Archive for Education

Growing Up Versus Getting Older

Good morning to all of you.  The more forceful tone of today’s post stems from several stories I have heard after my bullying post last week.  If you haven’t seen the post, it can be viewed at http://www.claytonpaulthomas.com/archives/480. Many emails were sent to tantrumstroublesandtreasures@yahoo.com.  Instead of responding to each one, I’m going to have to peel the gloves off a bit because there is a point which needs to be driven home.

Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first c...

When it comes to bullying, disrespect, and general rudeness of children, let me be very clear.  Just because a child is getting older, that doesn’t mean he/she is growing up. Poor behaviors can be learned from a number of different means.  Neighborhood kids, older siblings, television, and even parents come to mind.

Getting older simply means the child/adult is still breathing.  Therefore, we are all getting older by the second.  By contrast, here’s what growing up means to me.  A child (or even an adult) is maturing and growing into a responsible citizen.  When a person is “growing up” he/she can make a positive impact on society in whatever way they choose.  For example, a 10 year old child who is going to school to learn is growing up.  Contrarily, a 16 year old punk who merely takes space in a classroom and causes trouble for others is only getting older.

There are times when parents dismiss poor behavior in a number of ways.  For example, some may say “My child is going through a phase.”  Others will use the line “They’ll (the children) grow out of it.” Although bullying along with the other behaviors mentioned often has roots in middle school, one of the reasons it persists in high school and beyond is due to the fact it was either not addressed at all or addressed so poorly, the child didn’t get the message.

There are also many behaviors not addressed in very young children which develop over time in aforementioned middle school students.  If you remember nothing else in the post- take this lesson to heart.  Poor behaviors in children are a lot like weeds.  If they are not removed, they will continue to grow until all the beauty around them is strangled.

The “phase argument” from parents is really misguided and over used so allow me to be clear.  Puberty is a phase.  By contrast, poor behaviors are signs of character flaws.  These flaws typically have not been adequately addressed completely by adults in the child’s life for whatever reason.  Many times, these character flaws are corrected with simple parenting or other adult intervention. (a school or church, for example)  Character flaws aren’t evil.  We all have spots in our character which could improve.  Besides, if our children were perfect already, they wouldn’t need us.  But, when we do not do our jobs as parents, these simple character flaws can grow.  Just like weeds, they are more difficult to remove the longer they are allowed to stay in place.

As parents, it’s our job to teach children right from wrong.   I can’t tell you how many character flaws I have corrected in children or how many flaws my mother corrected in me.  I can tell you I did my best to help the kids I worked with because it was important.  Your child does not need you to help them get older.  They can do that on their own.  Your child needs you to help them grow up.  The only question in the end is….. Will you take the time to care?

I will check in with you again on Tuesday.  Until then, take care of yourself and the ones you love.

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The Belly Floppers

Disclaimer: Although I am not certain “belly flopper” is an actual term, I am using it to describe a person who belly flops figuratively speaking.

Over the weekend, my wife told me that my oldest child is going to start school in two weeks.  My first thought was where has the summer gone?  School supplies have already been bought and there’s nothing to worry about.  When my wife told my son about going back to school; he looked surprised but acted ready.

For a lot of families, what I described isn’t exactly the norm.  Parents stress about school shopping and the stress passes along to their child.  Parents stress about the next grade and the stress passes along to their child.  Parents stress about the teacher and……..you get the picture.

Being the on the other side of the desk as the teacher, I watched these stressed parents year in and year out.  Some children were unfazed by their parent’s stresses but others took their cue and had a lot of stress at the beginning of the school year.

Secretly, I thought of these kids as “the belly floppers.”  The impact of returning to school for these children was like belly flopping into water off a cliff.  They knew school was going to happen but the “landing” was shocking.  The children who “belly flopped” were always the ones who looked like they were in a trance the first week of school.  It was almost like school work was foreign and they didn’t remember the most basic concepts taught the previous year.

There may be some who are reading this and do not quite realize how serious this can be so let me put it this way.  I only could think of 3 children, in all my years of teaching, who “belly flopped” into school and finished in the top half of my class academically.  All children settled down mentally in my classroom eventually.  But, perhaps the stress and/or lost time were too much to overcome.  I would argue it was at least a contributing factor.

I would like the children of anyone who reads this to be the opposite of a “belly flopper.” There are many kids who enter school hitting the ground running.  Teachers like love these types of children.  Here are some suggestions on how your child can hit the ground running.

1.  School shop early.  When you get the supply list, beat the procrastinators and make school shopping a pleasant experience with your child.  I would even suggest things like buying the backpack your child chooses (if it’s within your means) because it gives a child that little something extra to look forward to going back to school.  You may spend a couple of extra dollars on their preferred choice; but your child will be in a better frame of mind going to school.

2.  Meet the teacher(s).  Schools usually have times when parents and kids can get situated and drop off supplies in their classrooms before the first day of school.  They get to pick their desk and get the general lay of the land.  This drastically decreases the shock on the first day.   Teachers like seeing the parents before the school year begins.  They keep mental notes of which parents go out of their way to meet them.  A favorable impression is important and will most likely be passed along to your child.  It’s human nature.

3.  Start the school year with your child before it begins. You can do this by purchasing an inexpensive workbook that correlates with the grade your child is going into.  The child will get a feel of the material that will be taught.  Also, when the child runs across a concept that they don’t understand, they can get help from you before the school year begins.  This also greatly decreases the shock value of a difficult school lesson during the school year.  When other children are struggling with the material, your child will look like a star.

Returning to school can be rough for some children. I wish all of your children the best of luck!!!

My next post will be on Friday.  I look forward to having you back.  Don’t forget, if you place your email in the subscription box, the blog will come directly to your email without having to remember a thing.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

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The Finish Line

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Friday.  Today’s post centers on your assessment of the school year for your child.  It’s important to know what went right and what needs to be improved in order to send a stronger child to the next grade.  I’m certainly not saying all children need to work long days throughout the summer.  But, if you can help to tweak a couple of areas where your child struggled, the benefits could be significant. Here are some questions I think you may want to consider.

How did your child do? You’ve heard from the companies who handle standardized tests.  You’ve most likely seen the final grades or have a good idea what they will be.  What is your final assessment, as a parent, on how the school year went overall?

Did your child receive the grades deserved?  And, without laying guilt on yourself- what, if anything- should you have done differently to help your child?  Be brutally honest when trying to answer this question.

Were old friendships strengthened with peers?  Were new friendships built?  Do you feel your child is ready for the next grade academically, socially, and emotionally? More importantly, does your child feel ready in these three areas?

Are there any lingering problems that need your attention such as bullying, teasing, or general unhappiness?  Time does heal some wounds but ignoring problems typically does not cause them to go away.

Finally, this last point will lead to a future post but what about the overall confidence level of the child?  Is it as high as you’d like to see it?  Was your child’s confidence tested by difficult assignments or tricky situations with peers?  If their confidence was tested, do you feel your child is more confident or less confident in themselves now that the school year is over?

I hope answering these questions will help put into focus what needs to be addressed over the summer.  I’ll be back on Tuesday with another post.  Best wishes to all of your children.  May they have more fun this summer than all previous one’s put together!!!

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The Preschool Dilemma

Hello and welcome to another edition where you throw fastball parenting questions my way and I do my best to not strike out.  I suspect that today’s answer to the question will not be popular with some parents but it comes from the heart.  One of the best parts of writing these thoughts is  in knowing that it helps to get people thinking and, hopefully talking.   Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section.  Today’s parenting question comes from “Sara.”  She asks, “When is the right age to send my daughter to preschool?”

For those who don’t know, I used to be an elementary teacher.  I faced the same preschool dilemma many of you (or someone you know) are facing.

The right age to send any child to a preschool is determined by a number of factors.  Therefore, I’m not going to give Sara a direct answer because it’s determined based on the circumstances.  Here are some things I want Sara to think about.

1.  What’s the point of preschool? If Sara’s answer is to learn, then why wouldn’t she teach her child at home in a one to one environment?  I think some parents have the assumption schools can teach young children better than we can.  In most cases, that’s not true until kids are older and learn more in depth subjects.  When I was a child, kids could go to kindergarten at age 5.  Over time, 4 year old schools popped up and now that’s been extended to age 3.  Where does it end?  I believe kids should stay at home and learn in a one on one environment as long as possible.

Let me put this in another way.  My oldest child didn’t attend a preschool. Therefore, he must have entered school far behind his peers academically- right?  Well, not exactly.  The only reason he attended Kindergarten was because the school (which goes from k-12) was ranked in the top 1% in the United States and he only had to attend two days a week.  Even at this great school, my child was completely bored with the academics because they were too easy.  Why is that?  It’s because I worked with him.  If there are questions with what I did, leave a comment or shoot me an email.  (tantrumstroublesandtreasures@yahoo.com)

2.    What if I want for my kid to go to school to learn socialization skills? I don’t have a problem with that logic but how much socialization is needed to achieve your end goal?  For example, I solve the socialization dilemma by working out at my neighborhood YMCA and placing my child in their child care.  I get a great workout for an hour 3 times a week. My children get to socialize with their friends at this time.  The “Y” is expensive in my case but child care doesn’t carry an additional charge.  Also, I doubt if I pay as much for a gym membership as a lot of people pay in preschool expenses.

Former logo of the YMCA in the United States u...

This has been a great place for socialization!

My kids, socially speaking, are on par with other children.  As a matter of fact, they are friendlier and more social than many kids I know.  All I am saying is there are many ways to achieve socialization.   Participating on sports teams and playing with neighborhood kids can also do the trick.

3.  What if I HAVE to work? This is a tricky issue but hear me out.  You’d better make a pretty good salary to justify enrolling a child in preschool.  The better preschools in most areas are a bit pricey.  When Sara breaks down her salary into taxes, preschool costs, gas, dry-cleaners, car maintenance, etc.  she may be surprised what her usable take home dollar figure turns out to be.

For example, when I left teaching, my annual salary was a little over $40,000.  Without going into detail, I can honestly say that the loss in pay didn’t feel like as big a deal as I thought it was going to. I know there are a lot of single parents (like my mom) who must work.  Obviously, this generality wouldn’t apply. For those who are married, crunch the numbers with an accountant and see what the numerical truth entails.

If Sara still determines she HAS to work, it doesn’t matter what age her daughter goes to preschool because she has to work anyway.  For the sake of the post, I’m assuming Sara has a choice.    In saying that, I would save the preschool money, invest in some learning materials, and find an alternative to preschool unless there is literally no choice.

In summary, I have worked with over 400 kids (including two of my own).  Not one of them would have been better served in a preschool versus one on one time with me.  Instead of answering what age is best for a child to go to preschool for Sara, I will ask this question instead.  How hard is Sara willing to work, learn, and sacrifice in order to have a daughter that preschools would drool over?

Thanks so much for reading and I’ll publish another post Tuesday.  If you know a parent who is debating preschool, please pass along this article.  Best wishes!!!

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Making Cents (Sense) Out of Dollars

Before I get started, I want to share a story.  When I woke up Monday morning, I had some ideas for a blog in my mind but nothing in stone.  I went to the gym (as is my routine) when I noticed a magazine (maybe it was the Wall Street Journal)  There was an article that dealt with retirement myths.  It was well written and I thought writing a money article for parents may be a good idea.

Later, I was looking through some blogs. I came across a new one with an outstanding post by Joyce Wheeler titled Teaching Children About Finances. (http://networkedblogs.com/hy4SU) I highly recommend it.

Finally, I received an email from our local chapter of All Pro Dad.  It said that the next meeting will have to do with striking a balance between children saving and spending their money.  (There comes a point where I wonder whether someone is trying to tell me something)

Money is a pretty long topic to deal with so here’s what I learned at St. Joseph Children’s Home and how I applied the lesson in my home. Before I get into my stories, I promise you this.  Most schools do not teach money sense to any great degree.  I suspect one reason is that it is not covered on standardized tests to any great extent.  So here’s the question.  Who will teach your children how to handle their money if you won’t?

At St Joseph, we used fake money called Luckbucks.  They were earned based on chores and behavior.  Even our 4 year old residents received these.  If your kids are small, you don’t have to use real money.  Luckbucks were used when the children had group outings or wanted to play Nintendo.  Looking back on it, we probably underutilized them although they were still effective.

I believe children should be allowed to earn money but they should also be forced to spend it.  Usually what I see are kids who earn money but mom and dad still pay for everything.  The point of money is not only to accumulate it but to spend it wisely.  Now, if a child chooses not to spend their money after weighing their options, that’s great. It’s the discretion of the parent in determining when their children should be using their own money.

I had a child at St. Joseph I’ll call Daniel whose sole purpose with Luckbucks was to save them.  He never spent his “money” because he wanted “to be rich.”  In some small way, I hope his attitude towards Luckbucks transferred to life after St. Joseph.  If that’s the case, he could retire very early in life.

Contrarily, my oldest child saves but he has two conflicting goals.  The first is to buy all the things he likes at Toys ‘R’ Us and the second is to save until he accumulates $100.  (This is his Holy Grail of cash)  A while back, he saw a truck in an advertisement that he had to have.  I believe it cost about $25.00.  He asked me if I would get it for him and I refused. (He has over 20 trucks in his playroom)  I told him if he wanted the truck, he’d have to buy it himself.  After some deliberating, he decided to make the purchase.

The reason I decided to tell you this story is because I can’t remember the last time he actually played with the truck.  He’s also brought up the goal of saving $100.00 on multiple occasions since then.  The irony is if he didn’t buy the truck, he would already have the money!  Of course, I remind him of the truck when he brings up the savings goal.  I am not condescending but I want him to realize the financial choices he makes are a big deal.  As he gets older, I’m sure I’ll hammer this point even more.

Thanks for reading and passing this along to other parents.  It is greatly appreciated!

Also, during the month of May, Lulu.com (the distributor of Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures)  is knocking off 15% on their production costs so I am passing the savings on to you.  When you purchase the book, please enter the code maysave305 to get your discount.  I really appreciate Lulu for doing that!  Here’s the direct link.

http://bit.ly/iArqFa

Have a terrific day!!!

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Correcting Other People's Children

Happy Friday to all of you!  Today, I am going to jump into a question I’ve been pondering a while.  I was asked some time ago about when it was appropriate to correct other people’s children.  This is a bit complicated but I read a blog recently with a story I’ll share.  I have some general rules but I’m not exactly opposed to breaking them as you’ll soon read.  My hope is to give you my perspective but let you decide for yourself if it’s ever appropriate.

Let me start with the easy part.  When I was at St. Josephs Children’s Home, our kids were divided into departments.  The thing was, though, none of us were territorial with the children.  We had a common purpose which was to prepare kids for adoption or foster home settings.  Therefore, kids from another department acted up, I had no problems correcting them and never received grief for doing so.  In turn, I never gave a house parent a hard time when they corrected my kids.

Therefore, the first lesson to be learned is to have a clear understanding with the parents before correcting their children.  You may be surprised to learn that few parents whom I’ve actually talked to have objected to me correcting their kids.  To be honest, I can’t think of one although there may be a situation that has slipped my mind.  This isn’t a taboo topic.  Most reasonable parents understand that as long as you have the child’s best interests, odds are that correcting their children is probably all right.  Don’t get me wrong.  Problems can still occur.  In most cases though, it should be fine.

The second part of this is a bit trickier.  What if I don’t know the parents?  In this case, I am very hesitant before correcting any child unless they that child is causing imminent danger to themselves or someone else.  Though I’ve helped a lot of kids, I can’t raise everyone’s children.  So if, for example, I see your child throwing tomatoes down aisle 6 at the grocery store, I’m likely to keep pushing my cart until I reach the next aisle.  Some parents have no control of their kids while others are confrontational.  In the end, it just cannot be worth it to me.

This leads me to the story I teased at the beginning of the blog.  A mom was fixing lunch for her child and his friend (Johnny) at their house.  Johnny asked if he could have Pepsi and mom said, “No.”  (Her own child was drinking water)  After receiving the answer, Johnny replied, “F*ck You!”  Mom was pretty shocked (understandably so) and asked Johnny if he talked like that at home.  Johnny replied, “F*ck yeah.”

The current Pepsi logo (2008-) with the

How many expletives is a Pepsi worth?

Keep in mind I don’t know how old Johnny was.  In saying that, if your kid is in my home, I expect a general sense of politeness.  If I don’t get it, your child will not be in my home for long— one way or the other.  This is a case where I would correct the child and put them on a short leash. (figuratively speaking, of course!)

I’m fully aware there are many scenario’s left unanswered in this blog.  Yet again I have chosen a topic that could be a chapter in my next book.  Regardless, I’m interested in hearing your opinions and if/where I am off base.

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Thanks for reading this and passing it along to other parents.  It is really appreciated.  I started this blog April 7th and write twice a week.  Would you believe before this was posted, the blog has garnered over 1,000 hits?  You guys are incredible!!!

Thanks as well for all of the interest in my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed about some speaking engagements in the fall.  Click on the book cover located at the right hand side of the blog for more info.  The entire preface has also been copy/pasted at the top of my page.  The book will make you laugh, cry, and think about your parenting.  One of my readers said she’ll need to read it twice.  The first time would be for entertainment and the second time, she would need to take notes.  Feel free to check it out.

Have a terrific weekend and I’ll have another blog ready on Tuesday.

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Illusions

Welcome back my friends!  Today’s post is going to have two parts to it.  The first is comparing public school teachers to illusionists while the second is going to say goodbye (for now).  Off we go!!!

I’ve always been amazed with illusion.  First, you see it; then you don’t.  They can do card tricks, slight of hand, and even levitate.  How they do it, I don’t know. But these acts entertain millions and I am one of them. 

One of the tricks that baffle me are the escapes.  I know there are secrets as to how they do it but I typically don’t know how it’s done.    When people have their hands tied, handcuffed, and shackled by their feet, escapes shouldn’t be possible.  Yet, they are time and time again.

Thinking about these incredible acts, it strikes me as amazing that teachers are supposed to make the magic happen much like an illusionist no matter how unrealistic the trick really is.  Here are some examples.

1.  Teachers aren’t handcuffed but they are significantly restrained by what they can and can’t do.  For example, when  discipline problems exist in the classroom, there is not much a teacher can do besides deal with it to the best of their ability.  Remember, every minute spent dealing with a behavior issue is a minute taken from your child’s education. The time lost is not accounted for when future tests are taken.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot an administration can do as well.  I remember as a teacher some colleagues would get mad at the principal and the counselor because of their lack of help.  The problem is there are hundreds of kids in a school and they have a laundry list of things that have to be accomplished.  In all my years, I never caught a principal or counselor playing card games on the computer or sitting around doing nothing.

2.  Teachers are expected to solve what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. What is a teachers job?  Simplistically, most of us would say to teach.  But, since teachers are evaluated on test scores, what happens when they are low?  Does it mean a teacher spent almost 10 months with a kid and didn’t teach?  That seems a bit unlikely.

Test scores are obviously a quantifiable measure of progress.  But, this isn’t like working the line at Ford Motor Company.  The parts aren’t all the same.  Yet, teachers are supposed to produce a highly qualified and highly efficient test taking machine. Does this mean I disapprove of testing?  No.  Does it mean I approve of standardized testing?  Not really.  Again, it’s an unsolvable mystery to me.

One of the main differences between an illusionist and teacher is this.  An illusionist only appears to have an unsolvable mystery.  With teachers, it’s real.

3.   Teachers are expected to “perform” like illusionists with kids even if they aren’t ready for the course work.  When a third grade teacher has to work with a 1st grade brain (happens a lot more than you may think) then either you give the kid extra instructional time (which means the other kids get less) or partially neglect the kid (in the air of fairness to the others) or totally neglect the kid (in order to work with the other kids who are on or closer to grade level).  There are not too many more options for teachers. Whatever direction the teacher goes will directly influence your child.

The grandest illusion of all is when parents believe schools will solve the problems.  The public has been fed the same line way before I started teaching and year after year, there are many parents who believe them.  That’s why they get so mad at the system when problems occur.  They actually were fooled in believing it was going to work to begin with.  While it’s frustrating even to me at times, I don’t get surprised or upset.  I have responded by educating my kids to the best of my ability and wrote a blog almost 6,000 people have hit telling you all about it and what to do.   

Teachers work very hard but many are in a “box” they can’t escape.  I was in that box as well and didn’t realize it until years AFTER I left the profession.  When I taught, I can guarantee you I worked a lot of hours, ran a disciplined classroom, and taught the lessons I was expected to teach to the best of my ability.  There were kids who exploded with knowledge as the school year progressed.  There were others though who I couldn’t help enough and continue to be “shackled” to this day.

Please keep a finger on the pulse of your children’s education and help whenever you can.  Don’t get caught up in the illusions.  I promise you’ll never regret a minute of life working with a child you love.  

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As I said before, this will be my last post for a while.  I try not to say never because I know better.  For those who have been following, you know I wrote a parenting book and am looking for the right publisher.  It takes an extraordinary amount of time to do this.  I am to the point where this needs to be my focus.  The purpose of the blog was to help great parents become even better and to get my name in the cyber world.  I truly feel I have accomplished both in a big way and had a lot of fun in the process.

I have had many people ask me about the book and when it will be available.  I am not sure but if anyone who has followed my work would like to purchase a copy down the line, shoot me an email.  If and when the book is published, I am sure I will be deep in the blogosphere again.

As far as people who have submitted parenting questions, I plan on responding to you privately.  If you are going to take the time to ask a question, I should take the time to answer it to the best of my ability.  This blog will also stay up indefinently.  If you have a question in the future, feel free to shoot me an email.  My door will stay open for you.

I wasn’t sure how to end this blog until I checked my Twitter messages (@claylauren2001) about 10 minutes ago.  A girl I’ve never met wrote to me “we are beginning an adoption process from an orphanage and wanted some tips.”  I fully admit I teared up a bit.  Anyone who knows my past would understand why.  If I help this stranger out in the smallest bit, all the hours spent in the creation, promotion, and writing of this blog will have been worth it.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this blog the success it’s been.  Thanks for telling your friends.  Thanks for your comments.  Thanks for your words of encouragement.  If all goes well, maybe I’ll be in a town near you someday signing my book.

Goodbye (for now) from the world of Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.
        

Education Children Deserve

Good Monday morning to all of you.  Before I get started on today’s topic, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for coming.  Over the weekend, my blog surpassed 5,000 hits.  Considering this blog is about 3 months old and there were two major holidays, I’m very humbled- thank you.

I would also appreciate a bit of understanding for today’s blog.  Last Friday, I teased a post that was going to compare illusionists to teachers.  That post is laid out on paper and ready to be written.  Over the weekend though, a story in my local newspaper really struck a nerve. After conferring with my editor (me) I am going to address it instead.

My question today is what type of education do children deserve?  This question has tugged at me for a while. This leads me to the article in the newspaper that had to do with the Wade County school district in Raleigh, North Carolina and its plan to move toward neighborhood schools.  Of course, there is a public outcry like in a lot of cases where a major change is being made.  Both sides of the aisle have their strong supporters and neither side wants to give an inch.

I can certainly see why neighborhood schools makes sense. Obviously, parents could be more involved in the school and there would be a huge savings in the cost of busing.  There is also a dirty little point to be made as well.  In many schools, if you were to eliminate the lower economic families by sending them back to their neighborhoods- test scores would most likely shoot up immediately at those schools.  That would make certain principals, teachers, and remaining kids look very good.

The argument against neighborhood schools is equally as compelling.  Some people would claim that diversity of race and cultures is a good thing.  Neighborhood schools would eliminate that in many areas.  Another point is we had neighborhood schools as late as the 1960’s.  How did that work out for us?  Finally, if we went to neighborhood schools, some schools in hard hit economic areas would most likely fail miserably.  What would we do then?

If you are someone who has read my blog for a while, you know that I really advocate working with your children and relying as little as possible on the school system.  The argument over neighborhood schools is the latest reason.  We had these same debates and many others 11 years ago when I started teaching.  Despite any changes that were made, not much has helped when you compare the data.

For what it is worth, the first school I taught in (Portland Elementary in Louisville, Kentucky) was a neighborhood school and it was a nice place to work.  We had our share of problems (academically) but we made strides and improved test scores every year I was there.  After I left, the principal I worked for retired. A new principal was brought in and (from what I can see) has done some great work including improving the test scores.  The improvements may not be enough in the eyes of some people though.  Being that I worked there and know the neighborhood, I would say the school should be proud its accomplishments.   

As far as whether I think there should be neighborhood schools; here’s the truth.  Neighborhood schools are a great idea but there is a huge drawback.  The drawback is I doubt if they will work in many areas.  Let me explain.

In order for neighborhood schools to work in my opinion, there has to be an understanding that there will be areas where poverty, discipline, and overall culture will be at an all time low.  These area would have to be inundated with the brightest educational minds the district could muster.  The student- teacher ratio would have to be extremely low (6:1 would be ideal).  There would have to be at least 2 full time assistants for every class.  Teachers would have to have a 25% pay increase over their peers at higher performing schools (based on educational rank and seniority) directly hired by the principal.  Because of the lack of overall space and to keep the ratios low, two full time teachers would most likely have to team teach in every room.  It is very possible two full time security guards would be needed in each school as well.  Even if all these ideas were to happen, it would take years to see tangible results because the kids are that far behind.  In short, this is simply not going to happen. 

Before any of these ideas could be implemented, one more thing would be needed as well- cooperation.  I am talking about the teachers, principals, unions, school boards, local and state government, and, of course, parents. If it is one thing I have seen over the years, these groups have their own agendas and getting along with each other is not one of them.  It is sad but true. 

So what kind of education do children deserve?  That’s not a question any school can answer (unless you want to hear the standby answer- students deserve the best education possible).  Rather this is a question only you, the parent, can answer.  Here’s my advice for what it’s worth.  Your job should be to let the talking heads fight, beat each other up, and get little accomplished.  These people are good at it and have been mastering the art for many years. The names may change but the results generally stay the same.

I understand you can debate me on this by citing your tax dollars for instance.  I understand your concerns should be heard as well.  I also understand your voice is important.  But, what I understand the most is that time is ticking when it comes to your kids.  I’ve made my decisions concerning my children and have been very pleased with the results.  My hope is for you to be equally happy with the educational progress of your kids.        

In the meantime,  I want you to continue working diligently with your kids on their reading and math especially.  Take an active interest in your child’s report cards and focus on your kids areas of weakness.  It is also a good idea to form support groups with other parents and have study nights. (Ever heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child)  The point is the more you take control of your kids future, the less you have to worry about what a school is going to do.

Usually, my blog posts are more light-hearted or have a humorous twist.  The truth is that debates such as neighborhood schools angers me because I think of the kids I used to teach.  Most are not receiving a good education today (though I bet their teachers are working hard) and I wish there was more I could do.

This Wednesday will be the long awaited behavior blog called Competing for Mama.  I will lay out some insights and the opinions may surprise you.
 

Why Reading Stinks!

Have you ever wondered why some kids love to read while others seem allergic to books?  Today’s post will not make every kid a reader overnight but it may give a few insights as to why kids feel as they do about reading.

When I was an elementary teacher, I had to assess kids immediately so I could know where their reading skills were compared to where they should be.  What I also informally assessed were their attitudes on reading and I came up with some common themes.

First though, let me clear some misconceptions to make sure we are on the same page.  There is a line I draw between reading and decoding and this difference is important.

Decoding is when a child pronounces words properly from whatever they are reading.  When I worked with kids though, I defined reading as decoding plus “knowing what the heck you are talking about.”  A simple example would be when a child reads a stop sign.  A child who decodes that word (like my youngest son) has no idea why the sign is there or what to do.  An older child though could decode the stop sign, know why it is there, and have a clear picture in his/her mind as to what is going on.

Now, let’s get to why reading stinks.

Cover of
Picture was found after writing my Space Shuttle point.  I couldn’t resist.

1.  Reading stinks because sometimes the material is either too hard to decode or comprehend.  It would be like giving many people a book called “How to Fly the Space Shuttle.”  I’m sure there are some adults who couldn’t decode all of the terminology (including myself).  Others may decode it but really wouldn’t have a firm grasp on how to do it.  Just like children, if your space shuttle manual was too long, complicated, or confusing, you would probably get tired of it as well.

2.  Reading stinks because there’s no one to share it with.  In a classroom, I didn’t have this issue but at home, any parent could.  If a child is forced to read at home while the adult watches TV, talks on the phone, or plays on the internet, it appears to the child that reading has taken a backseat in their life.  To make matters worse, if a child doesn’t have a nice quiet area to read and has to watch their siblings playing while they are working; their concentration would be so far gone, it would make reading nearly pointless.

3.  Finally, reading stinks because the material is boring.  When a child is forced to read material they don’t like, it can turn them off from the process all together.  While I will grant you sometimes kids have to read things in school they don’t want to, I would hate to think we make children read so many boring things that they despise reading all together.  That would be a shame.

Remember in the beginning of the post when saying that I informally assessed attitudes about reading?  Here’s why.  In the beginning of every school year, my job (as I perceived it) was to get a child’s attitude in the right direction concerning reading.  It was more important than even the subject itself.  Some kids had a negative attitude about reading or a complete lack of confidence.  I had to get these things turned around as quickly as possible because if I didn’t, teaching the subject would have been useless.   

As adults, we choose what we want to read but when working with kids, we should be mindful of our choices.  If, as adults, we pass on to our children “reading stinks” by our actions, our kids are much less likely to be good readers. It’s really important to take an active role in reading because our children are always watching us.  A parent can take an active role by reading themselves but they can also help by taking an interest in what their kids are reading.  

I found this out recently when I was sitting on a couch reading a book.  My oldest son walks up to me and says “I thought only mom read books.”  The reason my child said this is because I don’t read a lot of books.  I wasn’t aware though he was observant of this.  I explained to him I read books occasionally but I like newspapers and magazines more.  Kids are much more observant than we think so it’s important to give the best impressions possible.   

The truth is reading really stinks for some kids but it doesn’t have to.  There are things we, as parents and educators, can do to help kids if we choose.  Though reading is not a skill learned overnight, it is one that will last a lifetime.

This Wednesday, I will be back with my behavior blog.  The title will be “Competing for Mama” and I think you’ll find it pretty interesting.  All my best to you and the ones you love.  

Inventive Spelling

Happy Monday to all of you.  Today’s education blog is going to give you another inside look to what is going on in some schools around the country.  I believe when parents are informed- children will benefit so let’s dive in.

D U C Dat? (Did you see that)  In a nutshell that is your first lesson in a practice known as inventive spelling.  A trend that seems to be growing every year are the growing number of high school students who can’t read or write on grade level.  There are several reasons leading to this problem but I believe you can look at inventive spelling as one of the factors.

I love this inventive spelling
I still haven’t figured this out.

 Wut r u talkin abowt?  (What are you talking about)  I’m talking about kids in school who write assignments for their teachers based on how the words sound to them as opposed to the proper spelling. Instead of being corrected by these educators, they are praised for their effort and creativity. 

The reason this concept is so important for parents to know is so you can have an awareness to what goes on in some schools.  When I was a teacher, spelling wasn’t emphasized as being important.  As a parent, that statement should concern you.  I did my best to teach students how to spell properly because I felt strongly about it; but not because spelling was a requirement defined in the core content.  

The alternative means of teaching spelling is called foniks (phonics).  Some may shudder as you read the “p” word (f word if you are an inventive speller).  At the heart of it, phonics has been the best method I have seen for children to learn how to write.  Let me put it another way. Although children have shown me different styles of learning over the years, I have never seen a child who was able to write on grade level who had not learned basic phonetic principles.

There’s a reason cat is spelled c-a-t.  While I admit there are lots of words that aren’t spelled the way they sound, it’s important to know the rulz (rules) and learn over time when the rules do not apply.  Though it’s a lengthy process, 13 years of education (more if you count pre-school) is easily enough time to work out the kinks.

Inventive spelling , to me, is cute to read from a kindergarten or even a 1st grade student.  Though I didn’t let the errors go unchecked, I did appreciate the students’ effort during my time in the classroom.  Writing can be a difficult subject to teach.  It takes a lot of time and patience  It baffles me though how any grade (above K or 1st) would buy into inventive spelling.

Please remember the primary point of writing for anyone is to communicate on paper.  If the reader can’t understand what the writer is trying to communicate, then the writing is, in effect, worthless. Let us fast forward a few years ahead.  If a child can’t spell correctly, what type of college would you expect that person to attend or which job could you expect them to land?

Here’s another way of looking at it.  When was the last time you did something incorrectly, stuck with the same plan, and got it right without changing anything? Inventive spelling counts on the fact that although the word is spelled incorrectly now, it will work itself out over time.  It is a theory I have never understood. 
 Group of children in a primary school in Paris

There are plenty of schools who will pass students on from year to year even if the children can’t spell.  Therefore, you have two choices as a parent.  Either trust that the school is right (making me wrong) or take what I am saying seriously and work with your kids on how to spell. You can easily do this by looking at classwork and reading carefully what your children are writing.  This can also be accomplished by making sure all homework assignments are written properly.  Rest assured, I have made more than one kid erase a word and spell it correctly.  None of them were scarred for life.

For those who would like a little more information, here is a link from the National Right to Read Foundation that I hope will help.  http://www.nrrf.org/42_invented_spelling.html 

This Wednesday, I will be back with my behavior blog but until then … Hve a grate da! (Have a great day)