Monthly Archives: December 2012

Writer’s Block

O.K.

Deep breath.

I have a confession to make: I don’t know what to write about.
“Write that down!” I tell myself.
“Something will eventually come to you if you do.”

Instead, I stare out the window.

I try to recall the story that just a few days ago was screaming to be told.

What was the topic anyway?
Why had I felt such urgency to write that story?
And, why can’t I remember it now?

I stifle a yawn and look around.
I stare out the window again.
My paper is blank.
My pencil is poised in the air.

I glance at the students in front of me.
Everybody is busy writing.
Still…nothing.
Everything feels trite and unimportant.

Then, I scribble it all down.

The bell rings.

I close my notebook.

another writing moment

Posted to Two Writing Teachers a Slice of Life story

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Parent Partnerships

When a child is misbehaving, not learning (at the rate and manner determined by the adults), or appears sullen and unhappy, what do you do?  Do you blame the child?

“It’s because he’s lazy, spoiled, insolent?”

Or, do you blame the parents?

“They’re spoiling her.”
“They don’t set limits.”
“They let him do whatever he wants.”
“They aren’t supporting her learning at home. “

Blah, blah, blah.

Sound familiar?  No?  Really?

Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never participated in staff room conversations that blame the child or the parents for the child’s performance?  No?  Really?  Well, let me try to jar your memory.

Have you ever been in the staff room on a bad day and you just need to vent, so you start venting about a particular child in your classroom or his parents?  You start slowly because, in your heart of hearts, you’re not sure this is an ethical conversation to be having with your colleagues.  But, slowly, as people start cheering you on, you get stronger in your convictions and your rant reaches a crescendo level.  Finally, you’ve gotten it of your chest.  And by this time, everyone is nodding in sympathy and someone has gotten up to close the door – in case there’s a parent lurking somewhere.  Then, later, after you’ve cooled off, you may regret what you’ve said and wish you could take it back.  Or, maybe you don’t regret what you’ve said.  Darn it!  That’s how you really feel!

Either way, I doubt any teacher is exempt from having participated in this kind of discussion at some point in their career.  We’ve all been there, done that.

Why am I insisting on this?  Because I want us to consider the damage these conversations, large and small, have on us as educators, and by extension our profession, and our students.  They focus on the negative and don’t solve any problems.  In fact, they may create feelings of inadequacy and impotence.  And, you still have to figure out what to do to teach this child who is challenging you to be your best.

Instead, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What can I do to help this child learn?
  2. What angle or interest does this child have that can I use to attract his attention towards learning?
  3. What haven’t I tried?
At every school where I’ve taught I’ve heard and read about the importance of “parent involvement”, or at least that’s what we used to call it when I first became a teacher in 1985.  Now, that’s a long time ago!  But over the years, we’ve gotten more PC.  It is now called “parent partnerships”.  In the end, it means the same thing:  parents are talked (down) to and are told what’s wrong with their child.  Then, they are told what the school thinks is the best decision for their child.  Rarely are the parents asked what they think might work or what they would like to try.  Oh, and forget about talking with the child to see what’s going on!  No, no, no.  That would be a “family partnership”.  Can’t have any of that.  Everyone in their place.  Teachers at school.  Parents at home.  And, students…students…Oh, yes, of course!  Students at their desks.    
There’s something wrong with this picture.  Seriously wrong.   
We need to paint the opposite picture.  All of our lives depend on it.  

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Filed under children, families, parent involvement, parent partnerships

Are we listening?

A child sits alone with a ripped worksheet packet on his desk.
He appears to be singing or subvocalizing something though no one hears him.
Or, perhaps they’re ignoring him.
The teacher stands at the front of the room teaching on the SmartBoard.
The children follow along in their worksheets.
Except the child sitting alone.
He is in his own world.
No one engages him and he engages no one.

My heart aches for this child.
He is physically and emotionally removed from the class.

I ask him why his paper is ripped.
(It’s not an accidental rip.)
He says he did that on a different day.
When he had been frustrated about the work.
He tells me that he sometimes sits by himself because the work is too hard for him.
He later tells me that he sits by himself because the teacher thinks he talks too much during the lesson.  He says he does that because he wants to find out about the “lives of the other children”.

My first impulse is to rescue him from the wrongheaded approach in that classroom.
Reassure him that he’s OK.
That there is nothing wrong with him.
That he has a lot to offer the world.
That he can learn.
At the same time, I notice that he seems to be taking all of this in stride.
It’s another day in school for him.

Has he started to accept the picture that is being drawn of him?
Who they think he is?

So, I walk out of that classroom and do nothing.
I tell myself I can’t reasonably do anything about this now.
I’m the one in distress.
No one else seems to notice what’s taking place here.

And, no, it’s not about feel-good, mindless teaching.
It’s about heartfelt, sensitive teaching.
Teaching that is attuned to a child’s emotions as well as his intellect.
It’s about choosing our words and our actions carefully.
It’s about including all children rather than marginalizing the harder to teach.
Because, if we’re really listening, we will understand that all children pose a challenge to teachers.
We will know this if we understand that all children are unique.
All children learn differently, for different reasons at different times.

That is the real art of teaching.

But, are we listening?

Posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge.

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