Starting Over

by lclarcq on November 28th, 2016

filed under Classroom Management, Encouragment, Musings, Relationships, Starting The Year

Hello from California!! I managed to be retired for all of six weeks before I moved cross country and sign on for a new job. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was a good one!

For the past 30+ years I have worked in small districts in rural, upstate (seriously upstate) New York. For some of those years I taught grades K-8 but the majority of them were teaching high school students. My new job is teaching 6th-8th graders in a suburban, well-populated section of Northern California!

The students had another teacher for over 10 weeks and now we are all starting over.

I had met a few times with the sixth graders and today was our second real day together. They have been out of school for two weeks between Science Camp and Thanksgiving Vacation!!! So yes…we are really, really starting over.

The 8th graders and I got started the week before Thanksgiving. So today was day 6 for us.

I forgot how much there is to accomplish at the beginning…….

These students, all of them, are brand-new to me. Our very first accomplishment will be working together. Seriously. They are used to a different set up in class and mine requires a great deal of self-control…..or at least more than they have had to use. 🙂 I know they are capable. They know they are capable. Now…I have to get them to agree to do it.

The first day I worked with them (class sizes about 30), they were sitting with friends in groups of four. I tried to speak. I tried to get their attention. No one stopped talking. Not one student.

My pulse was racing, my face was flushed, my smile was frozen and my heart was pounding. I did not know the name of one single student. For the first time in nearly 30 years I also did not know their parents, their siblings, or even their other teachers.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the room before I tried again. It was probably seconds…it felt like hours. I was being completely ignored.

So I tried again. I used a ‘signal’ that their former teacher had used. A few students noticed and responded half-heartedly…then kept right on talking. This was not going the way I had hoped!!!

Try number three….in a slightly louder, more authoritative voice. This time more than half of the class looked at me, shifted in their seats and mumbled a response. AND….made eye contact.

This was the most crucial moment for me. It happened in all three classes. I had to maintain eye contact with the 15 or so students spread across the room. With a smile on my face, I held my ground….for maybe 15 seconds. A small girl near me whispered to me, “I think it’s working!” I tried to just keep breathing!! One by one the rest of the group settled down and then turned around….finally realizing that something was happening. When everyone was quiet I smiled at stared at them while I (painfully!) counted to 5 in my head. Then I finally introduced myself. I think that was the most challenging 30 seconds of my teaching career.

I am dead serious.

I have no history at this school. No reputation precedes me. I felt completely naked and alone in front of those kids waiting for the silence, and for their attention. My head said…wait, wait, wait it out. My heart said…this isn’t going to work…they are going to ignore you forever.

I’d like to say that after that one encounter in each class, that I was able to establish order in a heartbeat with a look. Or at least using our signal.

Um, no. The 8th graders and I have found a direction in the week we have had together…but daily reminders, and those 30 second wait times, while not nearly so heart-pounding, still happen once during every class. The 6th graders? Well….we didn’t get much done today academically. There were maybe 10 “usable” minutes out of 35. i’m still learning names, getting them into a routine, helping them adjust to transitions and working to get them to function with a new seating system (where they all face forward and don’t sit with their friends.)

BUT…in one class 5 of those 10 usable minutes were truly beautiful. Students were asked if their vacation was “excelente” or ‘terrible” or somewhere in between. Only one girl said terrible. I asked her if the reason was a secret, she said no, she wanted to share. (Thankfully the class was quiet and listening….and this, of course, is why we needed it…) She shared in a whisper to me that her aunt had cancer. I told the class in Spanish. Then I asked, in Spanish, ‘Who has a friend, or someone in their family, with cancer?” Over half of the class raised their hands. Even though these kids had only a few weeks of Spanish, I could say to her…The class is with you. They are your friends. You are not alone.

I could tell the class that in 2013 I had cancer. And we learned the word hope.

She needed that. So did I. So did I.

with love,
Laurie

Kindness: Start here

by lclarcq on January 11th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Musings

kindness 1

This is a wonderful time of year to be kind. The December holidays are over. The Valentine’s Day commercials have already begun (and not everyone is excited about that.) In some parts of the country (mine), it is cold (highs of 10-20 degrees last week) and dreary and even when the sun is out, it has set long before dinnertime. It is also a very popular time for giving exams. Gee….does it get any better than that?

The first person to be kind to is….yourself.

I know, I know…who does that?

I confess, I’m horrible at it. (But remember, I often write these posts for myself!) But I do know that it is wise. I have found out that it is necessary. If you don’t, nature will do it for you.

Look around you. The flu is everywhere. So are colds, infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and a number of other infectious little goodies.

This week will probably have its share of germy opportunities and stressful situations. More than its share probably!!

Try to do one kind thing for yourself every day. Just one. Any of these would do:

Go to bed early one night.
Drink a soothing hot drink that you love.
Or a cold one. ;o)
Use hand lotion.
Use Chapstick.
Drink a large glass of water.
Eat a piece of dark chocolate.
Bite into a beautiful piece of fruit.
Look at a favorite work of art for a few minutes.
Bring a favorite photo into work.
Take a deep, deep breath.
Cuddle under a blanket.
Leave the paperwork at school. Just once. It’s ok. I promise.
Smile at yourself EVERY TIME you see yourself in the mirror/window.
Hug someone who will hug you back.
Light a candle. (and don’t forget to put it out)
Bring a stuffed animal, or a real one, to bed with you.
Take a 5 minute walk. Anywhere.
Stretch.
Sing really loud to the radio/Cd/whatever.
Hold a hairbrush and use it as a microphone.
Watch a ridiculously stupid-funny video.
Call a friend.
Google “really awful puns”
Wear something you really, really, really love.

Not so hard, right?
I”ll do it if you will. :o)

with love,
Laurie

“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

Why We Teach Archived Post 1.22.12

by lclarcq on December 7th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Encouragment, Good Days, Musings, The Teaching Profession

Originally posted 1/22/12

Hello Profe! How are you? I hope you are well. I wanted to share a great story with you. I am in Potsdam finishing my masters in teaching. I start student teaching in Earth Science tomorrow!

Last night a few of my friends and I were out on the town and I ran into two Mexican immigrants at a local pizza shop. One was shivering and did not have a coat, and they were looking for a cab. It was 2 AM. Long story short their phone was not working. They had a cab card, but could not find someone who spoke Spanish. I was the only one in the whole place!

To be honest, I haven’t taken Spanish in three years. I took the required course in college and received an A. I also worked with a few Mexican gentlemen at Lakeview Landscape, Hansen Farms, and Fox Run. (in our local area-Laurie) But I was out of practice. I went off of clear memory, and eventually hailed them a cab in the freezing weather.

I had to figure out if they had problems with the police, where they worked, and how long they had been in the states. All in Spanish. All from memory! They had been here for only 2 months, but worked at a dairy farm. The one gentleman who was shivering has a wife and a family in Mexico, and my heart just felt for them. I am always amazed at how they come here so far from their families to support their lives.

My friends were amazed, but most importantly I looked back at the instruction we had in your classes. It was all still in my head! I will feel good about what I did for the rest of my life, because they were 20 minutes away from “home” and had their Wal-Mart bags and other items outside on the street curb when the cab came. They needed groceries but their boss must not have been able or didn’t want to take them into town.

I can’t explain their expressions when they hopped into their cab, but they kept saying “Gracias amigo” and “Buenas Noches” and I reminded them it made me feel good to help them out!

As teachers we never know how far our instruction and mentoring will go to help others, and yours reached very far last night! Have a wonderful week!

Adam

Yes…this is why we teach!!

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.

Our Changing Role Archived Post 10.4.11

by lclarcq on December 7th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2011, Encouragment, Musings, The Teaching Profession

Thoughts on our changing role…. (Originally posted 10/4/11)

Teachers are individuals and as individuals bring their own goals, experiences and perspectives to the profession. Around the nation, more and more of us are feeling compelled to discuss our profession, and our individual roles in it.

What troubles me is that these conversations are limited to rare faculty room exchanges and blogs. These conversations should be taking place in schools on a regular basis as part of professional development.

A school environment is frequently a reflection of the present administration. For a number of reasons, teachers often are asked to, and agree to, adopt programs and attitudes that the present administration puts forward…regardless of their own knowledge of the community, the students and pedagogy. If the new principal believes in an emotionally-distant ‘professional’ approach, then the teachers are required to “perform” under these guidelines. If the new administrator is a proponent of a particular character ed program then the staff is required, without discussion and often without sufficient education and training, to “perform” under this approach. Rarely does the administration choose his or her “pet project” based on his or her knowledge of the school and community.

Teachers complain, however, this can be EXACTLY what we do, or are required to do, in the classroom. Curriculum is written years before students enter the room. Lessons are planned so that all students are literally on the same page, not so that we can meet students where they are.

I realize that some folks are tired of these articles. They perceive that teachers are whining. The truth is that we are aching to be heard. The other truth is that our students are hurting even more than we are in this regard. Now that we finally have a bit of the media’s ear, we should be also listening very closely to the signals that our students give us about school.

Ten years ago, even if all else failed, we could count on the fact that we knew more about a subject than our students…and that they had to rely on us to get that information. That is no longer true. Any information at all is at the world’s fingertips. We cannot expect to be respected as fonts of information and knowledge. We no longer have that role and it’s time to realize that.

What students need are teachers that can and do help them to find, sort, understand, assimilate and apply the incredible amount of information that is out there….in ways that they cannot do themselves.

The only way to do that is to do everything appropriately possible to know our students. It is a new role for us. It can be an uncomfortable one. There are no clear “rules” yet. It requires communication between teachers, students, parents and administration….communication we haven’t developed the skills for yet.

Truth is, if we combine our life experience and knowledge of how the brain works, with our students’ youth and drive (yes…they are driven…just maybe not about our subject areas), parents’ desire for the best for their children and administration’s desire to create effective schools, we just might have a chance.

Thank you for the chance to share my thoughts,
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.

Rant About Assessment Archived Post 8.6.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Musings

(Originally posted 8/6/12)
I tried to stay silent, but this morning’s coffee (Costa Rica..Pura Vida!) put me over the edge.

Assessment is one thing. Grading is another. There is no validity in grading. At least not in the assessment that districts want us to impose on our children.

a. Students have been trained for years to respond to assessment in ways that make a natural assessment impossible.

b. We don’t have time to create nor utilize the results of useful assessment…no matter how proud we are of our lovely exams.

c. Grading is simply a way to do many things that have little to do with honest teaching goals….create an unnecessarily competitive environment, motivate via an invalid rewards system, create a false sense of superiority (in students, teachers, parents and the school itself), etc. etc.

I could go on and on, but I’ll go back to enjoying my coffee!! I applaud Scott and others for attempting to make sense of a senseless, but required, system. Truth is, nothing will be accurate, nothing will be fair, and nothing will make everyone who wants to be happy, happy.

Limit the time you agonize over it. Pick something that seems adequate.

Then devote your time to getting to know your students and providing them comprehensible and compelling language. Develop an honest and loving relationship towards them. Encourage their curiosity. Reward their tenacity, sense of humor, humanity and individuality. Provide them with frequent moments of success in the form of interesting and comprehensible language. Make eye contact and send the message that each student matters. Smile from the heart. Show compassion. Encourage excellence. Eschew perfection. Model humility. Enjoy every moment possible.

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.

CI Challenges Archived Post 6.12.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2013, Coaching, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days, Sharing CI/TPRs, Teacher Training, TPRS techniques

How do we deal with using CI when some days it is so challenging?!!

Those of you who know me, are aware that getting to, and maintaining a healthy body weight are a challenge for me. I keep seeing all of these parallels between my challenges and the difficulties that exist when a teacher attempts to incorporate a Comprehensible Input approach to his or her teaching.

Several people have mentioned that no one really knows EXACTLY how humans acquire, maintain and develop language, but at this time, we believe that certain things do contribute: sheltering vocabulary, a variety of high-frequency structures,interaction with that language, repeated comprehensible input,encouragement of one form or another,and success in conjunction the brain’s natural “wiring”. Yet, each human being may develop language and language skills in a unique fashion based on his/her brain, body and life experiences.

Isn’t that the same with getting to and maintaining a healthy weight? Obviously there is no “magic pill” or no one would have this struggle. There are, however, a collection of things that we believe contribute to a healthy weight: limiting calories, a variety of nutrient-dense foods eaten in small frequent meals, a constant intake of water, steady activity, encouragement and success in conjunction with the body’s natural functions.

The challenge to “do what works” in both circumstances can be extreme, EVEN WHEN WE ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE, MOTIVATED AND WELL-INFORMED. Pat may have a much better read on this, but this is what I see….

Challenge #1: Dealing with discomfort

Human beings are not good with this. We do everything possible to avoid it. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of little tricks in our repertoire to make sure that we avoid and/or eliminate discomfort. Changing from the comfortable is even more uncomfortable!! And scary. People who are physically or emotionally sensitive find discomfort even more difficult.

Things that we do to avoid/eliminate discomfort get in the way of our change and growth. Why? We have well-developed skills and entire skill sets of unhealthy ways to deal with discomfort. We call them habits. :o)

Challenge #2: Measuring our self-worth instead of believing in our self-worth

People who believe that they are inherently valuable because they live and breathe don’t get as uncomfortable as those who don’t. People who don’t believe that they have intrinsic value have, as I said before, a highly-developed set of skills that they use to a) determine value and b) measure their own value. Because we don’t like to be uncomfortable, from childhood we hone those skills that make us ‘measure up” well on our own scales. (pun intended) Because of the insecurities that haunt and stalk us, we measure everyone and everything. Because not measuring up is exhausting and painful, we stick to the things that we are good at and give them a much higher value than other skills.

Challenge #3: Lack of Trust

Changing a paradigm requires a leap of faith. It might be taken in baby steps or one giant bungee jump, but it requires rejecting the known for the unknown. That takes trust. Both improving TPRS skills and losing weight are easier and more enjoyable with caring support team. However, people who have been burned in the past by friends and colleagues who should have encouraged them but didn’t will find it hard to reach out and share this journey. When a journey gets tough, it helps so much to turn to someone for help. Without that support, it’s easy to turn around and go back. If our sense of self-worth is measured on our ability to work independently and/or if it is new and uncomfortable for us to rely on the assistance of others, these changes are going to be difficult.

Challenge #4: Not Putting First Things First

This is about being able to take the “long view” and see ourselves, our actions and our choices with a judicious eye. Over and over and over again, for any number of reasons, we put other things in front of what is truly important.

In the case of weight loss, my list is a mile long and I have conveniently convinced myself that other things should come first. I’m dead wrong, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this way.

In the case of using Comprehensible Input, the same darn thing occurs. Any teacher who isn’t using it has a list of “good” reasons that they are convinced are more important.

Some people can overcome all of these issues lickety-split (thanks Susie!) They jump in feet first without worrying, overthinking, balking or obsessing. Others take things cautiously, carefully, one step at a time. They analyze and adapt. Neither approach is better or worse than the other. In the areas of weight-loss and TPRS I’ve met both kinds of folks who have been successful.

I’ve also met people who follow a strict regimen. So follow the guidelines and never stray because they believe so strongly in “what works”. Others do so because they have a hard time “marrying” diverse trains of thought. Whatever the reason, the strict regimen works for them.

I’ve met others who would lose their mind without forays outside of the box. People who need a dictation, a project or a double-circle activity the way some folks need an occasional pizza, beer and chocolate chip cookie in order to keep their lives in balance. These steps off of the path do not actually add to language acquisition nor to weight loss, but they have other positive effects that make them valuable, at the right time in the right amounts.

Can “anyone” be a CI teacher? Yes. Can “anyone” get to and maintain a healthy weight? Yes. But there will always be challenges. It will never be simple. It may never be easy. Some people will find the challenges greater than others. Some will be able to do it quickly and others will take a lifetime to get there. It can NOT be done in total isolation, without the ability to self-soothe, without a belief in the inherent value of the human soul nor without the ability to let go of the old and make room for the new. But, when we look at the gifts we receive in return (as well as our students, families,etc.)both changes are inherently and unarguably valuable.

If we have already “crossed over” on the journey, we need to remember to honor the journey of others rather than judge it, or our own journey loses it’s validity.

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.

INcomprehensible Input Archived Post 3.11.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days, Teacher Training, TPRS techniques

(Originally posted 3/11/12)
We all use incomprehensible language in class. I do it all the time. Sometimes because what I think is comprehensible and what is comprehensible to my students are two different things. Sometimes because, as Susie pointed out, I am thinking like a teacher rather than like a student. Sometimes because I just so love a word, phrase, song, story that I ignore that little “voice” in my head and turn it into a lesson. Sometimes, and yes, I admit it, I am thinking only of myself and I want to be a little tougher or a little bit more impressive (“Wow” my ego says to me,” Look at the level of language that you can teach!”)Sometimes I just end up wanting to hang out with the 4%ers for a moment and roll around in a little grammar ecstasy. Sometimes the 11 years that I was in a student and the 14 years that I was a teacher in a non-CI classroom suck me back in.

Here is what I have observed in the 15 years that I have tried to wrap my mind around the CI based classroom:

1. Language acquisition occurs in the brain of the student.
2. I cannot control the brain of the student. Ever.
3. I can do my best to control the environment that the student is in, and therefore the environment in which the language is delivered to the student.
4. The best environment that I know of is:
a. focused on a storyline (a story, a reading, a conversation, a compelling visual etc.)
b. encourages every student to participate.
c. clearly allows every student to feel welcome and capable.
d. filled with repeated, interesting, comprehensible, heart-connected, compelling input in the T.L.
e. eliminates ever other distraction possible.
f. relies on continues student -teacher feedback and response.

Each level, each class will require different things to make 1-4 happen. It is an incredible challenge some days to make that happen. But teachers who love teaching and who love students and who love languages love that challenge. And there is a very strong, supportive group of colleagues out there to help. COLLEAGUES…not ancillary materials. :o) Wonderful, capable,caring people who have been more help than an materials I’ve ever come across.

Lastly…(if you’ve made it this far) is a story that,for me, brings this point about comprehensibility home. Over 10 years ago, at my first Susan Gross workshop, Susie taught over 50 teachers French. A room full of interested, motivated, language-skilled, language-experienced teachers. After TWO DAYS of instruction, the group could not yet recall the phrase “a glass of water” We could recognize “glass”. We could recognize “water”. But we could not recognize “glass of water.” She did not get angry. She did not get frustrated. She spent over AN HOUR interacting with us, and “a glass of water”. At the end of the hour, we could clearly hear, and recognize the phrase. We went on. Then, about an hour later, she asked us to produce it. Silence. Nothing. We got as far as the initial “l” sound. (and she had used the phrase intermittently) in that hour! As a group, we were depressed at our lack of ability. Then she pointed out to us that if we, a group of motivated, talented professionals needed HOURS more of CI with this phrase, that our students would certainly benefit from the same. She told us that the fact that we didn’t yet “own’ this phrase did not make her a terrible teacher, or make us horrible learners. She said that it was now clear indicator that our brains needed more clear, comprehensible input and time with this phrase before it was ACQUIRED. THEN ,she said that it was her job to remember that AND to make that exposure as stress-free as possible, because if she freaked out about it and hyper-focused on it that our affective filter would go up and it would take us even longer to acquire it. THEN, she purposely involved us in a story w/conversations that was hysterically funny. By the end of day three we had, as a group, a much better hold on the phrase and a much better perspective on how TPRS works.

And I don’t know about the others, but I still can produce the phrase with ease. :o)

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.