Category Archives: teaching

Comforting Our Students Through Tragedy

I didn’t feel very good today and knew last night that calling in sick might occur.

This also happened to coincide with the latest school shooting — this time at a high school in Florida.

It really bothered me that I wasn’t there this morning.

This news will no doubt have reached the ears of my third graders by the time the bell rings tomorrow when I hope to return.

What do I say when the topic comes up?

My little third graders will look to me wondering what to make of all of it.

As my colleagues shared with me when I chose to move to the third grade: they’re old enough to understand, young enough to still care.

They were right except now is the time I wish they were too young to understand, too young to grasp that the world around them isn’t the kind of place they can trust. A world that contains pain and suffering.

What do I say?

Two stories come to mind.

The story of a guy in a cardigan and there’s the tale of two birds.

A Man, His Cardigan, and His TV Show

Both at the beginning of every show and then at the end, the show’s host puts and takes off a cardigan.

For those that don’t yet know, the show was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS.

You would watch this if you were in Pre-School, maybe Kindergarten. I remember watching it after school and I remember being enthralled.

There were guests: the Postman, the Firefighter, there was a good bit of puppeteering.

There was one specific episode that has been mentioned and the host’s words ring true.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” – Fred McFeely Rogers

Here’s an excerpt that includes his perspective on his mother’s words.

Here’s the episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Three Birds

On my way to a Scout  meeting a few weeks ago I looked up and saw two small birds chasing a rather large crow.

I thought about school, school children and what happens at school.

Sometimes its the playground bully. Children who either choose to not get along or bring negative experiences from home into school. Sometimes it’s driven by a misunderstanding that to adults seems trivial, but to our students can ruin their day.

It’s frustrating at times, but so important to address if we are going to do more than teach state standards of math or reading.

I’m reminded of those three birds.

Sometimes it’s the big ol’ crow that wants to steal the eggs or terrorize the neighborhood tree where the little birds gather.

That’s when you stick up for others… there’s safety in numbers.

Just like those two other birds chasing the big bird away from their tree, from their home.

We have to stick up for each other. We have to remember that the student who stays to them-self, probably wants anything but to be alone. We need to teach our students the importance of thinking of others, of caring for people beyond themselves.

Perhaps tomorrow I will start the morning by putting on a cardigan – and hope to bring familiarity and comfort to my third graders, just like Mr. Rogers did.

Teacher’s Lesson: Phone Calls Unanswered

“If you’re hearing this message and we didn’t pick up, we’re making some changes, and you’re one of them.”

What did I just hear?

That’s not the kind of message I expected when I called one of my student’s parents.

He wasn’t doing as well and I was doing what every good teacher should.

I was calling home for some help. I was calling home to share that I cared about their son.

I admit, not only did the message confuse me, it made me a little mad.

Why was I cut off? What did I do?

It was my third year of teaching. I had just transferred to the county in which I live to cut my daily commute from over two hours to about 40 minutes.

No more leaving the house at 6 am and more time at home with my family which now included a one year old.

It wasn’t the first time that parents wouldn’t call me back and it definitely hasn’t been the last. I know it happens at all schools, but I seem to be experiencing it more lately.

And it still annoys me.

I share this with you because I’ve had a hard time understanding when a parent doesn’t call back. I don’t understand when numbers don’t work. It frustrates me when I can’t leave a message.

It probably frustrates me as much as it has when my own children’s teachers don’t get back to us when we have questions.

I can’t relate. Maybe like my students when I try to relate a story or lesson.

I was telling my students just yesterday about the tv we had in our house. It had a handle. It was a black and white model similar to the one above. It wasn’t just small by today’s standards — it was tiny.

It was what we had in my house.

When I explained this phenomenon of the tiny tv that was normal to me when I was my students’ age their faces told me they couldn’t picture a tv that could be moved from one room to another. I told them I had, at most, 5 channels which ended around 11:30 with a band of color and an unappealing shrill of a beep.

Yeah, I suppose I was showing my age.

They couldn’t relate to me, and I’m sure that sometimes I can’t relate to what is or what happens in their home.

Here’s my point.

I’m sure that my students don’t know about my being raised on what used to be the local neighborhood landfill — my dad admits to me that even his friends thought he was crazy when he bought that land.

My students don’t know about my asking Santa for one thing at Christmas because that’s what we did, we asked for one thing.

My students don’t know that my skin color made me a minority in my neighborhood, even though I check off caucasian on government forms.

My students have no clue what it’s like seeing your cousin and best buddy get hit by a semi trailer. I do, and it’s taken a long time for that memory to fade.

They don’t know about the lessons taught to me by father — some tougher than others; and there is no way I can completely share how I felt when my parents divorced.

I share this with you because I’ve caught myself being frustrated again lately when I can’t reach a parent just like that moment many years ago.

This time however I’m trying to remember that I really don’t know what my students and their parents are enduring.

What I shouldn’t do is continue to react with frustration and instead, try to remember that every student I meet in my classroom is affected by the struggles that happen at home.

And these struggles aren’t just real for my students, but they affect their parents in ways I don’t know and of which I’m unaware. It can’t but affect  how available they are when I call home.

So this is a reminder for myself that I do not know what battle occurs on the other side of that phone call or email.

I will do a better job that when I reach out to my parents and they’re unable to call me back, and when I react, I will do so with more of an understanding heart.

 

It Made A Difference For That One

If you’re like me, you love the beach.

Quite of few of us really love the beach and can’t get enough.

Maybe it’s the waves crashing over and over. Or maybe it’s the endless view across the big blue.

We get a chance to walk as far as we would like and see the footsteps we leave when we eventually turn around and head back. We get to sit and get lost in thought. Or we walk head down and look for shells that catch our attention.

I have a few of those shells in my classroom. For students who have never ventured to the shore, they’re something of an oddity — especially the one conch shell I’ve found in its entirety.

Watching my students turn those shells over in their hands, I sometimes wonder if I make a difference in their life.

Do you wonder the same?

Oceans and whether students leave my classroom better than when they arrive reminds me of this often repeated short story below.

If you haven’t heard of the little star that made it back into the ocean, I’m happy to be able to share it with you.

If you’ve heard it more than once, I hope it’s a great reminder that you are indeed making a difference.

One student at time.

Please don’t stop trying. You are making a difference for each student lucky enough to be sitting in your classroom.


While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

Thanksgiving Appreciation for Teachers

Thank you for who you are as a person. Thank you for your unending efforts to impart upon others the need to succeed. Thank you for feeling miserable when your students didn’t do well on that last test – it’s because you want them to succeed. Thank you for your care when others might not. Thank you for learning new approaches when old ones aren’t effective. Thank you for taking the time to listen to a student’s story when time is tight and your lesson demands you move forward. Thank you for deciding years ago that teaching is a noble profession and that you wanted to be a part of it. Thank you for recognizing that some students just need more encouragement. Thank you for recognizing that what was once new is now old, but someone will think it’s new again… and you will be tasked with revamping your teaching style yet again…. thank you for recognizing that you do indeed know what’s best for your students. Thank you for showing up when you didn’t feel well, but knew that your students wouldn’t get anywhere near the same experience if you weren’t there. Thank you for giving up your lunch that day to counsel in between bites of your sandwich that you never finished. Thank you for organizing your room before your students ever arrived, before your professional development began, before your first meeting that first week of school. Thank you for going to that meeting even though you really just wanted to be in your room grading papers. Thank you for making students laugh, even when you weren’t laughing inside. Thank you for arriving early and staying late because you wanted to do it the right way. Thank you for creating a better lesson even though you already had one written down and ready to go. Thank you for recognizing the student having a bad day and saying a kind word. Thank you for pushing students when they don’t think they can be successful. Thank you for taking the time to go back and fix that grade because you don’t feel like you covered the material well enough. Thank you for asking your students the type of questions that make them pause. Thank you for not being ok with mediocracy. Thank you for showing up in the morning and recognizing that today might just be the day that you finally get through to that student who just never seems interested. Thank you for wanting to impact your students in a way that makes a real difference. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for being an awesome teacher.

Finland Is Making Me Mad, Again

For teachers the summer is a time to take a break and recharge. Many resent us. Many though, are happy when their kids return to us.

I’ve always relished the time and spend the weeks off catching up on household responsibilities. My yard and projects around the house require my attention — something I don’t actually mind as it’s a welcome change of pace.

All of which means I try not to get too involved in what my profession is currently in the midst of — education policy, changes in state standards, the newest and greatest approach to teaching.

I know that this is ignorant. Perhaps poor form of me. I just need some time to be with my family and be able to plan some adventures together.

And then there’s Finland.

I’ve never been. Although it does sound intriguing. It’s beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.

However its beauty is not what makes me mad.

It’s this constant comparison of their education program versus ours.

I remember “U.S. versus…” conversations in my teacher certification courses almost 15 years ago. The luster of how we stack up against other countries around the world seemingly hadn’t, and still hasn’t, worn off.

Here’s the latest that appeared on my Facebook feed just today. Produced / directed by a fellow who likes to push some buttons. He’s not a favorite of mine, I admit, but I watched it anyway because it’s summertime. And I have some time. And I feel like I need to think about education. And it’s about Finland again.

Do you see what I mean?

I want more time for my students to play.

I like the idea of students being more engaged in their own learning.

I like the idea of teachers being less stressed.

I don’t like state assessment testing either.

What is it with the U.S.?

And just when I’m annoyed enough to wallow in how we’ve got it all wrong, because well, it looks like the United States is yet again behind other nations (#29 the video notes) I happen to look down and see Finnish viewers’ comments.

Viewers noted that the video had it wrong. Homework was indeed a thing that had to be done in Finland. Others mentioned how inaccurate the video is in its entirety.

Hmmmm… more to the story? Yet I clearly remember that this issue must have been a common theme, even 15 years ago.

From my journalism courses in college, I know it’s difficult to present an impartial article — and that’s if one strives to do so. Additionally, there’s only so much space on paper, only so many words allowed by editors in charge of editorial space.

Here are some other Finnish school bits and perspectives I came across.

Global grade: How do U.S. students compare?

So what’s my verdict on whether we really are that far behind our Finnish colleagues?

It is interesting to read about the number of Fulbright applicants interested in Finland seeking solutions to our nation’s educational woes. Seeing how U.S. students compare to Finland’s in various aspects is revealing. Knowing that the Finnish system was once equal to the U.S. yet made a concerted effort to improve forty some years ago is encouraging.

If the comparison was easy to make, we would have surely implemented changes and determined what we “should” be doing in the United States.

There are just too many variables in play.

Regardless though, there’s a lot we should be doing different. A solution to what we’re doing in the classroom needs to be sought out and implemented.

Why a solution?

I believe logic demands that we acknowledge that students being tested at the young age of eight and endure considerable stress learning strategies to “beat the test” seems downright counterintuitive.

How will a child love learning if they’re worried more about getting the answers right than trying out different solutions based on what they already know?

Isn’t it ok to be wrong and not endure a poor grade because a risk was taken?

Isn’t education’s intent to teach students to understand how each learns differently than their peers? To encourage them to solve problems collaboratively? To understand how to both lead and follow?

Isn’t it obvious that sitting all day without end is painful to us all – regardless of age?

Shouldn’t we worry about students enjoying their education? Be interested in their happiness? Seek a happy life?

So solutions are in order.

I challenge you to share your thoughts in the comments answering: How do you think we stack up against Finland?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.