What Kind of Teacher Do You Want to Be?

Will you help your students to learn this year? Or will you simply label them as failures if they don’t? What kind of teacher will you be?

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My Mother, an Excellent Teacher, in her English Classroom
My Mother, in her English Classroom

My mother, Marjorie Hart, was an excellent teacher.  She got her B.A. and her credential to teach English  in California when I was in high school. She started her first teaching job in Artesia with only an emergency credential, when I was in college. Her first year was very hard on her physically and emotionally, since she still had one school age child at home and she was still having to take classes at night. She almost didn’t make it.

She kept at it, though, and finally got tenure. She finally became head of the English department and trained her share of student teachers. She also taught English as a Second Language at the high school and, for a semester, at the adult school as well. She loved teaching the adults, until the district forced an unimaginative curriculum which her students hated on all adult ESL classes. So she did not continue the adult class when the semester ended. At various times in her teaching career she was the advisor for the school yearbook and the the school newspaper.

Beside me I have my Mom’s scrapbook. It’s devoted to pictures students gave her or sent her after they left her class.  There are wedding pictures, Valentines, birthday, thank you, and Christmas cards. Here is a sampling of messages on the backs of the pictures and in the cards. The student year book for 1969 is full of similar messages.

Mrs. Hart, from one of your most grateful students (I actually know a little about grammar.)

Mrs. Hart / One of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. I hope that the rest of your life is as beautiful as you’ve made mine. I love you always. / Ed-in-chief, Class of 76

Mrs. Hart, / Words can’t express my gratitude to you. I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me. Your (sic) my favorite teacher and I’ll always remember you. With love, T.D., -76-

My mom did not teach all college prep classes. She taught a lot of the students who would probably never go to college. Many had trouble speaking English. Many had problems at home and  confided in my mom. She would tell me about how hard it was for some  to finish homework when they had to care for siblings at home and fix the meals while their parents worked. I know my mom cared about her students. If they weren’t learning, she kept trying to find new ways to help them.

Contrast that with this high school teacher in Pennsylvania who was just fired for blogging that her students were  “rat-like”, “frightfully dim”, “lazy whiners”, and suggested that their future employment was with the local trash company. She considered it all their fault if they didn’t learn.

I have had some English students who did not want to learn anything and did not want to be in school. Many of them had bad attitudes and were in trouble with the law. But I tried to show them the respect due to every human being. Although I was able to help and reach some of them, I failed with some others. I was young and inexperienced and came to the conclusion that teaching in public school was not the right job for me. I only knew how to reach the college prep students. I simply wasn’t prepared enough to give the unmotivated students the inspiration they needed to succeed.

Steven David Horwich, who introduced the Pennsylvania teacher I mentioned above, in his blog, spends the remainder of his blog describing the job of a teacher. If you are planning to go into a classroom to teach this fall for the first or  the twenty-first time, you might want to read this for inspiration.  These are just a few of the words Horwich shares:

It is the teacher’s job to provide the environment wherein a student can experience and grasp information, develop ideas and ambitions, experiment, try, fail, try again and finally succeed. We will need our young people’s ideas and ambitions if we are to progress in any direction as a culture and a people. A teacher who berates a student for failure, who makes an issue of it, is a teacher helping to build human beings who will refuse to try, refuse to reach, will not experiment, try again or ever succeed. The price for trying and failing will be seen as simply too draconian and painful, the lesson students actually learn from teachers who cannot control their critical instincts.

It is a teacher’s job to find any and every way to open up the world and its possibilities to a child. And when that child smiles and reaches for a particular idea, it becomes the teacher’s job to fan that flame of interest into a bonfire with additional experiences and ideas along the same line. This is how a teacher helps to build the next great artists, athletes, business and political leaders.

My mom was that kind of teacher. What kind of teacher will you be this year?

Should a teacher read student cumulative files before school starts?

When we look at students as the unique individuals they are instead of mentally putting them in a cubbyhole based on test scores or a cum file, we will be better able to make our teaching relevant to them

My mother, Marjorie Hart, teaching English at Garh High in Cerritos, California in the 1970's
My mother, Marjorie Hart, teaching English at Garh High in Cerritos, California in the 1970's

I didn’t do this, even though I was about to teach sophomore  ESEA classes — students not working up to grade level because they were unmotivated.   I had only been teaching for one semester, and I had taken over the classes of my master teacher at midyear when he was advanced to a new position.  They were all senior classes, and even the ESEA students had worked hard enough to be senior and wanted to graduate.  I also had some college prep classes, some of whom I’m still in touch with. The next year I was moved to a different school where all my students would be sophomores.  The biggest difference was that these students didn’t care if they graduated, and most hated English and every other school subject before they stepped into my classroom. I was very green and the special class I’d taken on teaching ESEA students spent a lot of time building sympathy for these students and little time on managing and motivating the classes.

I will never forget my seventh period class. It was mostly female, since many boys were out for sports. ESEA students, for those unfamiliar with these government programs, were for the students who weren’t succeeding in regular classrooms — not because they couldn’t do the work, but because they didn’t care about learning. These students fell behind, and most were in broken or dysfunctional families.

I always tried to show respect for my students, and had not heard the “Don’t smile before Christmas” advice many teachers later shared with me. I approached the class in a friendly manner and tried to get to know them a bit during the first week of classes. My lack of experience was probably evident, since I was still challenged by some when trying to enter the teacher’s lounge, and the year before a senior young man had asked me to be his walking partner during graduation practice. I might add that toughness was not in my nature. Many of the few male students in the class tried to take advantage of this, but when they started in on me, Lindy, a student in the front row, turned to the rest of the class and simply told them to shape up — they weren’t to heckle me. And they stopped challenging me.

I always liked Lindy. I could see she was a bright young lady and that she had leadership traits. She later told me that her parents were divorced and she lived with her mother and her father didn’t care. She said her mother often urged her to stay home from school to drink with her.

I was leaving campus late one afternoon and ran into Lindy. I asked why she was there so late and she said she’d been in detention. I must have seemed surprised when I asked her what she was there for, since she always behaved in my class. She replied that she’d ditched chorus  because they were just practicing for the spring concert, and no one from her family would be there anyway. She had never ditched my class. My heart went out to her. I think by the time this happened the concert was over, or I would have let her know I’d be there to see her.

Toward the end of that year, many of the other ESEA teachers in core subjects told me that Lindy had been a huge problem in middle school — sort of a gang leader type. She also acted up in their classes. They were surprised I’d never had a problem with her. Maybe she sensed I cared and that I hadn’t already labeled her as a hopeless problem. Maybe it was good I hadn’t read the cum file as the others did, and had met Lindy without any preconceived notions on how she would behave.

It’s so easy to use test scores and cum files to label students and form our expectations of students according to those labels. My English teacher used them to put the wrong label on me. Many of Lindy’s teachers used the cum files to decide what students were like before having the opportunity to see them without the labels. To me students have always been individuals unlike any other individuals. I’m still in touch with two of them I found or was found by on Classmates.com — after 30 years. I wish I’d known how to keep in touch with Lindy, but so far she’s not registered.

I’ve always believed that the student-teacher relationship is an important part of the learning equation. Students remember the teachers who stood out, for better or worse, much better than they remember the content that was taught in any particular year.

I never learned much geography in ninth grade, but I do remember that my teacher had a habit of sitting on her desk while teaching. She would  then get up to write on the board and fall into the wastebasket beside her desk. The entire class would be focused on when this would happen next, rather than on what she was trying to teach us.

I also remember the algebra teacher who spent her class time talking about England and telling us the first day of class that the person in the front corner desk would probably get an A because she was blond and the blond who sat in that seat last year got an A. I had to get an outside tutor for algebra and my parents managed to get me transferred to a different teacher for the next semester and I got an A.

Probably the teacher I remember most was my Latin teacher, Mrs. Cargill. I and many of my friends took her class for two years straight. Some poor souls were in her Latin classes because their counselors couldn’t figure out what other class would fit into their schedules. They were not college prep students as the rest of us were, and had no interest at all in Latin. Mrs. Cargill wanted to help motivate them, so she formed the Latin Club. It was a very active group with parties and special events almost every month and regular lunchtime meetings. Mrs. Cargill wanted to keep these students socially integrated with motivated students. It worked with at least one of those students. He came into Latin with  a D average . He now has a PhD in theology, with an undergraduate major in Geology.

When the school went on half day sessions the next year, Mrs. Cargill and her husband took five of us to the beach every Friday afternoon in the back of their Model A pick-up. (Her husband taught auto shop in a school where I later joined the faculty for my student teaching). We loved being able to know our favorite teacher and her family better. Many of the Latin Club events had been in her home, so it was not just the five beach-goers that were able to know her outside of class. Because Mrs. Cargill reached out to her students, we were even more motivated to work hard in her classes. My senior year I was also able to take a world literature class from her. She was from Spain, and was able to add a lot of insight that was not in the textbook.

I understand that these kind of activities are often discouraged today. I think part of this is because of liability issues. Fortunately, when I taught at Poly High in Long Beach, California, it was not an issue yet.  I was able to invite my classes to my home to practice a play we were recording. I also had a party at home for all of them one Good Friday night and quite a few came. Many of those students stayed in touch while they were in college, and even after they got married.

In ancient times, adults used to follow teachers they wanted to learn from, and were known as disciples. Probably the best known of these teachers is Jesus, whose disciples followed him everywhere, and lived and worked with him. Disciples were able to see if the teachers they followed practiced what they taught.

Today,though they don’t follow us around, the way we treat them tells them whether we practice what we teach about respect and the worth of the individual. If we show them that we not only care about them, but also show enthusiasm for the subject we teach, they  will  more easily “catch” what we teach.

Is This What They Mean By Socialization?

Just how much did socialization help Jaheem Herrera? How I grieve for his family, who will miss socializing with him the rest of their lives. How glad I am that when my son died, it was not like that, but while he was out at the lake with his friends, where he rode a jet ski to Heaven.

What Bullying Can Lead To

I just read this story on the CNN site and it made me very sad for the family and angry at whatever made this happen. As a former teacher of children in public schools, I saw more than my share of playground behavior. Even students in private schools can be very cruel. When my son was still in public school, he was happy in the classroom and miserable on the playground, even though he was friendly and outgoing. At the time he was still a foster child and some of the other kids knew it.

How My Own Children Suffered from Playground “Socialization”

My daughter, in another school’s special ed program, was perfectly happy for two years with a wonderful teacher. Then that wonderful teacher had a sabbatical midyear and her class (in which Sarah was the only girl) got a male long-term substitute who didn’t mind pushing values that were different from ours (and the former teacher’s) at his students in the 3-4 grades. But it was the playground that was the worst problem. Our daughter would come home and complain that the boys were always propositioning her during recess. (She was a very attractive fourth-grade girl.)

Is This What They Mean By Socialization?

We complained to the principal and were told that the teachers on duty at recess can’t see and hear everything. As to the classroom situation, the best we could get was that Sarah would be moved to a resource room with a female teacher after her female teacher aide went home the last hour of the school day.  These are the things that are part of the background of my reading this news story.

I also lost my son, but not this way. My heart goes out to the mother and sister who got the terrible shock of seeing their loved one hanging in the closet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a child. You don’t ever get over it. But to know that your child was so unhappy at 11 that he would take his own life — that is one of the very worst ways to lose a child. There is only one way I can imagine that would be worse, and that way always makes the news, too.

Finding the Right Education Solution

On our journey to find the right education solution, we tried private schools. We finally found one that would take both my bright son and his sister, who was behind due to some emotional baggage she was carrying from her life with her birth parents. Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, as it turned out, the school closed after one year.

The next year we found a principle approach private school that was just right for the next two and two-thirds years. I had always wanted to homeschool, though, and that last third of the last school year, I got my chance.

Is This What They Mean By Socialization?

My husband was on a contract job in the Seattle area and we all went up to see him during Easter break. We went with another family to let the children play in the snow, and my daughter’s sled got stuck. When my husband freed it for her, he tore a ligament in his arm that required surgery, and he needed us to stay and help. I called our principal at home, and he convinced my husband, who was always the one who objected, that I would be perfectly able to teach the children, who were then in grades 5 and 8. I had been teaching English part time in his school for a year.

Washington was a marvelous state in which to begin the homeschool adventure. Although we had textbooks at home that were used at the school we were coming from, they were still at home and we couldn’t leave for a couple of weeks to go and get them. So we used the Auburn Public Library, near where we found a house to rent. The school district was also good to us when they heard of our situation.

So What About Socialization?

Jason, surrounded by friends at beach BD party
Jason, surrounded by friends at beach BD party

We loved homeschooling, but we heard what almost any other homeschooling family hears from friends and neighbors. What about socialization? Many people think that home school children sit home with their books all day and never see anyone outside the home.

Maybe they don’t realize that children who study at home still play soccer, go to youth group, join the scouts, play with the neighbor children, and learn to get along not only with their peers, but also their families and people who are younger or older than they are. Jason’s  social life improved 100% when he started studying at home. He could actually get along with children who couldn’t get along with anyone else.

In public school, Jason had been teased because he was small for his age and because he was a foster child during his kindergarten year. He often came home unhappy. He loved learning and was naturally compassionate and helpful. I had watched him comfort younger children in the neighborhood who were crying when he didn’t know I was watching. He didn’t know how to respond to the meanness he encountered at school on the playground. Is this what a child needs to be considered socialized? To learn to respond to bullying and meanness from others?

Neighborhood Socialization

One of the boys who lived next door to us was also an adopted child, and he had been abandoned in Korea by his birth father — just left at the train station. He was also handicapped — he had a leg brace. He was dealing with a lot of issues. Jason had lived in his house first, and that’s how we met Jason. I will call the other boy X since he became the neighborhood bully who delighted in getting the younger boys in trouble and then would disappear just before the adults came on the scene.

There were enough adults around, however, to make sure things didn’t go too far, to give comfort after such an event, and to try and help prepare our children for the next temptation to misbehave X lured them into. X never was able to overcome his emotional baggage, and he caused even bigger problems in his adoptive home than he caused in the neighborhood. Eventually, he had to go back to the juvenile system. Meanwhile, though, while he was still around, all parents kept a watchful eye when the children were all outside playing.

The Dark Side of Socialization

So just what is socialization? According to my American College Dictionary, to socialize is “…to make fit for life in companionship with others; to make socialistic; establish or regulate according to the theories of socialism.” The application for education is “to turn from an individual activity into one involving all or a group of students. ” For the moment I won’t ask just what part of this definition others are concerned about when they ask how homeschoolers will socialize.

What I don’t see here is that to socialize means to accept bullying, learn to be insulted at a young age,  subject oneself to verbal abuse and just shrug it off.  On one hand, we are told how devastating it is when a parent or other adult is verbally or physically abusive. If such socialization occurs at home and it is reported, the children are often removed from the home.

Yet we mandate by law that children must go to school where they often receive this kind of abuse and more from their peers, and the principals and teachers say they can’t really prevent it  — in spite of their anti-bullying programs. That’s what it says in the CNN article. That’s what I found in my child’s school in a good neighborhood. This doesn’t just happen in the inner city.

Learning to Socialize in a Healthy Way

Is This What They Mean By Socialization? An Example of Healthy Socialization

I do not think socialization is good in itself.  In my opinion, there is good socialization and bad socialization. Children get their first introduction to socialization in their families, learning to speak, share, take turns, sit and eat and talk with the family, etc. They learn to get along with their siblings. They still do all these things when they study at home. They also, as mentioned before, socialize in sports, community, church, and homeschool groups with children and adults. My son’s friends’ parents were amazed that my son always chatted with them when they came to pick up their own children from youth group.

Their school-socialized children avoided talking to adults unless they had to. My son enjoyed talking to them because he considered adults people, too. His very best friend was a fireman who had acted as an adult mentor when my husband was on those contract jobs. But the friendship went two ways. Jason tried to comfort Terry, too, when Terry’s marriage was breaking up. Both Terry and his wife were Jason’s friends, and the break-up was hard on Jason, too.

When Jason died in an accident at 14, I was amazed at all the friends of various ages he had. Some were younger children he played with. Some were his own age. Some were boys and some were girls.

Many were adults we didn’t even know he knew from around the neighborhood. He would ride his bike around and start talking to any adult who appeared to be doing something interesting outside, especially if they were doing something mechanical. (That’s actually how I met Jason when I was working in the garden in the front yard.) These became his new friends. He’d get up at 6:30 AM to go visit with a construction crew in the neighborhood while they had their coffee before starting their work day. They even let him watch them work for a bit before he had to come home for breakfast and to start his school day.

One day he came home from a construction site in the afternoon. (He often went back when school was over for the day.)  He was very excited because he’d met the geologist who was checking the area around the site for signs of faults. He also brought home clay from the soil on the site the geologist had given him. He was excited because the geologist told him they were building the homes on a fault. What a tie-in to a science lesson.

Is This What They Mean By Socialization?
Top: Jason at Court of Honor, Sarah with Younger Cousin
Bottom: Our Family Picnicking with One of Our Favorite Families, Jason digging clams at a camping site with new-found friends.

I think Jason had a very active social life — more active than he ever had when going to school. He also kept ties with friends made in his last school by joining their Boy Scout Troop. His Scout friends played an active part in his memorial service. And Terry stood there and cried, along with about 399 others.

So what was missing in Jason’s socialization? Being bullied? Being subjected to peer pressure to do drugs? Learning words that would not really enhance his vocabulary? He got enough of some of those things just playing with the kids in the neighborhood. Would it have been better to get more of it on the playground where there were not enough adults to intervene? Just how much did socialization help Jaheem Herrera? How I grieve for his family, who will miss socializing with him the rest of their lives. How glad I am that when my son died, it was not like that, but while he was out at the lake with his friends, where he rode a jet ski to Heaven.

Must reading for teachers

It’s not easy to teach unmotivated students. How does one help them learn when they don’t seem to care?

I just ran across this today and thought I’d share the link to this poem : All Kids Have Special Needs. I think every teacher should read it about once a week. The more challenging your students, the more important it is to read this.

Entering a classroom day after day can sometimes seem like a chess game. As the teacher you want to encourage your students to learn. You have made your plans carefully, taking your students’ abilities and past learning into consideration.  But some days they have a different agenda than learning. They are perhaps thinking about survival, abuse, hunger, lack of love at home, and other things you may not have any experience of. All these things keep them from tuning into the classroom experience you are hoping they will have.

Do any of you have books or links or personal experiences to share on how to reach these special students?