Friday, August 27, 2010

Good Health

"To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." ~Buddha
Today is my sister-in-law's birthday. My husband called her early early this morning to wish her a happy birthday and hoping to wake her up. But of course, she was already up and out and had run her 4 miles (something she does every day).

She makes me feel guilty. I'm lucky to get my one measly mile completed on the treadmill and that takes me all day. You can guess which one of us is thin and which of us is fat.

I've been trying to account for the difference between us, but basically we are just two completely different people, interested in completely different things.

I do think, however, that some of the difference can be traced to high school. She went to a small high school with about 30 in her graduating class. Her school had an active girls' sports program. She was the track star. Some of her records still stand.

I went to a large high school with almost 500 in my class. We had an active sports program, also, but it was all for the boys. There were absolutely no girls' activities unless you qualified for the cheerleading squad. We had P.E. classes every other day, but no other sports. Since I never made the cheer team, I was always in the bleachers destined to be a spectator.

Unfortunately, that has followed me through life. When it comes to sports and physical activity, I have continued to be a spectator. Is that because of my high school's attitude towards girl's sports and activities? I can't blame them completely, but I do think that may be part of it.

A while ago I read an article about a school that was having to make budget cuts. Of course, sports programs were on the chopping block. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that this will have life-long consequences for students. Sports programs need to exist and every child should be encouraged to participate. Schools need to find a way to fund these programs. I wish they had funded them for girls when I was in school.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Schools

There has been a lot of talk the past few days about the new $578 million school in Los Angeles. It is the most expensive school ever! Housing 4200 students, the cost per student is about $137,600. However, if the school is used for 100 years, then the price per student over that amount of time is $1,376.

So how outrageous are those numbers compared to other schools in the country? For comparison, let's use the new Aldo Leopold Middle School that just opened in Burlington, Iowa. Current registration there is about 460 students. The building cost $16.5 million. That means the price per student is about $35,869 for the first year. Again, if the building is used for 100 years, then the price drops to about $358. That's a little over one-fourth the cost of the Los Angeles school. That seem pretty outrageous to me.

Of course, the cost of living in Los Angeles (141%) is quite a bit more than in Burlington (81%). Does this account for the seemingly high cost of the school? When I looked at the median price of a home for the two cities, the Los Angeles home costs about 5 times that in Burlington ($404,400 compared to $81,600). The school's price was about 35 times greater. However, when looking at the price per student over a 100-year time period, the Los Angeles school's price is only about 4 times greater, which is actually a little less than that for houses. (

So, yes, at $578 million, the Los Angeles school is the costliest in the nation. But when taken out over a period of time, and considering the cost of living, it may not be all that pricey after all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

National Inventors' Month

I just learned that August is National Inventors' Month. Here are a few ways you can incorporate this into your lesson plans.

1. History: Have students study a few of the great inventions like the television or telephone or clock, but also consider the history of lesser, but no less important, inventions such as tissues or crayons or paper clips.

2. Language Arts: Students can research a great inventor or invention. Then write a paper or create a video presentation based on their research.

3. Science: Study the science behind an invention. For instance, what physics are involved in radio signals? What chemistry is involved in LCD, CRT, LED and plasma screens?

4. Math: Study the invention of calculators and the algorithms involved in their programming.

5. Business: Study the marketing strategies of a current inventor such as Ron Popeil.

6. Art: Design a poster featuring a great invention or inventor.

7. Music: Study great inventions in the area of music such as the electric guitar, music therapy, or how music enhances great inventions such as radio, ipods, and film.

8. Foreign Language: Study the great inventors from the countries that use the language of the course. For example, in Spanish class students could study Guillermo Gonzales Camarena (from Mexico) who invented an early color television system. In French class, they could study Louis Braille, the inventor of the braille system of printing.

9. School-wide: How neat it would be if one entire school day could be devoted to inventions and inventors. Students could concentrate on this topic in each of their classes and hopefully understand how important all their classes are to the development of new ideas and technologies. In addition, they may gain a better appreciation of the inter-connectedness of all their courses.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

First Day of School

The first day of school is so exciting. Everyone is excited...students, parents, and teachers. But it's a little difficult to talk about the first day of school because everyone is starting at different times. Around here, some schools started at the beginning of August and some won't begin until after Labor Day. So, to start with, I just want to wish everyone an exciting, productive, and safe school year.

I also want to tell a story. Last week I was talking to the father of one of my former students. He was telling me that his son, I'll call him John, had graduated from college a couple of years ago with a degree in elementary education. He hadn't found a teaching job and so had taken a few odd jobs. The father said that John could have found a job if he had been willing to move, but John had fallen in love and wanted to stay in the area. (What we don't do for love!?)

John had just taken a job in a office supply store when he got a call from the personnel director of a school system that needed a new kindergarten teacher. At the end of last school year, one of the kindergarten teachers had retired and the student numbers indicated that the teacher would not need to be replaced. However, after this year's registration, they found that the numbers of incoming students had actually increased. Fortunately, John had his application on file, received the call, and took the job.

So last week on Monday, John started his new job. He walked into his new classroom and discovered it was filled with the former teacher's supplies, books, and papers from the last 30 years. Nothing had been cleaned. Being the trooper that he is, he called his mother. Together, they began clearing out old papers. They sorted through books. They organized supplies. Mom went shopping for containers and notebooks and folders and all the things that a new teacher might need.

They worked until midnight and then started in again bright and early Tuesday morning. Throughout all this, John was having to attend new-teacher orientation and in-service meetings. And then he was told that open house would start at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. SURPRISE!

As John's father was telling this story, John was experiencing his first open house. Dad then told me that he had a new-found appreciation for teachers. He said that never knew all that a teacher was expected to do. He didn't realize that teaching was such a small part of a teacher's job. He also didn't realize how much of a teacher's salary goes right back into the classroom. (Most sources put this number at somewhere between $200 and $1000, but many spend much more than this.)

Needless to say, John has been thrown into the lion's den of teaching. John will soon discover that every day of teaching will be frustrating. Every day of teaching will have chaos. Every day of teaching will have some new experience that could never be taught in a college course. Every day John will work harder than he ever has. At some point every day, John will wonder why he decided to become a teacher.

But, every day will also have joy. Every day some student will amaze him. Every day some student will make him laugh. And hopefully, every day, something will happen that helps John remember why he decided to become a teacher and that he'll be happy he made that decision.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Good Teacher

The following quote is from an episode of "The Office."
Jim: Sure. Michael's a good teacher. A teacher is someone who stands right next to you your whole life and never lets you do anything. That's what a teacher is, right?
I have seen a few teachers and a lot of parents fall into this trap. As the new school year starts, make sure students are doing their own work. Guide them, but make sure they read the material in their books and study their notes. Make them work through the examples in math. Students should do their own research, work their own math problems, write their own papers, and read their own novels.

The better quote is:
A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. ~Thomas Carruthers
Remember, you can watch hundreds of guitar players, but until you practice the instrument yourself, you'll never be able to play the guitar. You can watch dozens of tennis matches, but until you learn to serve the ball yourself, you'll never be a tennis player.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's Okay to Be Smart

It is okay to be smart. It is okay to be well-educated.

Lately it seems that the smart and well-educated have been put down and ridiculed. It seems that the "dumb and dumber" have become the news-makers and role-models. It seems that to be uneducated makes you a "common man;" someone to be admired. It seems that to be uninformed makes you seem "down-to-earth." To be ignorant makes you a champion of the people.

Please, please, stop this! Your children are watching you!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Worst Student Ever!

A while back, I overheard two teachers talking about their "worst" students. I started thinking about who I would consider my "worst." As it turns out, there are quite a few students I could consider the "worst," but one that stands out above all the rest.

It was my first year of teaching. I had replaced the regular teacher who had taken maternity leave. The regular teacher had been gone for several weeks and the students had been through at least half a dozen substitute teachers. I think they thought they could get rid of me, too, but I was there for the long haul.

Darla (not her real name) was a 6th grader and she was full of attitude. I didn't know much about her, but quickly learned that she was going to defy me in everything. If I gave her an assignment, she would complain that it was too many problems or that she didn't understand what she was supposed to do. I don't know why she complained because she never did any of the work I assigned anyway.

No matter what I said or did, she found fault. And it wasn't just with me, but with her classmates as well. She argued about everything and she didn't hesitate to use the colorful language of a drunken sailor (no offense to sailors). Giving her detention was pointless because she would never serve it. Sending her to the office was a waste of time because she enjoyed the time out of the classroom. She lied; she argued and fought; she had no self-control, self-discipline, or self-esteem. She didn't care much about herself or anyone or anything else.

I learned that if I tried anything, I would get attacked verbally. I couldn't motivate her; I could barely talk to her without being the target of a barrage of swear words. As a first year teacher I had very few skills to deal with her and her behavior. I was at a loss and found that ignoring her seemed to be the best strategy. If I just left her alone, she would stay quiet. She would sit and draw pictures, but at least she wasn't yelling or picking fights. Of course, she wasn't doing her school work either.

Needless to say, I was not too surprised that at the end of 6th grade, at the age of 13, Darla was pregnant. The only surprising thing to me was that anyone was able to get that close to her. She was like a wild animal who kept everyone at a distance. Obviously, my opinion was not completely accurate.

During that summer, I lost track of her. Imagine my surprise later that year when she moved in next door to me. Darla had married her boyfriend (she was 14 now) and, with the help of his parents, the happy couple had purchased the house next door to me. I was speechless and avoided them as much as possible. I kept wondering how, of all the people in the world, she was now my next door neighbor.

Darla had a baby girl. I was still keeping a low profile and don't think she had yet realized who her neighbor was. Then one day Darla saw me. She was outside with her baby and came running to me to show me her daughter. She was so excited about her baby girl. She was smiling and laughing and so happy. Not one swear word came from her lips. It was almost as if the Darla I knew had been replaced by the Stepford model.

Darla and her husband lived next to me for about 7 or 8 years. Darla had 3 children, all girls, by the time she was 20. She never went back to school, but did get her GED. The oldest daughter had severe asthma and Darla had a dangerous heart condition by the time she was 25, both linked to the early age of her first pregnancy. But Darla was a changed person. She was a wonderful wife and a terrific mother. Her children grew up loved and well-cared for. She was nothing like the Darla I first met in that classroom my first year of teaching.

Yes, I would consider Darla one of my worst students. But she taught me several great lessons and I'm so glad I learned them my first year of teaching. I learned that teachers need to be careful how they treat their students because those students may end up being your next door neighbor or your accountant or your doctor. I learned that students you consider "lost causes" may not be as "lost" as you think. Some just need to find their way in this world. Darla found her way through her husband, her husband's parents, and her children. And I learned that your worst student may not actually be a bad person. Darla hated school and everything associated with it, but I found that she was really a good person and I'm so happy she found her way.

Over the years I have lost track of her, but if I ever see her again, I will thank her for making me a better teacher.

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