Category Archives: life lessons

Learning Disabilities – a second look

I’ve taught for many years in a system that I have often questioned when it comes to students and learning disabilities.  As an outside-of-the-box thinker, I’ve always hoped for more freedom in teaching to reduce the necessity for a child being labeled as learning disabled when I thought there might be a better way.

In my opinion, schools need to offer a more “balanced” curricula including both visual and performing arts as well as extended opportunity for inquiry and exploration. If offered, I believe we would have a much smaller ESE population.  Walk into any ESE class and you will find talented students in these areas.  If not, you’ll find students who lack focus because their minds are sparked with imagination and their personalities are bursting at the seams from the skill and drill activities they take part in.

Google search famous people with learning disabilities and you’ll find less than average students who had the tenacity and intrinsic abilities (not valued by education) to prove their teachers wrong.  I share a list and a YouTube presentation.  Both are inspiring and encouraging.

Famous people with learning disabilities:

ADD/ADHD

Will Smith, Jim Carey, Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw, Babe Ruth, Greg Louganis, Vince Lombardi, Pablo Picasso, Ansel Adams, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Frost, and Edgar Allen Poe, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Malcolm Forbes, Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, FW Woolworth, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Alfred HitchcockHenry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Cher, Buddy Rich, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, President John F. Kennedy, President Thomas Jefferson, President Abraham Lincoln, President Dwight Eisenhower, President George Bush, and President George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Nicolai Tesla, Louis Pasteur, Galileo, and Sir Isaac Newton…

The list goes on.  What were some of them told and what did they share?

Sydney Smith said, “The real object of education is to give children resources that will endure as long as life endures; habits that time will ameliorate, not destroy; occupation that will render sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful, and death less terrible.”

Reading, writing, and math are all important but there has to be more if we are to help our students actualize the above realities.

If you’re still with me – thanks for reading and listening!!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

Take a creative break

nancy 2011-2012 K    I love to teach and  I’ll admit, new education trends find teaching tasks taking up most of my wakeful time.  A recent lengthy bout with pneumonia however, forced me to take time to rest.  It also found me taking up a creative passion from long ago – crocheting.  I found the break from “thinking” about teaching, expectations, and test scores refreshing and I believe it helped me heal quicker – both physically and mentally.

The link between creativity and mental and physical health has long been established.  How are you feeling these days?  Does your health or mental state need a lift?  As George Lois stated, “Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

Teacher work loads and stress seem less cumbersome when balanced with a creative activity.  What’s your creative passion?  Not sure what it is?  Listen to Sir Ken Robinson discuss “Finding Your Element”.

Are you finding time for your creative passion?  Remember – you have a life outside of work that only you can make fulfilling.   Find time for a creative break today!

What about the child?

In 1918, a special commission of the National Education Association presented a set of goals on the “purposes of school”.  The list included:

  • providing the child with a sense of ethics
  • teaching the child responsibility for his/her own health
  • teaching the child sensitivity toward the responsibilities of citizenship
  • mastery of the three “R’s”
  • teaching the child to use leisure time well
  • encouraging worthy human relationships with family and friends
  • teaching the child to make a living

We have come to teach a new generation of students and the goals these days seem to focus on teacher quality and offering great schools for students to learn in. While the Common Core Standards stress highest student achievement for all I have to wonder – wouldn’t the goals presented in 1918 be practical for our students today and if so – why are we not paying more attention to them?

Thoughts anyone?

The greatest teacher gift

ajaylaToday was the last day of school for my kindergarten students.  One child came up and said she had a gift for me, but forgot it. I told her she had already given me a wonderful gift.  Then I thought of Ajayla…

There is a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Sometimes, teachers come in small packages…

 “Open mine, open mine!” they shouted.  The children sat on the floor in front of me – eyes wide, waiting for me to open the gifts they had brought their teacher.  Most children in this very special group of first graders beamed with pride, but I had mixed emotions because some not able to share a gift might be hurt.

There were many gifts this last day of school.  From a multicolored spray of wild flowers in a crystal vase to several teacher books.

 Amid their excitement, giggles, applause, and me thanking the children, one of them anxiously called out.

“Ms. Ellington!” Ajayla said, eyes twinkling with her effervescent smile.

 “I have a gift for you!”

 “You do?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s in my backpack.  Would you like me to get it for you?”  she asked.

“Of course!”  I nodded. Ajayla, for the young age of seven was an old soul, wise beyond her years.  The children looked at each other curiously, some watching her every move as she enthusiastically raced to her backpack for the gift.

Ajayla returned with tightly cupped hands and a radiant look on her face.  She stood before me, her back to the others. A few children leaned to see around her, and then all sat motionless – curious to see what the gift would be.

“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” she whispered in my ear.  I smiled as the colorful beads, perfectly placed in her braided hair tickled my cheek.

The children giggled.  I closed my eyes and held out my hands.  I waited.

“Can you feel it?”  she asked.

I felt nothing.  Eyes still closed, I moved my hands slightly forward straining to feel.  I shook my head.  “I don’t feel…” I began to say.  Then suddenly, I felt the gentle brush of her warm fingertips resting on mine.

“Do you feel it now?” she whispered.  A rush of emotion went through me.

“Yes, Ajayla, I feel it!”  I said.

I opened my eyes and looked at her.  She was glowing. Her fingers now clutching mine. “It’s a wonderful gift!” I exclaimed.  Ajayla leapt forward and wrapped her arms around me.  It was clear the other children understood.  They broke into a round of applause.

“I’ll never forget you,” she said.  “I’ll love you forever and wherever I go you
will always be here in my heart.”

I held her close.  As I did, the others began to surround us, each reaching to be part of our embrace.

“Boys and girls,” I said, “Ajayla has given us all the greatest gift today. Giving and receiving gifts is wonderful, but the greatest gift you can ever give or receive is not one you can see or touch.”  I paused to hold back my tears.  “You can feel it though.”

The children smiled.

“Where?” I asked.

“In your heart.” was their reply.

Meanwhile these three remain:

faith, hope and love;

and the greatest of these is love.

 Corinthians, 13; 4-7 

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Is education a mechanical or human system?  How do we develop a culture where teachers and students thrive and excel?

Here is the latest from Sir Ken Robinson with a challenge for educators and administrators alike.

How can we improve early education?

My father was a self-employed painting contractor.  As a child I observed his love of work and determination to grow intellectually even though he left school after the eighth grade – in his day, an accepted thing to do.

dad - youth     Leaving school did not diminish his motivation to learn.  I can still see him sitting on the sofa with book in hand learning all he could about whatever piqued his interest.  Dad always told me, “The more you can do in life, the more independently successful you will be.”  Dad’s passing did not diminish my motivation to learn.  He modeled well the life skills needed to survive in a competitive work world.

I reflected on Dad’s lessons as I viewed the following video “How can we improve early education?”

Listen as D. Quinn Mills, Consultant; Past Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School and expert on the differences between Asian and Western leadership styles shares his views on how we can improve early education by instilling in children motivation to learn.

http://bigthink.com/videos/how-can-we-improve-early-education

Why teachers leave

Teachers enter teaching full of enthusiasm – knowing they have an opportunity to affect the lives of many over their time in the classroom.

Time and circumstance often wreak havoc on these idealistic goals.  The teacher in the following YouTube video (Ellie Rubenstein) eloquently expresses what teachers across the nation are feeling these days.  Her passion for teaching can’t be denied.  Ellie’s video has gone viral – she is enthusiastically supported by hundreds of thousands across the nation.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the state of public education today?  Do you share or not share Ellie’s views?  Why or why not?

Why teachers teach

!cid_3172757604_646320   I recently read an article written by a college student who is reconsidering her decision to become a teacher.  While her heart seems to be in teaching, those around her are persuading her to pursue a more prestigious, higher salaried career.  In other words – a “real profession” that is worthy of the cost of a college degree.

The question then arises – why do teachers teach?  It certainly can’t be for the salary.  Teachers are underpaid and overworked.  It can’t be for respect.  Teachers are often falsely charged as being the “problem” with education.  It can’t be for the prestigious working conditions.  Many teachers work in anything but.  Why then do we see teachers endure these conditions year after year not closing the door on education to pursue a more self-satisfying, lucrative career?  The answer must lie in the altruistic nature of teaching and the strong sense of duty most teachers cite as the reason for choosing a teaching career.

According to the National Education Association the average 2011-2012 starting teacher salary in the United States was $35,672.  Factoring into this salary the state of the economy, the increasing cost of shelter, utilities, food, insurance, and yes – taxes, this amount of money doesn’t support a lavish lifestyle or even a modest lifestyle.

Do teachers deserve more respect?  While teachers bear the brunt of accusations on what’s wrong with education, few outside of education stop to question why most teachers teach a specific way.  With the terms and conditions of No Child Left Behind came a landslide of do’s and don’ts over the years eliminating any autonomy a teacher may have in the classroom.

Working conditions?  Consider a career which pays on average for 37.5 hours of work, but commands on average 50-60 hours plus each week to get the job done.   Add to that career – purchasing books and materials out-of-pocket for students unable to afford them, classroom maintenance, professional development, teacher disrespect, constantly changing expectations, added demands, student behavioral concerns, etc., and answer this – would you teach?

While you may say “no” there are many teachers who would still say “yes.”  When I ask my college students why they chose education, the same answer is given every time – “I want to make a difference.”  Indeed, there are many teachers who have done just that.  This altruistic sense of service to others is best expressed with the story of David Menasche who does not consider his declining health but instead asks “Did I make a difference?”

David Menasche: Did I make a difference?

http://www.nea.org/home/2011-2012-average-starting-teacher-salary.html

Transforming society and lives through music

cello players    Looking at the work of Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela we see how the arts can transform society by bridging the gap between rich and poor while increasing intellectual and emotional capacities in children. From an original group of 11 impoverished children Abreu built the more than 300,000 student El Sistema, a nationwide organization of more than 100 youth orchestras made up of students from poor and middle-class neighborhoods. As Abreu states: “It is evident that music has to be recognized as an element of socialization, as an agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values: solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion.”

Is it time to implement a proactive approach to our societal dilemmas by providing all our children means for a better way?  Some think so as is evidenced by El Sistema groups forming around the world.  For information on the USA group go to http://elsistemausa.org/.

Thoughts for Black History Month – “I Am”

segregated

I remember the ’60’s as a time of turbulence – a time of triumph.  At the age of seven, my mother, siblings and I climbed the steps of a Greyhound Bus in Connecticut to join my father in Florida. My first image of “those” water fountains remains etched in my mind.  With no previous discrimination experience, I approached the “colored” fountain at one of our first southern layover stops.  I remember people glaring as Mom led me to the “white” fountain. I remember her fearful look as she hurried me back on the bus.

The sixties were an emotional time, but also, a time of great growth.  I reflect on those years often – especially when my students and I celebrate Black History Month each year.  Though happy “those” water fountains no longer exist – I regret that some in society too easily slip back into “water fountain” thinking.

At my first multicultural teacher training, participants were asked to share their thoughts in writing.  My thoughts drifted back to the ‘60’s…

“I Am”

I am thoughtful and loving – two traits you would know

If you’d take time to see what life’s lessons will show

I marvel at kindness imagined and real

I hear glorious harmonies, world echoed with zeal

I see hands held united in colorful hues

I see joy for each person – joy lasting, joy true

I am thoughtful and loving – two traits you would know

If you’d take time to see what life’s lessons will show

I see unity, caring throughout humankind

Immense rays of hope at the thought in my mind

I pity those left untouched by one’s plight

I’m troubled to think that this wrong won’t be right

I am thoughtful and loving – two traits you would know

If you’d take time to see what life’s lessons will show

I discern you are you and I am me

If love’s unconditional – why can’t we see?

I dream of the day when all equal will be

All loving you – all loving me

I am thoughtful and loving – two traits you would know

If you’d take time to see what life’s lessons will show

Nancy

multicultural students

Black History Month links –

http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/black-history-month.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history-month

http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/black-history/

http://www.teachervision.fen.com/black-history-month/teacher-resources/6602.html

http://www.thinkport.org/Classroom/FEATURE/black_history.tp