I finished the 2016 Mark Twain nominee, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, a few weeks ago. It was nice to review the old tale, but this book failed to deliver an intriguing storyline. My daughter read the book before I did, and in a rare occasion, she expressed her dislike of it. I share her opinion. While I don't like writing a negative review about a fellow author's work, I just cannot endorse this one.
Here is the book's trailer (which doesn't seem to have the same attitude as the book):
When we interviewed prospective new teachers, last week, one of the compelling questions asked of them was this one:
What does the phrase ALL STUDENTS CAN LEARN mean to you?
Most of the candidates ignored or glossed over the last part. Admittedly it may be a curve ball. "At high levels" makes a difference in the question, and I would have completely respected anyone who said that it was an impractical proposition. I could hear myself wondering how I would have answered the question when I was being interviewed 25 years ago.
That would have been a fiasco!
Then I wondered how I would answer the question today, knowing what I know, and knowing the question ahead of time. "I think I understand what you are asking," I would have replied. "I believe a teacher should teach to the top student in the class. I believe a teacher should challenge the top student in the class. At the same time, there is an art to bringing the other students along for the ride."
I try to hone this art, but it definitely isn't an easy concept. By teaching to the top, a teacher demonstrates respect to students who can all to often be left out. But hey! Those kids don't need the teacher's attention, do they? Those kids are high achievers already. Teachers should focus on the ones that need to catch up instead. I hear you, and I understand the idea. But this isn't a medical triage where the worst cases must be treated first.
I believe all students can be taught at high levels and every student can learn something from the lesson. Whether every pupil understands in entirety may be in question, but every student can be impressed upon to learn everything s/he can learn within the realm of a standard or objective.
It may be unfair to ask rookies a question like that, but at the same time, we're asking a high-level question to see who might rise to the occasion.
A further interview with our new kindercamper:
Well, I guess that about covers it. He'll begin working on his Master's degree, next week.
My son's report about his first day at kindercamp:
I'd say he's sounding more like a high school boy than a five-year-old.
My son in attending kindercamp, this week.
He was pretty apprehensive, so prior to his first day, I tried to prepare him for the big event:
Me: You know what happens when you disobey the teacher, don't you?
Little Gentleman: You get sent to the apprentice's office.
A few days ago, our family attended the annual Encore Awards at Joplin Little Theatre. With the theater season just ended, we were reunited with our theater family. You'll remember that my daughter had a role in the 75th anniversary musical revue, JLT in Concert. Then, she and I both had parts in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My role in the play was insignificant, but hers was what I describe as the "stand-out" part.
That's why she garnered an Encore Award. Her award is the Angel Guild Cherub Award. She earned her plaque because she was such a natural in her first speaking role in the Christmas show.
For a person who is NOT teaching summer school, these days off are keeping me quite busy. Already I have photographed a wedding, visited a natural history museum, led singing and participated in church activities, vacuumed floors, washed dishes, mowed grass, trimmed bushes, raked last fall's remaining leaves, and daily parented my two children. I've also preached at a church in Columbus, Kansas (with plans to return at least three more times in the next two months), completed the planning of two major multi-disciplinary units, organized some classroom cabinets, and assisted with interviewing candidates for teaching positions for school (There have been some changes in our staff since Fly Up day, but those announcements aren't mine to make.).
This week started with taking my youngest to kindercamp next week. Then, next week, we're sending the oldest to Bible camp. In July, we'll take her to the summer workshops at Joplin Little Theatre. I'm preparing to take over the adult Wednesday Bible class at church for several weeks (topic: the Names of God), preaching in Kansas (for a little congregation in Columbus on the 21st), and in Missouri (in Joplin this Sunday evening, the 14th, and in Nevada on the 28th), and somehow squeezing in a couple of quick vacation trips with the family. It really does sound like a lot, and I'm afraid it will only serve to make my summer break seem much shorter than it is.
Still, I'm looking forward to discovering what the next school year holds for us, both in my classroom and in our district as a whole. After 25 years, this job never fails to surprise me with changes every year.
Caution: I'm writing in generalities here to make a point.
It's difficult to pinpoint when it happened. It wasn't that long ago when the Barbie doll was being criticized, and ultimately recalled, for saying, "Math class is tough!" The stereotype of the day was that boys were better at Math. Of course, that stereotype may have started long before the 1990s, and you can't Barbie for it.
Fortunately, I avoided that conversation when the gap in my classroom was always small.
However, in recent years, the trend seems to be shifting. It's easily observed. Generally speaking, girls appear to be outperforming boys. More and more girls seem to be qualifying for gifted classes (They are letting their giftedness show.). More and more girls are making the Math teams. Girls are earning higher grades and seem to have better attitudes toward learning than their male counterparts. The same was true of the graduation I just attended out of town: there were 16 students in the graduating class who scored 4.0 averages and above. Of that number the resounding majority were girls.
I don't know what's going on - or it is only happening in settings surrounding me - but when I observe a pattern of boys sleeping and yawning in class and girls eagerly smiling and answering questions, it gets me thinking. When I see boys with a severe lack of focus, while girls are thinking more creatively and constructively, it gets me worried. For so many years, society has discussed the unequal footing on which a woman stands in contrast to a man, but now the tide seems to be turning. I can assure you that if it goes unchecked, it will not stop with equality, but that same tide may soon be out for men. When will men be the ones holding the Equal Rights signs on the picket lines, but that may not be true: some of those future men may still be playing Minecraft and trading Pokemon cards instead of filling the jobs or the picket lines. I know I state this in a cheeky way, but I'm just trying to make the point.
When will the boys step it up? Some do, as they always have, but more must. Some study at home, some put forth the effort to complete work, and some have a desire to improve, but more must. More must learn to ask questions, more must overcome bad habits, and more must realize that midnight button pushing and the avoidance of work are setting them further and further behind. Too often mountains appear before them, and rather than climb the mountain one foothold at a time, they simply turn around and go back to bed.
Boys, the girls are climbing. It's time to wake up. Let's make something happen. Prove my observations wrong. I'm looking for you to succeed, but I can't make you succeed. I can't succeed for you. I can't climb for you.
Don't take this in the wrong way. I don't write out of fear that the ladies are taking over the world. I don't write out of a sense that men should regain a superior stance over women. Far from it! I fully desire for the highest qualified to get and retain positions of power, no matter the skin color, no matter the gender. I just want to see my boys (and girls) make their best efforts to be all they can be in life. I want for all to achieve.
Wars have consequences. People lose limbs and lives.
People see tragedy that changes their spirits. Cultures and countries change.
Here's a graphic that illustrates just part of the story.
The latest Deeper Learning Project is up and running for next year's class to pilot. This project, dubbed Evidence! is one that introduces the concepts of observation and data collection in all areas of the curricula. For instance, we can easily see a correlation between solving for an unknown integer in Algebra (by using the information presented) and in inferring from a provided statement or paragraph (or crime scene) in reading. In each case, students must look at the facts present, follow stated rules for solving (e.g., finding patterns or using the inverse operation), and solve based on those basic observations without reading too much into the situation.
The Evidence! project takes students at the beginning of the school year into concepts that span the rest of their lives. With strict adherence to the plan within the 15-day structure, we will soon find ourselves learning about all sorts of things, including the prehistoric Mississippian People, Rocks and Minerals, Multiples and Patterns, the Mystery Genre, and much more. Minds will be reeling with logic puzzles and red herrings, and before we know it, the class will even solve, or attempt to solve, a "murder".
We used to be the Cecil Floyd Cougars. About a decade ago, that changed. Dr. Simpson, then superintendent of Joplin Schools, had a plan to help unite our schools and our city by having all of our schools share the same mascot - the eagle. It was the high school mascot, and therefore we could all be Eagles from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It made sense.
But I didn't like the idea at first. I thought it would rob our individual schools of their identities, their personalities, their individual pride. I thought we were turning into cookie-cutter schools. Every school would look the same, every teacher would act the same, and every kid would be...well, a cookie. No sprinkles or icing - just a cookie that looked and became like all the others.
I was wrong.
At the same time this change was occurring, another change came along - the design of the official Joplin Eagle. Yes, I think we all see the similarities in our local eagle and one from Philadelphia, but the Joplin Eagle is now iconic in our region. Before, businesses did not tout our schools in their windows. Real estate ads did not promote housing as being in Joplin Schools as they did the surrounding communities. But that changed, and it gave us, again, unity.
And from that moment, the eagles - the Joplin Eagles - began to soar.
Nowadays we talk extensively about soaring, flying, gliding along the air currents well above our prey. We think of the eagle as a predator, diving to the surface of the sea and plucking a plump fish to rip up and swallow. We imagine soaring above this terrestrial ball, looking down on people, and rooftops, and mountains majesty. Indeed, the eagle is our national symbol, a resplendent and powerful representation of an entity with which others must contend and respect.
Our little Eagles are taught much of this from the beginning, in kindergarten. They are encouraged to soar.
But I wonder...
When Dr. Simpson pushed to consolidate all of our mascots into one, I encouraged him not to call the elementary eagles by some other name, like the Eaglets, or the Hatchlings. To call us by smaller names just because our clientele tend to be smaller people was still derogatory. It would make us feel like less a part of the same team, like the older kids had more value than those who were just hatching. And even so, it would mean that our visual mascot would be a fuzzy ugly runt of a thing and would lack all of the majesty of an eagle in its full wingspan. Or worse: the elementary mascot would be cute and cartoony, indicating subconsciously that we were not to be taken as seriously as the older kids.
I'm happy to say that we are all Eagles today, sharing a single icon.
That being said, I respectfully disagree with the manner in many schools in this great nation are depicted as "poverty schools", or "low-income schools". In fact many in the educational system would subconsciously desire to be labels as Title One - an indication that a threshold number of students are not capable of paying full price for their hot lunch from the school cafeteria. School officials at all levels tend to lament the day they lose that distinction, because it means losing some federal funding.
But isn't that the goal? Isn't it our goal to lift our children out of "poverty"? Isn't that a noble goal?
Must we continually refer to our patrons as poor? Must we constantly talk about our schools as social programs accommodating people who are incapable of providing for themselves. I don't mean that they are really incapable, that they are truly helpless, because they absolutely are not; I mean, by constantly degrading our patrons, by repeatedly calling them poor, lazy, disengaged, and even apathetic, we are painting with very broad brush. And it is a brush that paints false picture.
I believe that I can and do influence the world around me. I believe that the children in my class can grow and positively change. I believe they can take things from our classroom and apply them to improve their personal and professional lives in the future.
I believe that repeatedly calling people idiots produces idiots. Seriously calling someone stupid produces stupidity, just as taunting people with the terms of victim, bully, racist, poor, and lazy - even with the best of intentions - only promotes those feelings! I would rather we think differently about ourselves. If we are any of these, if we truly are disengaged from our community and apathetic to community standards and achievement, we must check ourselves and change.
When I was a boy, my parents subjected me to the horribly boring (I thought so at the time.) television series, The Waltons. The show was about a multi-generational family living on the side of a "mountain" during the Great Depression. I remember, on several occasions, that the poor people living near "Walton's Mountain" would attempt to help each other in their need. While this is the right and noble thing to do, and while it was even the right thing to do during the 2011 EF5 tornado that struck Joplin, the people on the TV show would often be heard refusing the help. They would, more times than not, tell people that, "We don't accept charity," or that, "We have our pride." How long has it been since you heard something like that?
Instead, because we have torn people down so long by telling them that they are hungry or shoeless, they have come to expect us to feed and shoe them. After all is said and done, we haven't done them a favor by calling them names or identifying their problems for them.
In fact, we are sending mixed signals! We tell them they are poor and helpless, lazy and don't care, and then we expect them to soar with the Eagles. I'm all for saying the truth, but at the same time, we must not continue telling them that, since they are these things and those things, that they are incapable of being anything else. Friends, we are never destined to be what we have always been or what our parents are; instead, we can be so much more - in spite of what someone else tells us and in spite of our current circumstances.
Together, we will soar...because we can.
Has the need for good manners gone away? Even if good manners are not the fashion, they can still change the way people see you, while changing the way you carry yourself. Do yourself a favor and use some of the manners of yesteryear. May they never go out of style.
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