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Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

Another school year is beginning, for some it already has. I am in my 9th year of teaching, not counting two years of subbing, student teaching, and several years of teaching classes at The Henry Ford. It’s safe to say that I’ve been working with kids for a long time. There are some things I’ve learned along the way to help you and your kid have a successful school year. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I hate sugarcoating so here we go.

  1. Make reading a priority in your home. I have SO many kids who do not come from a reading background and it shows. Read to your kids when they’re small and continue it as they get older. Reading is so incredibly important in school, so put the electronics away and make them read. Start small and gradually increase the time they spend on a book, it doesn’t matter what the genre is an show them that you read, too. Your example is the most important thing.
  2. Help them improve their attention span. I have middle schoolers who can’t focus for more than a couple of minutes on a daily basis. Do they have ADHD? No, they’ve just never been taught to stick with something. Now, I do have kids with ADD and ADHD who legitimately have trouble focusing, but a lot of the kids I teach don’t have an attention span because they’ve never been taught to have a work ethic. Give them jobs at home that they have to complete until the end, until they get the job done. Life skill.
  3. Teach them to respect. We teachers can handle a lot of things. Your child is struggling in English, math, science, social studies? We can handle that, it’s our job. It’s what we do. But when we have kids who routinely curse us out, I’m talking daily, openly talk back in class for no reason, and shamelessly lie, it makes our job ridiculously difficult. If you allow your child to be disrespectful to you at home and or to other people, they will be disrespectful at school.  Please, please, please teach your child how to speak and act respectfully, not just to adults, but to everyone, including you. I don’t mean that you should teach them to be a submissive little mouse, but if I had a dollar for every time a child openly challenged me at school, I’d be a rich woman. Learning how to treat others and situations with respect is a HUGE life skill. Look, kids are going to test limits, we teachers know that, but when you don’t back us up or worse, you take your kid’s side when he or she has been an absolute brat, you are teaching them that it’s okay to abuse people. Chances are, by the time we call you, we’ve already tried a lot of strategies. I’ve actually had parents tell their children, right in front of me, that they believe their child over anything I had to say and that’s true for a lot of my colleagues, too. That only teaches your kids that they have the power to behave any way they want and won’t receive any consequences. The trouble with that is a boss or, God forbid, a judge won’t see it the same way. Actions have consequences, good and bad.
  4. Don’t blame the teacher for your child’s shortcomings. I had a kid one time, 5th grade, who did not turn in any homework. When his parents came in to see the principal and me about his Es, his father rifled through the mess under his desk, fished out a paper, shook it in the air and said, “All she had to do was look here!” No. One hundred million percent not okay. Students are responsible for turning in their own work. Period. Responsibility is a life skill; teach your kid to own their mistakes. Again, life skill.
  5. Let. Them. Fail. It’s not the end of the world if Junior forgets their homework or forgets to study for the test. It will be okay, they will learn. Stop saving them; it will help them stand on their own two feet. Don’t make excuses for them. I once had a dad who caved and did his 5th grader’s homework for him because he cried if he didn’t understand it. I asked him if he would be doing his child’s calculus in high school. On the other hand, do encourage them! Ask them about school, what projects they have, tests, grades. Ask them about their day. Do you have a kid who won’t talk about it? Email the teacher! We’ll be happy to fill you in.
  6. Don’t take a phone call from your gynecologist and have a conversation about vaginal suppositories during a Parent-Teacher Conference. Seriously. I cannot scrub that from my brain and it’s been about eight years. Just… no. Not kidding.

We know your kids aren’t perfect, mine definitely aren’t. Youngest and Middle Child had some “fun” school moments last year, oy, but we learned from it. In my case, I need to check ParentConnect more often. Teachers don’t expect kids to be little angels, but for a child to have a successful year, we need the cooperation and help from you, the parents. It’s a partnership.

It’s more important than you’ll ever know.

Have a great school year!

 

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“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web

It’s the end of another summer. Yes, I know that summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, but for me, as a teacher, summer is effectively over. And before anyone says anything about teachers having the whole summer off, blah, blah, blah, let me remind you that we’re working our tails off for ten months out of the year including our “own time”  during evenings, weekends, and holidays, PLUS we attend meetings , college classes, and professional development during the summer, so bugger off about that particular point. There, enough said about it.

I’m not a huge summer fan in terms of weather. I hate hot and humid and I’m an autumn girl through and through, but I enjoy the recovery time from my job.

This summer was incredibly busy, despite being the first summer that I haven’t worked a second job in several years. I think I tried to cram in everything that I’m not able to do during the school year and wore myself out in the process. Here is a sampling of Summer 2018.

  • I was able to let my natural body clock have its way again. I’m naturally a night owl and it felt SO GOOD to just sleep and wake up naturally. If only school started at 10:00.
  • I painted the living room. It really needed it, having been more than ten years since I had painted it last. While I love the finished product, I forgot how draining painting a room can be. At least I don’t have to do it for another ten years and I bought new curtains to boot.
  • Marty and I attended a lot of funeral home visitations and funerals summer, some expected, some not. Either way, it’s a reminder that we only get one shot at this life and I intend to fit in everything I can while I can. That also means staying active and being healthy in both mind and body so that I can do all of the things I want to do before it’s my turn. We said goodbye to some very special people this year. It makes you appreciate loved ones, and your time, all the more. We’re not promised tomorrow.
  • I did some spiritual insight seeking, learning to meditate and to spend time looking within, to be spiritually in tune with myself and with God. I believe we are given spiritual gifts, we just don’t use them like we should. I’d like to get better at that.
  • We went on vacation. See the July post for details about the “Ocean and Dead People Tour”, which was awesome. Anytime I’m near the ocean, I’m happy.
  • Speaking of our vacation, we did a lot more family history research. We’re kind of obsessed, although Marty would argue that I may have an addiction to Ancestry-crack.
  • I published my book, Traveler, as a paperback through Amazon.com and donated a copy to my local library. It was kind of a big deal for me. Check it out.
  • I read books that were not related to school or schoolwork. Heavenly.
  • I wrote. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did write.
  • I took Youngest Child to rehearsals and did hair for his show. High school kids are awesome, and I sincerely mean that.
  • I auditioned for a show and then I went to rehearsals.
  • I made two new adorable kitty friends. They live across the street and come to visit us pretty much every night for pets and treats. I love them.
  • We spent family time together, precious these days. The boys are starting to go off in their own directions and the time when they will only come home to visit is approaching quickly. I treasure our family dinners, the boys’ impromtu baseball and football games in front of the house, the flying Nerf darts, even the insults. I hope their memories of these days will be happy, too.
  • Marty and I went on lots of dates, including finally going to the Detroit Riverwalk for the first time. This is a good married-person thing to do. Often. I highly recommend it.
  • We started watching The Crown. I’m addicted. And Prince Philip is a jerky-jerk.
  • I rode my bike, Lulu, a lot. We didn’t get the theatre bike group going again, I was too busy to commit to a night this summer, but whenever I had to go to the library or somewhere within 3ish miles, I walked or rode Lulu. Good times.
  • Last, but not least, we took Oldest Child back to school today for his last year of college. Middle Child goes back next weekend. The days of us all together are finished until Thanksgiving. (I’m going to make them take a Christmas card picture while they’re home. Shhhhhhh…)

The crickets are singing, the bats are clicking.

Goodbye, Summer, goodbye. See you next June.

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As a teacher, I see and hear a lot. I mean, a lot. I know things about my students’ parents that would make those parents cringe. Children see and hear much more than you know and, boy, do they like to tell teachers all about the weird stuff that happens at home. Most of it is humorous, some of it is heartbreaking, and, thankfully, a very small percentage turn out to be matters of real concern.

This topic that I’m addressing today, something that teachers hear a lot,  isn’t a matter of concern in the sense that authorities need to be involved, or that we need to have a conference, but I encounter this situation every year and it seems to be getting worse. Something needs to be said. Here goes:

Parents:

Stop telling children to get As or they’ll be grounded.

Stop telling children to get 100% on tests or they’ll be punished.

Stop promising exorbitant presents and/or cash for good grades.

Stop setting kids up against each other, comparing them to siblings, cousins, or friends.

Stop. Just, stop.

You’re crushing your kids. I’ve held them as they’re sobbing when they get an 89% on a science test, absolutely certain that they’re going to lose computer privileges or won’t be able to go to the birthday party that weekend because of a B+.

Let me repeat that: Because of a B+. A grade that’s considered above average. They crumble into my arms, convinced that it’s the end of the world, afraid of taking that paper home to you. A B+.

Parents, not every child is an A student. Not every child is a B student. Some even struggle with being C students. Most students do, instinctively, want good grades, even the ones who would rather be out playing a sport instead of studying. They want to please you, they want to please me. Few elementary students have the foresight to truly understand that good grades eventually equal a better job, but they constantly hear it from all of the adults in their lives, including my fellow teachers and me. Getting good grades, for them, means parental approval. No matter how old they are, children want their parents to be happy with what they do, to be proud of them. When they hear from their parents that anything below a 90% is unacceptable, the pressure can be too much for many of kids.

Does this mean that (gasp) teachers don’t want kids to get As? Absolutely not. Any teachers I know simply want our students to do the best that they can, to love learning, and to understand the value of learning for its own sake, not for the grade. Sometimes, their best is a B- or a C. For some kids, learning and schoolwork come easy and we push them to do well. When they study, they easily earn good grades. (Notice that I said study and earn; we’ll come back to that in a minute.) For others, getting a C+ on a test is a major accomplishment. School is hard for them, whether because of a learning disability, problems focusing, or they are just not naturally inclined toward academics. They know it, I know it, and I celebrate their successes with them, especially when I see how much time and energy they have invested in studying.

I have students who cannot do grade-level work on their own, but whose parents expect them to get As, or rather, expect me to give them As anyway. When they have homework, it comes to me perfect, in complete sentences, every answer correct, because they have lots of help at home. They cannot duplicate that work at school, either on tests or in their classwork, because they struggle with the material. If these students earn a subpar (in the parents’ eyes) grade on a test, I hear it from their parents. I didn’t give a good enough study guide, I didn’t review enough (two days isn’t enough?), the test was too hard (it was taken directly from the material), or, as a last resort, can they take the test over again? (No, not unless it was a fail.  A C is not a fail. Neither is a D. An F is a fail. And even then, they can’t have their original test back and they have to take it the next day.) They are convinced that their child should get an A, even if they did not earn it. Too many parents make it all about the grade, not about what their children are capable of achieving. The struggle to teach these kids how to be independent in their work is real. The student ultimately learns that they cannot achieve acceptable grades on their own merit. This both appalls and scares me, especially during standardized testing time.

Are some kids capable of achieving better grades and just don’t because they don’t study or work up to their full potential? Yes, absolutely! I have a few of them every year. Their idea of studying is to try and remember what we talked about in class. (For the record, that was mostly me as a kid. I had more important things to do, like band and theatre.) Those kids probably need a parental push. The kids that I worry about are the ones who study their hearts out, to the point where they are so nervous about a test that it affects their whole week, the same ones who collapse in tears at any grade short of perfection, the ones who don’t get as good of a grade as their brother/sister/cousin in the same class or the same grade.

I guess part of the reason that this upsets me is that I don’t have that background. I don’t know about you, but my mother simply expected me to do my best, not to get an A every single time. She pushed me when I needed it, but I never broke down in tears in front of a teacher because of a grade that I earned, even in the subjects that truly were difficult for me and I had to actually study, like trigonometry, pre-calculus, or physics. (I still hate the idea of an imaginary number.) My schoolwork was my responsibility and that concept taught me about personal accountability.

I know some people will argue that we should push our kids, that good grades should be expected,  and I would agree with you, to a point. But when parents are using the strategy of threatening children with punishments for not getting perfect, or close to perfect, grades, it may backfire on them in the long run. The key is knowing your children. Are your children serious about school? Does it come easy for them or do they struggle with every new concept? Are their lives balanced, or are they spending hours studying every day? Are they happy, or are they constantly living under the stress of the next test?

As a teacher, I can tell you this: Encourage them to do their best. Their best may be all Bs, or even Cs. Pay attention to how their work is going, but let them be in charge of it. Check to see that their homework is done, but don’t fix it for them. Let natural consequences happen and see how they respond.  If they need a little extra help at home, go for it, but don’t do the work for them or demand that they achieve perfection. As a parent, I know, it’s really, really, hard to let that happen. For example, Middle Child is a HUGE procrastinator on everything from regular homework to major projects. We ask him about deadlines, and it scares me to death that he won’t turn things in on time, but somehow, he always manages to pull it off on his own. His grades are on him and he does very well. (There, Middle Child, I wrote about you.)

I know this won’t change everyone’s mind about the amount of pressure to put on kids and most parents don’t do this, but, as I pointed out in the beginning of this piece, I see this more and more every year. This week, I just had a very nervous 5th grader ask me if a 90% was a good grade to get on a history test because her mother said she had to get an A. Knowing this student, that she studied on her own, I hugged her and said that I was proud of her. As a bonus, her parents were happy, too.

If you’re not sure if you’re pressuring your children too much, ask yourself this: When your children are grown, what will they remember about their school years? Will they remember never measuring up, never being good enough, or that they were encouraged to be independent and to push themselves to be their very best? Things to think about.

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last week was the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. In 1945, Soviet troops rushed into the camp not knowing what to expect, only to find hordes of traumatized, ill, skeleton-like people who had been left behind when the Nazis evacuated a few days earlier, taking the healthier prisoners with them, essentially on a death march.

Seeing the coverage in the news reminded me of a professor that I had, Dr. Jack Wayne. Dr. Wayne is now retired after having taught in the education department at the University of Michigan-Dearborn for many years. My husband had first met him back in the 1990s when Dr. Wayne would take classes to Greenfield Village for experience. I recall Marty talking about him, but wasn’t aware of the impact that he would have on my life.

I took Dr. Wayne’s class on teaching social studies in the elementary classroom back in 2006. I had heard about Dr. Wayne from other students who absolutely loved him, but I had never seen him. The first thing that came to mind when I walked into the classroom that day was that he looked exactly like an elf. A full head of pure white hair, a small stature, and twinkling blue eyes all contributed to the illusion. It was a three-hour evening summer class, but it went by very quickly.

After the first class, I went up and introduced myself as Marty’s wife, since he would have remembered my husband. As soon as I said Marty’s name, he got a big smile on his face. “Maaaaaarrrrttyyy!” he said. “Oh, I just love your husband! He’s such a wonderful guy.” I agreed with him, of course, and from that day on, he would always ask about Marty, what he was up to and so forth. I’m don’t think he was quite as enamored of me as he was of Marty, but since I was Marty’s wife, I passed muster. It didn’t matter that he liked my husband more than me, I was just happy to know him. One night before class, Marty brought the boys to come and visit. Dr. Wayne was elated to see him and they spent a happy twenty minutes or so catching up, Youngest Child quite happily spinning in a chair the entire time.

Dr. Wayne’s class was interesting. We did cover material in the book occasionally, but for the most part, our time was spent talking about other things: life, teaching in general, kids, and his time spent as a prisoner in the Nazi camps.

Dr. Wayne was born in Lodz, Poland into a large Jewish family. His parents owned a bakery there and all of the children worked. When Germany invaded Poland, the family was sent to the Lodz ghetto. Terrible things happened there, things that no child should see. Sick people rounded up and shot, starvation, his own father dying in the ghetto for lack of medicine. Living in those conditions should have been more than enough hardship for anyone to endure, but the Nazi regime didn’t stop there. When he was twelve years old, Dr. Wayne’s family was one of the last groups shipped out in cattle cars to the work camps reserved for Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, or anyone else who opposed Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

Dr. Wayne didn’t tell us about what it was like when they first arrived in the Birkenau camp, but his older brother, Larry, recounted in an oral history interview for the University of Michigan that after they were taken out of the train cars, their mother and one of their sisters were herded directly into one of the crematoriums, never to be seen again. The brothers were taken to other camps and separated. Dr. Wayne ended up digging mass graves out in the woods for the piles of bodies that were killed every day, in Dachau, I believe. He saw people commit suicide by deliberately trying to cross the fences surrounding the camp, unwilling to take any more of the torture inflicted upon them. Finally, he decided to escape, not caring if he made it or if he was shot. He ran, and was spotted. He was shot in the leg and went down, initially playing dead and then losing consciousness. Fortunately, none of the guards thought to check him thoroughly and the next thing he knew, he woke up in a military hospital. It was 1945 and the end of the war. Allied troops had found him and saved his life.

The brothers and one of their sisters were reunited in Germany after the war in one of the many programs set up to help the survivors. Although they had cousins who had also survived, they were the only members of their immediate family to make it through. They emigrated to Detroit and put down roots, getting an education, marrying and having families. The siblings changed their last name to Wayne, eager to make new lives for themselves in their new country. That was something that Dr. Wayne always talked about. The United States is a country of opportunity and he and his siblings never lost that sense of thankfulness, even all of those years later.

This was just a very brief summary of Dr. Wayne’s story, but the courage and the endurance of his family and others like them amaze me. The story of the Holocaust has always fascinated me in a horrified sort of way and I am not alone. Countless books and movies have been made about that time, including The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and The Devil’s Arithmetic. The idea that an entire race should be obliterated simply for being who they are is a sick and twisted way of thinking that doesn’t seem like it could be real. The horrifying part is that is was real, and it was real in a part of the world that Americans thought of as “civilized”, not some remote jungle or desert country where the average American would find it hard to relate. Paris was occupied, for heaven’s sake, London was being bombed regularly, and you would be hard pressed to find a European whose daily life wasn’t affected by the war. Americans can’t fathom that type of existence, but unfortunately, many people in other parts of the world today can.

Our Holocaust survivors are elderly now and as we lose more of them every day, we lose that connection to a time when an evilness threatened to take over the world, and it came a lot closer than it should have. What is the point to all of this? I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda, only to remember a man who touched my soul. He was the first survivor who I had ever gotten to know as a person, who was so willing to share his experiences with us. As far as I know, he still gives occasional talks to Jewish centers and schools, but the last time I talked to him, more three years ago, he said that the memories just make it too hard sometimes, that it was difficult for him to sleep after speaking about his experiences. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to tell that story, to look at that number on your arm every day and realize over and again that this wasn’t a story out of a book, but this happened to you.

I look at my boys and thank God that they don’t have to go through what millions of Jewish children did. I’m thankful that they don’t have to go through what many children in the Middle East or parts of Africa are going through now. War steals childhood away, imprints violence on memories, helps shape children into something they would not otherwise become. Some, like Dr. Wayne, turn it into a teaching moment so that it hopefully never happens again. Some have their hearts so twisted by hate that they grow up to inflict that evil on others. Many don’t grow up at all, but become a number, a casualty of war in an unmarked grave to be mourned on the 6 o’clock news as I sit in my peaceful neighborhood where I’m not worried about my family being rounded up and taken away. It doesn’t seem fair, or right.

It amazes me that in our world today, there are still those who hate because of race or religion and justify their rationales with the same lies that the Nazis used to turn people against the Jews. In our word of advanced technology and education, shouldn’t it be more obvious that violence and war do nothing to solve any of our problems? Maybe that’s one lesson we should take from the Holocaust. On this seventieth anniversary of liberation and freedom, let us never forget how it got to that point and let’s raise our children with tolerance and compassion, to see others as fellow human beings. That is all.

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