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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 4

February 2007


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Life Skills Practiced

by Dr. Nagendra Prakash, 
Mysore, Karnatak, India


I returned home in the evening after a grueling day at work. I was exhausted and irritable what with the tussle with the boss. My 12-year-old son sheepishly approached me to sign his marks card. One look at the scores and my temper flew. " Why can't you concentrate and read?" I bellowed. "Can't you keep what you read in memory and take good marks?" Looking straight in my eyes, my son retorted, "Can you or mommy teach me how to concentrate, and what I should do to improve my memory capacity? My teachers at school say the same thing, but nobody tells us how or what to do." 

Have you also been in a similar situation like this before ? It is so easy as adults to admonish a child or student to concentrate and memorize what they read. But if they turn back and question "How to do it?", we are at a loss to answer. 

Life skills is like any other skills. It requires constant practice to hone it. We have the tendency to take these skills for granted. But over a period of time it rusts from lack of practice. Children on the other hand have lot of opportunities to practice in their daily interaction at games and learning and they retain their skills at Memory and Concentration. 

But parents, elders and teachers curtail this. They force the child to keep up with the competition with the sole aim of scoring good marks. 

Children are constantly discouraged to stop playing, conversing, playing outdoor games and spend their quality time the way they want. They are forced to sit tight in their room and "read" lessons. Though this is undertaken in good intention, where does it lead the child ?? 

Such lack of exposure and lack of inter-communication leads to obtund life skills in the children. Many a group of educational institutions have seen through this malady and are now encouraging children to be what they want to do best. 

Life skills thus form the very foundation of the structure a child / student is in the process of construction. If the foundation is sound, he can then raise floors related to knowledge, job, career, profession, money, power etc, and be successful. Basic Skills are inbuilt perception and awareness in an individual. They take the form of ability, adaptability and application.

Dr. Prakash, director of Mindpower Solutions, an educational research and software company in India, can be reached at prakashsn@yahoo.com

Also check out his website at:  http://www.mindpowersolution.com


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Why Saving Dropouts is Everybody’s Business

By Christina Riggan

It makes perfect sense to emphasize that the increasing rates of dropouts effect every part of our systems from: poverty-level living wages, more uninsured for healthcare, higher prevalence of poor nutrition, less time for parents to nurture their children, less supervision of children, thereby foreboding future criminal and other behavior problems, and kids imitate parents…so if their parents dropout of school and did not return… kids may be more likely to do the same.

Despite the myriad of reassurances that the drop-out rate is declining, it simply is not true. A recent article in Time Magazine of April 17th, 2006 devoted the front page to “DROPOUT NATION” and sent out a clarion call of alarm for dropout rates of 30% and in some case 50% for some groups. “Nearly half of all dropouts ages 16 to 24 are unemployed.” (Page 38)These are their recommendations:

1. Third graders who can’t read begin a downward spiral of failure. Early Literacy programs help.

2. Create alternative high schools. Choices in learning environments help kids who struggle in regular high schools.

3. Spot future dropouts. Kids telegraph early warning signs of truancy or skipping classes. Intervention is essential.

4. Support vocational education. Many dropouts see little relationship to school and the real world. Other choices beside college help them choose.

5. Get the grownups involved. Parental support or mentoring help kids see the value of education, a job, and self-respect

A survey conducted by Bill and Melinda Gates released through Civics Enterprises which was conducted by John Bridgeland and John Dilulio. The title of this article was: “Dropouts Say Their Schools Expected Too Little of Them”

Three Fourths of the students surveyed say they wouldn’t dropout if they had to do it over again. These were some interesting statistics:  

38% said they had too much freedom and too few rules
68% say their parents became more involved only when they were in danger of dropping out
70% were confident they could have graduated if they tried
81% now believe that graduating from high school is important to succeed.

The Gates Foundation which has already poured $ 1   billion into public schools believes breaking up large high schools into smaller learning communities will go a long way to help solving this problem.

Recommendations from this article suggest skipping school or truancy is the first warning indicator of dropout behavior. These students need to be identified early and steps taken to immediately remedy the problem.

Raising the legal age for dropping out to 17 or 18 rather than 16 is suggested, as well, as getting parents more involved at an earlier stage when students begin missing school.

According to an ERIC Digest:

“Dropout rates are higher for students coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds, from single-parent families, and from non-English backgrounds.” (From the National Center of Educational Statistics)

“Students, who marry, have children, or who have problems with the law or authorities are more likely to dropout.”

In this study they found that dropouts in a Wisconsin community showed clear indications of academic problems by the third grade. Teacher comments alone predicted a 63% accuracy. Poor attendance, failing grades, and low overall GPA followed these students until dropout.

Those of you who have been following the errors in reporting dropout rates in several major cities across the nation may have been as dismayed as I have been that the statistics have been manipulated to make the schools seems more successful than they really are.

What really seems to work and what can the average school and teacher do?

Some suggestions that seem to be working based on the materials I have been reading and the reports from spots of success in high schools.

  1. More of a personal and interactive relationship between teachers and students and their parents. My personal mantra has always been that relationships are a basic foundation of good schools, good teachers, and superb educational systems. Kids have to know you care about them and want them to be successful, and, that as a teacher, it one of your highest goals.
  1. Create smaller learning communities in large high schools and feeder schools. Many of the elementary schools in the area I live in now have 900-1000 students. It is difficult and, in many cases impossible, for teachers to connect with students and their families with such a large population.
  1. Have high expectations for all students. Don’t give up on kids and their potential because the student may fit the profile of a potential dropout. But do keep good track of these students and remediate immediately. Kindergarten and first grade are essential to building that learning model and teaching parents to connect to schools and making them feel welcome. This is also the perfect time to focus on attendance and train parents and students that there will be consequences to not having their child in school.
  1. In some other cultures, mandatory school attendance is not the law in their native country. For example, in Mexico , the law does not require a child to attend school. This might be a major cultural shock to some Hispanic families. Family visits by personnel who speak the language and can explain this respectfully might go a long way to helping them understand the laws here.
  1. Discuss and honor all kinds of careers in schools. Our culture still needs: plumbers, carpenters, electricians, licensed vocational nurses, hair dressers, barbers, mechanics etc. These professions should be respected and honored in schools. I have witnessed that they are not honored on career day or in any manner by most of the schools I worked at.
  1. Provide opportunities for choice for students. Our system should not offer college or nothing. That is the height of irresponsibility to society. Schools can offer training for local businesses by connecting with business needs and cooperating, as long as the local businesses support the completion of high schools. Some high schools are encouraging this and seeing better results.
  1. School administrators and educators should work on their attitude as well. I      have witnessed superintendents make statements such as: "all students in our schools will go to college”. That is irresponsible in my opinion. Yes, we should have high expectations and believe in every student who WANTS to go to college and the schools should help them. Yes, there have been terrible counselors who encouraged students to dropout. But to not consider that some students are not interested in a four year college degree is OUR FAILURE to help them do what they want with their life, by preparing them for a livable occupation in our society.
  1. Dropout intervention specialists for a district does not necessarily work unless there is a representative from every campus in a committee meeting working out details to design goals and set intentions for every campus to reduce the rate of potential dropouts. Every campus should have a committee whose intent is to focus on changing whatever needs to be changed to meet these kids’ needs. 
  1. Effective, committed ESOL programs for kids and parents would help the school community by teaching the language of this country to help people work effectively and learn effectively here. Districts committed to teaching English successfully and training teachers properly might help improve the odds for success for non-English speaking immigrants.
  1. Updating software systems to email parents of failing students, skipped days, etc. is wonderful for middle or high-income parents…ones who might have the least worries about their child dropping out. But what are we planning for the most vulnerable of our populations who might not be able to afford a computer, must work two jobs to support their families, and may need their high school student to work to support the family? Perhaps we need to contact and work closely with local social workers and the system to design models for these families as well. Is it too far-fetched to have principals or assistant principal’s drive to kid’s houses and pick them up for school, or to drop in on the parents in the evening, or call them and make sure arrangements for school are still happening?

We have along way to go to help solve this problem, and as I stated earlier it is everybody’s problem, not just the school system. Forward thinking administrative personnel can do a great deal to implement change in their respective schools, demonstrate the plan’s effectiveness, and bring this data to a larger council for district-wide change. Teachers in classrooms can monitor their students, call home frequently to check on absent students, and enforce the absentee policies. Teachers can also make sure that every student is reading successfully by third grade.

Parents should be reminded frequently about the importance of school attendance, and consequences for absenteeism. Businesses can make commitments to connect to schools and help train a local workforce to provide employment and employees for their future and the future of this country. Ministers, coaches, trainers, and any other professional working with kids in this country can ask: “How are your grades? Are you going to school? Why not? What can I do to help? It is important to me that you stay in school.”

Time magazine: April 17th, 2006 “Dropout Nation” ages 30-40
Today-“Dropouts Say Their Schools Expected Too Little of Them” by Greg Toppo
Eric Digest ED339092 1991-00-00 by Jean Gausted, “Identifying Potential Dropouts”


Christina Riggan, a twenty-five year veteran of public schools, and a former teacher in a primary (K-5) school in Austin, Texas, has worked with a variety of grade levels from Kindergarten to adults. Her certifications include Kindergarten, Reading, ESOL, Language Arts, and she holds a Principal's Certificate and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently a full-time writer, her chosen area of focus in writing books (fiction and nonfiction) and articles that might help parents, teachers, and students. She is married to David, her husband of thirty-eight years, has two happily married sons, and four wonderful grandchildren. 

StarTeaching Featured Writer

You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  or order her book in ebook form or in paperback on her book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com


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Building Positive Relationships 
Around Your School:
Cooks and Food Service Staff

This SPECIAL REPORT is from a series of articles on building positive relationships in your school. They include building relationships with your office secretaries, janitors, librarians, and cooks.  All of these people are vital to the running of the school, and its in your best interest to 'get in good' with them as soon as possible. 

This is the fourth section, dealing with your food service staff. This article describes why you should 'get in good' with your school cooks and food service personnel.

School kitchens are great places to find boxes of all sizes and shapes, which have hundreds of uses in classrooms. We've used boxes simply for storage, for art supplies, for project centers. Cardboard is used in art projects, building sets and backdrops for plays. Large, sturdy boxes can also be useful for moving!

Food service companies typically drop off boxes and crates of bulk food items weekly. If your cooks know you're looking for boxes (or cardboard or cans), and you've developed good relationships with them, they will usually be more than happy to save these items for you.

There will also undoubtedly be times when class celebrations require plastic silverware, paper cups, or foam plates or bowls. Sometimes we know about such events, and other times they occur in relative spontaneity. Now, most kitchens keep a good record of their inventory, and will charge accordingly for the use of consumables. But, with a positive relationship built between you, the food service personnel will usually cut you a deal, or even find enough 'extra' items to help you out in a bind.

Middle school teachers may find their schedules changing at times to accommodate special events or programs. The Middle School Concept tends to do this a lot. Always let your kitchen staff know well ahead of time if your schedule change affects the food service even in the slightest. Most cooks will be accommodating if they have some advance notice. But this is only being polite and professional anyway!

Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

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Book of the Month Club:

Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire

By Rafe Esquith 

Our February BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire by Rafe Esquith.  This is a fabulous book for inspiring teachers and reminding us why we're in this profession.  

A must-read for all teachers, regardless of your grade or subject area!  Rafe Esquith is a 5th grade teacher in an inner city elementary school in downtown Los Angeles.  Despite the many 'strikes' against his students and educators in his city, Rafe has developed a love and passion for his students and his teaching that is an inspiration to teachers everywhere.  

Rafe Esquith's book details the many activities and miracles he performs in his class, from his 'Hobart Shakespearian' acting group that tours the country to his hands-on math and science to his out of class activities for students.  His story, and the story of his students will be an inspiration to all teachers.

"In a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by guns, gangs, and drugs, there is an exceptional classroom known as Room 56. The fifth graders inside are first-generation immigrants who live in poverty and speak English as a second language. They also play Vivaldi, perform Shakespeare, score in the top 1 percent on standardized tests, and go on to attend Ivy League universities. Rafe Esquith is the teacher responsible for these accomplishments."  (Amazon Book Review)

You can order a copy of Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.

We welcome articles and book reviews from our readers.  Do you have a great educational book to share with our readers?  Write up a summary, along with the pertinent book information, and email it to us at  editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB SUMMARY in the subject line.  Book reviews will be proofread and may be edited for content or space.



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"Our Time in History"

Author Unknown

Themes on Life

Who are we really?

A Columbine High School student wrote:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.

We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but less solutions; more medicine, but less wellness.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.

We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life.

We've added years to life, not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We've split the atom, but not our prejudice.

We have higher incomes, but lower morals.

We've become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships.

These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes.

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom.

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Life Skills Practiced

School Features:
Why Saving Dropouts is Everybody's Business

New Teacher's Niche:
Building Positive Relationships 
with Cooks and Food Service  Staff

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"Our Time in History "

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Winter Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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Describe the happiest day of your life.   


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Make a list of TEN ways you can help other people be happy.  


Describe THREE jobs that rely on happiness on a daily basis.


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Create  a short, 10 question true/false quiz to cover this week's class infomration.  


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Learning Math Step By Step


Coming Soon:

Designing and Running a Medieval Fair

Technology & Teaching: Exactly What Are Our Kids Learning?

Discipline Procedures in School

Teaching the Writing Process


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