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Believe it or not, at the start of each semester, a teacher can look out at her class and tell if the kids sitting in front of him/her are going to be to be a “Good Class” or a “Bad Class.”  Though made up of individual children, each class has its own unique personality and there’s consensus among teachers that, for whatever reason—whether it’s something in the water or the way the moons aligned the year a particular class was born—some classes are a gem to be with while others are, well, not.

Last semester, I had a “Bad Class.”  

Don’t get me wrong – individually each of these kids is an absolute gift from God.  There’s not a one I wouldn’t want to spend time with, eating pizza and ice cream and chatting teen-speak.  But collectively this group was explosive and disruptive, like a crate of dynamite and a box of matches.

I had four students I named, “Chuckleheads.”  They couldn’t stop talking no matter what punishments I threw at them.  Their disrespectful behavior should’ve gotten me very upset but they were so darn funny, I found it difficult to not laugh at their antics.

Then there was “Tech Kid” who asked me at least 50 times a day if he could “download my hard drive” using one of his 8G jump drives.  I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly but every time he asked, I said, “No,” and every day, he came back and asked again.  

The girls were another issue.  I named a gaggle of them, “The Screechers,” because when they weren’t dodging out of the classroom looking for friends, they screeched at the boys to “Stop It!” in that tone that really meant: “Please keep picking on me! I love the attention!” 

I also had one girl who I named, “The Tripper.”  She thought stumbling and falling over everyone and everything was not only “kewl” but also a great way to get attention from the boys.  

I also had a boy who thought he was the next David Letterman and said to all who returned from the bathroom, “Hey Tommy!  You okay? You look a little sweaty!”

But the cream of this year’s crop had to be twin brothers, Timmy and Tom.  The two boys started out the year very quietly and unassuming.  That is, until mid-semester when Timmy swatted Tom across the head.  Little did I know, Timmy had been covertly taunting Tom the whole morning and Tom had finally had enough.  Tom threw Timmy into a headlock worthy of the Saturday night special on World Wrestling Entertainment and tried to yank Timmy’s head off of his body. 

After several yelps of “Stop It!” from me, Tom released Timmy from the headlock, flipped him over the desk and casually walked away. 

I sputtered for Tom to go to the office and then spent the next few minutes individually closing the jaws of the rest of the students who were in shock at what they had just witnessed.  

Since that fateful day, Timmy and Tom have continued to reenact their favorite WWE moves.  Gratefully, none of the other students have been involved in their physical altercations, but their interactions often escalate into a war of “Shut Up’s.”   For the uninitiated, a “Shut Up” war is akin to watching a ping-pong match with each student trying to bellow “Shut Up” with more vocal intonation than the previous volley. Usually, the teacher wins as the referee who must step in and make them both shut up.    

After a “Bad Class” like last semester’s, I am glad this semester’s class is a tad better.

As for last semester’s “Bad Class,” here’s an update:   

·      Tom and Timmy are getting some much needed help from qualified people who can hopefully create peace and harmony in their home for their parents’ sake. 

·      “Tech Kid” is now into go-kart racing season so he has forgotten about downloading my hard drive.  For now. 

·      “The Tripper” is showing signs of traversing through the building looking more like a young lady than a wounded buffalo. 

·      My David Letterman wanna-be is coming up with new one-liners that have nothing to do with going to the bathroom. 

·      And my four chuckleheads?  Well, they’ve discovered the fun of speaking with a British accent. 

 

And I still can’t keep a straight face.

 

 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. 


© 2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.

 

*Margaret Andersen is not her real name.  All the names of the children have been changed. 

This is the first school year in which I will be teaching U. S. history.  Personally, I wasn’t too good of a student back in high school when I supposed to be learning it for the first time.  I blame my transitioning to three schools in three years as the reason I seemed to miss what happened when, to whom, and why.  My attempt at this subject didn’t improve much in college but I have conveniently blamed that on something too, which I now forget.


But here I am, charged with passing on the historical lessons of our forefathers to our next generation of leaders.  I ask myself, What do these students really need to know and take-away from history, and how can I create an environment that will be meaningful and engaging to them?  As an adult, I now see the importance of the world’s stories of “growing up.”  Since I consider myself a storyteller by nature, I hope to be able to share my interest in history with my students.


As parents and educators, we are provided with a teachable moment as we come upon the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  Each of us can remember where we were when we learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the demise of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.  Those events have created strong emotional reactions on all who remember or hear of them.  As residents in a democratic society, it is our job to use those emotions as a springboard for teaching our children how to be participants in our country, not just residents. 

          

In the classroom and at the dinner table, it is important to welcome conversation and debate about the controversial aspects of that day and its aftermath.  This allows young people to learn how to share their opinions, actively listen with respect, change their opinions perhaps, and on occasion, agree to disagree.


While children are curious about everything, be sure to steer the discussion to age-appropriate topics that they can understand:


§     Reassure your children that they are safe.  The events of 9/11 were unusual.  Though we always need to be cautious, our children in the U.S. are not at imminent risk of further terroristic attacks.


§     Become knowledgeable about Islam and the Muslim people.  This is an extremely controversial subject that can be interpreted a number of ways.  Many of us live communally with Muslim families which makes it even more important what children understand about their classmates and neighbors.


§     Discuss the changes in our country and the world since the terrorist attacks.  Something as simple as the way in which travel has been impacted will demonstrate to our children how our world has changed in ten short years.


§     Ignite a passion for patriotism in your children.  The tragedy of the attacks proved that the citizens of our country care deeply for one another.  There are so many stories of heroic, self-less acts that occurred on that day and in the days and years to follow.  Teaching our children to be proud of our country and to become active in preserving our democracy is a life lesson that will be repaid time and time again.

             

Finally, be sure to treat your children’s questions with compassion and respect.  Their understanding of history is limited to their own experience.  Treat each question as important, regardless if you find it trivial.  Keep your responses age-appropriate. Focus on the positive.  We come from a heritage of successes and failures, but mostly from a strong people that were willing to risk themselves for the betterment of others.  That is a powerful lesson that is appropriate no matter what age and where you come from.


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


 

Today’s world of education is fraught with potholes, even for a typical child.  Strong statement, I know.  As a parent of two adults, one with a learning disability and one without, and a teacher for over 40 years working with typical and at-risk youth, I speak from experience. 


I can’t speak for the generation that went before me.  I reject the nostalgic concept that life a generation ago was more kind.  However, I do believe that today’s school aged child faces enormous challenges. 


One area of angst that almost every parent experiences occurs during the first few weeks of school.  Unless your child attends a school in a small community that knows each family and the children who are being nurtured in their midst, there are simply too many unknowns.  A great many parents experience a feeling of free-floating anxiety during the first few weeks of school.  Most classrooms are comprised of extremely diverse students (not a bad thing) and the expected pace of academic progress allows for little “getting acquainted” time.  As a result, many parents vie for their position next to the teacher so they can garner, perhaps, some special attention for their child. 


At the end of the day, parents have lots of questions: Is the assigned homework an appropriate amount?; are the friends the child is making good for him/her?; is the curriculum a good fit for their child?  It appears that “danger” in the form of rejection, failure or unhappiness, lurks beneath every student’s desk.


Although I am a solution-based professional, I do not see one easy solution.  Little can be done to make a large school smaller or an overwhelmed teacher more attentive and responsive. I do think that increased communication between parent and school is a good beginning.  Setting aside some time at the end of the day for the parents to talk with the child and each other is also a way to, at least deal with current perceptions – or misperceptions – before they become overblown.  


Every parent needs to be able to allow their child to experience the school day without running interference for them.  However, they also need to be prepared to move in to address issues that go beyond the child’s ability to extricate himself or herself.  Sounds schizophrenic, doesn’t it?  


Today’s parent must walk that very thin line between letting the child learn from life’s experiences and addressing situations (such as bullying or sexual harassment) that require immediate adult management.


As with most problems, timely and honest communication is the key.  If a child feels safe with his or her parents, and knows that special time to talk about school is routinely set aside in the family, they can establish a routine of conversations that allow the parents to get a bird’s eye view of the school experience. And, then they can determine if their advice and support from home is sufficient or if they need to bring in school administrators to address an issue. 


Even if their child is not a talker, they have established a safe and positive routine that will serve them well as a family. 

 

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 Cottage School blog here, follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA, and check out her Facebook page here. For more of Jacque Digieso's ShareWIK columns, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”  “Catcher in the Rye.”  The Dictionary.  “The Lord of the Flies.“ The Harry Potter Series.  “Bridge to Terabithia.”  “Call of the Wild.”  “James and the Giant Peach.”  “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Shilverstein.  “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” The Bible. 


I hope that you recognize a few of these book titles.  Do you know what they all have in common?  Most of them are considered literary classics but I am not thinking of that connection.  Would you be surprised to know that all of these books often end up on lists of the most commonly banned books?!


It’s true.  These books can be found in every school, library, home, and church and are considered to contain inappropriate material by some. 


The process of banning a book I am sure has always begun with the best of intentions – to protect someone, most often children, from difficult ideas and information.  Perhaps the book in question had offensive language, mature themes, or sexual content.  Maybe it contained ideas that someone thought were too radical or challenging to mainstream thinking. 


But the fact of the matter is that someone else was making a decision for you and me without consulting us first!  And, that decision was ultimately based on some level of fear that someone was experiencing.


In my classroom this fall I introduced a relatively new book series to my students.  It is a trilogy that falls into the Dystopian fiction genre.  Dystopian fiction books are generally based on the notion that a government in repressing and controlling its people and that there is little or no hope in society.  (Think George Orwell’s  “1984”, or the Harrison Ford movie, “Blade Runner”.)


I had read the first book in the series and was captivated by the story line with the sharp descriptive language.  I shared my enthusiasm with the older students and mentioned that the book was coming out as a movie this March.  Immediately, all of the students, and I do mean all, were fighting for the book.


The book was being carried around and read throughout every day, both in and out of class.  I know this to be true because I ran into one of my students at an event outside of school and here she was reading the book in the midst of a crazy night of powderpuff volleyball action in a noisy gym – she couldn’t put the book down. 


I had students like Austin in the eighth grade, who could barely force himself to read the perennially popular fourth grade-level books about Encyclopedia Brown, glued to this new novel and read it all in a mere three days! 

Students were creating waiting lists on the classroom board to get in line for the next available copy.  The public library’s waiting list was also too long, so many went out and purchased the trilogy.  I had to impose a rule that one couldn’t discuss the book without announcing a “spoiler alert” so that students who hadn’t read it yet could get out of earshot.  This book went viral!  It was a literature teacher’s dream!


And then, like all precious things, it began to tarnish.  A few parents became worried about the book because they couldn’t figure out why the kids were so excited about it.  These adults began to research the book and based on the descriptions and reviews they read on parenting websites, were sure that the book was harmful to their children.

Two parents actually took the time to meet privately with me to discuss the book.  “What an opportunity this book is providing you and your child!” I beamed at the first mother.  “How often do teenagers and parents sit down and discuss something important like literature?” 


Well, this mother didn’t quite see it that way.  She felt that the story line was too violent and depressing for her daughter and she didn’t want her exposed to that at her age.  I understood and suggested that mom read the book first and perhaps discuss the book with her daughter if she chose to let her read it. 


The second parent came to me with the intention of asking, “What in the hell were you thinking by offering this book to our children?”  However, after we talked and I shared the list of banned books as found at the beginning of this article, she backed down.


She did keep saying how she was trying to protect her daughter.  I finally asked her how she was going to protect her daughter from everything she might ever come in contact with?   Wouldn’t it be better to equip her with information and a set of emotional and behavioral tools to deal with the challenges she is going to face in her lifetime rather than seal her in bubble wrap? 


Can a book really do all of that?  Probably not, but the book has created an opportunity – a chance to challenge one’s thinking, explore the cause for concern, have an intelligent discussion about it, and devise an action plan to problem solve.  What an experience to share with your child!


I know that there is a time and place for everything and that not all children should be able to read all books.  I just hope that those in our world who are so quick to ban books and other intellectual activities never get a strong foothold or the one day the Dystopian fiction novel I read just might not be so fictional.


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


 

 

I chose this article because this common problem does not discriminate in any way and causes so much heartache and long-lasting grief.  Further, this child is still a student of mine and even though I am out of my classroom for nine weeks while teaching in another building, he contacts me to stay in touch.  The emails are always about a school-related situation like the fact that he is worried he won’t get all his books read for the quarter.  However, I believe that he really wants to maintain the connection with an adult in his life who provides him stability and continuity.  


I think that all readers can relate to this child either through the own personal experience or from watching someone else’s life.


--Margaret


Behind Closed Doors:  When Mom is an Alcoholic


One of the hardest things about being a teacher is seeing one of your students in emotional pain.  The pain manifests itself through many different behaviors:  being disruptive in class; starting fights with peers; arguing and being oppositional with teachers; and struggling academically.


Some kids are blatant with their emotional problems and willingly share (and sometimes blurt out) the goings on at home that are causing the stress.  It is easy to begin to ignore those students because we have all been taught how impolite it is to hear what goes on behind closed doors at someone else’s home.  None of us wants to appear to be nosey.


Other students are so good are keeping their family’s business to themselves that you would never suspect anything bad is happening in their homes.  They carry on through the day as though they don’t have a care in the world.


One of my students, Casey, has always been the quiet, often unnoticed child in the room.  I have always had to remind myself he is even in the classroom because he will never offer up an answer or comment on his own.  He doesn’t say a word to anyone and I think he was in my room for several months before I heard him speak even conversationally to his closest friend.


This school year my teaching partners and I began to notice that Casey’s work was not what it should be.  He seemed to be even more disconnected in class and his work was not showing any improvement from last year.  Back in November, I finally had to give him a “pink slip” for an incomplete assignment.  While I hate writing out those slips, this one turned into a blessing – for Casey.


When the pink slip came back from Casey’s home, there was a long note from dad attached revealing that mom was in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury.  She had fallen at work and was in a coma.  It goes without saying that that in and of itself is very tragic.  However, four months later I found out the truth.  Casey’s mom is a severe alcoholic.  The fall she experienced at work came about as a result of her drinking.  The fall, however, apparently was not her “rock bottom” as they say in the world of addictions.  No, mom has continued to drink even more heavily than ever before.


It seems that mom has been struggling with alcoholism for more than five years with only a few short bouts of sobriety.  Casey and his sisters have been victimized by living with the uncertainties that come along with being children of an alcoholic.  Last week alone, Casey found a bottle of vodka under mom’s bed and poured it out in an attempt to keep her from drinking.  Can you imagine an 11-year-old having to do that?


Well, now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and I am in open communication with Casey’s dad, a clearer picture is coming to light regarding the academic problems Casey is having.  It is reasonable to think that Casey is experiencing anxiety and depression as a result of living with and being raised by an alcoholic.  His attention span and willingness to participate in class are definitely being affected.  It is rare for him to offer up any comment without being asked first and even then his answers are stated more as questions.


So what’s a teacher to do? 


Well, living in this small semi-rural community, I am able to keep tabs on Casey even when we are not in school.  Just the other day I ran into him when I was leaving our local YMCA.  I knew he was waiting for his mom to pick him up and I knew that she would be drunk so I offered to take him home. After a phone call to dad, I found out that a neighbor was on the way to bring him home. 


I thought it would be best to wait with Casey just in case mom showed up and tried to make him get in the car with her.  While we had a few minutes together, I told Casey that I knew what was going on with his mom and that if he ever wanted to talk to someone about his feelings all he had to do was let me know and I would help him get to the right person.  I also told him I thought he was very brave and that none of the problems his mom was having were his fault. 


Then we talked about girls!  He laughed when I teased him that hanging out with me was going to ruin in “mojo” and he admitted that he actually liked girls already.


This past weekend I had another opportunity to bond with Casey.  His mother showed up drunk to a school event at 9:00 a.m. Casey arrived with another family and made himself scarce until mom finally left.  I stood with Casey while he called dad and touched base with him.  Afterwards, I told Casey that I needed a “sixth grade boy hug” – to my surprise, he grabbed on tight.  I reassured him that our school and church were a second family for him and that we would all be there to help with whatever he needed.  He gave me a big smile and ran back into the gym to join in the carnival.  Later that day, his dad said, “Casey told me that this school is his second family.  I’m glad he is attending here.” 


Me too.


While I have seen some snapshots of Casey’s true ability show in recent days in the classroom, he is a long way from achieving his potential.  He underwent some baseline testing in February (prior to us having full disclosure about mom’s addiction) to see if we could pinpoint areas that need specific attention. 


Now that we know what is going on at home, the decision has been made to support Casey in every way possible.  Mom will be entering rehab this week when she is discharged from yet another hospital stay.  I am praying that she will finally take hold of her addiction and work towards daily sobriety, not only for her sake, but for Casey and his sisters as well. 


As I watch Casey over the next couple of years in school, I will be continuing to look for problems that need to be addressed and opportunities to build him up academically and emotionally.



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

This past weekend my husband and I went for a walk around the lake on a rare 50-degree January day in Wisconsin.  There were a lot of others out enjoying the day too, but I especially noticed a dad, who was watching his toddler daughter play on the jungle gym at the park.  


All too soon, it was time to leave and the daughter was having none of it.  Despite her loud protestations and body slumping -- you know, when your child goes completely limp believing that a noodle body is more difficult to move than a rigid body (and they are right!), -- dad scooped her up and carried her unceremoniously to the car.  We happened to be passing their car as he plopped her into her car seat with her screaming, “Get away from me!  I don’t want you near me, Daddy!”  To which he replied, “Yeah, well, I feel the same way!”  


It hurt me to hear that so I said, “Aww, be nice, Daddy!”  I didn’t hear his exact response but I don’t think I want to.  I finally just kept walking and said, “Remember, she is only young once.” 


As I walked away, I thought that there goes another episode of me sticking my nose in where it does not belong.  However, as the days have gone by, this scene keeps replaying in my head.  At first I wasn’t sure why I was so stuck on that incident but it finally hit me.  In fact, it struck a chord with me that runs deep into my psyche and probably needs a professional to help me figure it out. 


Hearing that daddy speak in a hateful way to his young daughter brought back memories of hurtful words that have been flung at me.  The most damaging probably came from my ninth grade algebra teacher who told me I was stupid in front of the entire class.  I was 14 then and now at Plenty-nine years old and with 20 years of teaching experience, I finally have the courage to teach math.  Did Mr. Alpers know that when he spoke those words to me that they would haunt me for the rest of my life? 


I bet that none of us really gives our words much thought.  We certainly don’t consider how long the effect of what we say will last.  Perhaps, if we are honest, our egotistical side believes that our words of wisdom that we are so quick to spout off and share with even the most unwilling recipient, will make a huge, life-changing impact.  That somehow, our life experience and carefully crafted sentences will be the perfect message delivered to a needy soul. 


But do you ever think about the effect that the words we spend the least amount of time choosing have?  I mean, those words spoken in the heat of a moment that come from the gut.  Words spoken when you are at your most heightened emotional moment?  Words you spit out when you are really ticked off? 


About 10 years ago, I was on the receiving end of such a diatribe of words.  My parents had just returned from their snowbird visit to Arizona.  Traveling with my disabled dad was always difficult but they had experienced an exceptionally bad flight.  My mom was overdone by the time she came in the house.  Several cocktails later did not soften her mood.  


As it was getting time for me to go to bed, I overheard my mother griping to my dad about me and my husband.  Like any good eavesdropper, I listened in from the adjoining room.  BIG MISTAKE!!  I heard my mother call me “white trash” to my dad.  The hurt and pain I felt from that insult cut me to the core.  It wasn’t so much that being called white trash was all that bad, but it was the fact that having your own mother think so poorly of me, her daughter, was inconceivable.  Wasn’t a mom supposed to love me unconditionally?  What had I possibly done that would cause her to feel that way about me?  


Well, all of this has got me thinking about the words I use, the attitude I have, and the way I treat the students in my classroom.  Kids spend the better part of each week in the classroom away from their parents.  For many, the teacher is a parent-like figure to whom they respect and look up to.  And that is a privilege that any teacher must continue to earn in order to keep it. 


So as I continue through the second half of the school year I only have to think of Mr. Alpers when I get frustrated or annoyed at something a student does, so that I will find a way to scale back my thoughts and keep them to myself.  


After all, I don’t want to be one of my students “Mr. Alpers” and haunt their adult brains with messages of negativity and discouragement. 



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

“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 

"To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak."

~ Hopi Indian Saying ~


     Last week, I was honored to behold an amazing dance.  The graceful movements expressed more than mere words.  Hundreds of children watched the dancers, their eyes open wide… smiling brightly, then gasping, then laughing… their hearts touched by the lyrical flow of the dancers’ bodies.  


     The experience was especially powerful for me because it was born of a poem I wrote many years ago.  At that time, I never could have envisioned how this simple story would eventually touch so many lives. Here’s a short backstory of a mouse story.      


***


     Years ago, as I worked with patients trapped in the torturous prison of their eating disorders, I often wished that I could turn back the clock on their lives. Changing an entrenched belief system in a teen or adult is tougher than trying to develop a strong and healthy belief system in a child. I thought if only someone could have inoculated them to the toxic cultural messages about food and fat, perhaps they would not be suffering today.  


     I wanted to plant some seeds… and plant them early.    


     The most potent way to get a message to stick to a kid’s brain is to use a simple story with relatable characters, colorful visual images, rhyme and music (tools which are used quite effectively by the Media Monster!).  So I wrote a poem called "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse" about two bright, sensitive and very stressed-out mice.  Like all children who try to shore up their parents, these mice did not wish to add to their parents’ stress by talking about their own feelings. So they did their darnedest to make their bad feelings go away and, like so many kids today, used the one mood-altering substance they could find: food.  


     I found a talented artist and turned the poem into a children’s book, including a catchy song at the end.  Then I turned the book into a play. After watching the play, I collaborated with a playwright and composer and turned it into a musical.


     It was thrilling to watch this simple story evolve in these new directions. When I’d walk down the halls of my boys’ school, kids would wave at me and sing “Listen to your body!”  These moments lit up my heart: maybe this strategy was working!     


     After the musical, I figured we’d taken these mice as far as they could go.  Then, a few months ago, I learned that CORE Performance Dance Troupe in Decatur, Ga., had taken the story into yet another realm.  They had teased out some key points from the story and created a dance program around these messages, which they’d be presenting to children in Conway, Ark., during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  This I had to see!   


     So I arrived at an elementary school and watched as the third and fourth graders politely took their seats in the cafetorium.  Excited to get out of class for a special program, they lit up when the performers came on stage.  Three dancers played the roles of the Heart, the Tummy, and the Mind of a fourth dancer representing a girl who was being bullied by a mean girl at school.  When the girl felt sad and hurt, her Heart forced her Tummy to eat in order to make the bad feelings go away.  Throughout the show, the Mind character stopped the action and spoke with the kids, asking them for advice about how the girl should deal with her feelings and with the bully.  


     Seven elementary schools in Arkansas hosted the dance program over the course of the week, reaching almost 1500 kids.  And the kids got it!  It was so heartening to see, once again, that even young kids can understand the idea of “Emotional Eating,” a concept that is rarely addressed in childhood obesity programs.  Since these programs are typically developed by dieticians and physicians, the social-psychological piece is often missing.  But through the story and the movements, these gifted dancers were able to plant some new seeds: “Listen to your Body” (e.g. don’t stuff your belly when you feel sad!) and “Talk about your feelings” (e.g. there are healthy ways to cope with painful emotions).  The children were energized and delighted by the program.  The teachers, many of whom probably wrestle with their own food demons, were smiling and engaged.  And because the messages were conveyed through a creative medium that tapped into universal emotions, I imagine these messages will not soon be forgotten. 


     During my time in Arkansas, CORE’s artistic director Sue Shroeder spoke of  “rhizomes,” horizontal underground root systems that send out shoots that grow into new plants.  I remembered learning that aspen trees grow in colonies that derive from a single seedling that may be 100 feet from the parent tree.  This image of rhizomes was a more evolved way of imagining my urge to “plant seeds” years ago.  Little did I know that Full Mouse, Empty Mouse would be the seedling that sent out such far reaching roots and shoots.  


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and at MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


The debate is on!  Cursive or no cursive?  Elementary educators around the globe are debating as to whether or not teaching cursive handwriting is relevant.  The topic just came up during the weekly staff meeting at my school.  One teacher asked if any of us were still requiring it on papers from our middle schoolers.  Being that I teach language arts for the middle school, all eyes trained on me.  


The fact of the matter is is that I gave up worrying about cursive handwriting four years ago.  It started from a need to be able to read a child’s handwriting on spelling tests.  One boy’s cursive was so poor that I was having to mark most of his words as wrong simply because he was not able to form the letters “a, e, i, o, u, b, l, m, and n” correctly.  I couldn’t discern if he was misspelling a word or just forming cursive letters improperly.  There simply was not another way around the problem for this 8th grader.


In addition, I started requiring that all papers be submitted in type according to formal guidelines for margins, font size and font type.  The information I was receiving, and continue to do so, was that the high school teachers were expecting all work to be submitted in type.  If I am preparing students for high school then I better get them used to typing their papers.


The question still remains though, is cursive handwriting relevant in our technological world in which we communicate mostly through emails, texting, messaging and twittering?  I would argue that there is a need for all children to learn the art of cursive handwriting.  Our history as a country and as a global community is filled with documents that were written in cursive.  It is logical to assume that in order to read cursive, you must first learn how to form it.


Cursive handwriting also comes into play when signing formal letters sent via snail-mail and legal documents.  Take a look again at most binding agreements and you will see a line asking for your printed name and one for your signature.  I suppose one could print on both lines but a cursive signature tends to be more difficult to duplicate.  Handwriting experts have stated for years that a person’s signature tells a lot about their personality.  My father always used a bold capital J for his first and middle name, followed by an equally bold B for his last name.  I remember thinking how important and skilled his signature looked which is how I knew him to be in his professional life.


Do we judge people by their handwriting?  I know I do!  If a person’s writing looks ill-formed, I often assume that they are minimally educated. Further, if I see someone writing and they are holding the pen or pencil incorrectly, I judge and think they look less literate because of it.  I know that this is insensitive and judgmental on my part but it goes back to being raised by parents who spent years in school learning how to hold their writing tools properly while forming line after line of perfect O’s using their entire arm and not just their fingers.

  

While I want my students to be prepared for their high school years I also need to provide the foundation that will support their adult professional lives too.  I just wonder if cursive is a battle I need to fight. What’s going on at your child’s school?  Or, if you are a teacher, what are you doing in your classroom?


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

Have you jumped onto the newest technological bandwagon yet and purchased an electronic book reader?  There are all kinds of them for sale now:  Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, BeBook, and several other android models.  There are lots of them out there just waiting to join you at home.  Several of my students have received them as gifts or have saved up their hard-earned pennies from odd jobs around the house to purchase one.  


I don’t own one.  In fact, I don’t think I ever will.  I have become a book snob.  I love the feel and smell of a new paperback.  I like looking at the illustrations on the front and back cover.  I read the reviews and wonder if I will feel the same way as that writer when I am finished with the book.  


And I don’t just love freshly printed, never-before-touched books.  I love reading well-worn copies of novels that I borrow from friends or my public library.  There is something special about knowing that others have lovingly poured over the same words into which I am escaping.  I become part of a private club of readers that have found joy when reading this same book.


Seeing shelves filled with the colorful bindings of books also makes me happy.  Books lined up in mismatched sizes and rows remind me of people.  Like the friends I have in real life who come in all shapes and colors, so too the books are like friends with which I have spent time.  Each book has enriched my life in some way.  Seeing them in my home or in my classroom reminds me of the adventures I have had or have yet to attempt.  


So I asked my 6th and 8th graders about their e-readers.  About half of the students own one and had it at school.  They loved the convenience of their e-reader.  They said that these “books” are convenient, light-weight and efficient.  All of the students’ readers had the ability to access the Internet and play games, which was a plus for them.  For the girls, the best part of owning the reader was being able to purchase the accessories!  The readers can be encased in covers that come in multiple designs, colors and fabrics.  What girl doesn’t love a good accessory!


But like all good things in life, the e-reader doesn’t always work even for these technologically savvy kids.  Serena said that her e-reader is “stupid because it’s slow and the picture gets distorted when I drop it.”  (I’ve never know a paperback book to be physically too slow to produce the next page.  Sometimes the writing itself is slow, but that’s another matter.)  She did, however, like the fact that you can change the size of the font on the electronic book so that the words are easier to read.


Isaiah indicated that the e-reader doesn’t tell you what page you are on, only the percentage of the book that you have read.  He prefers to know the page number so that is a problem for him. 

 

So, called me old-fashioned or stubborn, but I still like my books on paper instead of on a screen.  As for my students, I don’t care through which matter they choose to read their books, as long as they are reading and adventuring.


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

 

 For more Margaret Anderson articles, click 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


I like to go directly to the source to get my best information so I asked my 8th graders this week what their thoughts were about cheating.  You should understand going into this that this is a tight-lipped group.  We rarely have any good class discussions because they just don’t like to talk in an organized group setting.  They will talk all day long to one another at the lunch table or out on the playground but they rarely speak a word in the classroom.


The first thing I had to do was to pry their lips open to get them to share their thoughts.  I convinced them that I was doing research for this article and promised that it would not impact their standing with me.  They settled into the conversation and freely shared their definition of cheating.  All of the students agreed that just giving someone an answer is definitely cheating, meaning that the receiver has not put any effort into finding the answer on his own.  That being said, in times of desperation, many of them have resorted to that both in the giving and the taking.


They all agreed that sharing answers if both parties are working together is not cheating.  For example, they feel that it’s O.K. if one student does the even problems, one does the odd problems, and then they share answers.  From a teacher’s perspective I am not to crazy about that idea.  If I give an assignment, I expect that a student does the whole thing, not just half, and gets the other half for free!  


Their reasons for cheating were nothing earth-shattering new.  Not enough time, didn’t feel like doing the work, and didn’t understand the material were the common excuses.  It was clear though that the best student in the class was not into cheating at all.  I have personally watched Isaiah and know that he will usually help a student understand the material but he will not hand them the answer on a platter with a smile on his face!  He knows he had to work to get where he is academically and he expects that his classmate put forth the same effort.


In just 19 school days, these 8th graders will be graduating from their elementary school.  They will be off to the big, scary world of high school and a whole new set of teachers, classmates, and school subjects.  I figure that in the beginning they will put in the work to get all of their homework done, and for the most part, they will do it independently -- mostly because they have not established relationships with classmates that they can pawn off of.  But, being human, I am sure most of them will slip back into their middle school habit of sharing answers, finding shortcuts, and basically being lazy students.  


I wish they could learn from my mistakes in high school and not take the easy route because it is a path that leads to failure not success -- that, and years of regret for not doing work that I was fully capable of doing.  But like each of us, lessons are best learned the hard way.


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


Teachers toil every day in the classroom trying to plan the perfect set of lessons that will reach all students no matter their learning style or ability.  Valuable time is devoted encouraging children to try harder and perform the best that they are able.  Hours are spent grading papers.  Plans are put aside to help a student in crisis.  Some days all a teacher does is put out fires rather than lighting one under her students!  But then one day, the most magnificent thing occurs when one of your students achieves above and beyond your wildest dreams.  


I just experienced that moment this week with Isaiah.  Isaiah came into my classroom two-and-a-half years ago as a shy little sixth grader.  He was quiet in front of his classmates but could talk my ear off when it was just the two of us.  He soon expressed an interest in books and asked me if I could recommend something.  I believe I pointed him in the direction of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  There are over 20 books in the series and before I knew it, Isaiah had read all of them!  Little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Isaiah and reading.


The following year as a seventh grader, Isaiah and another friend decided to compete against one another to see who could read the most words in one school year.  I sponsor a “Million Word Reading Challenge” that challenges students to try to read at least one million words in independent reading books during the school year.  If they get over a million, I take them out to lunch.  Both kids got within the 4 million word mark, give or take a hundred thousand.  That was really impressive!


At the start of this school year, Isaiah told me that he was interested in setting a school record so high that it would stand the test of time and be virtually unbeatable.  His goal:  10,000,000 words!  I told him if he did that, I would contact the newspaper and get them to come out and do an article on him.


We have less than two weeks of school left and Isaiah has reached his mark of 10 million words.  That equals 72 books that average in range of 800 + pages per book, all read while maintaining a 4.0 GPA and penning his own book that he hopes to have published one day.


The best part about this achievement is the potential impact it may have on students across the nation.  Scholastic Inc., a national book seller of children’s literature, has found out about Isaiah’s reading achievement and is looking to parlay it into a nation-wide reading challenge for all students.  And there are plans for more beyond that!  Who would have thunk it?!  What started out as an 11-year-old’s interest in reading has turned into what potentially could be a nationwide movement.


However, the best part is that even if it doesn’t go anywhere beyond the walls of our little Lutheran grade school, Isaiah has set himself as an example of a student who sets a really big goal and pushes himself until he reaches it.  I am just so grateful to have been a witness to his achievement.



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

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

My German grandmother, whom I never met because she passed six month before I was born, apparently always said, “What’s the truth you can say!?”  Mind you, I was often reminded of that from my overly assertive mother whom I have written about in the past and who really enjoyed her cocktails.  My father and my husband have each said many times, “You can’t always speak the truth.”   Take for instance, that commercial in which Mrs. Lincoln asks Honest Abe if her dress makes her look fat.  He replies with “Perhaps,” and Mary Todd storms off in a huff.


Each of us is responsible for the words that come out of our mouths or are written by our hands.  This truth has been made abundantly clear this week as the media has honed in on the Pennsylvania teacher whose recent firing due to classroom performance difficulties is being blamed in part because of a blog that she had been writing.  Blogging in and of itself wasn’t the problem, but the content of her messages was.  


Since the focus of the media buzz is about the comments in her blog, and since I am a teacher who is blogging, I’ll keep my thoughts focused on that rather than argue about whether or not she was a competent teacher.  I don’t know Ms. Munroe nor had I ever heard of her before this showed up on the national news scene.  I have found her website and have read some of her posts.  In them she makes no apologies for her comments or behavior and lays out for the world to read exactly how she feels.  There appears to be no filter, no regard for anyone else’s feelings, and no excuses.  


Some might call her bold.  My grandmother might say that she is being truthful.  I am choosing to call her reckless.  Reckless because she apparently never considered the repercussions of stating her opinion.  Reckless because she thought that authoring a blog using only a portion of her real name would guarantee her anonymity.  Reckless because she criticizes her students for being glued to a lifestyle based on social media and the tools with which to access it, which she believes has contributed to their being entitled, whining brats.  Has she looked in the mirror and recognized those same traits within herself?  

And finally, I will call her crass, because in the midst of this media hailstorm she continues to display a lack of sensitivity about others and their feelings.  I am interested in hearing her reasons for entering the teaching profession because she so clearly has little tolerance for the very students and their parents with whom she is to be instructing.  Teaching is a complicated dance of tuning in to the different rhythms each student brings to the classroom and figuring out how you as the teacher will move to that song.  You can object to the music and turn off the player or you can embrace the tune, get in step and lead the dance.


The stresses of any profession can cause one to break form, get burned out, and disenchanted with the clientele.  When that happens to a classroom teacher, the long-term fallout can be devastating.  A misspoken word, a harsh criticism, a brush-off of a student’s problem, and especially, an audible “truth” can cause irreparable damage. 


While Ms. Munroe thought she had the right to speak her version of the truth, she never took into account the consequences of her words.  The saddest part of it all is that she is most guilty of the very sins of which she accuses her students – ungrateful, insensitive, whiny, and lacking in remorse.


Another of my German grandmother’s plattdeutsch sayings was “If you are going to strike up the band, then you better be ready to dance to the music.”  Well, Ms. Munroe certainly started up this song, I hope she can keep in step with the tune.


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 Margaret Anderson articles here



 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  Except when you are at the national kindergarten teachers’ convention; then “What Happens in Vegas should then happen in your classroom.”  I just spent a week with some of the most dynamic, enthusiastic, and hard-working educators on the planet.  These women (and a smattering of men) have devoted their lives to early childhood education – a unique place of transitioning little people from the comforts of their homes and parents to the big wide world of school.


Speaking of the big wide world of school, what has happened to the teachers?  I am not trying to judge these ladies, but they were the most physically unfit set of adults I have seen in one location at one time!  According to the CDC, more than 33 percent of American adults are considered clinically obese.  At the kindergarten conference, that rate easily rose to 50 percent and higher.


I have spent a week wondering why this particular demographic appears so out of shape.  Is it the readily available diet of animal crackers, string cheese, fruit snacks, and pudding?  Or maybe the birthday treats like cupcakes, dirt cups, and pizza parties that so many well-meaning parents send to school?  Certainly diet plays an important role in everyone’s overall health, but I believe that diet alone is not the problem here.


The real culprit here is lack of physical activity and exercise.  There is one thing that is certain for most Americans, we simply do not move enough.  The electronic and digital tools and devices so prevalent in our daily lives have made life easier for us.  Likewise, few of our occupations demand much physical activity so a sedentary lifestyle is easy to fall into.  


It’s tough being a kindergarten teacher.  My hat is off to you professionals as I watch the hours spent planning centers and preparing materials that all relate back to the Common Core State Standards.  I am certain that it takes you significantly more time to plan a week’s worth of lessons than it does for me to plan for my middle schoolers.  The time you devote to your classroom children does not allow you for much time to pursue physical activities.  While your quest for excellence in the classroom is appreciated and most honorable, you folks are taking a gamble on your overall health.  And if there is one thing I learned in Vegas (this was my first visit ever) is that the odds are not stacked in your favor.


So what’s a teacher to do to turn around her lifestyle and get herself, and very likely, her students, in shape?  If part of your job as a teacher is to model how to learn and complete various academic tasks, then shouldn’t that extend to taking care of your overall health?  You bet ya it does!


At the Vegas conference, I was encouraged to hear one teacher who was having her kids follow her in running laps around the playground each day.  They started with one lap then eventually worked up to two.  On the days it was too hot to run (this was a school in Arizona) the kids started to play tag games and create new exercises in the shady areas of the playground.  The more they exercised, the more they wanted to exercise. 


That’s not just a coincidence, mind you.  There is a direct connection between exercise and the serotonin and dopamine levels being released.  These brain-produced chemicals help improve mood, concentration, and help us to perform motor movements.  Sound like benefits that would help children learn?  You betcha, it does!


This teacher said that she had lost 30 pounds and she noticed that her “pudgy kids” were showing signs of having more energy and making better snack choices.  And that statement of hers is right on the money;  the more you exercise and the better you eat, the better you feel and the more energy you have.  Sounds like a win-win to me!


Comedian Jason Love had this to say about Las Vegas:  “All the amenities of modern society in a habitat unfit to grow a tomato.”  After what I saw in Vegas, I would hate for that idea to become true about American teachers and their classrooms:  all the education you need in school that is unfit -- period!  


So, I am encouraging all teachers, not just the early childhood educators, and adults alike, to get “all in” and raise the bets on a healthy lifestyle.  I guarantee that your efforts will be a lock on a healthier future for yourselves and for our children.


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 Margaret Anderson articles here.



 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


I find that opportunities for educational experiences are all around me.  Since I took on the responsibility of leading our local Rotary Club, an international service organization, I am surrounded by businesses that impact people’s lives, business leaders who dedicate time and resources to improving the human condition and an opportunity to see the cutting edge of industry and science. 


There is so much to learn outside of the classroom that I hardly know where to start.  I find, although my school plate is completely full, I can not  say no to any opportunity to visit a business, another nonprofit or local agency that is serving the needs of our local or global community. 

I recently toured a newly built Humane Society.  I  am accustomed to the agencies that house unwanted animals and their cages, odors and noises.  This facility was a retrofitted automobile sales facility so it was roomy and surrounded by lots of land.  The cats were housed in an enormous , multi-roomed, open area built of tile and Plexiglas.  They roamed from room to room, lounged on a variety of plush areas designed for just such cat like activity (or lack thereof).  They  had clawing surfaces, intricate labyrinths, play areas and more room than my first house!  


The dogs were also housed in tile and Plexiglas with a two-sectioned area that allowed for the dog to be in one space while the other was being cleaned.  Clear floor to ceiling windows on one side that made the entire area seem open and welcoming. Puppies were kept in small tiled cubicles with walls that only came up about three feet, making petting and playing with them very easy.  


Multiple volunteers passed us as they walked the dogs out to the large fenced area to play.  Huge sections of the previous new car parking lot had been converted, using high quality  artificial grass, into a playground of any dog’s dreams. These areas also served as ideal “get acquainted” spots for families and their prospective adoptee.  Our tour was right around dinner time on a week night and there were at least ten families there to pick out their newest family member.


From the beginning of my tour I knew I was in a whole new world of animal care.  The medical section where dogs are attended to and neutered, was more clean and spacious than my doctor’s office.  Regardless of where we toured, there was no odor of animal at all. I left the facility thinking of how I could get our students involved in this agency! 


Of course, I am always trying to get our students involved in community activities, but this seems particularly promising.  First, I know these animals need attention and care.  The more volunteers, the happier the dogs and cats.  Secondly, our kids love to love animals.  The commitment to be there on a regular basis to perform a job that the dog/cat depended on is tailor made for kids with low self esteem. 


And last of all, how exciting it would be for these teens to see that even something as traditional as animal care can be rethought and reformed.  I know that our teens have great ideas about a variety of things.  The more they see new ideas  that are being developed now, the bigger they can begin to dream.


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


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC





Some days it really sucks to be a teacher.  Today is one of those days.  I was relaxing on the sofa this evening, mindlessly watching some inane show when the phone rang.  It was 9:00 p.m. and I had a momentary panic attach worrying that it was yet another call about my mother who has had many crises in the last 10 days.  I picked up the phone and was relieved to hear the voice of a student’s mother on the other end.  If only I had known.  


What followed next was a screaming and crying 15 minute rant – all directed at me.  This mom was off-the-charts upset because her daughter was not being allowed to attend the reward field trip set for the next day given to students for meeting the standards of excellence set for the first quarter of school.  Somehow this was my fault.


The criteria set for earning this reward is clearly stated in our parent/student handbook.  A student must earn grades C- and higher, have fewer than three tardies, is allowed one demerit, must be free of major disciplinary reports, and must not receive any low effort grade, which are separate from the standard letter grade.


The student in question had grades of C and higher and met all of the other criteria except for one: she had received a low effort grade from me, her language arts teacher.

Now I consider myself a fairly laid-back, easy-going teacher.  I have clear expectations for my students but am open to conversation and negotiation about the requirements I have set.  It is common for me to relax a deadline or make an accommodation for a student based on his/her academic needs and personal issues.  I want my students to be successful and not to feel like they must jump through a flaming hoop while wearing a gasoline suit in order to make the grade in my class.

So, when I set a requirement that each of my students must read four books independently, of their choosing but in the appropriate level, I am giving them an opportunity to reach success.  Except not all students take up the challenge.  The student involved in this specific case failed to meet the requirement on three different levels.  She did not finish the books by the end of the quarter, she did not pass the computer-based test on all of the books, and she read a book more suitable to a third grader rather than the middle-schooler that she is.  Still though, her failure to qualify was my fault.

I know that the student did not tell her mother the whole truth.  When I was able to get a word in edge-wise with this mother, I said that the last book was taken after the quarter ended.  I was allowing her daughter some grace but then realized she had also failed a test, and had also read too simple of a book so she did not qualify.  Mom was surprised with the disclosure but was unwilling or not ready for the truth.  And isn’t that a lesson in itself?

When we as parents take at face-value everything that our children report to us, we are not doing our jobs as responsible adults.  Children do not want to be disciplined for wrong-doing.  In their convoluted minds, they believe that if they tell a lie that that will somehow divert the focus of the problem off of them and place the blame on another.  Too often, that blame gets placed onto a teacher who is made to appear unfair, biased, and unkind.  


Many parents are all to willing to go along with this ruse because they are unwilling to recognize that they child is not the perfectly behaved baby whom they brought into this world.  For some reason, it is easier to believe that a mature adult who has received three academic degrees, has been licensed by the state to teach, and has over 25 years of experience is out to get their child, rather than accepting that maybe their young charge is speaking untruths.  Shocking, I know, but true.


So what can you, as a parent, do?  My very wise principal, who has been in the profession for 50 years, has a saying that he has oft repeated to many parents, “If you promise to believe only 50 percent of what your child tells you has happened at school, then I promise to only believe 50 percent of what your child tells me happens at home.”  A tongue-in-cheek comment for sure, but it sure does get you thinking.

Further, if you find yourself upset and angry about something that happens at school and wish to talk to the teacher, please exercise the 24-Hour Rule.  Wait 24 hours before you speak to the teacher.  That will give you time to calm down, gather your thoughts, and avoid saying something you may regret later.  

And if all that fails, well then, by all means, if you are unhappy with the grade your child has earned, then please tell me what grade you would like me to give to her and I will make the change immediately.  And hope that tomorrow will be a better day.


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



As educators, we care deeply.  We carry around with us a constant stream of concerns: Why isn’t Joan’s homework completed?  Samuel seems too quiet today; I wonder why?  Did something happen at home to Cynthia? She seems detached during class.  Luis is having a hard time focusing, settling into class, and his grades are poor; I wonder if I should suggest testing to his parents?  Sofia can’t pass her reading comprehension tests; she is otherwise a great student.  What can I do to help her? 


These and a thousand other questions and concerns rove through our minds continuously each day as we work with our students to help them discover and learn.  It is an exhausting task as we work to balance our school lives with our home lives.  We simultaneously toil to nurture our school children and our own families while suppressing our own needs.  We are a people suffering from Compassion Fatigue.


How long has it been since you felt like good ole you?  That question was posed to me recently by a clinical psychologist during an annual teachers’ convention.  I received the question jokingly at first, but the more I thought about the answer, the less laughter I found in my response.  The fact of the matter is, I can’t even remember what “good old me” is supposed to feel like.

Those of us in a caregiving type of profession pour ourselves out like water every day.  And because we work sacrificially with our hearts, we easily suffer small hurts from those to whom we give care. 


Take for example my situation with Michael.  Michael is a bright middle-schooler who bounces between being really on-the-ball academically to “where is the ball?”  He is capable of providing brilliant insight in a classroom discussion (when he is paying attention) but then can never find any of his papers and class materials.  


Recently, he excitedly accepted my offer to give him a new expandable folder to house his papers for each class, so I spent several minutes labeling each section while exclaiming the virtues of this particular folder.  It got to where the other students were almost envious of his folder; my hope was to create a passion for this simple object so he would carry it around and use it.

Boy, was I wrong.  The next day, and each one following, he did not have the folder and continues to have no idea where it is.  And while this seems like such a silly thing to have hurt feelings over, I can’t help but feel undervalued.  The time I took away from teaching the whole group to focus on Michael and his needs felt like it was simply tossed away without a thought.  

Small slights like that occur daily-- hourly, in fact. Day in and day out, we are trying to affect positive change in our classrooms.  Once in a while, we experience success with a student and perhaps his/her parents when we have been able to reach that targeted blend of challenge and success.  But all too often, we are met with emotional challenges that are beyond our ability to affect change.  This intermittent reward system leads to us feeling inadequate yet continually striving to keep on trying.


And sometimes, the slights aren’t so small.  Sometimes, the hurts we experience cut so profoundly deep that one is left thoroughly drained and at a loss for what to do next.  I unfortunately experienced that just two weeks ago.  


It was 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday evening when I received a phone call from the mother of one of my students. She was upset because her daughter was not being allowed to attend the reward field trip for academic and behavioral excellence scheduled for the next day.  She spent the next fifteen minutes literally screaming, crying, blaming, and criticizing me for her daughter’s shortfall.  Somehow it was my fault that her daughter had been unable to successfully complete reading four books independently in the first quarter of school.  She attacked me professionally; she attacked me personally.  Then she attacked other teachers and the school itself. 


I said little in response yet offered to call her at 6:45 a.m. the following morning so that I could get to school and access her daughter’s grades to confirm the outcome.  Of course I was questioning whether or not I had made the right decision, even though I knew I had double- and triple-checked this particular student’s grades.  


However, she had no interest in anymore of my efforts.  The conversation ended and I spent the next hour and a half crying uncontrollably.  I am not a crier but this call tipped the scale and all the bowling balls that I had been juggling in my professional and personal life came crashing down on me through the ugly tears and gasping breaths of hysteria.


It was that personal cataclysmic event that stuck in my mind as I tried to answer the question posed to me.  It has been a long time since I have felt like good ole me because I am, along with many others in the teaching and caregiving professions, heading down the slippery slope of compassion fatigue which leads to burnout.


In my next blog, I’ll ponder The Stages of Meltdown.


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


I have not been feeling like “good ole me” for a while and I’ve come to realize that years of teaching -- years of caring deeply about my students and feeling their pain as well as their triumphs -- have left me exhausted and, I fear on the slippery slope of Compassion Fatigue, which leads to burnout. The more in tune I am becoming with my mood and connecting it to the real-life process of Compassion Fatigue, the more I wonder how secure my having one foot standing in my job and one foot standing on a banana peel is. 

I have begun to examine whether or not I have the usual symptoms:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having less energy and motivation
  • Feeling an overall sense of the ho-hums
  • Experiencing mistakes on the job go up, while performance goes down

I can definitely sense that I have at least three of the four symptoms mentioned

but now wonder how far gone I am.  Have I fallen too far into the fatigue abyss to crawl back out or am I doomed to be trapped forever in this place?  Perhaps you are wondering the same.


The stages of Compassion Fatigue come on gradually and then build like a rolling snowball traveling downhill.  For many, the early stages may appear in the form of frequent colds, headaches, less motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, or a compulsion to prove yourself over and over again.  


As you move down through the stages of fatigue you will notice that you begin to deprive yourself of the things that make you happy and fulfilled.  You neglect your need for sleep.  You stop your exercise routine because you feel that there just isn’t enough time.  Soon, you stop accepting offers to hang out with friends and begin to close the door on your personal life.  You work harder and harder under the delusion that more time equals more effectiveness.  


Are you irritable yet?  Haven’t laughed or even smiled in a while?  Feeling trapped?  Experiencing dread about the next day or the next task you must fulfill?  Have you yourself suffered a major health issue?  Hang on sister, you have fully landed yourself in the red zone of fatigue!


It is a scary time being at the bottom looking up at the way your life used to be.  Do not fear, there is hope.  Help is just around the corner but you must take the first steps to begin taking control back of your life. 


First, admit that you can’t do it all.  Take off your super hero cape and put it through the shredder; that dang thing didn’t look all the good with your outfit anyway.  Secondly, begin accepting help from other people. When my mother was experiencing fatigue after caring for our disabled father, it was my sisters and I who finally put our collective foot down and insisted that an aide come to the house to shower and dress dad.  Mom resisted at first, but then gave in to the idea.  Ultimately, the aide provided precious minutes and hours of relief for mom.  


Even teachers can find relief.  No, it is tough to have someone else grade the papers but we can look to our colleagues for advice on how to better manage the load.  If you are blessed with a room parent, look to that person to help plan some activities in the classroom or even help with your copying.  In other words, delegate.


Next, and I think the most important of all, take back your personal time and exercise.  The benefits of exercise are innumerable.  Back in 1975, the medical world became aware of the benefits of the brain chemical called endorphins.  Endorphins are believed to help reduce stress and fight off fatigue, disease, and even delay the aging process.  And the cool thing about this is they are free!  No need to go to the pharmacy with a prescription, just get out and exercise.  You may have heard it called the Runner’s High but experiencing an endorphin release is not limited to jogging.  Many people feel the surge of endorphins through meditation, deep breathing, and massage.


Finally, set limits.  None of us need close the door to a personal life just to be successful in our jobs.  In fact, with the evidence brought forth, it is safe to realize that when Susie works all day and has no play, she becomes a very dull girl.  Much of the joy in our lives comes from the relationships we share with our family and friends.  Attending your child’s soccer game, going to a movie with your spouse, or having a kaffeeklatsch with a friend can recharge your batteries in a way you have forgotten.  And while you’re at it, turn off your phone, set down the laptop, and be present in the moment.  


Life is too short to be electronically tied to gadgets that distract you and hold you prisoner to the very thing that is pulling you further into fatigue.Teachers and others working in a care-giving profession need to be able to deliver a service to our students, patients, and clients that involves our whole selves.  Likewise, we also need to serve ourselves with that same compassionate care to avoid fatigue and burnout.


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


'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


There is a wind of change blowing through your house and it seems to be coming from your tween or teenager.  You have noticed some obvious physical changes in your child like a change in height, weight, and shoe size.  There have also been the trips to the pharmacy to buy acne medication treatments, personal hygiene supplies and antiperspirant, but the changes don’t end there.  In fact, there isn’t a pill, cream, ointment, or pad to ease what is transpiring to your not-so-little one.

Welcome to the world of adolescence.  As a middle school teacher, I get to spend eight hours each day with these hormonally-shifting soon-to-be adults as they navigate their way through puberty.  And no, you are not going crazy, your children’s emotions are up, down, in, out, and completely unpredictable.  An informed parent makes a wise parent so make sure to pay close attention.

Intellectually your child will be moving from the concrete to the abstract.   Up until the age of 10 or so, children can only perceive the world in the here and now.  As they move through their middle school years, they begin to notice subtleties in situations and can look beyond.  They are learning that their actions have consequences but with their limited life experience, they can only apply this newfound reasoning erratically.  

For example, your daughter knows that she has a spelling test each Friday and when she studies for the test she can achieve a 100 percent.  However, taking the time away from her social plans isn’t always a priority, so the studying often falls to the wayside.  That usually results in a lower grade but she doesn’t really care.

In the classroom, middle school children often show a passion for learning something new.  They love when they finally “get” something that was previously unclear to them.  However, they most often prefer to work in groups because of the social interaction and the ability to debate ideas.  Group work is often perceived as being easier too which plays into their conviction that they always have too much homework and not enough time.  I hear this often in my language arts class. “Mrs. Andersen, don’t assign anything for tonight.  We have too much homework already.”  This usually makes me feel guilty but then I recall that I so rarely send anything home and end up assigning the work anyway.  They’ll live another day, I am sure.

Emotionally our adolescents are going through a wringer.  One day your daughter is happy as a lark as she hides in her bedroom dressing her American Girl dolls and playing board games.  The next day, however, she comes out of the bedroom in clothing more suitable to a Las Vegas burlesque show wearing enough eyeliner to make Lady Gaga jealous.  And don’t even try to talk to her; she may bite your head off and toss you an eye-roll to finish things off.  Where did your little pink princess go?  

And boys are no different though they may be a year or two delayed behind the girls in their emotional changes.  My own son seemed to go from playing with his Legos and building forts to being glued to the game station trying to play mature-themed games about war, shooting, drinking alcohol, and high-speed car chases.  As parents, we didn’t allow those games in our home but he seemed to find friends who had those games at their disposal.  

While these behaviors are annoying and at times disturbing, they are part of the maturing process that children go through to exert their independence.  There are fewer snuggle times and certainly no hugs with you in front of their friends.  They want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it.  Don’t feel alone though, we teachers are getting the same thing in the classroom.

As sixth graders and early seventh graders, my students love me!  They leave me long notes on the board: “I LUV U Mrs. Andersen!”  “U R the KOOLEST Teacher ever!”  and so on.   However, by the eighth grade I am getting calls and sitting in meetings with disgruntled parents whose children “hate” me and think that I am the meanest teacher out there.  A common theme of late is, “The girls in the eighth grade don’t feel like they can talk to you anymore.”  Well, I hate to point this out, but I am most likely the same ole me.  Have you considered that your child is the one undergoing a major emotional overhaul?

It stands to reason that while our teens are bucking the system at home and pulling away from you as parents, the same is happening in the classroom.  It is important for all of us to remember to stay consistent with our expectations, rules, and consequences.  Keep the love flowing but don’t expect for it to be returned to you immediately.

Like all parents, I have gone through these physical, emotional, and intellectual tides with my own children.  I am excited to say that my now 21-year-old son is coming full circle and enjoys spending time with us as a family and readily doles out his affection.   Our 18-year-old daughter is fully immersed in the “I am an independent woman” phase and often has a terse word or two for her patient parents.  She still shows us love and appreciation but it is less prolific than when she was a wee girl.  

I often reflect back on my own adolescent development and remember the turmoil I often felt in my social, academic, and home life.  I see now that my perception of things became my reality.  Now that the lenses of my life have become more focused, I thank God that I got through those years with my friends, family, and myself in tact.  I know that with a bit of patience, I can watch my students and my children navigate successfully through those same waters.


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.


©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


“Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.”  Sir Walter Scott


I have been sitting in a number of parent and family meetings at school of late as the end of the second quarter grading period comes to a close.  The meetings all carry the same overriding theme of concern over a child’s progress.  However, some students are experiencing more than just academic trouble.


Indolence or laziness, is rampant amongst our children.  It’s not hard to imagine if you just look around at the adults we encounter.  We are a society of people who often look to a shortcut to complete a task or an excuse as to why it can’t be completed.  Don’t believe me?  Check out your laundry piles.  Any shirts laying around waiting to be ironed?  Are the kids inscribing their names in the dust on your tabletops?  How’s the back seat of your car looking these days?  Sort of like you live it in with all the food wrappers, mail, school papers, and clothing tucked back there?


We all procrastinate at one time or another and that’s ok.  However, when procrastinating becomes de rigueur for our children and their school work, problems ensue.


Take for instance little Beau.  He is a fun student in the classroom, witty, good-natured, and happy -- all great qualities to have except he won’t do his homework.  It is not that he is incapable; it is just that he chooses to not do it.  I’ve tried encouragement; I have tried punishment; I have even tried ignorance, as in me appearing unaware to his lack of effort.  None of these methods have made a bit of difference.  And so we had a family meeting.


These family meetings are usually quite congenial and bring about a common understanding among the teachers, parents, and child.  We often end up on the same page as we formulate a plan for moving forward.  However there are times when there is an undercurrent of tension that can’t quite be breached and parents and teachers dance around the unspoken strain. 


Raise your hand if you believe every word that passes through your child’s lips!  Be honest!  None of us ever want to believe that our children would lie to us or manipulate the truth in order to protect themselves but it happens daily in the classroom and, I bet, at home too.   And that was the exact problem Beau had created.  He would tell his parent each night that his homework was completed and ready for the next day.  That next day he would come to school and tell me that he was so busy the night before that he couldn’t get it done.  If that excuse got worn, then he would claim that he forgot it at home.


Now, I may have been born at midnight but it wasn’t last night so I finally called Beau’s bluff.  I had simply grown tired of sending home late slips only to receive a cooperating excuse from the parent as to why the work wasn’t finished or turned in. 


In the meeting I gently told mom that Beau had been lying to all of us.  He would tell her one thing only to come to school to tell another tale.  This pack of untruths being spoken was causing his mother to advocate to his teachers on his behalf.  Likewise it put the teacher’s in a bad spot for having to point that out to his parent.  Beau had certainly woven a tangled web.  Couple Beau’s laziness for not wanting to execute the effort required to get his work done, along with his twisted tongue and we had a bit of a mess to untangle.  


No matter the age, human beings have a strong instinct to protect themselves and survive.  In our reptilian brain, that “flight or fight response” protects us from harm and danger.  If we feel great pressure, whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally, we react.  Taking into account that our school-age children are still developing in those three areas, it is safe to assume that when the pressure get too great, those innate responses will kick in.  


As a parent, it’s your job to stay aware and know the creature whom you are raising.  As my principal often says, “if you believe half of what your child tells you happens at school, we will believe only half of what your child tells us happens at home.”



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.


©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Don’t you wish that our children would have come with a how-to-assemble guide?  It would make the job of turning our wee babes into fully constructed, well-adjusted adults so much easier.  For example, had I known exactly what to do with an infant those first tenuous weeks, months, and years of experimenting with cloth and disposable diapers, nursing, and rocking or crying to get my babes to sleep, my life would have been so much less stressful.  Remember those days?  We thought we were in the toughest years of our lives.  Boy, were we wrong!

Managing an infant and toddler is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to child-rearing.  As little ones, children are somewhat malleable and convincible, if for no other reason than “I am bigger so you have to do what I say!”  It’s when our children hit their teen years that things really start to get interesting.  

Though my early years as a parent were next to impossible, I was blessed with easy teens.  Lucky for me, my oldest is a boy and one who was mostly interested in drawing, computer games and Legos so my husband and I had a pretty easy go of things.  Child Number Two, our daughter, also turned out to be a walk in the park because she preferred dancing, soccer, and volleyball to the drama involved with most middle school friendships. I was lulled into a state of contentment.


God, however, has a sense of humor and has found fit for me to be in a middle school classroom for the last eight years.  It is sort of like living in the movie “Groundhog Day” in which I get to live over and over and over again, the daily ups and downs of the mercurial teen brain.  And the longer I am in this classroom, the more clearly I see how the outside forces in our world are making themselves known to our children at a younger and younger age each year.


Take for example the word ‘gay.’  A thousand years ago when I was in middle school, ‘gay’ meant happy if you read it in a book.  If you called someone ‘gay’ you meant  that that person was a weirdo.  Nowadays, though, when a middle schooler uses the term ‘gay’ he or she is referring to that person’s sexual orientation.  Still can’t believe I am talking about middle schoolers yet?  Believe it or not! It’s true.


On Friday, I met with two of my students, Fiona and Jonas.  Both are new to my school this year and have become buddies.  Each has a unique style: Fiona wears tights, colorful shorts, striped knee-high socks and a tutu; Jonas wears skinny jeans, colorful Chucks, and spiked hair.  They are both kind, considerate, and hard-working students.  The meeting was to let me know that several of the girls in the class have outright asked or accused Jonas of being gay.  Fiona has tried to defend her buddy and told each of the offenders (which they are!) that it was wrong of them to say that to Jonas.  One of the girls laughed it off and walked away.  


The funny thing about this is that this girl used to have a crush on Jonas.  Now, just a few weeks later, she is calling him gay.  Makes me wonder if when he didn’t want to be her boyfriend she had to justify his response therefore degrading him.  That way she doesn’t look like the loser, but he does.


When I was in seventh grade, it never even occurred to me to question someone’s sexuality.  Unfortunately, American society has made available all manner of media to our children.  Nothing is held back anymore.  The news is available 24 hours a day through multiple cable channels and the Internet; television shows and movies are all about the shock value and have made alternative lifestyles a common topic with the message being that anyone who looks or acts differently is suspect for being gay or ‘something.’  It’s all about stereotypes and fitting people into preconceived pigeon holes.


Our emotionally immature middle school students are like sponges that soak up all this information, storing it for another time.  As they grow physically and physiologically, they become more aware of their own bodies and those around them.  While it is perfectly normal to wonder what is happening to oneself and why one may be developing at a different rate than a peer, some kids assume that a slighter build on a boy or a husky, muscular build on a girl is a clear indication of that person’s sexual orientation.  


And the task to redirect our children’s thinking falls not only into the parents’ laps but also the teachers’ -- because these conversations are occurring throughout the school day before, during, and after the academic work is taking place.  It’s a three-ring circus at times.


There is no going back now that the toothpaste is out of the tube.  We can’t have our children unlearn the things they have picked up from books, movies, TV shows, or even the bus ride home.  What we can do is teach our children about boundaries and appropriateness.



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.


©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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