Sunday, March 29, 2009

Teacher v. Bus Driver

During my college years in 1968 I made a five-year commitment to the Marine Corps. Once I completed my undergraduate work in elementary education in 1970, I accepted an officer’s commission and waited to begin serving on active duty. So, it was the time between finishing college and waiting for my active duty to begin that I got my first opportunity to teach.

I was living with my parents, looking for work when I was called by the local bus company to drive a school bus (I drove buses during college to earn spending money). As a part-time driver, I was assigned a morning and afternoon route, picking up and discharging kids. I enjoyed the interaction with kids, especially listening to their jabbering behind me while I drove.

A month passed and I received my report date for the Marines, which gave me another two months to keep working. Out of the blue, the local school district called and asked if I would be interested in substitute teaching at the local junior high school. Excited to keep my teaching going, I said, “Absolutely.” I donned my tie and jacket and early the next morning I reported to the principal’s office.

I was assigned to an eighth grade homeroom where I would teach social studies. A little nervous and anxious, I couldn’t wait to have my charges in front of me asking questions and looking to me for all of the answers. Standing behind my desk, the first student walked into the room, looked at me in a perplexed way, raised his eyebrows and did an about face and quickly departed. I could hear his voice loud and clear shouting down the hall, “Hey, you’ll never believe it, we got the bus driver for a substitute!”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three Cups of Tea X 2

After selling 1.2 million copies of his NYTimes Bestseller, author Greg Mortenson adapted Three Cups of Tea (see my July 16, 2008 post) to children and young readers.  Listen to the Wind is a beautiful picture book punctuated with Susan Roth's collage pictures.  Three Cups of Tea - The Young Reader's Edition brings the bestselling book to young adult readers.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Children Saying Hello

One of the characteristics of my school that endeared me from the beginning was the fact that children and students refer to the adults in our school community by their first names. The first time I heard, “Hi Dane” from a three-year old, I immediately felt that this is exactly the way a school should be and how children and teachers should interact — casual, friendly, and respectful. It has been my experience over the years that schools believe you cannot have casual and friendly relationships and yet maintain respect between children and adults. Now, in my seventh year at BHMS, I am convinced that it does work, from two-year olds through middle school students.

Something extremely important to parents is having their child say hello when a familiar adult approaches or is passed on the street. I know I beamed with pride when my own sons performed in such a way when they were young . . . actually, that’s how I feel even today. I’ve noticed how parents are concerned that their children say hello as I greet them in the morning at the front door. Here are some observations:

• Children will begin the greeting ritual when they are ready, and just because they don’t do it today does not mean that they won’t do it tomorrow.
• Sometimes it starts with simple eye contact, a hand wave, or not having Mom or Dad walk inadvertently between the child and the greeter.
• Children get shy whenever they are in an unfamiliar situation or with someone they do not know, especially if that someone is drawing attention to them and encouraging them to interact.
• The best way for your child to learn how to respond when someone says hello is through good adult role modeling.

I love to watch kids over a period of months when they don’t say hello or look me in the eye as they pass by, then all of a sudden, without prompting, they begin by saying, “Hi.” Then a few days later, it evolves into a, “Hi” and a cute, impish smile. Then time passes and they say “Hi, Dane” and offer the look in the eye with a beautiful ear-to-ear grin. You immediately sense the pride of the parent . . . all in good time.

Keep in mind that there are times when younger children actually hide behind a parent leg or even cover their faces as they walk past. Much like the middle school student, some children go through periods of growth when they become extremely self-conscious of themselves, especially around adults.

The other day as a parent and strollered child approached me, the child was looking into her lap, and Mom said to her child, Lisa, “Say Hi, Lisa.” And the child responded immediately with, “Hi Lisa.” As I chuckled, I winked at Lisa’s Mom and she rolled her eyes, disappointed but thinking, hey, she’s pretty clever.

So the next time you are looking to your child to perform a friendly hello to another person, you may not get it from her/him right away, but so long as you model the behavior with your peers and friends, I am convinced that your child will follow through in good time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Middle School Manual

You know them.

We all do.

They are the ones we hear in a much too near booth at the fast food restaurant, talking, laughing, eating so loudly they complicate our digestion.  They are the ones who cause us to hurry to new seats in a movie theater just as the theater goes dark.  They are the ones we brake for as they skateboard past us down a steep hill and through a busy traffic intersection.  They are the ones playing comfortably with toy cars at one moment and dreaming of real ones at the next.  They are the ones most shocking to us as they try out the extremes of fashion.  They are middle schoolers.  

So opens The Middle School Handbook Second Edition by Harry Finks and Mark Stanek - a revision of the original 1990 handbook that guided me in my work as a middle school educator.  It often provided me the much-needed global credibility as I guided, supported, and encouraged middle school students and their parents.  

Here are some of the topics discussed in the book:
  • What Grades Belong in Middle School?
  • Gender Issues
  • Competition
  • Middle School Educators' Principles of Good Practice
  • Middle School Parent
  • The Digital Age
  • Transitions To and From Middle School

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Middle School Notes

An educator friend wrote me this week and asked

"If you had parents in your office with a pre-teen son (4th grade) who was showing signs developing more rapidly than his peers into the teen years (hormones, growth spurt, disengaging from the learning process, overall apathy, etc.) and they asked if you could recommend a book/article that might help them understand what their son was going through, what would your response be?"

Here was my immediate response:

I read excerpts from a NYTimes Magazine article HOW TO; Be Popular by Deirdre Dolan to my middle school students every other year. It is insightful and paints the middle years well with a bottom line of "kids really do know what is good."

Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence by Laura Sessions Stepp Even if you don't read the entire book, go to your local bookstore, take it off the shelf, and read the introduction; it is excellent.

Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager, Revised and Updated by Anthony E. Wolf. This is a classic. I remember having the author speak to my middle school parents and hitting a home run with them.

The Middle School Handbook from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is one of the best books about the middle school child. In it's second edition, authors Harry Finks and Mark Stanek detail all there is to know — well, almost all — about understanding these most tumultuous years in a human's life. For more information on this book, see my next post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How We Are Smart

Following in the path of Dr. Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences, "How We Are Smart" looks at prominent, diverse people to help children appreciate the idea that there are eight ways to be smart:

Body Smart
Logic Smart
Music Smart
Nature Smart
People Smart
Picture Smart
Self Smart
Word Smart

Developed by Dr. Gardner and popularized by psychologist and educator, Dr.  Thomas Armstrong, multiple intelligences advance the notion that everyone is smart in his or her own way.  The book is perfect for introducing children to intelligences other than the traditional verbal and quantitative measurements.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

MTA versus CTA

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) oversees the subway system in New York City where I use the underground trains often and religiously refill my MetroCard, swipe it at the turnstile, and go on my merry way.

On a trip to Chicago, I decided to forego the convenient taxi ride from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago and navigate the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) subway system. I wanted to see what the Windy City's rails were like.

When I descended into the station, I asked a nearby CTA worker where I would find the "L Train." She rolled her eyes and said, "They're all 'L' Trains." I subsequently learned that "L" stands for "Elevated Train." Humph, the MTA subway has 16 lettered lines from A to Z, including an "L" train.

Upon approaching the fare dispenser, I read it carefully, trying to take in the instructions. After ascertaining that the cost was 25¢ over the $2.00 NYC fare, I inserted a $20 bill, pressed the requisite buttons, and pinched out my brand new CTA card. With the line behind me growing, I became anxious when my change did not spill forth. Seeing that same CTA worker, I asked why no change. In the boldest - and obnoxious, I might add - way possible, she pointed her gloved finger at the middle of the machine right where it said, "This Machine Does Not Give Change." Grrr. My subway experiment cost me twenty bucks.

This story has a happy ending, though. The man standing behind me in line handed me a twenty, plucked my CTA card from my fingers and said, "Get change and start over again. I can use your card." All smiles, I said, "Thank you, thank you" and asked my CTA worker-friend to point me in the right direction of a change machine.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What Teachers Make?

At the NAIS Annual Conference, President Pat Bassett introduced the 3,000 assembled to "What Teachers Make" by reading Taylor Mali's poem. You might want to click to Mali's website to learn more about this poet.

What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali
He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.
"I mean, you're a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"
And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).
Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Click here to hear Mali recite "What Teachers Make."