Questioning and Understanding

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                When we talk about understanding and thinking for yourself, which sounds to easy, I am amazed at how many people think they’re thinking for themselves and understanding when something else is happening.  For myself, there have been times when I thought I was thinking for myself, but something else was at work (Sometimes, it was an opinion that I had convinced myself of years earlier but never really examined.), and thankfully, something inside was telling me different.  Something was nudging me.  So I couldn’t completely “buy into” the ideas, though I had thought, by knowing something, I was more secure. 

                I have read this:  to question everything.  Find out why you believe what you believe.  The idea here was, when you really understand, have those “ah haaa” moments, in those moments, you really understand.  But there is real joy in this:  to understand and really “see.”

                I think the difficulty for most is we grow up with a set of ideas, then ourselves we identify with those ideas.  We find security in those ideas.  With time, by surrounding ourselves with people of like minds, we become more and more secure in what we think we know.  So when others challenge us, we feel like it’s ourselves that is under attack.  All too many people are like this.  They say things, give opinions, but they themselves have not really “thought” about what it is they believe.  They may have experiences from which they garnered their opinions, and they adjust depending upon how things happen in their lives.

                Some people are very secure in themselves for they are absolutely certain of their ideas and beliefs, then comes along someone who questions or shatters their beliefs and they feel their entire world is being questioned or challenged (Some people don’t wish to question, for then they’ll have difficulties with people of their own homes or among friends.).  I’m not suggesting we allow ourselves to believe others who question our ideas.  Far be it.  But that, in order to understand, to hear and listen.  In listening, we come to “see” whether the other person has anything of real value or is talking from intellect or opinions only.  As I told someone, there’s nothing wrong with “Wait.  I don’t know.  I’ll think about it.”

                As a teacher, I’m careful with this.  What I’m encouraging the students is to learn the curriculum, learn their basics to mastery, and learn the skills I am teaching (i.e. writing, grammar, reading and the questions, mathematics, and more), learn the projects were making, but with time, to both understand what they think and learn to think for themselves.  But I don’t get too far into this.  It’s just getting them to reason for themselves.  So, you believe we should learn kick ball rather than soft ball.  Why?  More of the class likes that?  Okay.  So you believe you shouldn’t have to do chores after school.  Why?  Because you don’t have enough time for your friends?  But what about responsibility to your family?  So you don’t think you should do homework?  Why?  And what about preparing yourself for the rigors of the real world?  When you get a job or attempt to get a career, who will they hire?  One who doesn’t want extra work and is prepared, or one who will go the extra mile and be very good at what they do?  And with older kids or teens, the essays can be more developed.

                 *One more thing to encourage the point.  In one family, at Thanksgiving, the mother always made ham, but cut the ends were always cut off, the dad’s favorite part.  Well, one day, a friend asked the father, why are the ends of the ham always cut off.  Hmmm…. the dad thought.  He never dared question before.  So, liking the idea of keeping the ends, for it was his favorite part, they decided to ask the mother.  “Dear, why do we always cut the ends off the ham?”  “Hmmmm… ,” the mother considered.  “I’ve always done it that way. My mother had always done it that way.  I guess it’s a tradition.  Let’s ask my mother.”

                So, they went to the grandmother and asker her.  “Well,” she replied.  “The pot was too small.”

The Past is the Key

In recent years, friends and I have discussed, from time to time, the history of our country.  The Revolutionary War, so filled with lessons and understanding, leading to the Constitution which underwent tremendous scrutiny and discussions, for the people had no intentions of living under tyranny which they fought so hard to end.  Yet, even as the country was developing, the states (they wanted to have their own independent government which they could watch) having to come together in unity, they had many qualms, understanding deeply the nature of man.  They knew, as many of us have forgotten, that too much money and power in the hands of many leaders often leads to a loss of liberty and freedom (There has to be a balance based upon constitutional principles).   A democratic republic exists through a good Constitution, rules people live by, but only continues in success if the “people” are ever watchful and understand what leads to real freedoms, but also the desires that lead to tyranny.

                Today, we have difficulties in the educational system.  The reasons are many, but lead to one core reason.  We have lost our connection to America as it began.  As a teacher, I have had the privilege of talking with many young people, with their parents and guardians, with other significant people in their lives, and with other teachers.  I have had the privilege of meeting many quality teachers as well.  But throughout my career, I have noticed a separation from the history which is so integral with a free America.  Young people and adults (though they may have a basic framework) alike are separated from the rich foundations of our country.  Very few have read and learned the difficulties in Europe, why so many left and endured strife and death, and all that was discussed for decades and centuries that led to America.  Because of this separation, this leads to other answers which are not the answers.  So young people grow up, separated from our founding principles, which then continues to the next generations, which explains the difficulty, when talking with some parents and guardians, such a high importance on our history,

                In the early days of our country, there were no schools, but with time and a consensus, schools came about.  Very often, children learned from the bible, but were also explained what our country stands for and where we came from.  Not perfect, though the writers of the Constitution put words in there that would lead to freedom for all, which we have today, though there are forces arrayed to separate us from American traditions and the reasons for them, not that we wish for people to be drones (Nothing wrong with debates.  But it’s open debates, a strong understanding and willingness to challenge, but also having mentors who understand clearly the foundations.  Far be it that we would wish for that:  people to blindly follow.  On the contrary, it was free speech and freedom of thought that led to our country.  The very freedoms not permitted in Europe, we sought in a new country.  But this took a long time, and during this time, these were the topics of the day.  They were living it.  And exciting times were ahead where each person and family are responsible for themselves, but also have the freedoms to try, succeed, and learn from consequences.  But during this time, they also understood what leads to tyranny (separation from real principles) for history present was always on their minds.    

                For education to return to excellence, the people need to seek the real answers, which in part entails learning about the foundations of this country, and not allowing other elements to rewrite history.  As a teacher, my job was always simple.  Why?  Others wondered why I had no management issues.  The reason was I knew the job.  I cared for the kids as many of my coworkers.  I knew what the goal was:  to educate and encourage young people to think for themselves.  But thinking for themselves entailed having a teacher who also thought for him/herself.  And that entailed understanding history and what leads to a clear perception.  As such, I shared, within the timeframe I had, for there was much to teach, the foundations of this country.  What is freedom of speech?  What is real freedom?  Is it doing whatever you wish, which leads to anarchy if system wide, or is it the right to be responsible?  This leads to discussions.

                You see, the foundations of this country, what led to the Constitution and many years of amazing freedoms, is something that is inherent is us.  What gives us real freedom are the principles of human beings, which leads to clarity and responsibility, not forced from outside.  And a people that understand this also understand what leads to tyranny, and they (you and I) become the watchers of the country, voting for the ones who also understand and hold our heritage dear, and voting out the ones who talk but are not connected with our founding principles.  This is what leads to quality education, that and teachers who truly understand the principles of our country and economy.  What is ahead can be fantastic with a reconnection to our founding principles, students learning about the Revolutionary War, our founding fathers, the letters they wrote and discussions they shared, and all the more of the events. 

                Teaching can be very rewarding.  Whenever a previous student saw me in a Walmart or mall, they would run up and tell me how determined I was, but that they were thankful.  I always said, I just encouraged them to think for themselves, that I was providing the benefit of experience and research, but that I also encouraged them to seek for themselves, but with eyes wide open.  Look to understand, then you’ll encourage that in your own children.  Then, they get to seek as they grow up.

Matrix of Ideas

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                The difficulty of education.  What has happened over the years?  If we look at the quality of writing in centuries past, we see a level of discourse rarely heard today.  That doesn’t mean some people don’t have the understanding of those writers long ago, but that the sharing of ideas has changed over the years.   Also, the quality of dialogue, of expressive writing, where complex ideas are commonly conveyed, has dramatically changed from so many years ago.

                Recently, I reread our U.S. Constitution, and I must admit, some paragraphs required rereading several times to finally understand.  And some topics will require further research to understand the context.  In college, I wrote a couple of books, spending many hours working on my grammar, knowing the rules and when they can be broken, and developing ideas and concepts, not to mention the history classes and self-research.  As a teacher, this helped.  During each year, as my readers know, the students worked hard on their writing.  Grammar, punctuation, ideas, support, and more.  My goal was, by the end of the year, the quality of writing would be much higher than when they first arrived.  Could they compare and contrast?  Could they write quality stories?  Could they communicate complex ideas and cause others to understand and reflect?  Could they research and cite?  And more?

                Reading the Constitution and the words of the founders, I thought to myself:  If I am struggling as a well-educated teacher, how can my students and their parents understand these important documents and the reasons for the Revolutionary War?  How will they be able to discuss the more important topics regarding our nation? How will they be able to differentiate real stories from very superficial concepts?  How will they understand the causes and effects of the past and present?

                The problem, as I see it, is two-fold (probably more).  What is the quality of books and writings these students are reading?  What level of writing are we encouraging them to produce?  But of course, it’s more.  What is their everyday life like?  Are they listening to their elders, at home, discussing the issues of the day, reflecting on history, and debating the causes and effects?  Are they listening to quality television?  Are they “seeing” the import of their parents’ concerns, learning from their family, and being taught the importance of reliability and trust?  Responsibility?  Without a context in life, what is the framework from which they view readings and form their writings?

                Earlier today, I had a very interesting talk with a young man at a sporting goods store.  We were discussing the evolution of cycling.  I had been looking at these new bikes:  tiny little off-road bikes very little kids could ride.  They cost $500.00.  We talked about cycling of the past and how changes are happening all of the time, also including skateboarding.  After some time, he shared his interest in becoming a teacher, and so of course, given my decades of experience, I was curious.  He was interested in teaching English History and History.  That got a new conversation moving. 

                I was very impressed with his understanding.  And so, I learned more about his education, where it was going, and how he saw education.  He shared his experiences with a couple of very good history teaches who challenged them in their thinking and reasoning, also their abilities to communicate in writing.  My experience has always been one of understanding.  I explained the entire focus in my career was to teach the basics, but through lessons and talks, to get the students thinking for themselves.  What I wanted was the kids to not need me anymore.  My goal was to work myself out of a job.  Like a good doctor who teaches patients to be their own best friends.  Live well and you won’t need the doctor.  But this is very difficult, more so with the passing years.  Due to the difficulties shared above, an entire school year is necessary to open their minds to reflection.  To consideration.  To wondering.  Why do you think that?  What reasons do you have for this position?  What do you think is the reason for these behaviors regarding the history lesson?  And more?

                Anyone who has taught understands the difficulty.  Yes, they’re young.  Yes, their skills need a lot of work.  But the context of understanding and consideration is not encouraged in their daily lives.  They see problems at often superficial levels.  Questioning often leads to very predictable answers, but can you see the cause and effect?  Can you reason why?  Why do you think this?  Why is that even important to you?  And what do you want to do when you grow up?  Yes, those test-taking skills are important.  Yes, schools are required to pass those state tests, which check skills and improvements.  But the most important thing teachers can do, while teaching the academics, is teaching understanding and thinking for yourself.  Of course, this requires teachers who think for themselves and beyond the superficial aspects.  But thinking for yourself means really understanding and encouraging our youth to think to the point of having different views.

                The movie:  The Matrix, explains so much.  Most of us grow up with blinders on.  We see but don’t perceive.  We think but don’t really understand.  But it’s more difficult than that.  We are not encouraged to think for ourselves.  What is this thing called thinking for yourself?  It requires context.  It requires listening to the elders discussing history and the events of the day, but without anger except when the anger is honestly motivated.  It requires responsibility:  chores at home, helping with dinner, figuring out how to do the homework assignments, and reading quality literature.  It requires being challenged, but not just in the classroom, but by the other adults in their lives, by their peers, and through understanding the difficulties of life but also looking for the solutions.  And it requires consequences for bad behaviors and bad decisions.  Young people should not be “protected” from the results of their bad behaviors and bad decisions.  They must face the consequences, but the adults are also there to “explain” the reasons why they are punished and why they have lost their privileges.  And they can’t be saved from this or they lose the important lesson and reason for self-reflection.

                Young people today are very often not challenged, at least, not in a way that is positive.  The talk I had with the young sports store salesman is not common.  In fact, it’s very rare.  And the talks students are exposed to, in many lives, are needing more in the context of research, real discussions, and wisdom born of understanding (deep).  Not just surface thinking.  This needs practice.  This needs time.  This needs responsibility.

                So, what am I saying?  It’s something like this:  Lets’ say, we’re reading about a society and those people’s problems.  What are the problems?  What led to the problems?  Why did the people of those days allow for those problems?  In other words, what was happening, do you think, that led to those problems, and why?  And what can we learn from them that is also happening today, and what do we see are the solutions?

                Do people really think for themselves?  The last time I was at the doctors, I noticed 15 people on their smartphones.  Only two were looking around or talking with the person next to them (And they were elderly).  It’s that way at most places today.  When do people just sit and ponder?  When do people have “quiet time” where their minds are not filled with talk and YouTube?  One of the dangers of television, a friend once explained, is people “get into” the shows they’re watching. 

                A friend told me a funny story.  His son was watching some cartoons.  He came in the living room, looked at his son (who was oblivious of his surroundings), and reminded him that he was swallowed up in television land.  The boy looked up and smiled.  What his father was trying to do is teach his son to not let the television think for him:  not to get lost in the programs.  One of the reasons people like television, the computer, music, and YouTube is the great distraction provided.  When watching a show, you don’t have to think:  the show does that for you.  It’s easy.  And you don’t have to be creative or inventive because the electronic devices are there for you.  Also, if you’re having problems, you don’t have to think about them while being entertained.  But what is the nature of that entertainment?  Does it make you more aware or does it put you to sleep, the blinders coming on.  And what happens to our social skills where real life happens?  If we look to distractions time and again, how will we handle the problems each day?

                We live in a fog.  We live in the world of ideas that are often similar across society.  Whatever problems and ideas are predominate in our neighborhoods, they are everyone’s.  Why is this?  Does anyone have an original idea?  Does anyone ponder, reflect, and share their understandings?  Or do we talk only to “fit in,” make friends, and appear intelligent among our peers and coworkers?  But I’ll be ostracized if I think for myself.  If I don’t “fit in” or sound like everyone else, I will be “outed” from cliques and other social activities.  But if I talk like everyone else, keep my blinders on, then I’ll have friends and more work opportunities.  I can be different, but only as society accepts.

                But if you look at history past, you will discover that very often, the ones who make the biggest positive changes are the ones different from all the rest.  They had grown up with responsibility.  They had observed but also discussed with their peers.  They were concerned.  And they arrived at decisions even if others disagreed.  It’s always this way.  Society goes along.  People complain about the problems.  But the inquiry only goes so far.  Look deeply and the others will become bored, irritated, uncomfortable, then want to change the directions of conversations.  Look deeply, and you will lose some of your social skills.  You might even be considered an “odd bird,” an anomaly, or even a creator of problems.  But that takes time:  to search, make mistakes, and arrive at real solutions, some long-term. 

                For readers, I would suggest reading some of the classics, but also the writings of our founding fathers, but also books like Mark Twain and his contemporaries.  When listening to the news, I would recommend really listening.  Hear, but listen. Learn to read between the lines.  Listen to both what you agree with and what you don’t agree with, then explain why you agree or disagree. And do this with your children allowing them to be “right”, even if it runs counter to your beliefs, then discuss the reasoning.  Dare to be taught by the kids.  Maintain your position of parent and authority, but even authorities can learn from our youth.

                As I told the salesman above, my goal as a teacher has always been to get the kids thinking for themselves.  But this requires that I’m well-educated, continue research, and have a good handle on what the students discuss.  You believe the world is flat?  Let’s discuss that.  With time, if done consistently, the children realize, and realize that they were thinking at a level short of real solutions.  Even their thoughts can become like a challenge to overcome.

Stories Blitz Writing Standards

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                I kidded a friend of mine I am a lazy teacher.  She said, “What?”  I said yes.  The less I do, the more they do.  So, I work hard to understand the subject matter, find ways to educate our students, and thinking for yourself is at the tops.  Story writing comes into this.  Enter, teaching:  second year.

                For some odd reason, a teacher friend and I got the story writing bug.  But there’s a backstory.

                In college, during my second stint (I took off a few years to work.), I knew I had to find a better way to learn.  I just didn’t have it in me to study twenty hours a week.  So, I learned to understand first, learn second.  The first made the second so much easier.  Then, instructing in summer camps gave more insight.

                With writing, it came down to a friend of ours writing a story, attempting to publish, which he eventually did.  Well, the way our friends are, we always enjoy seeing each other succeed, but it sometimes gets a bug inside us.  So, we started writing our own stories.  Through the process, I discovered the fascinating world of grammar keyed into other writers.  So, I used them to teach me grammar and different modes of writing.  And wallah, this went to teaching.

                During the second year of teaching, we decided to teach story writing.  Through the following years, we implemented more facets to teach the kids.  Through the stories, we taught sentence writing, paragraphing, quotations, setting, problem and solution, character development, flashbacks, and much more.

                Early in the year, we just encouraged the kids to write:  any story.  Any way they want.  Just to get them writing.  We would use stories from the reading programs, discuss what the author was doing, what elements were in the story, and so forth.  With time, the discussions grew.  Over the years, we found new ways to finesse the concepts.

                Thus far, we start early in the year.  First, get them writing. From their stories, we see what they do understand, what they like, and what is needed.  Every class is different, but the concepts remain similar.

                After a couple of stories, we then introduce character panels, scene panels, and problem solution.  So, class, in your stories, what was the problem that was solved, and what was the solution?  Where did your stories take place and what were in those scenes?  Like that.

                Well, class, today we’re going to begin a new story, together.  Let’s come up with an idea.  So, we go around the class, perhaps vote on which idea is best today.  All ideas are good, but we need to focus on one.  After some time, we all agree.  Okay, what is the problem in the story and what is the solution?  Where the story taking place and what is are in the scenes?  Who are the main characters?

                Together, as a class, me drawing on the white board (chalkboards we used to draw on), them on paper, we draw one character at a time, descriptions in sentences below (The character’s name, age, likes, friends, and so forth).  I like a minimum of two characters, ancillary characters needing no panels. 

Characters should be fully drawn with a scene about them.

                Then, we move to scene panels:  where the story takes place.  Under each scene, we explain what is happening in the story:  main events and import to the problem solution.   Here, I encourage the kids to be creative in their drawings, and all drawings are good.  Don’t worry about artistry, for we all have differing talents.  Here, I praise their efforts, providing they try.

                Once we have all of these elements, we move onto the story.  I write on the white board, smart boards if the school provides, and they copy.  I ask, what should be the next sentence?  Who is talking now?  And throughout, they are copying sentences, paragraphs with indentations, quotations with proper punctuation.  The hardest things are those quotations marks (i.e. Tom said, “Let’s go to the store.”).  And this takes time and development.  Sometimes, I give them a sample one page story, properly punctuated, for them to copy (Grades are based upon their ability to properly indent, copy, and punctuate as I’ve done.  Later, I’ll provide only a half-page so they can continue the story for another half-page, continuing proper grammar and punctuation with their own ideas.  Again, this takes time.  Some get it right away, others more time, but the growth is always amazing.).

                By the second quarter, sometimes third depending upon all the other curriculum material we cover, all the students are creating stories.  First, they have to have the idea (i.e. problem/solution, characters involved, scenes, and all).  Then, they begin with pictures of their characters with descriptions below.  Next, they draw the scenes, and on their own or with partners, draw the scenes with full sentences descriptions below.  Finally, using their panels, they create their stories.  As the year progresses, we can get into poetry, flashbacks, metaphors, and so forth, depending upon the age group. 

                I’m so thankful my college friend wanted to write a book, eventually getting published.  It was because of him that I wrote a book, learned the intricacies of grammar and punctuation, also when rules could be broken, and many other tools.

                Here’s a sample of something the kids would copy:

                Tom and Rachel were looking for their friend.  Stephen was nowhere to be seen.  Here a minute ago, he was gone. 

                “Where do you think he went?” asked Rachel.  She was clearly worried, wringing her hands.

                Tom thought about Stephen.  “He’s usually pretty smart, but sometimes doesn’t think.  Mom’s going to be mad if were not at the dinner table soon.”

                So, they looked around.  They knew Stephen like hide and seek.  Perhaps, he was hiding.  So they thought of possible hiding places. 

                “I know,” Rachel said, looking back at their house.  “He’s under the house.  Last year, when we were playing hide and seek, no one could find him and he was so happy with himself.  Let’s look.”

                “Smart,” Tom replied. 

                They went under the house.  After bringing a flashlight, they looked around.   A few minutes later, they heard giggling, and there, behind some pipes, they saw Stephen. 

                “Stephen.  Mom’s got dinner ready.  You’d better get cleaned up before.”

                You see.  In this small story, we have indentations, proper grammar and quotations, and more.  This is developmental.  But the kids are having fun.  And we edit more as the year progresses.  I remember some students who had great difficulty with grammar and punctuation, but this improved greatly throughout the year.  And looking at the standards, we covered so many of them.  When they read them in class, we’re using speech.  Later, or during, we introduce plays, and this opens many other doors. 

Holding to Understanding

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                Recently, we’ve heard of a teacher being let go for not giving points for work not turned in.  Questions arose about points given for being in class, even though no work was accomplished.  Others shared that the children must do the work to earn credit. 

                Thankfully, I grew up during a time when America was number one in the world, and I am very thankful for this, though, at the time, I complained about work as with all my friends.  The teachers (well-educated teachers) taught, we listened, and we did the work.  When we failed to turn in an assignment, we garnered no credit.  On rare occasions, if we pleaded with the teacher, promising to turn in all our work, we got to turn in the assignment late, but at far reduced credit.  Sometimes, and rarely, a parent might plead with a teacher, and on rare occasions, the student might get to complete the assignment, but again, at far reduced credit.  However, if the student again failed to turn in work, no extra time was given.  They just failed the class.   And towards the end of the quarter, some students would ask for extra credit, so a few points might be earned, enough to get over, but the extra credit was more often more difficult than the regular assignments, and some students had to go to summer school if they wished to pass onto the next grade.  Some didn’t make it. 

                These were very good lessons in life.  If I had work, I had to do it.  If I complained to my parents, they would suggest I work harder, get started earlier, and read the materials over.  The responsibility was placed upon our shoulders.   Hey, if other kids could do the work, I should be able to do as well.

                What I learned is I do as well as I do.  No one was going to give me anything I hadn’t earned.  But if I did well, then the work showed.  Thankfully, when I went to college, I put in the time.  With additional time and work, I learned better ways of learning, but still garnering A’s.  I did the work.  I never asked for extra credit.  I just stood by what I had done or didn’t do.   Only one professor was horrible, but I did what I had to do to pass the class because it was mandatory.  Yes, if he didn’t like you, your grades suffered (I know this because my paper and a classmates were basically the same after we compared [After we got the grades.]).  She got an A.  I got a D.  So we knew something was up, for it happened time after time.  But I didn’t complain, just continued, and passed.  I learned something there.

                Our youth, in more often circumstances, are not learning the lessons of life.  If the youth don’t learn responsibility, think feelings are the only things that matter, how will they cope with life and the difficulties we all endure?  How will they handle work when the boss tells them they will soon be fired if they don’t shape up?  How will they teach their own future children responsibility if they don’t know it themselves?  Parents are the guardians of their children.  They must know who influences their children.  They must do this, love their children, but also hold them accountable for their efforts. 

                As one who has taught for many years, I have seen this.  Young people who walked into my room, thinking they would have the run of the class, quickly discovered a teacher who was determined, cared, but would always hold them responsible.  And when the class understood they had a teacher who cared, but would cut them no slack, they worked harder, and with time, their self-esteem increased, and they too healthy pride in doing well.   But with changing times, this is becoming more difficult.  We’re forgetting the lessons that our generation grew up with which leads to a higher probability for success.  But parents, who are the guardians, can lead their children to become successes in their own rights.  Mommy, Daddy, this work is too hard.  Well, dear, you better get started and reread the material.  By the way, until your grades improve, you’ve lost your video games and smart phone.  But that teacher’s too hard.  Welcome to the real world, honey.  Better get back to work.  And no, you’re friends cannot come over, until your grades improve.  Mom!!!  You want to lose more priveleges?  No, I’ll get to work (We don’t support learned helplessness.).  It’s a habit we build over a lifetime.  And it leads to greater success and self-esteem.  Love is also tough-love.          

Class Management and Fun

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                Two of my favorite shows are Supernanny and The Dog Whisperer.  In the show Supernanny, Joe Frost demonstrates natural patience, love for the kids and teens, but from a responsible parent position.  We would watch the difficulties parents were having (i.e. kids misbehaving, not listening, taking forever to stay in bed, fighting with siblings, and much more).  When Joe Frost entered the homes, immediately, the children calmed down. She would spend the first day observing the family and how the parents interacted with the children, making recommendations afterwards.  Then, she would either demonstrate or give advice and guide.  The main thing is she was organized, cared, and was very consistent, knowing what works with our youth.  The children came to respect her more and more, so when she left, they were missing her.  Of course, she would contact the family on a later date for an update.  Every time we watched, the parents were getting more sleep, had a better relationship with their children, and the children were happier.

                In The Dog Whisperer, what Cesar demonstrated was calmness.  He usually identified the miscommunication between pet owners and their pets, that the owners should be the leaders, but this requires understanding the dogs.  Through calmness (for animals react to our emotions), consistency, and organization, he teaches the owners, so the owners become the pack leaders.

                As a teacher, I have always enjoyed the classroom, teaching, but also encouraging creativity.  But I understood early, the teacher has to be the pack leader.  However, a good teacher also encourages the students to be leaders themselves.  This requires time and understanding.  However, over time, with consistency, caring, and direction, the students are working together and getting along.  Even the students who seem to want to try the teacher, through calmness (for young people react to adult emotions), but also leadership and consequences, they learn to realize it’s better to learn and do the work, for in that, they will gain information and understanding that benefits them.

                Although, in the early years, I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching experience, times were changing.  To meet these changes, I knew I had to improve upon management skills.  The Dog Whisperer and Supernanny were two shows that explained what I had always known, but they put much more music to the songs.  They showed, in real time, and through watching, I could better understand student behaviors.  Having said that, I knew the importance of patience, organization, and consistency, but also consequences and a firm stance.  For what class doesn’t have at least one child that won’t test the teacher, who doesn’t listen to their parents, and has made difficulty with other teachers and adults.  It’s a learned behavior.  And if one student or more are creating difficulty, and get away with it, others will eventually follow.  Eventually, we have difficulties where none should exist, for each teacher creates an environment that is exclusive to that classroom.  Of course, staff cooperates, and understanding the dynamics goes a long way to improving overall school behaviors.

                Young people love it when the adults show patience, but also are the leaders, take responsibility, and enforce good rules, requiring them to be responsible as well.  But young people often don’t come out of the package so to speak with self-discipline.  This is where the adults and parents lead.  And without leadership, they are left to the whims of friends and others who are rebellious and aren’t responsible.  In schools, it’s paramount that the teachers understand this.  For in this, the students feel safe and enjoy the learning process.  They respect the teachers and therefore, grow to become respectable adults themselves.

A Story Time of Learning

Examples of the ToM cartoon stories presented to the subjects. Panels show (A) cooperation, (B) deception, and (C) cooperation/ deception. (D) shows an example of a jumbled cartoon story presented in the non-ToM condition. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002023.g004

                Over the course of weeks, we had talked about stories read out of the text, which included main characters and scenes, not to mention what was happening.  We discussed what the “issues” were, any problems needing solutions, and how the stories ended.  What did you picture in your mind as the story progressed?  Were there concerns as you read?  What did you learn about the characters (i.e. their personality, likes and dislikes, concerns, and anything else)?  How might have you handled similar situations?

                On this particular day, we were going to begin creating our own stories.  First, we brainstormed ideas (On a previous week, we had worked on a story, as a class, so they could see the process from beginning to end, but also write the story, making changes where they felt needed.).  I explained most stories have a central problem, something that is solved by the end.  We need to decide what characters must be in the story, but as the story progresses, other characters can be included should they be needed.  We also need pictures of the main scenes (i.e. where the story takes place) and the main characters (so we can visualize them).  For today, what I’m looking for is the main idea, the main problem, and who the characters are.  Once this is decided, each student is to draw pictures of the main characters and answer some key questions about each (i.e. How old are they, what do they like to do, what is home life like, who are their friends, how do they handle problems, and so forth.  Usually, I ask for 5-7.).  Whatever they don’t accomplish can be completed at home.

                The next day, the students then create the main scenes, explaining what each scene entails.  What is happening in the scene?  Who is in the scene?  In this case, a paragraph each is sufficient (A paragraph should include 4-7 sentences.).  The purpose here is for the students to know their own stories before they begin.  Can they alter the stories as they write?  Yes.  But they shouldn’t divert too much, for then they will have to create new scene panels to support.  For when I read each story, I have the scenes before me, checking one to the other.

                After another day, on the forth, they begin writing the stories.  It’s important that the first story of the year I’m much more flexible.  The point is to get the students writing.  On the first story (which I don’t require panels), I’m encouraging creativity without too much concern over grammar and punctuation.  However, before the second or third story, we have worked on both, and the grade encompasses correct grammar, correct punctuation, an easily identifiable problem with succeeding solution, and quality characters (We use paragraphing, quotations, and other tools the students learn.).  For a fifth aspect, which is subjective, I look at the story as a whole.  Here, I need to be flexible, but as I learn how each student writes and thinks, I understand how they “see” things.  But it’s important that their stories is understandable to a reader.  Depending upon each class, I usually give the students three days to complete.  Usually, another day is needed.  For extra credit, the students who read their stories to the class garner more points. 

                What I have learned, over the years, is through story writing, the students understand different aspects of stories, “seeing” it first-hand, which helps them better “see” stories read out of the text.  In addition, through writing and reading, their grammar improves (Since I thoroughly check their writing from the third story onward, and they must “fix” the mistakes.  Also, we do sample writes where I’m checking grammar and punctuation), their reading improves, and this helps in math where reading instructions and word problems are important.  One other thing:  I teach them to draw word problems out.  Draw a picture of what the problem is asking.  In this way, you can visualize what the problem is asking and what is entailed.

                On the last story of the year (We might do 5 or more throughout the year.  In some classes, students want to do more, and those who do extra stories get extra credit.  I remember one student doing twenty page stories which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Flashbacks, more extensive panels, and more.), I’m open to their creativity.  In this way, they may come up with ideas I never thought of.  As I’ve shared with friends, sometimes I learn more from the students.  In this way, I have more to share with the next class.