-up assignments to correct, inventories and polishing those desks, but believe me keeping the students from ripping down the building is more important.  First, the make-up work isn’t quality work.  A student working under duress pressured by an angry parent who forced him/her to complete a month’s worth of work from seven classes in two late nights, does not create quality work.  Don’t spend more time correcting this swill than the student spent creating it.  Second, completing the inventory is easier when there are not students or parents complaining.  by saving the inventory for an early morning or an after school activity, it will be more accurate and teachers will be less stressed.  Third, let the little darlings wash their own desks.  They made the mess; they should clean it up.  Fourth, administrators need to be vigilant about offering early vacations to students who are unable to maintain a certain level of decorum.  Otherwise, it will be pandemonium as students compete for the most mischievous behavior.  I have seen it all: a student who lit the school on fire, another lit a teacher on fire and one stacked picnic tables to create his own Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Finally, the district administrators need to be more conscious of the problems faced at schools in the final days.  This is not a good time to resurface the parking lot of the middle school making one hundred faculty and staff members park their cars on the street while parents, school buses and confused children wander across wet asphalt.  Recess is not a good time to deliver a semi-truck full of playground woodchips and uninstalling and installing windows over the heads of high school students taking final examinations could be ruinous to their concentration. The teachers, the school and even the district have to work as a team to complete the last few days successfully.

            Most importantly remember in a week or two teachers can lie in their hammock in the shade of their walnut tree sipping an ice tea or a cocktail.  They will have time to walk their dogs or go to a ball game.  Relax. There might still be a student in the boys lavatory without his clothing or a couple locked in an amorous embrace in the dumpster behind the school, but when the teachers lock their doors, turn in their keys and drive away for the summer, they are free.   The students will forget the stress the second that final bell rings and “they are free at last.”  Teachers will also find their freedom.  If it is too late, there is always next year.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stay Out of The Faculty Room: A Cesspool of Virulent Negativity

Stay Out of The Faculty Room: A Cesspool of Virulent Negativity

By Jill Jenkins

            Poisonous people are lurking in the staff room spreading negativity, seeking the alliance of others and turning the staff room into a virulent cesspool of negativity. Such people can destroy the morale at a school, render TLC’s inoperative and destroy the self-esteem of developing young minds.  How do they operate? Their negativity spreads like a virus through the school beginning with a simple whine that a particular student is incorrigible and an attempt to cajole others into justifying their prognosis by agreeing.  Armed with allies, the virulent teachers stop searching for new perspectives and techniques for helping the struggling child.  Worse yet, the teacher never considers that he/she owns the problem.  To help the child, the teacher must change what he or she is doing.  The problem has no hope of being resolved.

            Once this virus is released in a faculty room, it continues to multiply.  Other members of the faculty begin to avoid responsible collaborative attempts to share positive solutions to troubling classroom behavior by whining to each other.  The shared alliance of whining is destructive to students with learning handicaps, emotional issues and irascible dispositions. Not only will the challenges associated with their unique learning styles be ignored, the teacher now armed with allies may feel empowered to mistreat them or ask for the student’s removal from their classroom.  Students are very perceptive to teachers’ emotions.  If a teacher does not sincerely desire a student to do well and care that that student succeeds, the student will know and act accordingly.  If a teacher feels hostile to a student, he or she will know and reflect that hostility back to the teacher.  Self-fulfilling prophecy is not a joke.  A teacher with a bad attitude can negatively impact students’ self-esteem and have a long lasting effect on students’ abilities to succeed.

            The toxic teacher with a hostile attitude can negatively affect the attitudes of other teachers.  These emboldened teachers may use this new-found power to usurp authority over school policies, procedures and/or curriculum.  Naturally, not all teachers are going to agree with every policy or procedure in a school or with every curriculum decision made by a district or state, but most teachers comply and do whatever it takes to make successful implementation; however, the toxic teacher not only becomes mavericks who refuse to implement policy or curriculum changes, but encourage others to join their mutiny.  Some conveniently miss meeting so they can fane ignorance.  Others arrogantly refuse to implement chances and announce their insubordination vociferously. Regardless of the tactic, the results are the same: they are the weakest link.  As an administrator this behavior needs to be addressed directly if it is going to be curtailed and quickly before it spreads.  If it is not curtailed, their employment must be terminated before it become viral.

            Poisonous people are everywhere: your family, your community and your work.  Avoiding these people can help a teacher maintain a positive outlook.  Avoid the staff room and take a walk during lunch.  Select your friends from colleagues with positive attitudes.  If you are an administrator provide in-service classes on the importance of teamwork and positive attitudes.  One book that you might want your faculty to read is Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute which discusses making decisions when you are not in the box.  Discussions or even in-service classes offered by this organization might improve teachers' attitudes and productivity. If you have a poison person in your staff, document his/her behavior, and address the matter directly with the individual and quickly before their attitude spreads. .  Nevertheless, if they don’t acquiesce, termination could prevent a mutiny.