REPOST: A “Forgotten” Best Practice – Making A Difference In Students’ Lives

I’m about to begin my 29th or 30th year as a teacher (I’ve lost count), and I’m pleased to say that I’m raring to go. There are just so many exciting possibilities. Having said that, I also see many barriers that continue to muck things up. I decided to look back at posts I’d written at, or near the beginning of the school year. This post comes from 2006, (You might want to check out Doug Noon’s comment on the original) and I couldn’t believe how much of it still pertains to today. I also had to fight off the urge to edit some of my usage and wording … I can tell that mostly my writing has improved … at least in part because I’ve been writing and also reading with more of a writers eye I think – I’m not saying I’m a good writer,  just that I can tell I’m doing better when I have the time and not posting on the run. Oh, it’s my 30th year teaching I just realized. Hope you find this interesting being 4 years old (and the links still work too … amazing! : )

Before about 8 years ago some of us recognized that a student raised in poverty (both of money and/or spirit) or in an environment of fear and upheaval was probably just not going to be focused on school, and would very often be a negative, distracted, distractive member of the classroom. I was lucky enough to teach at a school that had an underlying theme of dealing with these kids in a way that would hopefully lead them to realize it was their situation – not themselves that was bad, and realizing the rest of us were not like the people that had “messed them up“ we were not the ones to take it out on. (“We” being students and staff.)

Teachers and administrtors saw that they got counseling of one form or another, made sure they knew the rules and norms of behavior AND we took the time in our classrooms to have class meetings and teach lessons on how to treat one another and discuss issues and point out why some kids acted the way they did and role played how to deal with different situations etc. We had some major successes  – note these successes were not about test scores directly (but indirectly to the max), they were about changing peoples lives for the better. The time we took to do this was even partially “made-up” because overall student behavior was better, so there was less class time taken up by disruptions – it was more than worth it – and you felt like you were really helping to make a difference.

Many of our most troubled students were now able to focus enough to begin to learn the academics they had missed while they were beating themselves up inside (and some of us on the outside). Realize the really, really troubled students had missed (and still do) not just most of the curriculum (since preschool) that they were supposed to be learning, but also how to do school at all. They were much more ready to learn these things now, but it takes a long time to retrieve 5 or 6 or more years of school you missed – missed because you were there in class in body, but not in mind or spirit. That’s a ton to catch-up on. Not just the reading, writing and math, but the when to sharpen your pencil, and how to borrow something, or be a member of a group, etc. etc. etc. (One of the rubs with NCLB is that these kids that are just now able “to do school” – their test scores are taken as a failure because they are not at grade level – they don’t look at improvement, if they grow at least a year in a year that should be adequate growth – I feel schools that turn these kids around should be given an award not basically reprimanded for helping kids and families)

One of the pieces of fallout from the testing craze has been the time to do this kind of work with children. And because its not a focus, many teachers now have little experience working with kids in this way – “the non-conformist students just screw up the test scores” that’s how they are seen too often because we don’t have the time or resources to deal with them positively. It just takes too much time.

Remember this?:

All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten – Robert Fulghum 1986

Share everything.
Play Fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon …

Do they still have time to teach this in kindergarten?

Doug Noon over at Borderland writes:

When we looked at the test scores of our students, I noticed that all of my below-proficient-scoring students had histories of domestic abuse. I raised my hand and asked, “Will the administration allow us to include Domestic Abuse as a demographic category?” because it seemed like a significant variable. The whole staff was silent. My principal waited a moment for the question to sink in and diplomatically replied, “No.” The meeting continued.

How many of us are “using data to drive instruction” these days? I see some hands up out there. I propose we add some categories to the data so that we get a truer picture of ALL the remediation we might need to apply: Poverty level, parents’ educational level, home situation(s), number of times a student has moved during their school career, nutrition, health – you get the idea.

Stephanie at Change Agency chimed in on Doug’s post with this:

If we are to achieve the stated goal of leaving no child behind, then the effort has to become a community-wide goal that involves everyone – and simply analyzing test scores to death is not the solution.

I am optimistic overall that we might be starting to see the light and realize that relying so much on testing, and therefore reading and math only instruction might not be the way to make a difference for our students. (2010 update – Boy was I wrong here!) My current principal seems to really, really get this – this is one of the reasons I am so looking forward to this, my 26th year teaching.

Doug supports my optimism by pointing us to an article in the New York Times – It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap – By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, Published: August 9, 2006

Check it out – it brings hope!
Learning is messy!

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10 thoughts on “REPOST: A “Forgotten” Best Practice – Making A Difference In Students’ Lives

  1. Hi, I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. I will be commenting on this post and another one two weeks from now for a blogging project.
    I found your topic to be not only intriguing, but a subject all teachers and prospective teachers should be aware of and further observe. When I was in high school, there were not any programs or counseling groups to help troubled children or teens. Many simply took the “easy” way out and quit when they reached the age of sixteen. These students who act out and make poor grades are not failures, but are suffering from domestic abuse, poverty, depression, or other problems outside of the classroom. I believe this dilemma desperately needs to be put to more teachers’ attention.
    The link between low-scoring students and domestic abuse or poverty are apparent and can be solved in schools everywhere if teachers and staff will only understand the importance of “No Child Left Behind” and take the initiative. It will open a world of opportunities and create ambition for these children if their lives at home and very different personalities are put into the equation.

  2. Hi Tara – I think you are right. Perhaps we would get a pretty big “bang for the buck” if we invested in the kinds of programs you describe. I also wonder if we could effect the drop out rate positively if we transformed our schools to make them places more students wanted to be. If we offered a more varied curriculum that appealed to more of students’ talents and areas that they might become passionate about. Just like a student that is good at and loves basketball, and makes the school team and because they love playing they are willing to put greater effort into their schoolwork and get the help they need so they can keep their grades high enough to get to play even though school or certain subjects might be very difficult for them. I wonder how many students would stay in school if the activity or topic they were passionate about was offered? Art, graphic arts, more varied music, fashion design? What activities or subject beyond sports could you see not only getting students excited about school, but making it a place they are willing to do the hard work to continue on in even if they have the kinds of lives you describe?

  3. That is a difficult question to answer and would require much thought and surveying. I think the first step to focus on should be how to counsel these students even if they are good at hiding their problems. Many students will never come forth on their own with issues they are facing for fear of rejection or embarrassment. They should probably not be singled out at first, but the entirety of the school should be given assignments designed to discover personality traits and interests. Programs, activities, and subjects can then be derived from these findings. The primary subjects and sporting teams are all that seem to matter in most schools. While they are definitely important (sports not so much…I feel they are overrated), I agree with you that it is more vital to help children find their passions in life so they can feel confident and know what they want to accomplish. Another factor I believe would help is simply giving more rewards for good behavior, such as being allowed to dress out of uniform once a week (appropriately of course). I wish I had more ideas right now, but this will definitely be something I will think more about.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this blog. I’m a deputy head of a primary school in Warrington, England and I love the passion with which you’re starting a new school year. We also face the same problem of testing in England. You may be interested to read this blog, it’s my ex headteacher’s blog (who retired last year).

  5. I forgot to include links to my personal blog and class blog. I also should have mentioned that I will be summarizing my visits to your blog with a post to my blog on September 12. Sorry, it is taking me a while to get used to the organization this class requires.

  6. I once had been a student teacher and there are so many things I have learned on being a teacher. You don’t just teach them but you actually share a part of your life to them. It’s amazing and it is always wonderful being that.

  7. I totally agree that schools are totally caught up in the numbers of the test scores rather than the students themselves. The school systems need to realize that students are people. Future educators, and doctors, and tellers, etc. Schools also need to put more creative flexibility into their programs. Give them a few classes to look forward to during the day.

  8. Hi,
    My name is Cassandra Williams. I am in Dr. Strange EDM 310 class. I attend the University of South Alabama. Elem. Education is my 2nd major and I really enjoying the experience. I enjoyed reading this article, it gave me ideas that I can use when educating the students that I come across.
    I also agree that a lesson should be included in teaching to educate our students about others situation, so they can have a better understanding of a situation. Seeing things for themselves and learning from someone of there own age, to me is a great way to get children to understand a subject. I believe the more you know about something, the more comfortable you feel when you are faced with the situation. I also would like for my students classroom to be a place were my students would want to be and learn. In order for that to happen we have to learn about each other and we also have to learn from one another.
    I am really excited about teaching and can not wait to share a classroom with my students.

  9. Hi,
    I am Samuel Wicker, and I am a student of Dr. John Strange in his EDM 310 class. I feel like you have brought up a great point that is often over looked by most teachers.
    In primary education, knowing the students background is sometimes very important. A student might miss behave not because they are “bad”, but rather they would rather stay at school in after school detention than go back home. As educators, we should be aware of this and be able to help the student in his or her situation. I do not think that one can be taught to teach in the class room, but rather they learn to teach by teaching.

  10. I am a student teacher and have been learning lots on the pit falls of high stakes, standardized testing. It seems many of the text and articles I am required to read share in this perspective and pre-service teachers are learning in theory how to still be student-centered despite all the emphasis in testing. I appreciate the share in thoughts of adding more categories (poverty, abuse, etc.) to share a truer depiction to the public on what issues our students and teachers are facing. The public today still does not understand the various details that come into play when looking at test scores.

    Congratulations on your 30th year of teaching! This feat is inspiring to a new teacher. It is great to see how blogging has helped improve your writing. For my technology class we are required to blog every week and I am now seeing how valuable blogging could be to capture thoughts and see growth. I plan to use the message shared above about …situations being bad and they themselves are not what is bad. I also like the description on the mind and spirit being present in the learning.