FEATURES FOR TEACHERS
Features For New Teachers
Volume 5, Issue 24
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The Christmas break is important for staff members to unwind and leave the stress and rigors of the school building behind. It is far too easy to load yourself up with work over break, and then you really haven't taken much of a break. I used to be one who assigned research papers to be due the last day just so I'd have extra time to grade them. Then I wizened up. It is a break for a reason! Why should I give up more of my own (not to mention my family's) precious time? Leave school work for school!
Keep this foremost in your mind
before you utter a word of reproach, or criticism, before you speak to
parents about their parenting or to parents about their children and
their intelligence, their learning ability, achievement, capabilities,
handicaps, etc. You get the idea. Think before you speak, and remember
that the words we speak can haunt and damage children and their parents
By the way, this includes any
written words: suggestions for writing improvement or a letter home
about why Johnny is misbehaving in class. I like to remind teachers to
pretend you are writing the note or speaking the words to your
child. What words would wound you forever? What notes would make you
I will relate a short tale as
regards to this. I just came home from the shop of a former parent of
one of my students who runs a jewelry shop. I had a dead watch I thought
she could fix.
I had taught her son, long ago, in
middle school. I taught him English and Literature in seventh grade. He
is now thirty, and has just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, due to
forceps use at birth. He is so borderline that it was difficult to
discern a problem in school. It was simply put that… he had learning
problems. Most of his school life was miserable. He couldn’t tie his
shoes, and P.E. teachers made fun of him for this. He couldn’t write,
and his third grade teacher made him sit outside the classroom door.
By the time I started to work with
him, I realized he had problems, and the parents were up front about
it—which helped. We decided to help him and I decided to do
no harm. A sweeter, gentler, kinder young boy no one could have
found. It would have been easy for me to fail him or write him off, but
I did neither. Not because I am a saint. I have made my share of many
mistakes, but never through intentional cruelty, usually just through my
I simply modified his assignments
(quietly) the best I could. His writing was impossible, so either I or
his parents transcribed, or I tried oral responses—which he could do.
I cared about this sensitive soul and wanted his journey with me to be
as joyful and pain-free as I could make it.
Others in middle school and high
school helped him too, and he was able to graduate and works with his
parents now, is a masseuse part-time, and is functional. According to
his mother, he felt great relief when he heard the diagnosis. I can only
imagine how hellish it has been for him to not know why he is different.
The truth is that for me, he was a
gift. I can still see his blonde hair and cherubic face sitting in the
front row of my class. I will never forget his kind ways, and I pray he
will not forget mine either, and that I eased his passage to learning
and adulthood. Remember this story. It has been over fifteen years since
I have seen this boy, who is now a man—but his parents have never
forgotten me or I them or him.
This means that you are aware of the
many factors in schools that can hurt children and take steps to prevent
This includes: adhering to fire,
disaster drills, and safety procedures in the building (includes
attending training and learning, reading manuals, posting exit maps and
procedures as required, checking the identification of visitors to the
This also includes reporting parents
who are abusive—this can be done anonymously now and in most states-
it is a crime, and you can lose your license, if you do not report it.
This includes reporting teachers on
your campus, whom you have witnessed or have strong evidence regarding,
abusing children or using legal or illegal drugs while working. If your
evidence is strong enough, it is your obligation to report it to your
administrator, and if he/she does nothing, to then report this person to
the legal authorities. It is
your business, if the teacher next door is drinking while on the job.
Not only are our reputations being damaged by immoral or unethical
behavior like this, but trust in a community is severely damaged when
this happens. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but usually someone knows
something or suspects something, but we remain quiet. Why? Our loyalty
does not lie with these types of people, but to the children we are
sworn to protect.
Last, do not forget that
bullying—in all forms—is abusive and many believe that it leads to
violence and rage. Witness Columbine and the many other school shootings
in this country. While it may seem convenient to blame parents, it is
also OUR responsibility to observe, protect, and intervene. This may
mean training for your campus regarding bullying and intervention
techniques. or lacking that reading a book recommended by your
counselor. There are wonderful programs out there, so don’t let your
lack of knowledge be an excuse.
I will never forget the two
incidents in my teaching career that exemplified this commandment.
In walked a surly, long-haired, six
foot tall juvenile into my eighth grade English class. With a sardonic
grin he fell into a chair, and slumped down, sticking his legs out into
the aisle. He was devilishly good-looking and as I was soon to find out
very popular with boys and girls in the school—who seemed to respect
him a great deal.
Warily heading to the front of the
class, I began to teach. Halfway through, I broke for class work and
homework assignments. He ignored the work and began drawing. As I drew
closer I viewed the most exquisite art work I have ever seen. I
expressed admiration for his work and asked him if he was in Art class.
No, he replied.
After the day was over I headed to
the counselor to find out more about this young man. Apparently he had a
very bad reputation. I insisted he be allowed to take Art and went to
speak to the Art teacher. Of course, his schedule had to be changed and
he was moved out of my room.
I know you may think that was my
motivation… but I assure you it was not. He had a talent I had never
seen before in one so young.
She said, “One mistake and he’s
“Fair enough, just give him a
chance,” I murmured.
The next morning he was gone to
another English class. I saw the Art teacher several days later and
asked her how he was doing.
She said,” He’s no trouble. As a
matter of fact, he’s a big help. He cleans up and carries materials
“Is he as good as he appeared to
“He’s teaching me things I
didn’t even know,” she said.
In my second year of middle school
at another campus, an African –American juvenile, convicted of sexual
assault, sauntered into my class and sat across two chairs in the back
of my remedial English class. (They had those types of classes then).
slammed his books down on his desk and gave me a belligerent look. I
really was scared to death. Our turning moment came later in the month.
We warily tried to respect each other. But one day he refused to stand
up for the pledge.
“Get your ass up and stand up. I
can’t make you say the pledge, but you can stand up and be respectful
of YOUR fathers, brothers, and uncles who shed their blood for that
flag,” I said. See what I mean
But the funny thing is, is that it
worked. I meant it, and he knew it. I helped him think about the fact
that probably just as many African-Americans have shed their blood for
this country and flag as whites. He was showing disrespect for them, not
me. He never gave me any trouble after that. I respected him and helped
him learn and I think he respected me.
Due to some events in my life, I had
to leave that position that year at mid-year. No,
it was not due to stupidity on my part. I heard later that he threw
chairs across the room with the new teacher, and was expelled.
It is ironic I mention middle school
incidents. I guess it is because, usually, elementary children are so
easy to love. Not always, of course, but for the most part. Sometimes,
it is harder with the older ones.
that for some children, you may be the only person that may ever care
about them, or believe in them.
Your job is to teach AND help them
learn. It is not enough to write
assignments on the board, teach beautifully, or assign exciting projects
or books to read…if they are not learning.
How do you know if they are
learning? Ask them. If they can’t answer, or won’t answer you, use a
form of assessment that measures MASTERY. Warning this is not usually a
test made by the state, the district, or some textbook, but one you have
designed yourself or planned as an assessment when you planned the
If you do not know to plan
assessment for learning and mastery as part of the teaching or lesson
plan, then that’s a whole other chapter.
I can tell you briefly these things
help: let them teach and re-teach each other when learning, let them
work in groups, give them plenty of practice, re-teach often, when
needed, do not move too fast, do not assume everyone has learned because
you have taught it, and do not take the results of learning as
indicators of mastery. Not the same thing. Enough said.
It seems to be an unfortunate
comment on the times that teachers who are not certified in an area or
subject matter are being asked or forced to teach in a subject
unfamiliar to them.
I can’t fix that and probably most
teachers can’t either. But if you are in this position, be a
professional and learn on your own. Take classes, professional
development, audit other teachers, seek a mentor, and read professional
books and magazines. Many professional journals are online now.
There’s no excuse why a teacher can’t spend an hour a day reading to
further his/her education.
If you are teaching in an
area/subject that you are certified in, do not become complacent. Use
last year’s lesson plans as ideas, but do not repeat them. You have a
different set of students with different capabilities. You have a
different schedule. This all means different learning and achievement.
Also, keep learning. There are few
things worse than an experienced teacher who is so sure he/she is right
and his/her way is the only way to teach. Not only is this a big
turn-off for other kids and teachers, it is for parents, as well. That
is arrogance and complacency at its worst.
New information regarding learning
bombards us with how little we really know about how the brain works.
Keep learning, reading, attending professional development.
I am also in favor of knowing some
of the obvious basics that are the foundation of all learning as tried
and true pillars:
Simple to complex is usually best.
Alphabet and Phonics mastery
Pre-teach the foundational skills
basic to learning your lessons
Spelling and writing are integrative
and essential to each other.
Teach the student in the way he/she
Modify to meet student’s needs.
Keep learning fun.
Observe your students and give them
Have a passion for what you do.
Easy to say, isn’t it. But you
must love teaching, kids, and have a great passion to see the light that
enters their eyes when they have discovered new material. There is no
greater high in the natural world.
you are bored with life and teaching, please…please… do us all a
favor and find something else to do that lights your fire.
I don’t really know how to tell
you to light what might not be there, but you might keep these ideas in
Make sure you balance your life with
play, fun, and hobbies. Don’t neglect your own children or spouse for
teaching. Get enough rest, eat right, and take frequent breaks.
I really do not think the general
public realizes how difficult teaching 25 students can be. It is
mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Pray a lot, read for
pleasure, and find pleasure in life. Whatever renews your spirits and
soul, helps breathe new life into your love for teaching.
I know the pay is often poor, and
some teachers have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.
This is a terrible invitation for
teachers to leave the field, and communities that support low pay for
teachers usually get what they pay for.
I was just thinking the other day
how ironic it is that some professionals have no problem buying big,
expensive cars, homes, and clothes because …” you get what you pay
But they rarely apply that to
schools and teacher’s salaries.
How can I do that, you ask?
Good question, and it may be a hard
one, but not impossible.
One teacher can make a tremendous
difference and we all have heard the stories about those teachers. And
you do not have to write a book about it, or make a movie either, to do
A first step is to join the P.T.A.
or P.T.O. at your school and become active—within reason. Help out
with fund raisers, community drives, or ideas to encourage the children
to be a helpful part of the community. Serve on the board, if you can.
Serve on community boards, district
groups, or brainstorming groups. Work on committees on your campus to
improve standards of learning for teachers.
Join professional; organization
devoted to learning and helping kids learn.
Become certified in areas of need,
and be willing to learn from other great teachers.
Represent your community or school
when you are able with pride, confidence, and professionalism. Do not
gossip or belittle your school or your district. Dress professionally.
Tight, revealing, or sloppy clothes indicate a lack of self-esteem and
pride regarding yourself.
It is not a contradiction when I say
this in light of my comments regarding reporting abusive behavior. This
is plain old courtesy and good manners, which seems to be a dying
You can still and should show
respect for all professionals in your building; from the janitor to the
school secretary. This means being courteous and polite, saying please
and thank you, often. Asking politely for something is mature behavior,
instead of acting like outraged children that you do not have it NOW.
The Golden Rule to “do unto others
as you would have them do unto you” still applies everywhere. Even if
other people do not abide by it, you can. You can turn the other cheek,
when you need to. I am by no means suggesting that you let others abuse,
belittle, or insult you, and take it. But you can respond like an adult
without insult and disparagement.
You may have noticed that everyone
has a chip on their shoulder lately and flies into a rage over the
slightest incident. (Witness road rage, temper tantrums in stores.) This
is not assertive behavior, this is adolescence, immaturity… refusing
to grow to adulthood.
A school system is a social group
nurtured by courtesy, empathy, and understanding. Do your part to be the
adult. Speak to everyone every day. Say Good Morning. Tell people
goodbye. Ask if they need help. Help out when you can. Don’t fight
with other teachers or gossip about them.
I admit that at times this has been
hard for me. I have seen a change that were made for political reasons
or for personal aggrandizement and it was very discomfiting for me.
But in general I can tell you that
most administrative personnel care about kids as much as teachers. They
have a hard job to oversee the general plan and all the details. It is
particularly hard when they want to implement change and they have few
Most teachers will tell a principal
why all the changes they want to implement won’t work, but these same
teachers rarely have an alternative solution or have even thought about
it. Complainers and gripers bring everybody down.
Remember creating a community of
learners can not be done with the leaders. Do your part. Willingly
cooperate and help the leaders. They will see you as part of a team
instead of someone they wish would leave the community. If change is
happening, try to become part of the learning curve, you may be
surprised at how much you learn, and this may change your opinion of the
change being implemented.
Maybe you can’t stay in teaching.
Maybe the salary is so low, you can’t survive. No one should be forced
to starve, just because they are willing to serve a cause greater than
themselves. But if you love it, and are good at it, even if you are
approaching burn-out, try to stay in the field of education.
Becoming a principal is not the
answer, if you love teaching. Trust me, most of them are handling
paperwork and bureaucratic demands; they are not teaching and working
with kids on a minute by minute basis. If they were ever any good at
teaching, most of them miss it, and envy you.
Taking a leave of absence may work
for you. Approaching teaching from a different angle may work. The Peace
Corps still needs teachers. Teaching overseas can be exciting. Asian
countries always need English teachers. Going back to school may help
re-ignite the fire and passion for you.
Taking off a couple of years to try
something else is always okay. You may find that you missed teaching and
wanted to go back. Schools respect that, so don’t worry that you
won’t find a job.
The Montessori method is both a methodology and educational philosophy. It was originally developed in the early 1900s by Dr. Maria Montessori as a way to educate poor children in her native Italy. Many Montessori schools are preschool or elementary school in level, but there are some Montessori programs which have all grade levels up to and including High School.
There are currently over 3,000 privately held Montessori schools in the USA, as well as several hundred public schools that include Montessori programs (see below). Most schools have a primary program (from 3-6 years) and often a lower elementary (6-9 years). Upper elementary programs (9-12 years) are less common, although about one school in eight will have this program. At this time Montessori junior highs and high schools are rare. However, the first public Montessori high school in the country, Clark Montessori located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was started in 1994. Several pilot Montessori junior highs, like the Arthur Morgan School in North Carolina, have opened based on writings by Montessori on erdkinder, or "earth children", which was a term Montessori coined for children ages 12 through 18. L & L Montessori in Southport, NC, teaches children from age 3 years up to 8th grade. In 1997, New Century Montessori High School in Grand Rapids, MI, was established as one of the first public Montessori high schools in the country. It graduated its first class of 32 seniors in 2000. Some of these graduates had been involved in the Grand Rapids Montessori schools since Pre-K and Kindergarten. Grand Rapids Public Schools continues to offer one of the most comprehensive Montessori programs in the country. Schools such as Shelton, Barrie, New Gate, and the Visitation Academy of St. Louis teach students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade while the Hershey School provides Montessori philosophy and practice for the Middle School and High School years.
Montessori programs in public schools
A survey conducted in 1981 collected data from 25 of the approximately 50 school districts nationwide known to have Montessori programs at the time. The only other study of public Montessori programs is much more recent. During school year 1990-91, this study received responses from 63 of the 120 school districts or schools to whom surveys were sent. Results from this study indicate that the number of students in the schools or school districts averaged 233, with an average of 10 teachers per program. A total of 32, or 58%, of the schools surveyed reported that they were magnet schools. A total of 69% of the Montessori programs shared a building with other programs. District funding for the training of Montessori teachers was provided in 66% of the districts. Only 42% of the programs provided the three-year age span of three-, four-, and five-year-olds. This is indicative of the fact that the degree to which particular districts implement the Montessori model varies.
A total of 16 of the 57 schools charged tuition for some part of the program. About two thirds of the programs provided free transportation. In addition, two thirds of the districts reported that additional staff were used in the Montessori magnet schools. These factors can add to the overall costs of the program.
Part 2 of this series will focus on the Philosophy of Montessori Schools
This topic has been hotly debated recently in the International Reading Association newsletter. I'm not trying to enter this debate. This article will simply describe what we in our school have observed and detail what we've done in our classes that has worked for our students.
First off, let your students choose what they read, whether it is a
book, magazine, or whatever. It makes a huge difference in peaking their
interest. Teachers already give (and require) plenty of specific
readings through activities, literature, and in textbooks.
Students need the opportunity to read about what interests them, and
this can occur when you allow them to choose what they want to read.
By all means, continue with your regular activities, but find a way to
give your students time (in class is best) to read on their own.
Interested in FREE writing activities you can print out and use immediately in your classroom? Simply click the following link to our writing page: http://www.starteaching.com/writing.htm
In the forest Christmas is a very exciting time. All of the animals gather together to celebrate the very special day, all but one bear that is.
"Mom, what is Christmas" the little bear asked one December morning as his mom was hurriedly storing food for the winter hibernation. "Why, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, it is an extra special day, why do you ask dear?"
The little bear suddenly felt as though he would be missing something, he wanted to celebrate the holiday like the other animals in the forest. He looked outside the window to see all of his playmates decorating and having so much fun. Jerry, his mouse friend was stringing beads in the trees, Sammy the squirrel was decorating a small bush nearby and they all looked like they were having so much fun.
L.B. felt very sad as he watched all of his friends playing and having so much fun outside in the snow covered forest. His mom just kept packing and getting ready for their winter hibernation. "Hurry JB, we need to pack our things and be ready, the hard freeze is coming and we are nearly ready."
The little bear just could not bring himself away from the window; he was just fascinated to see all of this activity. He also saw a large sign that read " CHRISTMAS PARTY AT 6:00 PM TONIGHT EVERYONE WELCOME". Well, the wheels were turning for the little cub; he wanted so badly to experience some of the magic of Christmas before going into hibernation for several months.
"Mom, I have an idea," he said hastily. LB just knew his mom would say no but he thought it was worth a try to ask her. "What is it dear?" There is a Christmas party in the forest tonight, can we go, can we?" His mom just stood staring at the bear wondering why he so wanted to go to this party. She hesitated with her answer then replied, "Sure LB, just keep packing between now and then and you can go to the party, you have been a good bear all year so this is the least I can do."
The bear just jumped up and down, he went to the window and yelled out to all of his friends that he will be at the party tonight. The bear packed his winter goods for the rest of the afternoon until time to get ready for the party. He had never been to a party, and this one was extra special since it was a "Christmas party." LB suddenly remembered that he needed to bring a gift to this party, "Oh no I don't have a gift for anyone," he exclaimed.
His mother heard LB and with a sad look told him that there was not much time to get a gift and he would just have to go to the party without a gift. LB's mother knew this did not please the little bear, he so wanted to fit in and be liked and this would not be a good thing to come empty handed.
"I have one idea," his mother said. "Do you see that box in the corner with the big bow on top?" The little bear knew that box was for him for some time now and it took everything he had not to peek into it, "Yes Mom I see it." The little bear had a feeling of what his mother would say but he listened anxiously anyway.
"That was a gift to you from your father and I, do you want to bring it to the party, it is not much but it is better to give than to receive LB and your friends who are less fortunate could really use what is in that box. The little bear thought about it and then remembered how a lot of the forest friends told him that they envied him for having two parents who loved him as many of them were orphans, they also envied him for having a warm place to sleep in the winter time. "Ok mom, I will bring that gift to the party tonight, thank you for loving me and being my Mom" The bear hugged his mom as a small tear came to her eye "I love you too son."
The bear got ready and went to the party excited as can be. He put his wrapped box under a small decorated tree with several other small gifts from various forest friends. The animals sang, danced and enjoyed the Christmas air in the forest. The small lights glistened against the fresh snow and the air was much colder than they expected. "Its gift time", exclaimed Sammy the squirrel. The animals all exchanged gifts and opened the gifts with much anticipation. LB's gift was opened by another small bear named Bobby. Bobby lost his mom last year and now just lives with his father. He always looks very sad and does not have his mom to help him pack for the winter hibernation. He opened the gift and exclaimed, "A scarf", he was so happy to receive this gift, as he did not have a scarf to keep warm in the winter. "Oh thank you LB, this is just what I needed, how did you know?"
LB felt so glad that he was able to help one of the other animals and it didn't matter that he would not be receiving a gift on Christmas morning, he already received his gift.
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