Monday, August 14, 2017

Teaching the heart as well as the mind

This op-ed by NEIFPE co-founder Phyllis Bush appeared in the August 14 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Teaching the heart as well as the mind: Caring, kind adults can make all the difference
Monday, August 14, 2017 1:00 am
Back in the olden days, whenever I heard the cicadas or saw the lawn furniture in most retail stores being replaced by school supplies, I knew that the end of summer was around the corner, and I knew that it was time for me to take in the smell of freshly waxed floors at school, to get back into my classroom to hang new posters, to re-arrange the desks and to get new lesson plans ready.

While I always tried to mix things up with my lesson plans, I always started every school year the same way. If my room was large enough, I placed the desks in a circle or a semicircle, and I had the students introduce themselves with this:

My name is ---- and I like this. Then the next student introduced himself, repeating the intro from the previous student and so on. By the time we were finished with the exercise, not only had every student spoken, but the class had loosened up and had some little factoid to help identify everyone in the class.

The benefit of all of this was that it set the tone in my classroom and, by the end of the first day, I knew and remembered the names of about 99 percent of the 150 or so kids on my class lists. As I stood by my door the next day to welcome students each period, I greeted each of them by name. While this may not seem like a big deal, it helped establish a positive climate in my classroom.

The point of establishing a positive climate was pretty simple. Each of us wears an invisible sign that says I Am Lovable And Capable, and as we go through our daily lives, little pieces of our signs are slowly ripped away by the comments and actions of others. My goal each year was to get to know each of my kids and to find ways to instruct them without demeaning or tearing away at their signs. For example, if a student didn't understand a concept or an idea or whatever I was trying to teach, I would go to Plan B to see if I could find a better way to explain. Sometimes when I felt as though I was banging my head against a wall, I would ask if someone had a better way of explaining, and most often they did – and I would ask that student to come to the front of the room to help me.

Those who want to fix teachers and kids seem to forget that all of the testing and all of the online learning and all of the latest technology and all of the moronic plans of those who have no idea about what is instructionally or developmentally appropriate have little to do with children. While it may seem quaint now, teaching the whole child works. Children come from all kinds of backgrounds and conditions, and teachers need to be mindful that until we figure out who that child is and what he/she really needs, all of the technology in the world will do little to change that. Regardless of how tough or world-wise kids may act, they are still children. As a case in point, my classes always had weekly SAT and Words of Power vocabulary quizzes. After we graded the quizzes, I told the students that anyone who got 100 percent could have a sticker. While that seems pretty juvenile, most kids were eager to get their stickers, especially the AP students.

All of this goes to the point of what is currently being done to students in the name of reform. Do we really need to make our children college and career ready for jobs that will probably be obsolete by the time they are out of school? Perhaps we need to teach students to learn how to learn and to learn how to think critically rather than robotically.

I am profoundly saddened by a world that is all too ready to tell our children where they fall short. All of the technology in the world will not fix a broken child, but kind and caring adults are a good place to start.
Phyllis Bush taught English at South Side High School before her retirement. She is a founder of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and a board member of the Network for Public Education.