Archive for Teacher

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

Working with Students on September 11th

Today’s post won’t come to you with the same authoritative tone as my others.  Nothing I learned from the house parents of St. Joseph Children’s Home or from any teacher I have ever worked with could have prepared me in how to work with children on September 11th, 2001.

President George Bush and I had something in common that morning.  My class was being read to when an aide came to me, whispered what happened after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, and asked me to handle it the way I wanted to- similar to the former president. Everyone who reads my blog regularly knows I am a problem solver with parents, teachers, and children.  To be honest though, I’ve never felt more lost that day either before I started working with kids or since.

My options were simple enough.  I could tune in to find out what in the world was going on.  I suspected the risks of exposing 6-7 year olds to this but I also knew something big was happening.  On the other hand, I could go on with my lesson as if nothing happened.  Keep in mind, no one at this point was reporting this was definitely a terrorist attack.

Though I can’t explain my reasoning, I turned the television on.  It wasn’t long after this point that the second plane hit.  Even in all my confusion, I knew the second plane couldn’t have been an accident.  My wife has many friends in New York and my thoughts turned to her: thus taking me even further away from my class (mentally).

The students in my room had reacted in various ways.  Some of them understood something wasn’t right while others didn’t really pay a lot of attention.  Besides the event itself, their faces are the thing still etched in my mind.  A couple of children were laughing but I’m certain they didn’t understand what was truly happening.

I don’t know how long after the buildings came down that it dawned on me that I had a job to do.  I’m not sure how well I taught my lessons the rest of the day.  Perhaps it’s best my mind has erased the memories. Hopefully, I composed myself and did a good job.  Like many others, I was numb.

Maybe it’s because my focus is constantly on children but after I left school that day, I remember driving home and thinking about the kids who lost their parents.  It made me physically ill.  To think that it’s been 10 years is mind blowing.  The same children who were with me that day are now juniors and seniors in high school.

I almost feel silly trying to teach a lesson after sharing these memories with you.  The thing is though that many people come to my site to receive parenting information or a nugget of knowledge.  Therefore, here’s my shot in teaching today’s lesson.

Sometimes, you do things with children without knowing whether it’s the right thing to do or not.  Most of the times, you can reflect back and think about ways you could have done something better.  That reflection will help make you a better parent.

There will be other times though when, after reflecting, you still have no idea if what you did was the correct decision.  My advice to you is to shrug it off knowing that you did your best.

This Friday, I will be back with a more upbeat blog.  Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

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)     

Guilty Mom Complex

Hello to all!!!  Pardon me while I catch my breath.  I happened to look at my stats before deciding to write this blog and discovered you made Wednesday’s blog (Sowing Seeds) the top hit blog I have ever written.  Remember the contest involving 200 hits?  You actually did it!  Couple that with the fact that the month of December had more total hits by far than my first two months combined and what you have left is—a speechless blogger.  OK, not completely speechless; but you get my drift.  Thank you for reading my blog and passing it along to other parents!  Now, let’s get down to business.

Speechless (film)Promise I found this movie poster AFTER writing I was “speechless”

As a lot of us know, Friday’s are saved for questions from parents and today I have a chosen a difficult one.  A mom I’ll call “Barb” asks, “How can I not feel guilty as a mom because I can’t do it all?”  Barb is married, works full time, and has 3 children.   She feels she never has the time to accomplish all the things she wants to do in her professional and personal life.

Barb’s story and general question is all too familiar for a lot of us- not just moms. Some of us struggle to put in the time needed at work with the time wanted at home.  Keeping the house clean, maintaining a social life, and spending quality time with our children/spouse is hard.  Oh, I almost forgot that some of us would like to do more volunteer work in our places of worship or communities.  The burden can feel very heavy at times.   

The first thing I want Barb to know is “doing it all” is a myth.  Seriously, how many people does anyone know who can really “do it all?”  I can’t think of one.  While I’ll admit some of us do a better job than others, no one is perfect. 

Placing pressure on yourself to do it all is an exercise in futility.  I do believe though placing a little pressure on yourself is a good thing so let’s redirect that pressure into something a bit more manageable.

For example, let’s say you don’t think you are spending enough time with the kids.  I would challenge you to know exactly how much time you DO spend with your kids.  If you would like more time, here are some ideas.

1.  Pull your kid out of school during your lunch break.  If this idea doesn’t appeal to you, how about eating lunch at their school?  Clear it with teachers if you pull your kid out of school so you can figure out the best time to do it (as not to interfere with quizzes- tests).

2  Another idea is to schedule kids similar to meetings at work.  Many of us have a calender which is typically full.  Block out time purposely to know what you are going to do with your kids and how long it’s going to take.  Unless there’s an unavoidable crisis at work, don’t reschedule your kids.  Take this as seriously as you do any other meeting or you may not be as likely to follow through. 

3.  Keep your kids involved in activities with you at home.  Instead of you making dinner for the family- let the family work together to make the dinner.  This creates more family time and saves you from having to do it all.

I could go over countless problems overworked and overstressed moms and dads have like Barb; but here’s another piece of advice that may help.  On a piece of paper, prioritize what is important to you right now, what can wait, and what you can delegate.

For example, my wife and I are having a New Years Eve party.  The problem is I am raising and educating my kids, marketing a book, and writing this blog.  I don’t have time to do (above and beyond) cleaning.  Regardless, I wrote a small list this morning of simple things I could do while the kids were occupied.  

At 12:00, I decided to bake the boys a pizza for lunch. The plan was to clean some things while it was baking and while they were eating.  Sound easy enough?

Well, it was easy until I glanced over and saw my oven on fire!  Although I didn’t write it down, I knew the priority was to drop the cleaning supplies and put the fire out.  I am thankful I caught the problem in time.  My house is fine and no one was hurt.  Thinking about this story, here is my question.  What fires are going on in your life that have to be extinguished?  It’s simply called prioritizing.  When you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished little and the fires will still roar on.  

Here’s a final thought to illustrate the point.  There were only two things I really focused on as an elementary school teacher in the public schools- reading and math.  If everything else in the day didn’t go well, I could accept that.  I didn’t have the same attitude about weekly faculty meetings, didn’t care about the state (of Kentucky) and what they do to teachers in bottom tier schools with low test scores, and didn’t care about what other teachers gossiped. 

When children can read and perform math problems, they can do almost anything academically. But if kids can’t do those two things, they won’t make it in the classroom or in life.  Low reading and math skills were the fires I tried to put out every day.

To Barb and all of my guilt filled moms and dads: please lighten up a bit, prioritize what’s important, and have a fantastic 2011.  Now, if you don’t mind, I have some cleaning that needs to be done.    

Sowing Seeds

Buckle up early for this blog because I’m jumping in head first!

The kids I’ve worked with in my life have looked up to me the same way your kids look up to you.  It didn’t matter if it was St. Josephs Children’s Home, as a public school teacher, or my own kids.  Being the authority figure and acting like the authority figure are two different things though.  For example, a teacher may BE the authority figure the kids are supposed to look up to; but if they don’t ACT like the authority figure, respect over time is lost.

The reason I made this distinctions is because we, as authority figures, have a golden opportunity with our kids.  As long as they respect us, they will take our words and actions to be meaningful and trusted.  Because of this simple fact, here’s the plan.  Let’s encourage kids to achieve heights they never thought they could. 

Children victimized by the United Kingdom's Ch...
Kids are looking to us right now for help!

At  St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, we worked a lot on behavior because that was a major factor in getting a child ready to be in a  foster home or better yet- adopted.   Because kids there looked up to me (along with many other super house parents) I used to praise them to no end for good behavior.  The various forms of praise from me were the seeds sown.  On the flip side, I didn’t baby them when they behaved poorly.  I had a clear goal of where I wanted them behaviorally even if they had lost some hope for ever being adopted. For some children, the goal was achieved but I worked tirelessly for years in order for that dream to be realized by all.

Another example could be found when I was teaching.  In the classroom, kids would sometimes tell me they couldn’t read.  Those were fighting words in my classroom.  I would go out of my way over time to prove to them they COULD read but they needed to practice to get better.  Since I was the authority figure, I could sow those seeds within a child and eventually have them reading at a higher level over time.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sowing seeds doesn’t always work.  But, it’s not my job to know when this tactic will work and when it won’t.  It’s my job to command the respect of children so when I sow the seeds, they have a chance of “sprouting.”

Here’s an example of a time your humble blogger apparently failed.  This story occurred on a picturesque fall day.  My son, Cameron, and I were driving to one of his tennis lessons. I remember pumping him up saying things like “let’s really concentrate today” and “hit the ball like your coach taught you.”  I also threw in “you can beat those kids even if they are a little older.”  In my own mind, I sounded like General Patton pumping up the troops.  In other words, the seeds were clearly sown and greatness was sure to follow.  It was at this point that Cameron exclaimed out of the blue, “Look daddy, there’s a bird in that nest!”

For the record, Cameron played fine that day.  Regardless, I’m not sure anything I said registered at the time;  but that’s not the point.  I tried to do what I could to encourage Cameron to play his best tennis. 

It’s not only your choice when to sow the seeds; but what seeds are to be sown and how often.  Though my tennis example with Cameron may prove it doesn’t always work, I will guarantee there are many times it does. In order to get the best out of kids, they have to have confidence.  Though parents sowing seeds is not the entire equation for a child to excel, it’s certainly an important step.

On a final note, any parent who has a child’s respect can also fall victim to sowing negative seeds.  If, for example, I told my children they were ugly, dumb, inferior to others, or not very good at something, they would completely believe me.  All parents should watch their words very carefully because the consequences are potentially devastating.  I once heard long ago, “don’t be the parent who thinks they know how the book ends before the final chapter is even written.” Even if your child isn’t the best at something (and whose child is) it’s still important to make them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. 

We want our children to be happy.  We want the best for them. Together, let’s sow seeds to give our kids every chance to achieve these things.

My next blog will be this Friday, I have several interesting parenting questions to choose from. If you have a parenting question, it can be sent to

Take care of yourselves and your families and please don’t forget to pass this along to other parents!!!     

The Bottom Side of Normal

Hope everyone has recovered from their Christmas weekend.  I am excited to be back with you!  Over the holidays, I acquired some new followers from near and abroad and want to welcome all of you.  The lessons I hope you take today can be implemented where ever you live no matter where your child goes to school. 

Today’s blog is part two of what I started last Monday called An Educational Opportunity.  Basically, I said to use some of the time off with your kids to gain an educational edge.  I also talked about interpreting grades beyond the letter (A-B-C-D-F)  If you haven’t seen it already, I’d encourage you to look at it.  The goal is for you, the parent, to look beyond your child’s grade and concentrate on the intricacies.  What makes his/her grades so high or low?  What could have been done better?  A specific way for me to explain this is to focus on my three year old, Luke.    

Luke is one happy and fun loving kid.  He’s the child you may find in the grocery store hollering, “Merry Christmas” to everyone he passes.  Another example of his spirit could be found at Christmas Mass.  He was a bit slow in his responses (understandably) and when the congregation said, “Amen,” he would holler it a second too late.  People would turn and laugh which was a bit embarrassing; but funny as well.

The main problem with Luke is he has a speech delay and was recently tested for a second time.  My wife and I found out he scored on the bottom side of the normal spectrum.   At first glance, that may seem pretty disappointing, right?

For those of you who have regularly seen this blog, you know about my oldest child’s educational achievements.  Details can be found on earlier blogs (October15th and October-18th editions) but he has tested in the top 1% nationally in reading and math.  One may think I may be disappointed Luke is not following in the footsteps of his brother.  One may also think my prior education blogs may not be as valid because I can’t produce the same result with a different kid thus far.   But wait. Before making any assumptions, did you remember my advice of looking beyond the initial grade?  Of course you did and that’s why you’ll keep reading!

Here’s more of the story.  Luke had fluid in his ears for what could have been months.  Lauren and I didn’t take him to the doctor because we didn’t know it existed.  He didn’t get ear aches like his brother so there was not  a reason to be alarmed. If it would have been treated, the speech problems would have been much less severe.

The first time Luke took the speech test, he was so low, he couldn’t even complete it.  To go from that to the bottom side of normal was a huge leap.  Obviously, I’m very excited about the results.  I’m also extremely confident in my abilities to teach and I feel Luke and I are off to the races (educationally speaking).

Because this blog is partially meant to teach, let’s attempt to apply Luke’s circumstances to your kids.  When your child receives a grade in any subject, knowing the back story is as important as the grade.  Let’s say, for example, your child went from a “B” last year in math to a “C” on their last report card.  The key to helping as a parent is to pinpoint the subtle changes.  Were his/her study habits different?  Was there something taught last year that wasn’t retained in your child’s mind this year?  If I asked, could you adequately explain the problems to a simple guy like me?

Now, let’s flip the scenario.  Let’s say your kid went from a (C+) to an (A-).  The same basic rules apply.  Pinpoint the positive changes and capitalize on the success.  Did your child study harder?  Did you give them more of your time/encouragement? Did the teacher have a positive impact?  What were the factors of change? A leader teach is able to help this student wi...Image via Wikipedia

I certainly can’t go over all the grading scenarios in education.  But, as a former teacher, I know this.  The grade in any class should stem from an overall body of work.  There are reasons some children succeed and others don’t do as well. When you find and attack those reasons, you should expect better report cards.

On a side note, if your kid is already doing exceedingly well, why not challenge the teacher to provide more difficult material? True learning only occurs when additional knowledge is gathered and retained by the student.  In other words, it’s possible for a kid to get an “A” in a class and not learn much.

If you enjoyed The Bottom Side of Normal, please consider sending it to a parent who would enjoy it.  That gesture would mean so much to me.  To those of you who have ever passed along my material, thank you!

This Wednesday, I am back with a behavior blog.  The title will be Sowing Seeds.  It’s a tactic I’ve used for years with good results.  Can’t wait to tell you all about it.