It’s the end of another school year and I can really tell it is time to be done.  First of all, I have grown tired of the antics of my students.  Behaviors that seemed endearing even just a few weeks ago have now grown old under the weight of daily contact for the past 145 days.  I used to find it humorous when Erin would crack a silly joke during the middle of a lesson – now, not so much.  Sadie’s Valley Girl speech patterns (boy, did I just age myself of what!) used to make me chuckle.  If I am to hear that annoying sound one more time, I think I will rip my ears off my head. 

I have had two of my own little “Pig-Pens” this year – you know, one of the kids from the Peanuts cartoon that is always surrounded by a cloud of dust?  It used to be a joke how messy Liam and Ava were.  While all other desks were neatly arranged with their chairs pushed in, those two had books, papers, pencils, rulers, erasers, and sweatshirts spread out literally all over the room.  Instead of picking up their items for them, I now hide them in the room and make them earn them back.  I am so done!

I can tell that the kids are done too.  Their energy levels have fallen completely off the radar.  They at least used to show some excitement when I would introduce a new unit in Literature.  Now, all I get is whining and complaining.  Even my best reader, Charlotte, whom I call Eeyore because of her affected pessimistic attitude, has become downright gloomy.  She used to come to school every morning with an interesting story or two.  Not anymore!  In fact, her attitude is so depressing that it is starting to bring me down.

Their “doneness” is also showing in the schoolwork.  There is an obvious lack of caring in the work produced and the effort given.  Handwriting is sloppier, homework papers are scratched through and not erased properly, and no one bothers to help keep track of assignments on the board anymore.  These kids are sick of school.

Another sign that they have already checked out for the year is being displayed in their clothing.  My students have generally taken great pride in the appearance.  The girls have always done their hair and make-up everyday.  They have worn dress-code appropriate outfits.  The boys have kept up with their haircuts. 

However, lately things have begun to slip.   The girls have decided to wear tops that droop off of the shoulder to reveal the 15 bra and camisole straps that they are wearing underneath.  They have taken to wearing leggings and regular shirts, not tunics which cover their bottoms.  As the weather has warmed, the shorts have come out and come up!   All of which go against the written dress code policy.  They just don’t care anymore.

So I have been asking myself, “Why does this happen every year?  Why is it that I get so tired of the kids, and likewise, they get tired of me and the school as a whole?”  I used to think it was some major character flaw on my part.  Somehow I wasn’t caring and loving enough to be able to hold onto those warm fuzzy feelings for my students the whole year.

But over the past few years I have been noticing a pattern forming.  It seems as though each May these same behaviors keep coming up for me and my students.  Finally I have figured it out. 

Both my students and I are experiencing reactions to a loss, a life-changing event.  For me, I will never have the pleasure of being their homeroom teacher again.  I develop a special bond with each class as we get to know each other throughout the school year.  We develop our own inside jokes as we grow our history.  The end of the year is also another sign that time is marching on.  It’s true that time passes more quickly the older you get and I certainly don’t need any more reminders of that.

The loss my students may be experiencing is the passing of this 7th or 8th grade year in their lives.  They only get one chance at it and they wonder if they did things the right way or not.  Will they regret decisions they made this year?  Are they frightened to move on to the next grade, and for some, the next school?

It is an unsettling time with conflicting feelings of excitement for school to be done and fear of not seeing their friends everyday.  Of a summer free of homework, but one of boredom and loneliness.  There are only so many video games and TV shows to watch and then what do you do with your free time?  Basically, it comes down to the fact that these kids are scared and the ending of the school year is just that, an ending.

We aren’t good with endings.  It is not taught in any curriculum of which I am familiar.  We don’t really talk about what to do when things end, how to deal with those unfinished feelings.  We just make plans for what we are going to do after the end comes and we move onto the next beginning.

I liken it to a death of sorts.  The end of the school year is something that each of us knows is coming along, like death, but we just ignore it.  All of a sudden, we look at the calendar and realize that it is just around the corner.  While we anticipate the next stage in our lives, we don’t take the time to deal with the ending of this stage.

I am not sure how I am going to respond to my new found answer to the end of the year blahs but at least I have identified the problem.  And isn’t identifying the problem halfway there to solving it?  I hope so because I sure don’t want to end their year being “done” with Eeyore, my two Pig-Pens, and my Valley Girl.  I have too much time invested in them to send them off for the summer without a big smile and well wishes.

 Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC





“The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade.”  English novelist Anthony Trollope spoke these words over 130 years ago but his statement rings true now just as clearly as it must have back in his day.  I think of that quote often when I look at my students every day.  Most of my students are reluctant readers.  They need to be forced into picking up a book and reading it.  They don’t read for enjoyment, only out of necessity.   


One of the requirements I have in my classroom is that students independently read at least four books a quarter and pass a computerized comprehension test on each.  You would think I have been asking them to write four classic American novels.  For many, this is the most painful activity they drag themselves through each quarter.

I have tried many tricks and methods I can think of to encourage their love for reading.  My most successful methods have started right at a basic level – helping them to find the right book.  Kids don’t naturally know what they like to read and will usually select a book that is far below their reading level.  The adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is better interpreted as ‘Don’t judge a book by the number of pages’.  I scour through the shelves looking for a book I know to be well written and interesting and the first thing a student does it look at the number of pages and says, “no, this is too long.”

I get so frustrated with that attitude.  I tell them over and over again that the number of pages doesn’t matter if he is interested in the storyline.  In fact, if he really gets into the story then the book will never be long enough.  How many of you readers feel disappointed at the end of a good book because the story is over?

After finding a book the student is willing to read, I try to give the class 20 minutes of silent reading time each day. It is amazing how spending even 20 minutes will allow a reader to develop a relationship with the story in the book, which will encourage him to continue reading on his own.

I recently started the One Million Words Read Club.  This recognizes students who have read at least one million words in their pleasure reading during the school year.  The word count is tracked through the computerized tests and students can track their progress.  The club began a few years ago when one of my more smart-aleky students, Christopher, made a bet with me.  He said, “Mrs. Anderson, if I can get to one million words before the end of the school year, will you take me to McDonald’s for lunch?”  I didn’t think Christopher would read that much but I gladly accepted the bet hoping that he would prove me wrong and win.  Needless to say, he did and I was wonderfully in error.

Now that Christopher had set a bar, the challenge was on for other students to match his achievement.  Not to be outdone, two years later Sarina came along and read over 4.5 million words in one school year.  She, along with two other students who read over 1.5 million and 3 million words, each were treated to a lunch at Taco Bell – their choice, not mine! 

Well, Sarina graduated and now Isaiah wants to be remembered as the kingpin of reading.  He has decided to decimate Sarina’s now paltry number of 4.5 million words with a goal of 10 million words!  Halfway through the school year, Isaiah is already well over the 6 million mark and still reading.  To give you an idea of how many books he has read, understand that one of the most popular books being read right now, “The Hunger Games”, has a total of 99,584 words.  Further, one of the books from the popular Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” has over 190,000 words.  It is safe to assume that Isaiah has read at least 30 books this school year alone!

Reading should never be considered just a pastime to wile away the hours.  Reading is a way to open your mind and challenge your thinking.  It helps build your critical thinking skills, stimulate your creativity and insight, and provides a safe way to escape your daily routine.  One of the greatest benefits of reading is that it stimulates production of endorphins and who doesn’t love that!

I know that the teen years are full of so many choices when it comes to filling their free time.  Sports, the arts, volunteer work, and jobs take up a lot of time.  But the student who can learn to love reading will find a pleasure in life few other activities can match.

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 


 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

After 27 years of running our own school and another 20 or so in other institutions that attempted to prepare adolescents for the “real world,” I still experience that inner laughter when I watch our ready-to-graduate students rush through the next few months as if there is really something great waiting for them out there.  

I can laugh because I know that in a few months, whether they come back to tell us or not, they are consumed with the reality that life was easier before they had to manage it all themselves.  

I used to just “know” that high school graduates were struggling from the few indicators I would get when I ran into their parents or they stopped by to touch base.  With Facebook, however, the signs are everywhere.  Not a day goes by that I do not read the words of a frustrated or overwhelmed young adult that I once taught.  They have even increased their time in prayer, for goodness sake!

I joined Facebook after I came to terms with the fact that my communication with my new 25-year-old daughter-in-law was not working.  At first I thought she didn’t like me and was trying to avoid my phone calls or invitations to lunch.  She  is a lovely, intelligent career woman who is the perfect match for my son.  There was no observable barrier here, from my perspective.  

When I spoke with friends and family members they all knew exactly what she was doing and had seen pictures of her, my son and grandson, that I did not know existed.  That’s when I realized that she was communicating on Facebook and if I wanted to be in the loop, I needed to join in.  Of course, I could not just have one friend, so I expanded my list.

Now, after friending students, high school buddies, neighbors and business associates, I have a diverse group with whom I maintain contact.  I don’t really share…I just listen in… known as a “creeper” or “lurker,” I am told.  I see the patterns of life of the many alumni who have “friended” me.  Once they add me to the list, they forget I am there and feel perfectly comfortable sharing the latest job crisis, romantic disasters, episodes of morning sickness and job searches.  

This younger generation seems to have time to document their every move.  Not only do I not have the time but I do not think anyone else is interested in what I am doing at the moment...even I am not interested in what I am doing every moment!

Although their complaints and plaintive moans of dissatisfaction with their classes, their bosses, their spouses, their children, their car, their health, their bills, etc. are public knowledge, at this point, I remember when they couldn’t wait to buy the car, marry the sweetheart, get the job, manage their own lives.  And, I have to admit…they really are doing a great job of it… but now that they are adults, they have earned the right to complain…with the rest of us.


Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren.  


The link to Jacque's Blog.  


To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA  


Facebook Page 


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Our school campus is on 27 acres and is heavily wooded.  We have a few cottages tucked around that we use for classrooms and we have a gazebo that our students and staff love to visit during the day.  The gazebo was built in loving memory of one of our students who was tragically murdered almost ten years ago.  It is, for those of us who knew Matt, a daily reminder of his creativity, gentle spirit and positive energy. It is also a reminder to me that everyday counts when it comes to fulfilling the promise that each of our students holds within.

A  clematis vine climbs up the side of the structure.  It was a gift from a dear friend who generously shares her successful gardening skills with others.  She saw the gazebo and within days had shown up with a cutting of her healthy and fragrant gift. She told me that it would take a few years to get established but the blooms were worth waiting for and had an unbelievable fragrance that would permeate the space around them.

I have been watching that plant grow for years.  Even last week when we were having photos taken in the gazebo, I looked over at the brown and scaly vines and thought,” Should I just cut this down?”  It seemed as if it was just a messy bother.  The entangled legs encouraged birds to nest and sit, leaving a mess on the benches.  The lanky visual from the benches is far from attractive.  I had become tired of waiting for its beauty to emerge.

This week, as I walked toward the administrative building in the quiet early morning, I took in a deep breath and surveyed the skies above me.  My eyes caught something lacey and white among the bare skyline of winter trees. There they were….a beautiful cluster of blooms that filled their space and even trailed onto an adjoining tree.  Their pure white color seemed to illuminate the brown shingled roof of the structure.  Their softness transformed that corner of the sharp edges of the roof line.  Their draped elegance was such a sweet surprise that I found myself stopped in mid step to study the scene.

Clearly, I had been mistaken.  Since the blooms were so profuse and actually extended beyond the roof of the structure, this was not even the first year the clematis had put on such a show.  I had just not been paying attention.  Or perhaps, the attention I was paying was to the wrong things.  My range of vision was too low.  I had given up hope of something that actually had more than met my expectations…but I had not noticed.

Spring is a time of expectations in nature and in schools.  Our students recently  completed standardized testing that the staff uses as one of the indicators of  academic growth..  Our regularly scheduled staff meetings keep the staff updated on the social/emotional growth of our students. We have begun the IEP process for our rising 9th and 12th graders that document progress made across the spectrum of our program.  One of the things The Cottage School does very well is to help our students set individual goals and then mark their path towards achievement and success. But we may not always be aware of the growth that is taking place.

The revelation of the clematis seems to be a great reminder to me and to others to continue to set our sights at a level that allows us to truly measure the growth we seek.  Life can force our gaze downward.  Details may hinder our ability to shift our gaze.  Time constraints often prevent us from taking the time to look beyond the obvious or expected.  Our kids are very like our beautiful clematis.  They take time and they often bloom in unexpected areas.  But their blooms are exquisite and their impact spreads throughout the community in which they live.  If we adjust our line of sight, we just might see what we have been waiting for!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's blog here, follow her on Twitter @CottageschoolGA, and find the Cottage School on Facebook here. 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

     I received an email the other day from enotes.com entitled “Dealing with Cheating in the Classroom - A New Look at an Old Problem”.  It took me a bit by surprise because I haven’t really given much thought recently to cheating in my classroom.  However, it did get me thinking about my own history as a student.

     I clearly remember the cheating I did as a high school student.  I was particularly guilty when it came to a math class, the name of which I know have forgotten. (Big surprise!)  I cheated because I was too lazy to learn the material in such a way that I understood it and could apply it.  I also cheated because I had convinced myself that I was incapable and that there would be no other way to pass the class.  It never occurred to me to ask the teacher for help.  So, each test I would strategically place myself behind my best friend and copy off of her test, with her permission of course!  I mean, I was a cheater, not a thief too.  In college, she went on to study engineering; I went on to study English.

     After reading the email, I looked around my classroom and began to wonder about each of my students.  Mmmm, I wonder if Allyson cheats.  Maybe Nathan.  Not Joel.  Definitely Megan! 


     I realized that I had to define what I considered cheating in order to determine if my students were guilty.  I suppose a dictionary definition would sound something like “presenting intellectual information as one’s own, original work even when it was taken from another source.”  Well, if that’s the case, then most of my kids are guilty.  Each school day begins with seatwork – a short worksheet that focuses on building skills in math, science, social studies, and language arts.  Typically the kids hate seeing the worksheets on their desks first thing in the morning and complain bitterly.  Few ever take the time to actually read the instructions so there is always a volleying of cries asking “What are we supposed to do?” and “Who gets what this is?” Uggh!

     Inevitably some groups form as they “help” each other with the work.  The more I think about it, the more I now realize that essentially they are cheating.  In fact, I now see how some of their other classroom behaviors could also be construed as cheating.  

     Each quarter I require that students read four books independently and then pass a computer-based comprehension quiz on each book.  The quizzes are supposed to be “movie-proof” meaning that you can’t get away with watching the movie version and still pass the test.  However, I know that there are some students who can get away with reading only a portion of the book and manage to pass the test.  I don’t know if they are savvy enough or just have dumb luck but they often get away with it.  Sometimes I am able to catch them but most times not.

     The one place I don’t see much cheating is during a paper and pencil test.  I usually have a healthy amount of critical thinking questions on the literature and history tests that I give that  makes it difficult to copy from someone else.  Students must prove through their own writing what they know and how they interpret the material.  I have been encouraging them to write more so as to have a better chance that they will cover the answer more effectively.

     I also wonder about the reasons why students today cheat on homework and tests.  I am certain that their reasons are similar to mine from over 30 years ago: disinterest, lack of time, lack of understanding, fear, and laziness!  But do they feel any remorse over the cheating or is it just expected and accepted?

     Next time:  Guilty or not?  How do they feel now?

Margaret Anderson (not her real name) is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

As a veteran educator, I have worked with ADHD people before ADHD was “cool.” The trials and tribulations of mismanaged Attention Deficit Disorder and all of its relatives ( Bi-Polar, Tourette’s, Seizure Disorder, etc.) are well documented and a horror to observe or experience.  

However, there are two sides to this intriguing coin.

First of all, there is little dispute about the creativity of an ADHD brain.  The kid who fashions a horseback rider, complete with reins, out of the gum he has been asked to throw away…the imaginative response to the essay question about family strife that somehow finds a way to weave in watermelons and monkeys…the incredibly detailed art work, the sounds of the music composed overnight….the fashion sense that begins on the fringe and becomes mainstream….the list goes on and on.  There is a reason so many successful artists claim that their school years were a nightmare  and they sought solace in the art.

Second is their ability to look for opportunity amidst obstacles and confusion.  They are not afraid of risks.  In fact, risk taking is one of the characteristics of the condition! Perhaps it is because they do not attend to a problem long enough to really comprehend the reality, but if they decide they want to get something done, they will figure out how to do it...perhaps in a way no one else has considered.  

Look at the number of extremely successful entrepreneurs who have launched networks, airlines and rockets!  There is nothing the world market appreciates more than a fresh new idea and the risk-taker who sells it! One of the challenges those of us who teach ADHD adolescents is how to provide opportunities in our setting to offer appropriate risk taking which builds confidence  and redirect them from areas of risk that have costly consequences.

Third is their resilience.  There are days that I am in awe at the ability of our students to be knocked to the ground repeatedly and then get back up and move forward.  How much courage it must take to attend school every day knowing you will feel like crap by the end of the day, be ridiculed constantly and have nothing to show at the end.  Of course that is not the current experience of our students, as our environment does not foster that, but it is their past experiences.  And yet, most of them  kept going to school. By the same token, how many times can they read the same paragraph, take the same tests, practice throwing that ball with little progress and still hang in there to please us?  I love their strength and stamina!

The last trait that I find so endearing is their ability to move on when bad things happen.  Of course, this quality is usually only present when the ADHD person has healthy self-esteem.  When the rest of us would carry a grudge or keep the fire stoked, many ADHD kids forgive and forget.  Again, perhaps it is their lack of ability to attend to that situation for very long, but whatever it is, it is wonderful.  This quality is often mistaken as “not caring” or being uninterested but usually it is just that they have moved on to something else and  what is still eating at us, is a past memory for them.

I have seen all of these characteristics in my adult son.  He is magic when it comes to fixing things and often uses tools and techniques no one else would consider.  He is so easy going and unflappable (most of the time).  When I am fuming at the antics of his ex-wife, he simply picks his battles and moves on.  He makes us all laugh all the time.  His good-hearted nature keeps us on balance as he navigates through life with an ease that belies the struggles he is experiencing  internally. 

He is realistic: “Mom, I know I missed your birthday, but you understand I don’t think about dates the way my brother does.” He is helpful to a fault.  All his friends and co-workers keep him busy when he is not at work working on their cars, their mowers, their plumbing.  He loves to work and help others, so he soaks it all up.  He is happy when he is busy and he is always busy! While my other Type A son is in a tizzy over work-related issues, Steven is content..truly content with his family and his job.  

Yes, I think he has a gift…one that I would like to have, at least some some days!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's Blog here.

You can also follow her @cottageschoolGA and find her on Facebook here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

In 2010, the CDC published a report stating that over 5 million children in the U.S. aged 3-17 years old had been diagnosed with ADD.  That is equivalent to 8 percent of the population.  Of that, boys were twice as likely to have ADD as girls.  In my classroom this school year, that equals 1.2 children and in keeping with the statistics, that one is a boy.

ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, is a condition that applies to children and adults who struggle with impulsivity, age-appropriate attentiveness, and possible hyperactivity.  There are many speculative causes for ADD, which include heredity, alcohol and nicotine consumption by the mother during pregnancy, and even low birth weight.  Further, some lay people say that ADD may be caused by television and lack of parental control.

In school, ADD tends to look like a child who is really rather brilliant, creative, and all over the place – literally!  The students with whom I have experienced have run the gamut from having illegible penmanship, erratic grades, to stomach issues, toilet issues, anxiety, depression, and the list goes on and on.

As a teacher, my first question regarding how to help a student is “what is the best course of action for the child?”  Before I even address the medication issue, there are instructional modification techniques that can be implemented; in fact, any teacher worth her salt should be differentiating classroom instruction to teach to the multiple intelligences and different learning styles.  

A successful learning environment begins with a prepared teacher.  The teacher should begin with a clear, concise lesson plan.  Knowing where you are going and how you are going to get there will eliminate down time for you and your students.  All students need apparent structure in the classroom, especially students with ADD who will lose focus quickly if not actively engaged in learning.  The teacher must provide an environment with as few distractions as possible.  

Maintaining close proximity to the student and speaking in a low, controlled voice will help the student to focus.  I usually position my students with ADD in the front of the classroom or on an outside aisle seat to which I can easily walk to and stop at their desk.  Establishing physical nearness helps the child to continue focus on what I am saying and doing.

Another critical element I have found is that I need to make my expectations for classroom behavior known to all of the students.  If I need to spend a few minutes in uninterrupted lecturing, I will let them know that questions and comments will be taken at the end.  If I feel that a student is monopolizing the Q & A time, I will politely let him or her know that others need a turn to be involved.  I very often will spend one-on-one time outside of regular class with that particular student to give them the volume of attention they are so eager to have from me.

Utilizing multi-sensory instructional methods is a way to reach all students.  Most classrooms now have interactive boards with which you can show video clips, listen to music, and manipulate text.  Student appreciate the use of technology in the classroom and can more easily identify with the visual information being presented.

Even with all of the bells and whistles available to today’s teachers, some children with ADD need further intervention.  I often modify homework assignments for my students with ADD so that they can successfully complete the work, understand the information, and not chain themselves to the assignment for hours because they can’t maintain their focus. 

I have often said that I want each child to be successful within their abilities.  What is a doable task for one child may be like trying to jump blindfolded through a flaming hoop for the next child.  If I can remove the blindfold and put out the fire, then I will do that.  If that means assigning fewer problems or perhaps different work, then I will do that.

Unfortunately, there are times when teachers can only do so much to provide for classroom success.  Many parents do not like to consider using medication for their child diagnosed with ADD.  The medications have gotten a bad rap over the years, in part, I believe, because many are some form of a stimulant and parents don’t want to put unnatural chemicals in their child’s body.  The goal of medication is to provide the brain with dopamine chemicals that help to build the neurotransmitters associated with motivation, control, and attention.  There are as many different types of medications available as there are children who need them.  As a parent you will need to understand that t each child responds differently to medication, you will need to work cooperatively with the doctor and the teacher to determine what is working with your child

An analogy that I often use with parents who are deciding what to do about medication is if your child had asthma and needed an inhaler or nebulizer to improve their breathing, would you do?  Of course you would!  What parent wouldn’t want their child to be able to breathe freely?  Likewise, if your child were struggling in school to be able to learn and control his behavior, wouldn’t you want him to have whatever was available to make him more successful? 

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to have discussions with former students whose parents were reluctant to use medication to help with their ADD.  One student in particular did not begin taking medication until the eighth grade.  The change in his grades was phenomenal.  He expressed to me while he was in high school how much better he felt in school while on the medication because he could focus and didn’t feel all over the place anymore.  The medication is not a permanent fix and wears off several hours after taking it, but what a relief it can be for many children.

The bottom line is that students with ADD need support.  That support should come from a teacher who establishes clear expectations in the classroom, gives positive feedback, and supports the student and his parents.  It should also come from parents who partner with the teacher and doctors to continuously assess what is going on with the child and who are open to exploring all avenues that will provide the opportunity to be academically and emotionally successful.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 More Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

It’s that time of year.  The first day of school is right around the corner and frantic families are in the throes of last minute decision making.  Their teen did miserably at school last year, perhaps for the last several years. They have given into the pleas of “I will do better next year.”  ”I promise I will get my homework done next year.”  “ I will study harder next year.” Reality has hit.  Graduation is in jeopardy.  It is time to act. 

Mom has been doing her research for months.  Dad is protesting any additional expenses for a child who is not trying.  Grandparents are wringing their hands on the sidelines, offering a variety of solutions, none of which are helpful.   Teen, in typical fashion, sits glumly and watches the circus.  Time is running short and the stress level is palpable.

When I get the call from the mom (never the dad), the request is for an immediate appointment.  I accommodate, of course, since I know this is stressful for everyone!  The sooner they interview, the sooner we can begin the process of enrollment, and they can begin at the beginning of the year. Not all interviews result in enrollment.  However, if I screen the inquiry well in the phone call, I can usually identify those candidates who are most likely a good fit. 

There is one big problem.  One huge obstacle.   One enormous bummer.  The teen…the one for whom this is aimed…the one who is the intended beneficiary (victim, in their mind)…the most important person in the room is not on board.  They may be failing.  They may be on the verge of expulsion or dropping out.  They may be several credits short of graduation requirements, but they do not, under any circumstances, want to change schools. Change is unthinkable to them.  Leaving their friends and the football team (although they are not on the team) is impossible. Their heels are dug in and they will not budge.  They are “in control“ of this situation.  Just watch them!

As I sit across from them in the initial interview and begin to explain our program, I usually see a softening of their countenance.  During the rest of the year, prospective students are in the middle of crisis.  Every day is painful.  They come with a willingness to ease the pain, if not any enthusiasm, for making a school change.  

But our last-minute summer kids are coming off of a several week reprieve.  They have not been in school and they have had little pressure on them to do much more than eat, sleep and play.  To them, this new year is a new beginning and they are determined that “it is not that bad.”  They don’t have to change schools and nobody is going to make them!

Last week I sat across from a young man who had just completed his sophomore year…with no credits earned…in a local private school.   The school is “being gentle” with him because he is such a loveable kid…but they can not have another year of spoon-feeding him when their educational structure is not designed for individual attention.  And, since he does not do homework or study independently, there is little reward for their effort.  His mom and dad see the writing on the wall, but he is oblivious.

At first he barely spoke. He answered my few questions with one word or a nod and he would not establish eye contact.  However, as I described our motivational system with hourly pay for specific responsible behaviors, he began to soften.  He would establish brief eye contact or look at me when he saw that I was looking at his parents.  He began to sit up.  He even asked me to repeat my explanation of the pay system and the field trips students earn.  He really brightened up when we visited the gym and he saw the basketball team practicing. 

For periods of time he would forget that he was not supposed to like this school and would begin to listen with a more positive attitude.  But, predictably, he would catch himself, fall into his slump and the veil of discontent and boredom would take over his persona.  He really had to work hard at not liking what he was hearing.  His mom told me that after he left, he said “She was a really nice lady.  I can’t believe you wasted her time like that.”  

Yep, I did my job.

In the end, they left with the parents more sold than ever and the young man secure in the knowledge that he had done all he could to create a negative impression.  That’s what he thought!  I have done this for a lot of years and what I saw was what I expect to see at this time of year.  

I had assured him that we (parents and school) would not “make” him come here.  The last thing I want is for his folks to pay the tuition to have him fight us every day.  I explained that if he returned to his previous school and found he simply could not keep up, that we would be here to help. 

In a private conversation with his parents I explained that most of these kids have to learn by doing.  If they experience the discomfort, they want out, but until then, they minimize the risks.  If his previous school would take him back, we could give him about six weeks, at best, before he will be eager to make things “easier.”  It may sound risky to most folks, but it works every time.  

This young man is very capable, intellectually, but extremely ADHD.  He can not access his natural talents because his brain short-circuits his intentions.  He left my office feeling  confident that next year will be better and he did not have to argue or convince me otherwise.  

I left him with the knowledge that there are options that are better suited to his needs and that the door will be open when he needs us.  Having a knock-down drag-out session would not have benefitted either of us.  Tearing down his self-esteem would not have been productive either.  If we truly want to begin to empower our youth, we must allow them to experience the outcomes they, in fact, set in motion.  This will not be easy for his parents, or for him, but I believe he will make the right decision before the first grading period!

And now I must prepare for my next interview…my next recalcitrant rebel….and I predict the same pattern. It is that time of year…again!

 Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

If you are a teacher, you have probably heard the faculty lunch room chatter that sounds something like “These kids today just don’t understand what I am trying to teach them!”  “Unless I am doing a song and dance routine with a laser light show, my students are bored in the classroom!”  “Do any of our students know how to use a dictionary anymore?”  “How come I am the only one in the room who still doesn’t know how to operate the VCR/DVD player?”

These are the sounds of an antiquated education system that is in dire need of an overhaul.  The majority of our schools in the United States use educators with  teaching practices from the 20th century while trying to facilitate learning with 21st century students.  It’s past time to be moving forward.

Let’s take a look at the way in which we “old folks” think of education versus the way in which our future leaders think of education.  First of all, the vast majority of our teachers are “digital immigrants.”  We didn’t grow up with the lightning fast technology of our youth today.  We can remember seeing the first microwave ovens enter our homes and used rotary dial telephones.  Our classroom experiences had us as students sitting quietly in our desks listening attentively to the teacher as she droned on for seven hours each day.  Each of us worked independently of our mates as we scoured dictionaries, thesauri, and reams of ancient encyclopedias as our primary sources for information.

By contrast, our students of the 21st century are “digital natives.”  They are accustomed to food that cooks fast and phones that can be carried in their back pockets.  They have been raised on a constant diet of hundreds of television channels in multi languages right in their own living rooms 24-7.  Looking for a classroom resource?  These Millennial students pull out their iPhones, iPads, or laptops and type in a question to a search bar; moments later they have access to hundreds of up-to-date resources.  No more do they walk to the classroom shelf and pick up the dusty volumes to find an answer.

So, how must our educational practices respond to these Net-generation learners?  Surely education has the need for the talents and experience of our Digital Immigrants to educate our Digital Natives, but the way in which we do that needs to change.

Classrooms of the new millennium will become more project-based, aimed at asking real-life questions and solving real-world problems.  Students today are very social and are comfortable in ethnically and racially diverse settings.  They are adept at multi-tasking and quite used to being on-the-go all the time (soccer practice, music lessons, dinner and school work in the car, etc).  These students take in an enormous amount of information each day thus craving the interactivity all of the technology has afforded them.

Teachers will need to operate more as facilitators in the classroom and less like lecturers.  One of the buzz phrases in teacher education training is “What is the essential question?” that we are trying to solve in any given lesson.  When we work with our students, we need to have them drive the lesson by asking the messy questions that require the higher order thinking skills of creative thinking, problem solving, and critical reasoning.  Students will want to work in group settings with access to parallel informational resources to find answers to questions that matter.  No more can teachers rely on the “you need to learn this because it’s good for you” mentality. Our students today are too savvy to accept that answer.

As quickly as our classroom is changing due to technology and the abilities of our students, we as educators must change quickly too.  It is no longer an option to regurgitate last year’s lesson plan book with new dates to accommodate this school year.  It’s time to let go of the control.  We need to take the lessons we have taught in the past and reproduce them into lessons that are student-centered, reach across the curriculum, and use the inquiry method.  Yet we can’t achieve that all in one year’s time.  

My personal challenge, and one that I pass along to all teachers, is to step out of your box and find at least one lesson each week in which you try something new.  Find a way to incorporate technology into group projects that allow students to show their mastery of the information.  Sit back and enjoy watching students sift through the mountains of information that come through to them via the internet.  Marvel at their adeptness to create a multi-media presentation that rivals award-winning documentaries.

And BTW, it wouldn’t hurt to bone up on the new IM language so that you will be able to understand your students.  It sometimes creeps into their formal writing (which I still don’t allow them to use) because they use it everyday to communicate with one another.  Better to be multi-lingual than miss out on what they are talking about.  OK.  G2G.  TTYL

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I remember the falls of my youth.   I am an Air Force brat and went to high school in Illinois.  Unlike the state of Georgia, where fall and summer dance back and forth for a while before settling in to the cool crispness of a true fall, in Illinois, we were bundled for our football games, saw frost before Halloween and had time to enjoy the change in the season.

What I see now, beyond the weather differences, is the frantic pace of our families once school begins....not just the families, but all of the citizens in my small Southern town.  From what I read, we are not that different from other towns when it comes to the pace of activity in the fall.

This month, alone, the media is full of notices about multiple 5k's taking place every weekend.  There is a continual stream of special events, sporting activities and fundraisers.  It’s mind boggling.  There is little chance to  enjoy the glorious fall when you are running from event to event and adjusting to a new school year.

So, although I am nostalgic for the "good ole days," my real concern is for the results of the hectic pace I see in the kids I work with every day,   I know that ADHD kids should be kept busy enough to satisfy their need for action and how important it is to structure their time in positive activities.  I get that.  But I am truly concerned about the pace of their daily schedules and the barrage of technology they face when they are not at their games, meetings, events and sessions.

We have a gazebo on our campus.  It was built in memory of one of our students, Matthew, who died in 2002.  It is a very popular place for our students to sit quietly, from time to time during the school day.  If they have some extra time, they gravitate to that space....seldom with anything else..no books, no devices, no nothing.  

The funny thing about this is that at Matthew’s memorial service, they played the old Louis Armstrong song, “What A Beautiful World.”  I can't hear that song without thinking of him.  And when I see a student sitting there, I hear that song again.  I just wish our kids had more opportunities to spend some of their frenzied time enjoying the world that surrounds them.  It truly is beautiful.

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Some of the most important lessons one needs to learn in life never happen in the classroom.  In fact, even as a professional educator, I believe the most valuable lessons almost never occur in the confines of the traditional classroom.

I just returned from my eighth annual camping trip to South Dakota with my 8th graders.  There were 12 students and four of us chaperones on the trip this year as we made our way camping in the Badlands and Custer State Park.  

Every year this trip brings its own unique set of challenges.  Our overnight stay in the Badlands once again proved to be bad.  Gusting winds over 45 mph made setting up camp a struggle for the kids.  They worked together in teams to battle the blasts of air that meant to tear down their homes for the night.   With great effort they fished the flimsy fiberglass poles through the tent channels and pounded in the stakes to keep the tents from blowing all the way to Wyoming.  

They attempted to cook dinner as the winds threatened to constantly blow out the propane stove; you know, lukewarm brats and hotdogs aren’t really that awful tasting!  And they huddled close to one another as the nighttime critters scampered past their tents in the wee hours of the morning.  In short, they learned that no one can stand alone, that we are all in it together, and that they must depend upon both friends and foes.

Our time spent in Custer State Park was once more serene but colder.  Setting up tents was far simpler than in the Badlands but the frigid nights brought new challenges.  It was here that the kids really started to gel and the lines between girls and boys, friends and foes faded as they learned to communicate with someone new.  They shared the heat packets they brought so everyone could stay warm inside their own sleeping bags at night. And they explored the surrounding area as though they were the first people to ever set eyes on this new land.

But like any good thing, too much can be too much.  After being together for 96 straight hours, kids start getting on each other’s nerves.  Snide comments and short tempers fueled from lack of sleep started to grate on some of them. 


One young man, Tommy, came to sit near the adults while all of the other kids were playing Frisbee.  His head hung low as he sighed heavily, clearly a sign that he wanted our attention.  We asked what was wrong and he immediately fell into the victim role, which he is so quick to play in the classroom.  “Thomas is blaming me for Jon’s pillow missing.  I didn’t do it and he knows it.  I am so sick of him picking on me.” 

 We’ve been hearing this mantra for a long time and decided that now was the perfect opportunity to put this to rest.

Thomas was called over and we had the two boys speak directly to each other with their complaints and concerns.  Turns out, they actually have a lot in common that no one else in the class shares – an interest in cars and hunting weapons.  Both boys acknowledged to each other that they can take things too far and need reminders to rein their behaviors back in check.  In short, the atmosphere of the South Dakota trip worked its magic again as it afforded the boys an opportunity to get down to the nitty gritty of what it means to really have someone’s back and how to work through your differences rather than around them all of the time.

I love this camping trip for so many reasons.  It is an awesome time to really get to know my students outside of the classroom.  I love sleeping in a tent and listening to the night sounds as they lull me to sleep – coyote calls, owls hooting back and forth, and the gurgling of the brook that flows near the campsite.  

But what I especially love is how the kids learn to depend on themselves and each other as they go through the process of seeing one another at their best and worst.  And it is an intense course of human dynamics that one can never learn in a classroom.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

One of the unique aspects of The Cottage School’s innovative programming is the correlation to the working world.  Taking adolescents  who have experienced relentless failure and frustration in traditional settings, TCS provides an accredited academic and social environment, but is organized as if the students were employees, complete with time clock, hourly ( mock) salary for specific responsible behaviors, and pay levels that reflect accountability and trustworthiness.  

The result is that these talented (but frustrated) students replace their avoidance, anxieties and below grade-level performance with self-reliance, competence and pride. Graduates are successfully accepted into colleges, art and technical schools, military service and apprenticeships.  

In order to be certain that the lessons learned at TCS are consistent with the skills required in the working world, I subscribe to  trade magazines and other business related media.  One of my favorites is “The Atlanta Business Chronicle.”  Not only does it cover a wide range of economic topics, but the articles often address the issues related to soft skills such as creativity, communication and anxiety. 

Although these articles are designed for adults, I often share the topics with the parents at TCS.  It is important for parents who often focus more on academic skills than the life-long skills of time management, communication, goal-setting and conflict resolution to realize that unless addressed in a timely manner, social skills may prove to be a greater barrier to success than academic skills.

The lessons to be learned do not go away.  The student in high school who slips under the radar and just barely gets by, becomes the student in college who does not participate in class discussion because of a fear of ridicule. The road of least resistance becomes the road of least  reward, as well.  Communication skills and creativity are associate with a certain level of risk.  

For a person who is consumed with anxiety, the payoff is simply not worth the cost.  The cost in high school is  more than a less than fulfilling experience.  The cost is almost always a less than adequate preparation for the demands that a college or work environment  have in store.  

A recent issue has an article on the cost of social anxiety…a growing disorder in both adolescents and in the work place.  We often interview  teens who have a debilitating fear of attracting attention or interacting in their environment.  They come to us from environments that have battered them with ridicule, failure and shame. 

I have never met a teen who wants to fail, but I see multiple teens a week who are surrounded by frustration and disappointment every minute of every day.  Due to a problem with reading, executive functioning or self esteem, they can not meet the expectations in their school environment. What seems to come easily to others is chronically  absent in their school experience.  

The problem may begin small…falling behind in an early reading class or slow to pick up basic math skills.  Because there is no one to pinpoint the problem and protect the areas of strength in that child, the failure spreads from one area to multiple areas, leaving  the older student with an open wound.  Until that child/young adult/mature adult experiences an environment that sustains their success and helps them rediscover their areas of talent and competency, the companion anxiety can be debilitating.

The characteristics of social anxiety that emerge in the work setting include poor performance,  attendance issues and lack of achievement.  Just as in school, an adult who is consumed with fear, is distracted at their job, finds reasons to stay home and seldom puts themselves in a position for recognition.  Just in as the classroom, the anxious/invisible  employee is often overlooked and easily discounted.  The cost to the company and to the employee is immeasurable. 

If the issue can be addressed before employment, even before college or technical training, the results would be much more satisfactory.  Most schools do not include this in their curriculum, or even their sub curriculum. The author in the “Atlanta Business Chronicle” article suggests that the employer engage outside consultants  to get the job done.  Obviously, that step increases the overall cost.

Ideally, if a school environment is not addressing this issue, a parent would find other means to build these skills in their teen.  Clubs, volunteer agencies, summer camps, even professional social skills groups or therapists could achieve the task.  Business owners, today,  are focused on staying afloat and creating a competitive product.  The chance that a business owner would, in addition, invest in  employee social skills development is asking a lot.  

Addressing this issue, at any age, insures the best for all concerned.  A confident adult contributes to all aspects of their life, including the success of the company for which they work.  

That is what I call a good investment!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  

Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

For years I have read and interpreted professionally geenrated diagnostic reports used to determine the cognitive and emotional profile of students. These psychological batteries or educational assessments include an assortment of  diagnostic exercises that require verbal, written and manipulative responses.  Aside for the fact that some are very enlightening and well done and others are a waste of paper,  this battery is considered to be one of the most reliable means of making educational decisions about a student.

Of course, in the case of school placements, there are accompanying additional tools for acquiring much needed data on a student’s academic functioning, cognitive profile, emotional stability and social skills.

For schools who are targeting high IQ students with well developed verbal skills, the indicators are clear.  The test numbers are well defined and the picture of the student’s high verbal and analytical abilities is clear.  Also, in the case of a student whose intellectual capacity is limited, the indicators are also clearly defined.  There is a number below which  the child is considered intellectually impaired and the sub tests  scores are usually uniformly clustered  within the lower half of the percentiles.  

A Full Scale IQ is determined by both a Verbal Score and a Performance Score.  Each of those indicators represents a different style of learning, utilizing different aspects of the brain. Ideally, a  brain functions equally well in both categories.  However, many a frustrated student has fallen into failure due to an inordinately large gap between the two.  

If a student has high verbal skills, in our current educational setting, they can usually overcome the challenge resulting from inadequate ( or relatively inadequate) performance skills.  However, should the profile be tilted in the other direction, serious  problems can arise. A student with an extraordinarily high performance  score will present with a high IQ score, but not be prone to successful and efficient analytical or abstract reasoning.  Expectations are set for that student that  are inappropriate and unattainable.  You can guess the outcome for that student.

Of course, a variety of circumstances can depress a person’s score on these diagnostics tools.  If a student has a pronounced language disability, their ability to generate correct answers  gets in the way of measuring their comprehension of the task at hand.  A severely depressed person will also under perform on such  assessments.  

In one case, the student applying for school admission scored a full scale of 86, considered low average.  When we began working with him, he was clearly an above average student.  When questioned, months later about the testing situation, he confessed that he had been smoking marijuana on a regular basis when that  testing session was scheduled.  A fact he chose not to disclose to the professional administering the battery.

As you might expect, many of the educational batteries that I see are not so clear cut and the decisions being made from those scores can be skewed considerably.  When looking at scores that are widely scattered (from high to low scores) it is essential to take a much closer look at just where the strengths and weaknesses lie.  It is also important to  combine the data from the IQ test with other indicators of abilities.  Just because the IQ numbers fall below or above 100 does not mean that  is the end of the assessment story.

I have been looking at psychological profiles for years  that indicate that a student has limited intellectual abilities and is poorly suited for higher level educational settings.  Once that student is placed  in a setting that  provides structure, varying modalities of instruction, alternative assessment options and frequent feedback, the performance of the student begins to show remarkable achievement. 

Now that we know that the human brain continues to grow neurological connections well into adulthood, we know that it is possible for a child who performed poorly on a cognitive battery early on can improve his performance after very targeted attention to memory, analytical and executive functioning skills.

I can not tell you how many students, whose educational battery indicated they should not be continuing in higher educational settings after high school graduation, participate in a prescriptive or highly individualized educational setting, select a college that is a good match for their learning style and go on to complete their degrees.  

Or, on the other hand, how many students  who have tested off the charts in intellectual capacity but have stalled out along the way because they were unable to access their brilliance. When making decision about a child’s future, the time has passed for traditional decision making.  If we want to see the child clearly, we must look at a broad array of skills, talents and scores. Otherwise, we risk misdirecting a student whose potential was tragically  lost in the numbers.

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

Read more columns by Jacque Digieso here

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

'Tis the season of Christmas parties and meeting new people over a glass of wine and a plate of hors d'oeuvres.  Invariably the conversation turns to “what do you do for a living?”  Naturally my reply is always the same, “I teach middle school.”  Over the years I have come to expect the most common response, which begins with a huge sigh followed by something along the lines of “Oh, you are earning your angel wings.  I could never teach middle school children.”  On the other hand, I have that same reaction if someone tells me they teach kindergarten.  

Teaching middle school is what I do.  I love it!  Maybe it’s because my emotional maturation is about at the age of a 13-year-old.  Or maybe I like to live vicariously through my students and relive my own adolescent years.  Or perhaps I just “get” middle school kids.

Children in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are a unique bunch of people.  These young teens, aged 12-14, are going through some of the greatest transformations that they will ever experience in their lifetime.  They are experiencing wild changes in their physical, intellectual, and emotional developments, which all hugely impact their social developments.   All of which creates a brew for some very interesting days in the classroom.

Let’s start by looking at their physical changes.  Middle school boys usually pack on a few extra pounds at this age.  Don’t ask me to explain the biological reasons behind this, I just think it is the body’s way of preparing them for the huge growth spurt they will experience as they hit high school.  Whatever the reason, many of the boys get those cute pudgy cheeks and a nice layer of tummy that says, “Hey! I am a middle schooler.”

My own son used to hide behind over-sized and untucked shirts to cover up what he called his “accordion.” On the other side of that coin, there are those boys who start their growth spurt early and stretch out like string beans.  They move around like new puppies with too big of feet and uncoordinated movements as they attempt to adapt to their new height.  One of my students, Dan, must be wearing wear size 13 shoes, which somehow always manage to be in my way as I move around the room during any given class period.

Girls don’t get out of this awkwardness either.  Some middle school girls have begun their menstrual cycle and are dealing with acne, a body that is developing curves, and how to discreetly get to the bathroom to take care of their hygiene needs.  Remember the days when you performed a magic act like Houdini as you snuck your tampons into your sleeves, pockets, or socks to hide them on your way to the bathroom?  You didn’t dare carry a purse because then everyone would know you had your period and your life would be ruined!

As sixth graders, boys don’t pay too much attention to the girls but the girls are definitely starting to notice the boys.  The girls develop crushes on pop and movie stars but usually think their male classmates are gross.  By seventh grades all of the hormonal changes in the body allow the eyes to more clearly focus on the boy or girl sitting next to them.  For girls, that pop star crush may still be there but it will translate into a crush on a boy in the classroom who resembles their out-of-reach love because he has good hair or is funny.  

Some seventh grade boys wake up and see that the girls are getting cuter.  A confident, bold, young man may even ask a girl to “go out” with him.  In my classroom this year, one of the boys gave a girl a heart necklace with a note asking her to go out with him.  She politely declined at first but changed her mind 24 hours later and accepted his offer.  Their new dating status means that they no longer look at each other or sit together.  They just think about one another constantly. 

By eighth grade, the cool factor has settled in and the hormonally driven dating game takes on a new look.  No longer do the girls giggle behind their hands as they bat their eyelashes at the boys.  Likewise, the boys become much more subtle in their admiration of the girls and don’t sit slack-jawed starring at them.  Each gender develops a swagger that says “Hey, I am in control and interested.”  They quietly seat themselves next to one another throughout the school day and spend their after-school hours texting one another.

Now, imagine you are the teacher in this classroom while all of this is going on around you.  The interplay of these physical changes in the social setting of the academic world means that it can be pretty difficult to keep the kids focused on learning.  I often find myself doing an unabashed dog-and-pony show as I teach sentence diagramming in order to distract the students from whatever mental butterfly they are following down the merry path of pubescence.  

It’s a task to be sure, but someone’s got to do it and that someone is me.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

Read more columns by Margaret Andersen here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

For all of my teaching career, I have worked with students who found little success in their school setting, which then resulted in little success in their lives as a whole. Due to a variety of variables (poverty, learning disabilities, abuse, emotional fragility, language barriers, adjustment reactions) the behaviors required for task completion, content mastery, and skill development are not learned and the deprivation of successful abilities continues in a circle of frustration and failure. 

The pattern is repeated generation after generation  and is an equal opportunity visitor.

For all my teaching career I have also worked with students who discovered the joy of achievement and became absolutely and unequivocally addicted to the taste of success. Once the tasks are defined within their area of skill and the environment is conducive to risk-taking (in the form of the risk of failure by trying something new or previously impossible) students of all ages begin to work with energy and pride that seems endless! 

Not that finding that combination is easy. It is not. People who expect failure avoid opportunities that could result in that outcome.  That means that their opportunities to experience success become extremely limited. How many movies have we seen where the emotionally fragile, hopelessly depressed teen, wife, business person meets just the right partner, job or mentor, and, through trials and tribulations, finds happiness?  Sounds sappy, but it is true.  

One of my recent explorations into this theme is a book entitled “The Language Of Flowers,” written by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I doubt that the book will be a historical success, but since I work with so many adopted teens and am an adoptive parent as well, the pattern of avoidance rooted in low self-esteem that is presented in this book plays out in households and classrooms across our country. Granted, the scenes in the book are far more extreme than most cases, but the truth is there.

As a new teacher in the late 1960’s, I was in a world where little was known about the emotional impact that anxiety and depression play on the ability of a person to learn and to cope.  I however had been a lost soul for several of my adolescent years and knew/believed that if I could create an environment of acceptance, I could begin to reach the students I was most attracted to…. those kids whose faces reflected negative emotions or little emotion at all.  Childhood is a developmental time of exploration and growth.  When something interferes with that natural process, the “business as usual” model does not work.

I saw it in Thailand when I worked with teens of ex-pats who were without a culture of their own and whose parents were absent or preoccupied.  I saw it in rural Ohio where I taught the children of farmers, many of whom only attended school until the legal age of  returning to the farm to help with the family business. I saw it in the public classrooms in Georgia where the pace and expectations of the school were no match for the learning needs of the students in those classes.  I especially saw it in the psychiatric hospital classrooms where the emotional toll of their young lives left students incapable of believing that they could join their peers in the academic journey to success.

It was not my college educational training that molded my approach.  My lessons came from the students themselves. Once I had established a safe environment and accepting attitude, they began to trust that we could work together.  Once we worked together, they began to trust that I could help them.  Once they learned to believe I could help them, they could begin to help themselves.  And the trajectory moved upward from there. Not every day. Not always. Not every teen. But enough to keep me motivated by their success!  

I am addicted, as well!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

Read more columns by Jaque Digieso here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Jan 06

All Americans are created equal, and apparently the same.

So says the insurance industry.

On Tuesday, my therapist informed me at the beginning of our session that that the insurance companies had issued a decree that as of Jan. 1, 2103 the standard 50-minute appointment had been reduced to a 45-minute appointment, thus justifying a reduction in the insurance payments for each session.

I wonder who they consulted with?

Artificial Intelligence?

It wasn't me and I doubt it was a practicing medical professional. 

I’m guessing that the next time I go see my medical doctor there will be a mandated stopwatch in the room to make sure that she doesn’t exceed the pre-set limit.

Perhaps the insurance industry will spare the surgeons from having to watch the clock, but they can achieve the same effect by putting an outer limit on the amount of anesthesia a patient can be given in any single procedure.  I know what decision I'd make if I starting regaining consciousness on the operating table.

All Americans are created equal, and apparently the same.

So says a new movement of accountability in American education.

A few years back I was invited by the Secretary of Education to come to Washington, D.C. to participate in a summit on American education.  During the course of the summit I learned that specialists in education were advocating that a tracking system be developed that would trace the progress of each pupil from kindergarten through four years of college.  

Through a sophisticated use of standardized tests and other measurements, education specialists would be able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum and methods of teachers, and thus develop a systematic way to compare and evaluate teachers as well as schools.

Most of the day I was sitting in the room in utter disbelief.  Toward the end of the day I raised my hand and asked a question:

“Are you telling me that if I have two of my students go on to become high school English teachers, and one goes to an under-performing inner city school and another goes to a suburban school of excellence that each teacher’s competence can be fairly evaluated based on the outcomes of their students?”

The room was silent.  

I asked another question.

“Am I correct in assuming that if every student is taught a similar curriculum in a similar way they should turn out the same way?”

Again no response.

I’m guessing somewhere a FBI agent snapped my picture and gave me a detention.

After an awkward pause the conference continued with or without me.  I later learned of the 400 delegates only two of us were actually teachers, the rest were administrators and government agents.

Apparently all students are created equal and the same.

Please don't tell my students.

My students don't wanted to be treated like every other, and they perform accordingly.

Not only don’t my students turn out the same I don’t teach them the same way.  I don’t even spend the same amount of time with each of them.  I even change my textbooks from year to year.

In retrospect, I guess I’m not a very good teacher.  I should be able to get a better result in less time.  

I guess I should return the numerous teaching awards bestowed on me by students and colleagues and the many citations for good teaching given to me by the American Political Science Association.  They probably forgot to check with the FBI.

My therapist must not be very good either.  He decided to spend an extra five minutes with me without charging me or getting reimbursement from the insurance company.  He probably feels badly that he’s not very good.

Come to think of it, I don’t think my internal medicine doctor is very good.  Until this week I thought she was the best doctor I had ever had because whenever I visit her she speaks with me as long as is necessary to try and figure out what ails me.  But I now see that a good doctor should be able to figure that out in mere minutes without hardly a word spoken.

The same goes for my surgeon.  He’s particularly negligent.  I have undergone several neck and throat surgeries due to cancer.  Invariably, I spend more time in pre-op than predicted because he spends an inordinate amount of time on the patients before me.  What’s worse when it is my turn, he goes longer than predicted and does so without even an apology. 

I guess my medical professionals had bad teachers.

I guess my teachers were bad teachers.

If they had been good it would be self-evident that all Americans are created the same.

Apparently someone forgot to tell Thomas Jefferson or he would have included "same" in the Declaration of Independence.

Silly us, wasting so much of our time and the time of our patients and students acting as if spending five more minutes with either would be helpful.

If the insurance companies and the Department of Education know this, why don’t we professionals?

I guess we’re not the same.

Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking Relationship Beyond the Age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Dale serves the Evangelical Covenant Church of America as an ordained minister, and is presently the Interim Pastor at the Monadnock Covenant Church in Keene, NH.  He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.  


©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I thought I would take some time to brag. Twenty years ago, while Joe and I were teaching our high school Sunday school class, we noticed a growing change in one of our young girls. We knew her family well so we had known Jennifer since she was in elementary school. She began high school as she has finished middle school, happy, involved, athletic and adorable.  

By the middle of her sophomore year she had experienced serious academic trouble, lost her eligibility to be a cheerleader or play sports, began dressing in all black and seemed unhappy and anxious most of the time we were with her. When we asked her parents about the change they indicated that she had hit a wall in her classes. and due to her increased failures, she was removed from her teams (and her friends) and had to find a new peer group.  Joe and I felt she was drifting farther and farther from her center.

Our school was less than 10 years old at the time and we were not constrained by the strict business policies that bind us now. It is very liberating when you are in that committed but innocent state. So, we simply told her parents to enroll her with us (at no charge) and get her tested.  

The tests indicated she had ADHD (duh!). Since that was our entire reason for starting the school, she had landed in the right place. Not only did she lose the black attire, but she began organizing all of us….you see, she is not really disorganized.  Jennifer is one of those ADHD folks who is especially happy when she is busy and in charge! She takes pride in everything she does and works hard to make everything perfect. The school structure helped her refine her own natural sense of organization and she has soared ever since.

Jennifer played sports, did well in class, was chair of any committee she joined, had lots of friends and brightened every room she entered. She often said that when she left The Cottage School she was not going to be learning disabled any more. She held two part-time jobs her junior and senior year. She made sure her boyfriend (ADHD without hyperactivity) came to school every day and did his work.  

Jennifer graduated in 1993, married her high school sweetheart and had children. She became a personal trainer, taught Lamaze classes, had her own workout video and then an online store for healthy items for adults and children. She was a vital resource for mothers in her small Georgia city.

Her husband’s ADHD was less easily managed. He has a good heart but is not great at holding a job or a marriage.  You know the story. She did what she could to keep it all together but eventually they divorced. 

A few years ago she moved to Chicago and remarried. She enrolled in nursing school and worked as an LPN, while raising two young daughters. This week she graduated as a registered nurse, top of her class and will continue to fill her life with success.  Joe and I can not wait to see her when she comes home this summer to visit!  

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

Read more columns by Jacque Digieso here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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