I Apologize…

by lclarcq on April 7th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Classroom Management, Not So Good Days, Relationships

No one is perfect. This afternoon I had the chance to reflect on some of the many things I would change if I could go back to my first 10, or maybe even 20, years of teaching.

To my former students…

If I posted the agenda for the class and made darn sure we did everything on it, even if it wasn’t understood or didn’t make sense, I apologize.

If you voiced a concern and I not only didn’t address it, but also asked you to stop thinking and talking about it, I apologize.

If I offered extra credit, but only gave the points to the students who needed a higher average, I apologize.

If I suggested ideas that would help you to become a better student, never told you that they counted for a grade, and then took off points if you didn’t do them, I apologize.

If I followed every compliment with….But….and proceeded to berate you, I apologize.

If for every positive statement I made about you, I made five negative ones, I apologize.

If I assigned you a project that I had no experience with and then criticized how you did it, I apologize.

If I required you to use technology that I did not understand, and then criticized how you used it, I apologize.

If one or two people in your class didn’t do something correctly and I scolded all of you, I apologize.

If I asked you, in front of the entire class, to raise your hand and tell me that you didn’t do an assignment (even though I already knew that you were the only one who didn’t do it) I apologize.

If you ever arrived late to class and I made fun of you and let the class laugh at you, I apologize.

If it was clear by my words and my actions that I favored some of you and disliked others, I apologize.

If I made you feel that by being my students you were a burden to me, I apologize.

If I attempted to motivate you with sarcasm or by poking fun at you, I apologize.

I truly hope that I didn’t do these things, or at least do them very often. I’m sure that there are other things that I should apologize for as well…and I am sorry. I’m sure, at the time, I really did think that I was doing the right thing, the best thing, by behaving that way, but I was wrong…and I am sorry.

Why I am thinking about these things today?

I saw them happen…..and it really, really made me angry. Not to students, but to adults, and it still made me really, really angry.

And it made me remember, or at least worry about, times when I may have inadvertently treated my students poorly. I’m sure that I have, at some point, made my students as angry as I was today…and for that, I am sincerely sorry. Please accept my apologies.

with love,
Laurie

Incredibly, Uniquely Beautiful

by lclarcq on February 5th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Musings, Pacing, Relationships

Midterms are over. But I worry that the mindset isn’t.

Even those of us who don’t enjoy assessment, tracking data and recording grades can get caught up in the tidal pull of measurement and the undertow of evaluation.

Well….that might be a little too metaphoric, but we ARE teachers. Since the age of 5 we’ve been playing with tests and trying to win. That is hard to let go of. Many of us were test champions and grade royalty.

(The following is my own opinion and might be considered heretic in this day and age)

I realize that we must assign grades and that students require passing grades in order to move to the next level. We have all worked hard to create systems that allow the progress our students make to be accurately reflected in the grades. Our jobs depend on it. But…in the great scope of life…

THE GRADES DO NOT MATTER. They are artificially “scores” that someone/something determined would measure value in schools. They are part of the system, BUT THEY DO NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT ANYTHING.

They certainly do not reflect value. No human being can be given a numerical value. It’s ridiculous to even think of it (although sadly, it is commonly done throughout American culture, not just in schools.)

Every moment that we see our students in terms of a number, we have lost an opportunity to see them as people.

The system, and most of the people in it, will try to change your mind about that. They will also try to convince you that YOUR value will also be determined by numbers: your students’ numbers. They will tell you that not only are students are numbers, but that we should compare students using these values. Actually, they would like us to line them up according to these numbers. They want us to believe that the students should all on the same place on a line of measurement at the same time. Finally, they tell us that the students should be moving along that measuring line at the same pace. On a day to day basis.

They are also trying to convince us that it is our job to make that happen. If we don’t, we are failures. (Yes, they use THAT word….a word we have secretly been afraid of since we entered a school at age 5)

My dear friends, that is a crock of horsepucky. All of it. Including the idea that we are special because we “earned” good grades when we were students. Grades do not make anyone special.

EVERYONE IS SPECIAL.

Its really difficult to see that. Our job doesn’t always let us remember that, even though that is an elemental part of our profession.

Please remember it.

Everyone is special and everyone is unique.

Our students are not supposed to be alike. They all enter our classes at different ages. They enter with different backgrounds and experiences. They did not learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to read their first language, learn to ride a bike, learn anything at the same rate. Why? Because while we may all be wired in the same way, we are all unique and incredibly miraculous human beings.

Have you ever seen a group of one year olds together? They are all at very different places in height, weight, ability to walk/talk etc. If they are paying attention, if they are in the classroom approximately the same number of days, they are all getting the same amount and quality of input. AND THEY WILL STILL NOT BE IN THE SAME PLACE.

Some students show growth in slow, steady increments. Others will grow in “hops”, showing improvement every two to three months….but very little in between. Others are icebergs. Everything grows beneath the surface and we see nothing…then all of a sudden BOOM! After six to eight months (or more) of nothing….amazing things are happening.

No one is really “ahead” or “behind”, despite what society might want us to believe. If the student is there, and involved, if we are providing a rich environment and comprehensible instruction, then the student is where the student is supposed to be. Period. They will move when they are ready, at the pace that is best for them. We can pay attention, and we can respond, but there is truly little we can do to change that.

And it is no reflection on us.

Hard as that is to remember.

We need to enjoy each student where he or she is….or we will lose sight of the beauty of the human brain, the human mind and the human spirit. How each and every human is unique and heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Nothing else really matters.

with love,
Laurie

What do students need ME for anyway?

by lclarcq on January 21st, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Musings, Relationships, TPRS techniques

This post started as part of a response to my friend Skip….and then it grew from there. Thanks Skip for asking me the questions that make me think.

I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher. I wanted to teach kindergarten…or third grade. I wanted to sing songs, read stories, and introduce my students to history and heroes. Actually that is what I do, I am just lucky enough to do it via Spanish. But that is not what most of my colleagues were doing when I started thirty-plus years ago. I truly admired and respected those teachers, I just couldn’t be one of them. Maybe it was because I didn’t start out as a Spanish major (although I ended up with a Spanish and an Education degree), or maybe it was because I wasn’t very confident about my language abilities at the time….but my goals as a language teacher were a bit different.

Truthfully, I never thought that I would be able to convince teenagers to commit to memory the hundreds of rules and thousands of words necessary to master the language. I loved it, but I never thought all of my students would. And I wanted ALL of my students to love Spanish class the way 5 year olds love kindergarten (okay…think 30 year prior to Common Core!)

Thirty years ago (and more), we used to consider it our job to teach the understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the language…its history, structure, details. And we did that. Sadly, few students were able to draw on any of this knowledge after a few months….much less a few years.

We then made it our goal to teach the students the vocabulary, verb forms and highly irregular patterns so that they could also communicate with others. We created texts and materials that we thought would help our students to be able to put all of the pieces of the language in order to function while traveling, doing business etc.. But we still taught as if mastering the al to help students to communicate. It was a great deal of work, and yes.. fun, to create activities that allowed students to pretend that they could communicate in a real-life situation.

Sadly, once again, students failed to retain the language for any length of time.

It was the first reason I was so impressed with the results of TPRS and teaching with Comprehensible Input. The language stuck. For a long, long time. I was pretty excited about that!

Then along came technology.

I think that our job as language teachers has seriously shifted. And I am afraid we may not even know it.

Any knowledge about the language that students need can be found easily on the Internet. All of it. Communication can occur with a cell phone and an app. And almost instantly. And with about the same accuracy that our students used to have….probably more.

I had a great reason to switch from learning to acquisition in my classroom. But if my students can just use a machine to communicate…..why would it even matter if they acquire a language?

What IS our job now? Why would students need to be able to communicate…device-free…in a world quickly becoming overrun with devices? Why do they need us? Can’t they get all of the language they need via technology?

I think we need to be asking ourselves, and our profession, that question. What are we doing that students cannot now do for themselves…..without us?

For me (and you’ve heard me say this I think), I want my students to acquire Spanish in order to explore the hearts, minds and souls of people who speak Spanish. I want them to acquire Spanish so that they can think more deeply, express feelings to others, ask questions about the universe and SHARE that journey with people of other cultures…..and they can do that so much better in more than one language. AND WITH A PERSON…not a machine.

I believe that our job is less about teaching the language and more about using the language to teach the skill of making personal, social, historical, artistic and even political connections.

I believe that our job is about establishing relationships, nourishing relationships, growing as a result of relationships …..Relationships that are a)built via communicating so that we are understood in another language and b)built because we understand others in their language .

It’s about understanding….and being understood as a human being. It’s a job that no machine can do.

They need us for that.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Kindness: Why It Matters At The High School

by lclarcq on January 17th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Relationships, Uncategorized

It isn’t easy to be kind at the high school. It isn’t at all cool. (and it doesn’t matter how old you are….) Nice people are perceived as stupid, or weak. These are things to be avoided at all costs.

At the high school, the operative word is tough. Tough is smart, tough is strong. These are things to be achieved and admired for.

Tough appears to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails.

Why even try?

Because Tough APPEARS to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails….on the surface. But underneath, BECAUSE tough prevails, kindess really matters. It’s desperately needed as a matter of fact.

You wouldn’t know that by teen behavior, but it is.

If you’ve ever parented a toddler, it is a little easier to understand. From the age of one to four years old, childen live in these adorable little teflon-coated cocoons. Nearly everything we say bounces right off of them. We don’t expect REALLY expect toddlers to say please and thank you. We don’t expect toddlers to be patient. We don’t expect toddlers to be responsible. Yet…we spend several years “pleasing and thank-youing” to them anyway. Even though…..we will see them throw tantrums, refuse to share, make faces, pick at their food, throw things and a number of other challenging behaviors. It is as if they do not hear a word we say. FOR SEVERAL YEARS! But we keep on trying anyway. That is what parents do. When children emerge from their “toddler-armor”, they have actually absorbed many of the behaviors we have been raining down on them since before potty-training.

I’ve often felt that toddlers and teens have a lot in common. Obsession with potty talk and bodily functions for one. Then there are the passionately emotional/stubbornly indifferent twin sides to their personalities. Both groups have moments when they are completely committed to doing things independently, even when it is impossible or riduculous to do so. AND this selective hearing issue occurs in teens just as virulently as it does in toddlers.

Then…at some point, a young adult emerges from this tought cocoon and it turns out that,yes indeed, they really had been listening all those years.

It is a rare, rare adolescent that is thankful for the kind people in his/her life. Some adolescents are too busy being focused on their struggles and miseries to be appreciative. Others don’t have the social skills to say thank you. Many would be just too embarrassed to try. But they do notice. And they remember.

True, it makes being kind a very thankless job (pun clearly intended!) So, if as human beings, we are being kind so that others will appreciate us, we may be disappointed. But, if we are kind because kindness speaks to how we want to affect the world, rather than how much we would like to be appreciated, being kind isn’t all that difficult to achieve.

Being kind opens the door for choices. It says, I can make decisions, I can be in control of my responses. It shows my students that…and it shows me that. On the days that I am worn out, feeling low, frustrated and grumpy, the choice to be kind is reassuring to me.

Being kind opens the door for additional kindness. It clears a space for the positive. It makes more good things possible. We all could use a little more of that.

Being kind feels better, physically and emotionally. Life is too short, illness too prevalent and pain too powerful to not open up a door that makes us feel healthy and strong.

Being kind communicates hope. Where there is hope, there can be change. When there can be change great things happen. I vote for hope.

It’s true that things at the high school level can get a bit more serious. If we are going to get serious, why not get serious about something as far-reaching, and life-saving, as kindness?

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established

“Mildred”

by lclarcq on December 20th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2014, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days, Relationships, Tough Students

“Mildred” is a “fictional” student in Ben Slavic’s book PQA in a Wink. She is representative of the students that disrupt class, challenge our authority and almost appear to work hard to NOT be successful. The Mildred in Ben’s book comes from an abusive home in a high poverty neighborhood. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Mildred this last week before the holiday break and….

…..Mildred had a rough week last week; I can promise you that. She is facing a two week “vacation” from school, which is the only place she gets a decent, consistent meal. In my district, it may be the only place she can take a shower. Or have heat. She knows that it will be hard to get out and get away from a caustic environment where she can’t do anything right and will hope just to stay out of everyone’s way and keep the possessions that she has out of everyone else’s hands.

Knowing what was ahead, Mildred was NOT in the best of moods and when some girl starting bragging about the gifts she already knew she was getting and the flight to Bermuda w/ Grammy and Grandpa, she muttered something under her breath. Another “Mildred” heard her, assumed it was about her and swore at her. It went downhill from there.

When the math teacher crammed in the last chapter so that she could give the unit test the Friday before vacation………

……. and the Economics teacher made the group project due so that she could correct them over the break………

…….and the English teacher assigned internet research that Mildred had to do in the library because she doesn’t have internet, (but Mildred spent three periods this week in the Dean’s office) Mildred only got 1/3 of the way through those assignments.

Her average now in those classes is failing and there will be a phone call and a letter home due to district policy, and the adults in Mildred’s life will be pissed as hell that they are being bothered by the school. Each of those teachers gave Mildred a lecture this week about getting her act together, telling her that she is failing, and pointing out how “little” it would take to be a “good” student.

It takes a lot of work and time to develop a relationship with Mildred that will allow her to be interested in any kind of “story’ that we might come up with in a TPRS class that can distract her from the reality of her everyday life. There isn’t a current event that compares with her tumultuous life. No matter how carefully crafted our lessons were last week, it’s pretty likely that we couldn’t engage Mildred.

But every hello, every patient response, every nugget of positive action can (I won’t say will, I can’t promise that) work towards creating a relationship where one person may create an atmosphere in a classroom that might be the only place in school where Mildred feels welcome…..where she doesn’t feel like an unwanted, unrequested, unneeded “guest.”

You see, school may be the place to feel fuller, warmer and safer, but it doesn’t feel like a place where Mildred belongs. Truth is, she is treated like an invader, an imposter, as someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the building. That began in kindergarten when she didn’t bring in school supplies or the required contribution of glue, crayons and Kleenex boxes for the class.

It continued through elementary school where she never brought in a permission slip, didn’t bring in a gift for the Christmas exchange, couldn’t be in chorus because she didn’t own dress shoes and a white shirt, never handed in one science or social studies project. In middle school she didn’t shower much and she got in some trouble because other kids made fun of the fact that she didn’t own a bra and wore the same shoes every day. Day by day the staff, mostly without realizing it, pointed out to her that she was different from the kids who were “good” at school

…and over the course of her ten years as a student she has learned to behave as she has been treated.

There are a lot of Mildreds in our schools. More than we can imagine. Some of them spent the week in the in school suspension room. Some stayed home for several days because the environment there was (believe it or not) less painful than the pre-holiday anticipation flying around the building. Some tried to fly under the radar…silent, not making eye contact, falling asleep during the movie whenever possible.

But, if they are lucky, there is a room or two in the building where Mildreds are welcomed. In my building I could see Mildred in the Ag Science room making centerpieces to distribute for the FFA fund raiser and selling t shirts during lunches for the Entrepreneurship Club. I saw Mildred watering plants in the Bio room. I watched another Mildred go from classroom to classroom making jokes…and scooping up uneaten Christmas goodies. There was a Mildred hanging out in the attendance office after coming in late, and several in the weight room after school. Two or three Mildreds purposely move slowly on art projects so that they can come in to work during study hall or after school. I caught one Mildred cutting paper snowflakes in there. There was also a Mildred reading in the corner of the library.

I’m blessed to teach in a district with a number of staff who have connected with at least one Mildred. It’s a good thing…we have more Mildreds than we find “homes” for. It can be overwhelming.

If you teach in a district with many Mildreds, don’t give up. One day Mildred may show up in your room asking for a pass to come down and cut out paper snowflakes. Or she may contact you on Facebook to let you know that she was grateful in high school that you let her know that she could, but she just never felt comfortable enough to do it.

WHAT YOU DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE THAT YOU MAY NOT EVER SEE.

If you teach in a district where it appears that there are few Mildreds, think again. In these districts, the Mildreds are simply more sophisticated. They come from families where the “differentness” is accompanied by an early-learned skill in “appearing normal.”

Your Mildreds may have money, a lovely home and an amazing wardrobe. Your Mildreds have perfect or nearly perfect GPAs. In fact, your Mildreds MUST maintain a façade of being the best in order to hide the atrocities that they deal with at home. They freeze US out with condescension, criticism, and by turning parents against US so that we turn a blind eye to what is really going on in their lives.

Some Mildreds are dealing with challenges within their own minds, hearts, bodies and souls that they have not yet shared with anyone. These Mildreds are the most lonely and in the most pain.

As you head home for a week or two, it can be a relief to be “Mildred-free.” I sometimes feel guilty about that. But we have our own challenges as human beings. Sometimes we need Mildred-free time to focus on our own world in order to survive. We can’t help anyone when we haven’t attended to any of our own needs.

If you have been trying to reach a Mildred, or two, or twenty….and it doesn’t seem to be working…Hang in there. Love wins. It truly, truly does. It may not win the battle that you see. It may not win the in the way that you want it to. But Love, because it gets noticed, in itself creates Hope. Hope is the enemy of fear. Hope is the enemy of complacency. Hope is the enemy of despair. Hope is the enemy of apathy.

Hope is frightening. In Mildred’s experience, Hope proceeds Disappointment. Hope has proceeded Pain. So a teacher who offers Hope is frightening, potentially disappointing, and painful. No wonder Mildred gives us trouble.

What Mildred doesn’t yet know is that Hope and Possibility together can create a new future. But you do know that….so don’t give up. Rest up. Then go back and keep offering Love and Hope. They are as valuable a gift as any this season.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established

Teacher Vulnerablity Archived Post 12.13.10

by lclarcq on December 7th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2010, Encouragment, Relationships, Teacher Training, The Teaching Profession, TPRS techniques

Originally posted 12/13/10 For more insight on Vulnerability consider watching this :

The second idea that has been following me today is this: We are all insecure. All of us. We generally choose to handle it one of two ways:
a) Active, decisive, “strong” behaviors designed to give us the power to create an image that hides our insecurity from others.
b) Passive, indecisive, “weak” behaviors designed to give us the power to avoid other so that they cannot see our insecurity.

Wow.

Talk about insight. Talk about a smack in the face. Apparently we are usually one or the other….the one that we learned in childhood got us the most bang for our buck when it comes to protection of the heart and soul.

Now I’m sure that volumes could be written (and probably have been) about who chooses which protection mode and how those choices create the lives they lead. But I have been pondering the simpler side of things:

We are all insecure.

All of us. All the time. About something.

Our Money, our Friendships ,our Height, our Weight, our Skin color, our Families, our Work, our Relationships, our To Do Lists, our Faith, our Future, our Profession, our Job, our Health, our Vehicles, our Skills, our Possessions, Love….

And what we would do ( or how can we continue to survive) without these things…..

Some folks are worriers…their way of taking control of the insecurities. Others are worry-less…their way of taking control. Some are planners. Others just let everyone else make the plans and follow their lead.
Do we consciously know that we are insecure? I think we do…but we have long-used well-ingrained habits in place to “work” with it….so we don’t have to think about it all the time.

Nor do we actually face it.

Vulnerability is highly underrated.
Think of the real power that could be generated by educators if, for a few minutes per day, students’ vulnerabilities were actually seen as their strong points, as their gifts. Of course we would have to be willing to do that for ourselves first.

It is one of the things that attracts me to the TPRS teaching community. There is a common understanding that we are all vulnerable because we are always examining our weakest areas and trying to strengthen them. Then we communicate that with each other and even with our students so that we can really face our weak points, accept them, embrace them, learn from them and be better people and teachers because of them.

It is at the heart of what those who teach from the heart do.

We uncover it so that it can open.

With love,
Laurie
All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

I’m Losing Them Archived Post 1.13.13

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2013, Classroom Management, Encouragment, Engagement, Musings, Not So Good Days, Personalizing Instruction, Relationships, Tough Students

(Originally posted 1/13/13)

Many of my colleagues, whom I love as a family (who doesn’t after 25+ years in the same building?) have a very traditional view of education. They may have brought some of the activities into the 21st century with technology,but the philosophy is the same:

a. Some people are smart and some aren’t.
b. Schools are for, and should reward, the smart people.
c. Teachers are the smartest people of all.
d. Students who agree with a,b, and c will be the best students.
e. Every one else is not going to be successful in life.

This is enhanced by the fact that I teach in a small community with a very distinct social hierarchy. A hierarchy that is repeated generation after generation, because most people stay in the area. It is not unusual for students to be living on the same land that was farmed by their great-grandparents.

They teach in a way , and assign work, that they like. They are so convinced that they know best, that they cannot be challenged, and will not engage in discussion about other options. Frankly, I myself was like that in many ways myself. I was always considered smart and a good student. I considered myself a good teacher. It was humbling, and difficult, when I began to realize that I was only a good teacher for certain students. It was a principal who pointed that out to me. Why? Because I was teaching his son, who was not a “good” students. I am grateful that he showed me how I was mistreating and mis-teaching his son….because at the time I really had no idea that I was.

My son, as many of you know, deals with anxiety and depression. In high school,when he was not in control of those challenges, he was considered disengaged, lazy, etc., etc. In reality, he was barely functional because it took all of the energy he had to simply be present. Even after his diagnosis was explained to his teachers (my colleagues), they continued not only to view him that way, but to ask him why he was so lazy, and discuss his “laziness” with other students on a regular basis. Since then, I have tried very hard to see my own students with more accurate eyes. What I have found over and over again, is that students who don’t work have reasons. Many times, as an adult, I wouldn’t see things the way that they do. However, the majority of the time, I am blown away by what they are dealing with.

As I have expended more time and energy into getting to know students, I have also come to see that my goals, and their goals are sometimes miles apart. THIS is what creates the greatest gap with my students.

In some ways, this gap is necessary. I’m an adult. I have knowledge and understanding and perspective that they do not yet have. I’m supposed to use that knowledge to help them to become adults themselves. My mistake, too often, is to forget that they are not yet adults.

They are adolescents and adolescents are wired to have a cynical view of adults. It is one way in which they separate themselves from the adults in their lives and begin to develop their own thoughts and views. We have to accept that if we work with teens. But this group of adolescents is coming of age in a world that is different from any world that mankind has ever known. I suppose that all generations have a unique quality that makes them different from the previous ones, but this group? This group has two distinct new realities:

1. They have all of the known knowledge, and emerging knowledge, of the world at their fingertips. In 5 seconds or less and getting faster every minute. Past generations (back to the beginning of mankind) have always relied on the older generation for knowledge. This generation doesn’t have to. They are teaching themselves and learning on their own all the time. It will change how the young perceive the old. It has to.

2. At the same time, they have knowledge and skills (in the realm of technology) that the previous generation does not. It is, in many ways, flipping our generational reality upside-down. This generation has a sense, if not a full-blown knowledge of this new reality. It changes how they relate to adults. I believe that it is going to change society. It has to.

So, instead of growing up on a society that revers and respects adults for their knowledge, they are growing up, with cynical adolescent minds, knowing that they have as much, IF NOT MORE, access to knowledge as the adults that are attempting to educate them.

In addition, they KNOW that they will be adults in a world that doesn’t need to look to anyone for knowledge and information. This changes our roles, as adults and and teachers, and we need to figure out what our new role is. Why? Because we cannot teach if we don’t have students….and bit by bit, our students do not see themselves as students. Or at least students of something that we have to offer.

At the same time that this is occurring, the educational world is requiring us to be even more “information-driven”!!! What we are supposed to be giving them is the one thing that they least want and need!!!!

So now we get to the dilemma. This kids have tuned out and what do we do?

Truthfully, all of my philosophical rambling may not be Kevin’s dilemma. They may just be under-rested, under-caffeinated and under-motivated.

Either way, getting to know them and their goals for the course and for life never hurts. At the very least, when we understand where kids are coming from we tend to take their disengagement less personally. We can say, quite honestly, “Well then, you are making a personal choice to not participate. The consequences of that will be ______________” If we know their goals, we can have conversation with them about the benefits of having different goals…and why we think that different goals are possible and worthwhile for them. Many students think that teachers care more about themselves than about their students. This era of grading teachers based on students’ results is not going to help that any. Honest conversation about our own goals in life and our goals for our students may appear to fall on deaf ears, but they will hear us. We just may never see the results of that.

I’m going to wind this up with something that you have heard me say before: Teaching is a prayer. We offer our lessons up to the greater good, hoping, because we have no other choice, that good will come of it….even if we never see it.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Challenges of Poverty Archived Post 8.7.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Encouragment, Musings, Personalizing Instruction, Relationships, Students and Tragedy

(Originally posted 8/7/12)

You are not an isolated example but you are a rare one. I’ve taught high school students for 30 years in a rural area. The students whose families are above the poverty line are the ones who, overwhelmingly, hear messages of hope and support for a financially stable future via education. Those whose families live at or below rarely see outside of their own reality. In many cases, in today’s world, they have more financial aid available to them..many could go to college for little or nothing…but they and their families see little value in education. They do not even consider future careers that require education. That is clear by the time they enter ninth grade.

First of all, school is a different world than it was. While wealth has always helped, my observation is that more and more, a family’s financial background comes into play. Because so much emphasis is put on the data, more and more rewards are given to students who do well, STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN. Students who do well often come from families who read to them from an early age, can afford a good preschool program, ate well and exercised well and slept well the first five years of life. Kindergarten teachers are remarkably accurate in their ability to predict who will graduate from high school and who will not. Some of that may be from experience. Some of that may be because, in kindergarten, we have already identified who will be successful, who will not, and treat them that way (whether we realize it or not). Families with means will encourage students to play sports, take music lessons, have art supplies at home, provide computers and computer access from an early age. They will travel. They will encourage behaviors that will be encouraged at school from infancy…whereas families from lower-income social groups will not…without even realizing it.

It is not just the availability of money that makes the difference (although I promise you that a third grader who uses a computer and can afford a trip to the nearest arts and crafts store for his Solar System project will receive a much higher grade than the kid who did his on the back of a letter from Social Services.) It is the MINDSET of possibility (my own term) that money brings that is the biggest difference.

I am sure that Pat Barrett could explain it far better than I, but what I see is that these families require each member (in the family and it also often includes people in their “community” to be HIGHLY interdependent. These students have emotional, financial and social commitments early on in life. They are EXPECTED to stay home from school whenever a baby sitter is needed, or some stressful situation arises and a family member needs support. They frequently have adult responsibilities by ninth grade: paying bills, child care, negotiating disagreements between adults, visiting family in jail, arranging doctor’s appointments etc. It is very very difficult for them to even imagine taking enough personal time away from their families to put homework first, give up work time for classes, or even worse, leave home to go to college.

The other issue is harder for some of us to understand, but I assure you that it is very real. There is a cultural understanding in these families, that going to school and doing better than one’s parents is an insult to them. That a student would think himself better than a parent, and to act on it, is in many cases, unforgivable and therefore, unthinkable. The family is not going to ‘move up” with the student. In order to do better, the student would, eventually, have to leave the social environment in which s/he lives. In this kind of “closed” community, that rarely crosses their mind. They simply would never think of it.

The third issue is that doing well academically routinely requires delayed gratification…and that is simply NOT part of their reality either. But that is a deeply rooted, psycho-social phenomenon that I;m sure is dissertation-worthy, so I’ll leave it at that.

There are students who do it. And we encourage every single child to become what God would have him or her become. But, teachers are one tiny OUTSIDE voice among many closer and louder voices that they hear every day.

For me, that is the attitude of the home and surrounding environment, and my experience is that it is closely tied to families without financial resources. Can addressing poverty help that? In the sense that students might then NOT have to take on so many adult responsibilities..yes.

In addition, I believe that it would surprise many to know how many students ONLY eat at school. 1. There isn’t food at home. Either there isn’t money or the money is used elsewhere and that is beyond the student’s control. 2. High school students from these families often work evenings and do not use their money to buy dinner. It goes for gas to get to work. 3. Believe it or not, many of these homes actually LOCK up their food. For some, it is a way of controlling their children. For others, it is a way of protecting the food, many of these folks live in “communal” family situations (3-4 “families” in a household) and this is simply how they protect their resources. Also, parents who are addicts often have paranoid behaviors that lead to this…as do many parents with untreated mental health issues. (two situations which are prevalent in my area in this income bracket)

The last piece that adds to the challenges that these children face is the fact that they rarely get a good night’s sleep. They may not know where they are sleeping. They may be avoiding sexual contact from someone in the house. They may have family members up all night playing loud video games, or drinking/using drugs, arguing, etc. They often have younger siblings to take care of at night if mom works overnights. They don’t get the medical attention and medications they need when they are ill and sleep very poorly due to a number of ongoing physical ailments. They often live in crowded houses/apartments with little personal sleeping space available.

One might think that given all that they face, that they would love to get the heck out of Dodge and take advantage of a good education to do it. Well…not if they have never seen that happen. Not if, from kindergarten on, only the “rich” kids do well in school. Not if they have been an integral part of a system that requires them to put today in front of tomorrow.

Exceptions exist, they truly do, but not as often as we’d like. All human beings have their challenges, each child, regardless of his/her background can become far more than his/her childhood has dictated. But before that can happen, the possibility of such a thing must exist in his/her mind. Your family may have given you that. Let’s hope that we can find the resources to help those who weren’t so blessed.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Flipping The Switch 1 Archived Post 4.21.13

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2013, Engagement, Good Days, Musings, Not So Good Days, Output, Participation, Relationships

(Originally posted 4/21/13)

Twice last week I had the chance to see the light bulb go off over (or is that in?!) my students’
heads. I love that.

The first time was with my seniors. A young woman from a nearby college is working in my classroom twice a week with this group. She has worked with them individually and in small groups.

This was the first time that she had led a lesson with the entire class. She had a great PowerPoint for them and was asking them questions to get them engaged in discussion about the slides. They stared at her like deer in the headlights. Who had never heard Spanish before. When she called on them individually, they asked if they could answer her in English because they couldn’t think of the Spanish. What?

I knew that they knew exactly what she was saying and how to answer her. But they wouldn’t. So we hit the pause button and had a little discussion in English about what was going on. What was happening? They were comfortable in front of her individually, or in a very small group, but they were very worried about embarrassing themselves in front of this very lovely young woman AND the rest of the class. They weren’t as worried about that with me because, well, to them I am not a lovely, young woman. :o) And…they knew that I would put a stop to anything that might be said that was negative. If they made a mistake in front of her it would be much more embarrassing and they weren’t sure if she could smooth it over. So they completely shut down.

This was a very important discussion. This group is going on next year to another world. Some will
be in college classes and others will be in the work world….all will be out of my room when they get the opportunity to use the language. It’s time that they understand, and be truly confident in, their own abilities. It was time for them to realize that being embarrassed or worried is going to keep them from too many great things in life.

So we talked about the Affective Filter, what it is and how it works. We talked about how “an object in motions stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest” (Thank you Uncle Ted for teaching me high school Physics!!) We talked about getting started, mistakes and all, is the only way to get past the fear. Our lovely young college student shared her stories about her feelings when she first arrived for study in Argentina and some of the mistakes that she made.

Then we went back to the lesson……and it was as if someone had opened the floodgates. The conversations began and it was amazing. Light bulbs!! Not just for them, not just for my trainee, but for me as well. It takes very little for the Affective Filter to kick in. The relationships our students have with us and with each other are extremely important. And a little bit of encouragement, honesty, conversation and faith can go a long way.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

A Light in The Darkness Archived Post 9.30.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Encouragment, Good Days, Musings, Not So Good Days, Relationships

(Originally posted 9/30/14)

These past few weeks have been difficult. We are struggling with how the new pre-assessments required by our district have affected our relationships with our students. It has been soul-sucking to say the least. We work so hard in the first few weeks in our department to create and maintain an environment of welcoming, trust, companionship and caring. Then we have to take an entire week to test our students, with a test that we had not seen, on material we, and they, knew that they did not know using skills that we, and they, knew that they had not yet developed.

Our students rose to the occasion beautifully. But it was still heart-breaking. I would say more, but I still don’t trust my emotions enough to put it on the blog.

Our goal this week was to disregard whatever “curriculum” plans we had in mind, and focus the entire week on activities and interactions that re-established an environment of success and trust. (my colleagues are amazing, by the way) Then I was out sick for two days! I feel like it has been an uphill road to get (back) to where I wanted to be three weeks ago.

As always, it is the students that lift us up. I’ll share “Brian”‘s story with you this morning. Brian is a senior and this is his second year as my student. I know his family very well professionally and personally, but I didn’t feel that Brian and I had much of a connection. He is extremely bright, and extremely quiet. It has always been hard to get a response from Brian, in or out of class. I have never really known if he is shy, withdrawn, non-communicative, anxious, socially awkward or if I just don’t register on his scale of “things important enough for a 16 year old to get involved with.”

(I don’t take that personally, many times I was so involved in my own world at 16 that I couldn’t have cared LESS about my high school teachers!!!) If I asked Brian a question, I would get, after a long pause, a one or two word answer at best.

One day last spring, after class had ended, Brian walked over to my desk and said, “I’d like to know more about colleges that teach languages. I think that I would like to become an interpreter. I really like this class.” From a student who rarely smiled, much less answered. He left the room so quickly that I didn’t even put together a response!! And that was the end of our communication for the year.

On Friday, Brian came to my room at the beginning of one of my planning periods and asked for a pass to come in. He said that he had no friends in his Sr. Lounge that period and that he got bored.I gave him a pass, he came back, started talking and didn’t stop for 35 minutes!!!!!!!

The conversation started when he asked if I had ever heard of “vocaloids”. (I hadn’t) and asked if he could show me an example of some songs that he really liked on youtube. (like this one)

He said that this song really put into words how he had been feeling about the world for a long time and that it taught him that he had created a very small, protected, but unhappy world of his own to live in. It was a dark place and he thought about leaving the world to escape it. He realized that if were strong enough mentally and emotionally to do that then he also had the strength to step out of it and look for happiness and purpose.

How does one respond to that?

What an incredible young man. What a gift on a dark day, in a dark week.

His message to me was that he didn’t give up. And he wanted me to know that. Having been there myself at his age, and numerous times after that, I was humbled and honored.

That is what four years of departmental support and safety can bring to a child. I am his third Spanish teacher. The two that he had before me had created a safe path for him to be on. He trusted me as he trusted them. Some people need years before the feeling of safety allow them to step out verbally into the world. Input before output. Not just of language, but of trust, confidence and self-acceptance.

Before he left for his next class Brian said to me, ” I appreciate that I can be myself and that you are interested. It feels good to know that. We can talk about what matters in this class and you will listen.” From a boy who only two days ago started to speak….

There are Brians in every class. Just know this. Because you many not see the connection does not mean that language acquisition and personal development are not occurring. Trust me, it’s happening.

I was just lucky enough this week that Brian shared his light with me.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.