Archive for Student

A Passionate Plea for a Teacher—TO TEACH

I think most of us know that (nationally speaking) there are a lot of problems with high school education.  There is a disconnect at certain schools.  Some students do not want to learn due to a poor attitude.  It also could be a lack of understanding of why the material they are learning is relevant.  There are also teachers who get frustrated because of student attitudes.  This sometimes can hamper teaching efforts.  But, the situation I am placing the spotlight on is different.  Teachers should be wise to assume that every child has a camera phone.  One child captured a 90 second rant from a student named Jeff Bliss like something you have probably never heard. Read more

6 Parent/Teacher Conference Tips Not Often Heard

Parent- teacher conferences are a time where there should be a meeting of the minds.  Teachers should be able to lay out their case for the child’s progress academically, socially, and emotionally.  Parents should be able to compare what they are hearing to what is going on at home.  At that point, a plan should come together as to how to work with the child going forward. It should be the ultimate collaboration crammed into about 15 minutes.

When I was a teacher, I was meticulous about laying out my arguments about how a child was performing before a parent walked through my door.  Instead of dominating the meeting, I would lay out these arguments as quickly as possible in order to allow the parent to agree or disagree with my assessment.  Because I have been on both ends of the parent teacher conference table ( I was an elementary teacher for 7 years) perhaps these tips will guide you through a conference.


The first tip is for a parent to keep samples of student work just like a teacher.  This is especially helpful if there is a disputed grade in a subject.  Bring the student work to the conference and compare it with the work the teacher presents.

The second tip is to respect the knowledge of the teacher concerning your child but don’t take it as the law.  You have been around your child for years.  At this point, a teacher has had your child two months (give or take).  I’m not saying that teachers do not know what they are talking about.  What I am saying is that you know your child better than anyone.  There’s nothing wrong with trusting your instincts unless the teacher can present irrefutable evidence.

The third tip is to approach the conference as a problem solver.  The last thing a parent should want is to be lectured for 15 minutes about poor grades or behavior then sent home shamefully.  Let’s pretend there is a behavior problem in the classroom.  As a parent, you should be able to present a few effective methods you have used at home for handling discipline. If concentration is an issue, what do you do at home to help your child concentrate?

The fourth tip is for parents to understand that teachers aren’t the only professionals in the room.  All parents should be treated like professionals because when it comes to your child, you might as well have a PH. D.  If you feel like you are being talked down to or belittled by a teacher, you can choose to address it on the spot.  If you are not confrontational or if you have a situation that catches you off guard; going to the principal is always a good option.

My fifth bit of advice is to not get too excited or too depressed about the results of a parent/teacher conference.  A conference is simply a snapshot in time.  If a conference goes well, be happy for your child but understand there is still more work to do.  If a conference doesn’t go well, that’s fine in most cases.  There is  plenty of time to turn the problem around.

Finally, here’s the key once a conference has concluded.  Follow up with the teacher (in the next couple of weeks) by phone or email to make sure that the game plan from the conference is being implemented to everyone’s satisfaction.  Often, I had parents who I would not see again until the next conference 5 months later.  It’s much better for all parties (especially children) when the parent clearly demonstrates they are keeping their finger on the pulse.

I hope you liked today’s article.  Don’t forget that there are many other lessons parents can learn from my parenting book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  Feel free to read the preface located right below my picture.  I hope the lessons you will learn from the book will serve your family well.  Here’s the direct link to the book from

I also wanted to announce that over this past weekend, I receive the 1,000th comment on  For everyone who has ever cared enough to leave a thought on my website, I truly appreciate your time and effort.

My next post will be on Tuesday.  Have a terrific weekend.

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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 Many emails were sent to  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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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.

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. 

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