An Honest Man

As this is a good day, honoring a good man, Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought it a good time to share some thoughts. As a child, having moved several times with the family, I got to experience my share of bullying, and yes, some racism. However, it wasn’t until years later that I understood what racism was, at the time only thinking there were mean people and that was a part of growing up.

Years later, moreso when I became a teacher, I watched more documentaries on Mr. King, read more books on his life, and read many of the speeches he shared with crowds. What messages! What presence! And to continue talking, even when he realized his life might be on the line, knowing that what he was doing was very important, what an example of character. I cannot wish more that I had been able to meet him, even listen to his words from the crowd. I think that would have been an experience never to be forgotten or lessened.

People are people. Some have more skills in some areas than others. Some have more abilities than others. But we are all people. We are all brothers and sisters. It’s why we feel guilt, whether we realize it or not, when we “hate” someone or treat others with disrespect. It’s because we are all human, we have the same insides, and we have the same opportunity to do what is right and what is wrong (Though, I do believe some are born more inclined one way or the other, and this is where parenting becomes very important.). It’s like, when you harm another, you are in truth harming yourself. And that’s where character enters the equation.

To me, it’s sad that his message has been so distorted. What he believed and spoke about I have rarely seen fully detailed in textbooks. What we see on television is not nearly enough to spread his messages. And what too many politicians are doing is playing the race card rather than encouraging each other to treat each other fairly. Or as it was said long ago, treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Today, I want to thank Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. for what he did and shared, and I hope more and more people hear and read, understand truly, the message from his heart.

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A Confusion in Purpose

Thank you all those who’ve followed and added your comments.  After more than twenty years in classrooms, summer camps, and on soccer fields and other sports, I’m glad to share experiences and wisdom from good teachers and instructors.

Today, we have too many cooks in the kitchen, but they’re not the one’s doing the teaching, seeing the kids daily, learning how they learn and what inspires them.  I certainly was not a highly motivated student, but I’m certain I would have been less so if I was constantly tested and creativity was taken out of the classroom.

The purpose of education has changed quite a bit over the decades, and some changes have addressed needs of this next generation.  But what I’ve discovered, as the years passed, is each succeeding group seems less able to critically think, but moreso less respectful of those charged with their education.  And the reason is understandable.

If I and my co-teachers come into the classroom, create a respectful environment with decent rules, ensure the students are learning their basic facts while also engaging them in lessons and projects that are truly engaging and thought provoking, but also teaches them to dig deep for  understanding, and those few children/teens that will not cooperate but cause problems reap the consequences of their actions, perhaps even being ousted if they will not learn and behave, then there will be respect in the classroom.

One of the best complements I ever had was that I never seem to have any management issues in the class.  I simply said it’s probably because the children/teens know I like them and that our rules are fair.  It is that simple.  But this has grown difficult in the recent years as much in perception has changed and that wonderful, grandmotherly, teacher who scolds when a child or teen needs it, but also brings cookies and lesson variety, perhaps something of her own making, is no longer the venue of the day.  Most teachers are parents too.  And all teachers who care, are not in it just for health and retirement, but to really, really teach and provide a plethora of learning, know the problems facing them today are not of their making but a system that has forgotten that grandmotherly lady and the strong male teacher who the students respect.  Respect is a very big key to learning. 

The Simplicity of Learning

Want to teach prepositions and prepositional phrases? Draw a picture of a cloud with little planes all around, then write the following: The plane flew _________ the cloud. Just about any single word that fills the blank, as long as it shows a relationships between a plane and the cloud (i.e. The plane flew through the cloud.) is a preposition and the word with the following two words is the prepositional phrase.

Want to teach nouns, adjectives, and verbs? Hold up objects, usually stuffed animals to start. Ask kids what the object is (noun). Ask kids to use one describing word, which you might have to assist at first (adjectives: blue, big, fast). Ask kids what the object does (verbs: runs, sits, looks).

Want to teach paragraphs? Everything in the paragraph has to do with each other. You can develop this with examples.

The Past, Present, and Future

I was just talking with a friend. So much of how we spend our days and look forward is impacted by our past. Whether we came from healthy families, dysfunctional homes, a single parent home, or otherwise, including those experiences in the neighborhood, school, malls, and elsewhere, the present and how we view life has much to do with how we handled those situations, times, and friends.

One thing teachers can do, before they ever get into the profession, is clean house first. I remember, in a chain store, seeing a mother belittling her son. The son may not have been perfect, though he didn’t seem to be doing anything, but the adults in the world have a great effect on how their children “see” life. The same could be said when I saw, on a walk, a father yelling at his kids, though they were sitting by (and perhaps they had chores to do), instead of being the steady, patient, and firm dad. Nothing wrong with correction and discipline, but how parents raise their sons and daughters is for each family to monitor.

So, when adults consider becoming teachers, the question they need to answer is whether they are properly raising their own children, not too soft and not too hard, but enjoy their kids while correcting behavior in a way that teaches self-thinking and understanding. Difficult as it may be at times, but adults must be the reflection of what they instruct, and this takes good consideration.

When a teacher walks in a class, will the students respect her/him? When the teacher talks about calmness, patience, cooperation, does he/she the epitome in his or her own life: at home with the kids and with friends? In my career, I have met some really great teachers who are what they teach, and they have kids growing up respectfully. However, there are those who haven’t understood, and this carries into the classroom.

Teachers don’t have to be perfect. But they do need to be making the effort and time at home, which then carries into the classroom. For in the school, many kids come from dysfunctional homes, and this can be a very trying experience for the staff. The next question is, in each school, are the rules and practices creating a healthy environment, where children and teens respect adults, listen to their teachers, and are held accountable when they are not? Is there a discussion, which if not followed, as in any healthy home, the children and teens face correction and possibly removal? School is for learning, and learning requires a healthy environment. There needs to be allowed some disagreements, even arguments, then the adults step in as needed. To have real education, understanding and respected staff.

Coming From Understanding

When I started to write here, my thoughts were on the way people see the world and how that impacts our youth. Having taught for many years, now taking a well-earned break and helping others, I saw very quickly what hasn’t been incorporated into the educational system, but rather that decisions regarding information was also in need to development.

I suppose I will be sharing this for the rest of my life, in one form or another. When I talk to an adult, teen, or child, I’ve learned to look into the other person’s eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, some have said. I see it as the windows to understanding, or a divergence of opinion, or a lack of adequate communication.

As I see it, this point is incredibly key. Understanding is real learning. It can and does happen when no one is looking. It can happen even if a teacher is ineffectively explaining a lesson, though he may be trying his best and truly doing a good job. It can also happen if interesting lessons, variety, and the encouragement of sharing takes place. This, I have always tried to do, also And what they do, when they’re finished, is up to them, and sometimes I’ve seen creativity I never would have come up with on my own.

But what is understanding? How do we drive this point home? I look at a person, explaining how to saddle a horse, and both their expression and light in the eyes tells everything. I remember, and I’ll always remember this, a mother believing her child could not do well in math, yet when I looked at the child, looked at her expression, I had no doubt she could do well, but that she would have to believe. She received an A in the first quarter, then happily continued to show her capabilities.

You see, it’s not in the cards. It’s in the person. There’s something inside each and every one of us and no person can claim prediction of another. And I’ve known this with special education students that spend part of their days in my class. I don’t see the walls. I see opportunity. However, sometimes I see children who believe they cannot, and that sometimes is their wall. I remember one child who was being considered for a pull-out period, but I cautioned his grandmother about him seeing this as a pathway not to give his full effort. She understood. And in one quarter, got his first honor roll in his short educational career.

Will those developing programs and technology see the value of teachers who see what isn’t on paper, in the computer, or in the common belief system. I came into schools believing nothing, but believing everything. Each day was an adventure, and I knew no one’s future was written in stone. Positive, believing, looking, trying, offering lesson variety, insisting on effort, rewards, and on, and on, and on…..

One child who could not be made to work, because they system would pass him on regardless, was listening. He found the lessons interesting, did have difficulties reading and writing, but did try from time to time. But he was always listening. And when he got to the end of the year, we were surprised by how much he listened. Never, ever, give up. And the creativity I saw in some teachers in my youth, we need to see supported in today’s educational institution. With me, when I started, no one could predict what I would do from day to day, save the regular curriculum, but how it was implemented, yet the kids did well, and isn’t that the point, but moreso that they’re thinking for themselves, understanding?

To Inspire or Not to Inspire

What is truly motivational to kids and teens? When children and teens are walking to school, are they wondering what lessons their teachers might be giving, talking among themselves how they might approach the work, excited by some new idea they’ve talked about? Are they wondering and asking themselves questions, perhaps having talked with their friends the night before, eager to bring up their thoughts in class? Do they wonder what nebulas are, how they formed, and how the universe became so big? Do they wonder how our country was formed, how the constitution came to be, perhaps having had class debates on what is needed for a good country? Have they listened to a discussion on business, perhaps having been given research projects on the costs of materials and the goal of the companies, their purpose, and perhaps the methods by which they make profits? Why do lions roar? How does life happen miles under the ocean, and if a child or teen’s ears hurt at the deep end of the pool (And why is that?), eight or ten feet down, how do the fish survive so much deeper? What is light? How do our eyes see? And that dance lesson, how do we get the steps right?

I never really had a teacher who motivated me. I rarely enjoyed the lessons in class, save when we had electives in school and could choose, but also when a teacher rarely gave an interesting lesson as one of the above. However, had they been teaching a one-size-fits-all curriculum, or testing me daily or weekly to improve my test taking skills, I know I never would have gotten those good grades in middle school, finally proving that I could get good grades, which later determined whether I would get a college degree while I tried many jobs.

Today, I’m hoping teachers see this. It’s not about a test. It’s not about the same things being taught to everyone? Each classroom is like a family. Each teacher is different. It’s not about retirement. It’s not about health care. It’s about a group learning and discovering, having interesting conversations and projects/lessons. It’s about understanding. Eyes lighting up. And curiosity bringing children running to school because they want to see their friends but also work on a project or assignment together, not just for the grades, but because they enjoyed the assignment and it’s waking them up.

What to Do?

Running through the backyard, finding insects, bringing some home in jars and poking holes in the top. Watching a caterpillar create a cocoon, later to emerge as a butterfly, then reading about it in children’s encyclopedias where dinosaurs are, and craft sections show paper art and popsicle designs. Bringing home tiny fish, guppies, and other creatures, carrying a frog in our pockets to show our parents. Then being told we can’t keep them in the house, so we hide them. Catching lizards tromping along the walls. Finding wood, then collecting them, sometimes not realizing some of that wood can’t be ours, also looking in dumpsters (As an adult, I wouldn’t recommend this, but what do you tell kids?). Building tree forts, then playing tree tag (Not very smart.). Tag. different kinds of tag. Bicycling. Skateboarding. Romping through the neighborhoods, meeting new kids, inventing games. Using gutters for popsickel sticks boats when rain poured down. Using larger gutters for rolling fruit, playing fruit tag. Lawn Darts. Croquet. Frisbee golf, using trees and poles. Making phones with plastic cups and string, then realizing we need more tree forts so we can communicate, even though we could just yell to the next fort. Playing board games in those tree forts. Lemonade stands. Mowing neighbors’ lawns for money, even raking leaves. Reading books by Beverly Clearly, then acting out scenes. Origami since the second grade. Baking cookies with mom. The jokes we made up. The list is endless. A whole world exists outside computers and smart phones. The entertainment is what children and adults create.