Johnny and His Homework

 

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The Great Slump

The teacher greets them at the classroom door, “Put your homework on the left side of your desk, and get started on your “Do Now.”

Fourteen-year- old Johnny comes in and sits down. He has no homework to put on the left side of his desk, so he plays with the strap on his bookbag while his teacher walks up and down the rows.

She stands above him, and even though he pretends not to know, he can hear the scratch of her damn pen on her damn clipboard. So much for fresh starts, positive climate, and “I believe in you.”

It’s only 8:03, first period, first failure. Only six to go before he gets the hell out of here, unless he leaves after lunch.

The teacher begins the lesson with a powerful question designed to get them all talking and arguing. Johnny has much to say, but why bother? He drops his head and shoulders, leans back in his chair, and thrusts his legs in front of him. His teacher notes his body language.  It’s the familiar slump and sprawl of defeat— with its jagged edge of defiance.

She asks another question of the class, waits a while like good teachers do, and then calls on people– some of them with hands raised, some not. Clearly her question has stoked their brain fires. Then she says, “Johnny, what do you think?

No answer.

She tries it again. “Johnny?”

“Hate this school!” He pushes himself out of his chair, grabs his backpack, and slams out the classroom door. He knows he will get in trouble, a phone call, a detention, or an in-house suspension — but he doesn’t care.

Johnny knows in two years he will be sixteen, and then he will walk out the school door, and he will never have to come back.

My Thoughts

Johnny is one of many kids who don’t do homework. Many of these kids, if they could start class positively, could thrive instead of fail. In this blog, in future posts, I will describe some of these kids, both high school kids like Johnny and elementary kids who may grow up to be Johnnies.

On Facebook I came upon a viral post by a Mom, Bunmi Laditan. She writes a letter to her ten-year-old-daughter’s school declaring her home to be a “Homework- Free- Zone.” I shared the post on Facebook and wrote a quick comment. I’m sure that Bunmi Laditan and I are part of a growing movement to change the way homework is being done. Here’s the link to her post. http://twentytwowords.com/moms-viral-post-declares-her-house-a-homework-free-zone/

 

My First Principal

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Do you remember your first real job? Did you cry? I did.

I cried, often. As a first-year teacher in an elementary school in 1966, I was sure my first principal, Hurricane Grace, was going to fire me.

Trending in the world at that time was the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, an area in the Atlantic where planes, ships and people mysteriously disappeared. Hurricane Grace was her own Bermuda Triangle, gobbling up designated probationary teachers. Tales abounded of first year teachers called to her office at 9am, being sent somewhere (We all figured Central Office.) and then disappearing, forever.

All of us quaked in Hurricane Grace’s path, and I knew my day was coming when she came into my classroom and raged about my lousy bulletin boards.  She said something like, “Your room looks like you teach in a poor school!  Where is everything? Your room is naked!” (I remember the word naked clearly.) I spent the rest of that day trying not to sob in front of my first graders.

Thank God, my dear friend Sandy, a year older and wiser stayed with me until six o’clock that night and helped me to fix up my classroom. We put out books that had been hidden in cabinets, freshened up my ugly bulletin boards, put out new erasers, chalk, charts, and manipulative materials that I had never thought to display. Sandy threw in some plants from her own classroom, and she told me that the next day I needed to get Hurricane, bring her to my classroom and show her how I was an obedient little probationary teacher.

“You’re kidding,” I said to Sandy.

“Do it,” she ordered.

The next morning, I knocked on Hurricane Grace’s closed door. “Mrs. Bartter?” I squeaked like a little girl. “I fixed up my classroom. Sandy helped me. Would you like to come in and see it? I hope it meets your approval.”

Sandy was right. Hurricane eased up after that, and I didn’t get fired.  To this day, however, if Hurricane Grace came back from the dead I would tremble in her presence.

Also, to this day, when I see a blank bulletin board in a school hallway or classroom, I feel great empathy for the sorry soul who is responsible for filling it. I’m not even going to talk about all that Common Core Standards stuff teachers today must display; that post will come later.

Getting Your Child Off to a Successful First Day of School: People to Thank

Looking out my living room window at the kids and their parents waiting for the school bus, I am remembering my own first days—as a parent, and as a teacher. No one has asked, but I am prepared to say, “Thank these folks.”

  • School Staff who are also parents of young kids: Many of them left their own kids in the hands of spouses, grandparents, and neighbors so they could be there for your kids.
  • Those wonderful spouses, grandparents, and neighbors who stepped up for all working parents.
  • The Boss who said, “It’s OK to come in late. Bring in photos!
  • The municipal workers who protected my child.
  • Your school’s: aides, nurses, social workers, office staff, janitors, bus drivers, crossing guards, and those truly wonderful cafeteria ladies.
  • The school’s administrators, who got about an hour of sleep last night, if they were lucky.
  • Your school’s teachers who are experiencing “the longest day” of the school year and who will arrive home absolutely exhausted. Somebody please bring in a pizza for them. For some teachers, it may be just the reverse. For them it will be “the shortest day” because they so over-planned, and the time flew by, and they couldn’t accomplish all they planned. They should get a pizza too.
  • Here are two additional categories of teachers to thank on the first day:
    • Smiling teachers. They could be the best teacher your child ever had.
    • Non-smiling teachers: They could be the best teacher your child ever had.

Parents, you won’t know yet. Give everybody a chance!

  • Finally, anyone in the school community who “parented” any child who nervously waited on line or walked through those big doors that day. Believe me, every school has many of these wonderful people. They are the folks who supply a change of clothes for a wet child, and a comforting arm around the trembling shoulder of a frightened child. These “mama’s and “papa’s” are also the ones who make sure every child has a costume for Halloween; a warm coat, mittens and boots for the winter, and (about fifteen years later) a cap and gown, and maybe even a tux or a  dress for a high school prom.

Parent, you thought I was going to forget. Thank yourselves too! You have done a wonderful job!

This retired teacher wishes everyone a wonderful school year!

Retired from Teaching? Yes and No

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I stole this chalk from my elementary school  on the day I retired from teaching. That was in August of 2000.  At this time of year I like to hold my chalk, and remember.

I retired from 30 years of  teaching elementary school in August 2000.  By  October,  I was working again, part time, in elementary, middle and high schools as a literacy consultant.  I’m still doing that.

Consulting is like teaching, but without the lunch duty, hall duty, attendance taking and money collection.

Consulting teachers can get away with stuff that regular teachers can’t. Sometimes, for my own self-preservation, I put on my “old grandma hat. ” I can say to a potty mouth student, “If I were your grandma, I would wash out your mouth with soap.”

The kids laugh, and then they behave. They say, “Yes, Miss. Sorry, Miss.”

All teachers have golden academic moments with their students.  The real art of good teaching is to take those  serendipitous  moments and make them happen routinely. That’s happening. It will take time, but it’s happening.

Kids are kids.  Kindergarteners and high schoolers have the same needs.  All kids can think. I have learned that often the kids with the worst grades can think at a higher level than the rest of the gang. They just haven’t learned how to apply their high levels of thinking to school. Maybe it’s the fault of the school.  That’s why change is in the air. That’s good.

All teachers have moments of great poignancy  with their students.  Probably those are the moments that students and teachers will remember most. Many of my fourth (or was it fifth?) grade students remember how I cried when I read Bridge to Terabithia to them.

All teachers have moments of great comedy with students. The art of good teaching is to take those comedic moments and enjoy the humor. Even in semi-retirement now, as I  work with a new generation of teachers, the moments continue. The story below happened in one of my high schools last year.

A first year biology teacher was doing an experiment on enzymes.  I met with him before the lesson and suggested he probe the students’ background knowledge to set the stage for the lesson. Recalling  my days as an elementary school teacher, I suggested he  “Ask the kids what they know about yeast.” I knew many teachers in elementary school had baked bread with kids at one time or another.

The lesson began and my eager protégé, asked his high school students, “So tell me what you already know about yeast.”

Instantly, the one student who always calls out, described, in graphic detail, yeast infections and where they are found. Using the feline word for female genitalia, he was indeed proud of his contribution.

I clearly remember the “deer in the head light” look of my young teacher as the class gasped and laughed.  Up until this moment, Mr. C. had trusted me.

Stepping in, I said to the eager student, “Thank you for your contribution. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I may have an extra sip of wine as I share this story with my husband. Let’s try to use more academic language in the future, and now let’s move on.” The teacher continued with his wonderful lesson, and  the class moved on.

So newly retired teachers, as you move on, take time to savor your remembrances . Also, you might want to also steal a piece of chalk…if you can find one.  It may be a valuable artifact someday.