Category Archives: Education Today

School Supplies For All

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite days of the year (besides Christmas Day) was the day the newspaper posted the list of required school supplies, and Mom took us to the drug store  to buy them.

I loved looking at that list, and Mom always let me put the little checkmark beside the items as we put them in our basket.

Prang paints. Check. Paint pan. Check. Rectangular eraser. Check. Blunt-tipped scissors. Check. Etc. Check.

On the first day of school, I loved bringing my beautiful shiny school supplies into my new classroom, and I loved arranging them all inside my desk. I loved to look inside my desk and just savor the sight: all those cool things I could draw with and paint with and write with. . . and they were mine, all mine, and nobody else could touch my things unless I gave them permission. Me. I was the boss of my desk things. I took such pride in my school supplies, and mine were usually still looking pretty good even at the end of the year. They were mine, you see, and I had a vested interest in them; therefore, I took pains to take care of them. Back then, down in lower elementary, the school supplied only the special fat pencils and the weird orange pens.  Oh, and that huge jar of smelly paste that bore the germs of generations past. . . .

pencil-chewing girlWhen my own children were little, I looked forward to Buying School Supplies Day with just as much delight as I did when I was a little kid. New binders. New pencils. And the most fun of all, choosing the new lunchbox. My own children loved the new school supplies, too.  I think it is of vital importance that all children have their own school supplies; it is the beginning of them learning the pride of possession and the importance of caring for one’s own things in order to keep them for any length of time.

It’s not like that in many schools nowadays. Many teachers do not allow their students to have their own supplies now; the little sack of a child’s very own things is taken from the child on that first day, and dumped into the community pot for all the kids to dip into and out of. There are no “my scissors,” there is only a rack or box of scissors for everyone. “Look, there are my scissors; my name is engraved on them; I wish I could use them but they’re so cool, other kids grab them first every time. . . .” There are no more personalized pencils or a child’s favorite cartoon character pencils to use and handle carefully; there is only a big bucket of chewed-on germ-covered pencils grabbed at and used by everybody in the room.

And since nothing belongs to anybody, who cares about taking good care of them?

I fully understand that the community pot of supplies is much easier for a teacher to control. I wasn’t, however, aware of the fact that teacher convenience was any kind of issue here. I taught in the public schools for 26 years and I never expected things to happen for the convenience of me; that wasn’t why I was there.

I fully understand, too, that some children’s little sack of supplies won’t be as individualized or cool as another child’s sack of supplies. I know for a sad fact that some children will never have their own little sack of supplies, at least, not one brought from home. That’s life; that should not even be an issue. Some children’s shoes aren’t as cool, either; do we throw shoes in a box and let the kids take pot luck with those, too? I understand that in some classrooms, a child’s packed lunch is sometimes taken apart and certain things confiscated or distributed, lest some child have a treat that another child doesn’t have. (this actually happened to both my children, and more than once!)  When my kids were in grade school, my mother would occasionally stop by at lunch time with a Happy Meal for them – and for me! – and I was told this had to stop because other children didn’t have that option. Well, you know what, my children were often envious of another child’s dress or shoes or lunch or cool pen, but I would never have tried to ensure that other children would never be able to have anything my own kids couldn’t have. Good grief. Such insanity!

Teachers should keep an eye out for those kids who don’t have supplies, and the school should supply them, but after that point, they become the child’s own and he/she should be required to take good care of them, just as any and every kid should be required to take care of his/her things. Children who take good care of their things should not be required to supply children who had their own things but didn’t take care of them properly. As a little child, I was horrified at the thought, and as a parent, I’m even more horrified. It was like a reward for being negligent! Every year, I donate tons of school supplies to my neighbor’s children’s school; I’m delighted to do this, and I recommend this to all of you. Perhaps, if schools have enough donated supplies, our little children will be allowed to keep their very own supplies once again.

I think most people would be happy to donate a full set of school supplies for children whose families couldn’t afford them.  I would, and I do.  But I fully expect my donated school supply set to be given to an individual child and become his/her very, very own, carefully tended, appreciated, and lovingly used school supplies.  If each parent, or each parent who was able, donated a complete set or two each year, I’m betting the school itself wouldn’t have as big a burden in supplying freebies to needy kids.  But community bins containing chewed-on, drooled-on, broken-on-purpose junk that everybody is required to dip into?  Required? Absolutely not.  No.  NO.

A few bins for the forgetful or temporary lack might be a good thing, but the option to keep one’s very own stuff to oneself should be upheld, too.

When I was a child, I had very little that was my very own. Everything that was supposedly mine was expected to be shared with anybody else in the house that wanted it at any given moment. But at school? In my desk, in my very own desk, were things that were inviolably mine, and I can not even describe for you the sensations that went through me when I looked at those things that my teacher had ruled were mine and only mine. Kids who violated another kid’s desk were quite properly labeled ‘thieves,’ and they soon learned what happens when a person put his hands on property that was not rightfully theirs.

Things are very different now. I hate it. The rare teacher who takes the time and trouble to allow his/her students to have their boy breaking pencil from bin things is often castigated by the other teachers who are taking the easy ‘community property’ route – or being forced to by an administrator. Kids are sharing more than gluesticks and pencils, too; I don’t even want to THINK about the incredible pot-o-germs they’re dipping into daily. Gross. My child using a pencil some other child gnawed? I guess so, because teachers who don’t want to bother with a child’s private property are forcing the kids to dump it all in the pot for everybody to use. “Don’t be selfish.” “Share.” Well, you know what? I don’t like that kind of forced sharing. I had to share everything, EVERYTHING, and that little pile of school supplies was my only private stash of anything. I do not feel it was selfish, or is selfish, to want to keep school supplies that were carefully chosen, to oneself. Children who have their own things learn to respect the property of other children. Children with no concept of personal property tend to view the world as a buffet of free, unearned delights awaiting their grasping, grabbing hands. Both tend to grow into adults with the same concepts learned as children.

This business of everything being community property in the classroom causes problems in the upper levels, too. Junior high, high school, even college students, are expecting things to be available for them without any effort on their part. Upper level students come to class without pencils, erasers, paper, etc, because they’re used to having those things always available in some community bin somewhere in the room. They have never been required, or allowed, to maintain their own things, and now they don’t know how to. The stuff was always just THERE, for a student to help himself to. And now that they are supposed to maintain their own, they really don’t know how. Plus, why should they? HEY, I need a pencil, gimme one. Not that one, that other one there.    Indeed,

Well, it worked down in the lower grades, with community property. You just get up and help yourself; everything in this room is for me, ain’t it? Gimme that pretty one, I want it.

But guess what, kids, it’s bad enough down in the lower grades,chewed-up pencil from a bin but it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work at all when you hit the upper grades. I’d like to have a penny for every hand that tried to help itself to things on my desk, because, well, they were there. I’ve even had students who opened my desk drawers, looking for supplies. Not poor kids who didn’t have any; just a kid who didn’t bring any and expected everything to be supplied because, well, down in the elementary, everything WAS.  I have had COLLEGE STUDENTS look around the room expectantly, looking for the bucket of pencils and pile of paper.

Oh good grief, teachers or principals or boards or whoever has the authority, let the little kids keep their own things, put their names on them, and learn how to be responsible for them. Secondary teachers and future employers will greatly appreciate it.

I know that in some cases, it’s not the individual teacher’s decision – it’s a corporate mandate. This is even worse. It’s like a national plot to make future generations needy and dependent and reliant on others to fulfill all their needs. And don’t we already have more than enough of THOSE people?

Let me sum up, as Inigo Montoya would say: Community school supplies are wrong on every possible level. Period.

broken pencil from a community binParents, if I were you – and I am one of you – I’d buy the required community bin stuff at the dollar store instead of the overpriced educational supplies store in the strip mall that the school supplies newsletter instructs you to patronize. Send them to school and let them be dumped into the bins for mass consumption and germ sharing. Then you and your children go shopping and pick out individual supplies – favorite cartoons, personalized, Hello Kitty, Avengers – whatever your child likes. If your school informs you that it’s against their policy for any of the children to have their own supplies, you inform the school that you did your chipping in and now you’re seeing to it that your children have their very own things and that you expect your children’s very own things to harbor no germs except your own children’s germs, which will be considerable, but that’s another topic. What’s more, if your children come home and tell you that their very own supplies are not being respected and are in fact being accessed by others without permission of the owner, please hightail it down to the school and let them know what you think about that.

If I am privileged to supply individual children with supplies, however, I will buy them the best – personalized, if possible.  No child should go without, and each child deserves the good stuff to be kept in his/her own desk to be used by only him/her.  Generic supplies go in the bin; personalized supplies stay in the desk.

But stuff I know is going into a bin?  Dollar store.

School SuppliesI am happy to see to it that all of the children in the room have adequate supplies, but I can’t stress strongly enough that each child needs and deserves to have his/her very own personal private stash of supplies that nobody else can ever touch.  Maintaining one’s own personal things is a life lesson, and will benefit the child for the rest of his life.

Do I seem overly obsessed about this topic? Darn right.  As a parent and as a teacher and as a former child, the very concept of community school supplies makes me so furious I become incoherent. Which is apparently happening right now so. . . .

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Science and Helping Verbs

I love teaching Einsteinian theory, physics, and non-linear time in my basic writing classes.

non-linear time

 

Oh, it’s called Chapter 10: The Perfect Tenses, but that’s just a cover for what it really is: our language’s ability to describe complicated scientific theories with just a handful of helping verbs.

How wondrous is our language, that with the simple addition of “had” or “have,” “shall” or “will,” we can demonstrate that two things happened in the past, but one was before the other. Or that something began in the past and is still happening. Or that something will be done in the future after something else is done in the future.

I think it’s fascinating that what a scientist must explain with diagrams and long complicated essays and models, any one of us can demonstrate with a helping verb.

Matchbox carsI love the whole concept of ‘time,’ anyway, and for this chapter, I try to remember to take three little Matchbox cars to class with me. I almost always forget, though, and I end up using something else to represent the little cars. Today I used tiny boxes of raisins, and pretended the little maiden on the cover was the driver.

Three cars on the highway, all in different spots, yet close by each other. Each is in a different period of time relative to the other. To the one in the middle, the one in front is in the future because it is where the middle car is going but hasn’t reached yet, and the one in back is in the past because it is where the middle car once was but has passed through.

To the car in back, both the other cars are in the future.

To the car in front, both the other cars are in the past.

To Superman, flying above, all the cars are in the present.

To the hitchhiker standing by the side of the road, each of the cars is in the future as long as they are moving, until which time they whizz past, one at a time, briefly sharing the hitchhiker’s present for a split second before zooming into yet another perspective of the future.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the whole space/time thing.  They haven’t figured out, yet, how to travel to the past or the future.

Writers have known how for years.

Our language makes this complicated concept of time into a relatively simple thing.  A tiny little helping verb can illustrate the past, present, future, and any combination thereof.

Back in the middle school, the students fought for the little cars or whatever substituted for them, after this lesson.

Today, at the college level, I asked if anyone cared to have the tiny boxes of raisins and every hand went up. And because I am ever the cool, level-headed, serious professional, I placed all three little boxes on the floor in the middle of the room and walked out. I heard chaos behind me but it really wasn’t any of my business.

Time. It may not be as linear as you think. I am sometimes more inclined to believe that time is more like a tree, or a spiral, than a flowing river. Yes, a tree that grows upward and at the same time puts out intertwining branches that touch, or don’t touch, or a spiral that coils round and round. . . .

Then again, perhaps I’ve been reading too much Madeleine L’Engle. If there is such a thing as too much Madeleine L’Engle, which there isn’t.

Chapter 10: Non-Linear Time and Its Relation To Tiny Boxes of Einstein, raisinsRaisins Which I Understand Einstein Was Very Fond Of The Perfect Tenses.

It’s the same thing, you know.

Relatively speaking.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

A Test Is Just A Piece of Paper

Many students tend to get stressed when it’s quiz or test time.  It’s almost as though they fear the questions will burn when they’re touched.

TestI want to tell students – all students - not to worry so much, so I think I will do just that:

Dear Students:

It’s just a piece of paper. It’s not THE STANDARDIZED TEST, but learning to relax when you take a regular test will help you relax when you take one of the BIG ONES.  It’s a piece of paper.  No piece of paper will ever be as important Torn Sheet of Paper From Spiral Notebookas YOU are.

Relax.

Breathe deeply.

Stand up and stretch when you feel the need.

Are you in my class?  Go get a coke out of the machine, and maybe a Snickers bar, too. Chocolate won’t hurt your test; I’ll be grading it myself and unless it’s so soiled I can’t read it, who cares?  Your test will probably have at least one Diet Coke ring on it when you get it back.  I don’t know how those get on there. . . .

Sometimes a little sugar might be just the energy boost you need.

 Sometimes a little fresh air will do the trick.

Get up and walk up and down the hall for a few minutes.

Are you in my class?  Step outside 15/08/13 pic of man attacked by cow - walton, waltonand walk around the parking lot for a few minutes; clear your head. Look at the trees behind the school.. Watch the squirrels.

Remember when that cow was wandering around the school grounds?   The city never did find her.   Moo a few times.  Maybe you’ll get an answer.  (There’s a good essay topic for you!)   When you come back inside, take a few deep breaths, pick up your pencil and begin again.

If your school will not allow you to do these things, do them inside your head.  You can do anything you want inside your head.

Read each question carefully; you KNOW these things. I know you do. I’ve heard you talk about these topics for a month now and you KNOW them. Don’t let your fear of the test itself overcome the knowledge in your head. Don’t let a piece of paper take you down. USE the piece of paper to prove your knowledge of these things. Let the piece of paper encourage you to express what you know. You are the boss of this piece of paper. This piece of paper cannot defeat you.  This piece of paper WANTS you to master it.  You can.

Inside your head, where dwells your actual self, is a universe of wonder.  You’ve got what it takes to succeed in life.  You can do it.  The piece of paper is just you showing me that you understand little increments of cool stuff, one sheet at a time.

Is this registering with you, students?  Don’t let the dread of a quiz or test get between you and that piece of paper.  And remember this, because it’s very important:  a test itself is never as awful as the dread of it beforehand.  (Ditto your dental appointment, remember?)

I’ve heard many of you saying this already:  “That quiz wasn’t hard at all!”  Well, guess what:  it was supposed to be hard.  The reason why you didn’t think so is that you KNOW THIS STUFF.

Yes, you do.

 

Oh, Those Middle School Students!

Let me ask you something: what do you remember about middle school?  I’ve been asking a lot of people this question, and I was frankly pretty surprised that most of these people either remembered very little about it or remembered it as a traumatizing experience.  Most of them, however, remember one or two teachers at that level who are beloved even today.

thinking cap, middle school

Not every teacher is cut out for middle school – it takes a certain knack.  I’ve seen many good teachers fail in the middle school because they simply did not have this knack.  These teachers might have been excellent instructors of small children or almost-adult students, but it takes that knack to succeed in the middle school.

We must remember that middle school students do not consider themselves to be children.  Oh, we know they still are, but don’t make the mistake of treating them like children.  A teacher can lose an entire group of 7th-graders simply by referring to them as “boys and girls.”  I’ve seen entire classes turn against a well-meaning teacher because he/she used a tone of voice that connoted “elementary.”  I’ve seen principals wonder all year why the students disliked him/her so much, and it was all because of a condescending remark made on the first day of school that the adult doesn’t even remember but every student knows by heart.

Put simply, talk to middle school students as THEY THINK you talk to other adults. And put simply, that’s not simple.  Two teachers can say the exact same thing and one of them will succeed while the other antagonizes and infuriates the students.

There is some kind of internal attitude inside each teacher, and the least astute kid in the entire school can pick up on it.  Being a good middle school teacher is hard work; it’s exhausting and nerve-wracking.  Loving kids isn’t enough.  Being organized isn’t enough.  Being passionate about the subject isn’t enough.  Combinations of these things aren’t enough.

Oh, those are excellent and necessary parts of a good teacher, yes.  Definitely.  But alone or in any combination, they are not enough.

It’s the internal attitude that counts the most.  To be able to deal with middle school students, to be able to genuinely communicate and earn their respect, a middle school teacher has to have the right kind of internal attitude.

Pre-teens have the instinct to detect sincerity and trustworthiness.  It’s sharp and clear and laced with brand-new hormones, a fear of the unknown, and an intense desire to be accepted.

Every time the bell rings, a good teacher has to shake off one personality and put on another.  No two classes are alike, and a good teacher will not try to teach them in the same way.  Middle school teachers are doing stand-up, and the audience differs with every gig.

Good middle school teachers know how to talk to the students as the students think one adult talks to another adult.  Read that sentence carefully, for it does not say that a good teacher talks to the students as one adult to another.

Good teachers try to keep up.  I don’t mean friend all your 13-year-olds on Facebook, but monitor things when you can so you’ll know what your kids are talking about when they try to tell you that so-and-so is twerking in front of the boys behind the bleachers before first period.  Don’t try to be one of them, but be the adult in their lives who understands.  These things have to be done carefully.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to ingratiate yourself with students by using their generation’s groovy, out-of-sight, beat-me-daddy-eight-to-the-bar, gnarly vernacular.  Some words were never meant to come out of the mouths of actual adults.  Am I right, peeps?

Sometimes, other teachers sense something different about a teacher with that awesome internal attitude, and there can be clashes.  Age has nothing to do with it; some of the very best teachers are 110 years old if they’re a day, and some of the least savvy ones are 24.

It really bothers me when teachers say that the middle grades are a nightmare.  Such statements are unkind, and untrue.  Middle school students are young enough to still be eager, enthusiastic learners, and old enough to be able to actually do and understand a lot of things they weren’t ready for down in elementary.  Middle school students are bright and kind and interested in so many things and quite capable of learning and doing these interesting and sometimes not-so-easy things.

Challenging?  Oh yes.  Quite.  But they’re supposed to be, aren’t they?  I think so.

 

 

Education for Every Child Based on Their Individual Interests and Learning Needs

Let’s stop arguing and let teachers teach. 

As our public education system slips and slides down the international scale of standards and knowledge, our students and teachers are paying the price in a system run by fear and teaching to the test.

Let's Let Teachers Teach Every Student Based on Needs and Interests

What has happened to education in America?

A simple answer is politics. Instead of working together to improve a once solid system, we are becoming polarized in our political views of how education should be run.

Some believe education should run as a business. Money in, equals profit out. The profit in education is test scores and numbers, not how well our children are prepared for the workforce and their communities.

Every student is looked at as potential profit with potential return. Students who do not perform well on tests get left behind. Teachers no longer have time to work with struggling students. They must continue pumping out material so every student has an opportunity to succeed on the assessment. Those who fall behind must catch up on their own.

How we will find every child’s strengths and give them equal access to resources when we are too focused on measuring their success on paper?

Walter McKenzie, on The Whole Child Blog, says the current education system does not reference a choice or children -

  • Education is a public enterprise funded by taxpayers.
  • Government reports to taxpayers on its performance.
  • Elected officials craft policy and practice in the name of accountability.

McKenzie says our education system is being run as a “business that needs to produce numbers to justify the value.”

Some believe the way to “fix” education is to privatize it. This will allow the haves to continue to succeed and receive a strong education, while the have nots will continue to struggle to gain access to opportunities.

Others believe holding teachers and schools accountable is the right way to go. Put numbers to paper on how well each student is doing and that will rate the job of every teacher and in turn rate schools.

But what does this really do?

It takes away the individual strengths of each child, and lumps everyone into one pile – you get it or you don’t. Individual interests, ability and learning needs go out the window along with discovery and well rounded learning in an environment of fear. Educators teach in fear, students take assessments in fear.

Let’s stop the arguing and the fights over how to politically reform public education and refocus on our kids.

Focus on every single one of them and what makes them special and unique.

Let’s trust teachers make the decisions for each of their students in the classroom instead of making uneducated decisions in a courtroom. Teachers are the experts in education, not politicians.

We leave you with Silhouette Man and his opinions of American education…

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today