Stop Stomping on Good Teachers

A few of my good friends still teach. I am in awe of the stories they share about the trials and tribulations of their work; as well as the joys of their connections both academically and socially with their students. Unfortunately, though it is the tales that describe how little they actually get to make those connections these days that are keeping me out of the classroom. Perhaps I am a coward and would prefer to live off the memories of the life changing experiences I had teaching in the (real) ACE program in NYC too many years ago, when a supportive administration and the opportunity to be creative with my lessons in order to find the best ways to reach a classroom of varied students was not only permitted, but encouraged. I know that the government must only want what is best for our children, but I wonder desperately how their input of late is going to affect the future of our country as a whole. Ultimately, might I remind everyone, our children and their education are our future? Teachers cannot teach effectively with their hands tied or without love in their hearts. With each negative account I hear, the smaller these teachers’ hearts get; and I grow afraid for our future. Yet, I go into colleges and talk with prospective teachers about how teaching is the most noble job in the universe. “Never be afraid to convey your love for your students, because it will undoubtedly show up in your lessons and your students’ success,” I preach.

Yet, I wonder each time I hear another story from my teacher friends, how long those young teachers will maintain their enthusiasm. I am concerned that our seasoned teachers are longing to leave their profession – and not because of the kids, but rather the stringent new regulations that make teaching robotic, rather than responsive and heartfelt. I won’t stop encouraging new teachers to teach with their heart, nor will I stop hoping that my friends and others like them will hang in there a little longer; but mostly I pray that someone will see the light before we have driven the good that is left in our education system out. We should all open our minds to new methods, and stop stomping on those that already work. I realize I am not offering any solutions here; just a whole lot of hope and prayer. Care to join me or better yet, come up with an answer?

Dress the Part


This morning my youngest daughter was getting ready for school and announced that some teachers give extra credit if you dress professionally. My first thought was that was absurd. My second was I wished schools required uniforms. And then my third thought, as I am clearly one to continuously recycle even the most mundane ideas in search for some deeper meaning; brought me back to a time when I taught in New York and received a grant to teach summer school and pay our students to come to school.  Essentially, their summer classes, while also providing them with necessary credits towards graduation, became the students’ summer jobs.  If they came to school late, we docked their pay.  If they didn’t hand in an assignment, we docked their pay. If they did extra work, came in early or stayed to clean the classroom, a small bonus found its way to their paychecks. We tried to require them to dress more workwise, both to make a point as to the importance of dressing respectfully at a place of employment, but also to cut down on the inappropriate garb that managed to skillfully get past their parents’ eyes each morning.  That is; if their parents were paying attention. I realize that being able to regulate our students’ attire, etc. was somewhat idealistic in a generally unrealistic situation. It worked though. As to whether the message we hoped it would impart had any effect, we can only hope. The point is, optimistically they later understood the importance of being prompt, fulfilling one’s responsibilities and dressing suitably for a job, all matter.

I have to admit I am still surprised at the way even adults dress, particularly in a place of employment. I know casual Friday has found its way into Monday through Thursday in many offices, but even informal can mean buttoning one more button, no? At open house at the high school recently, my son’s math teacher greeted us in shorts and flip flops. Now I will be the first to admit that teachers are severely underpaid, but she couldn’t find something a bit more apt to the situation? How did she expect us to take her seriously when she didn’t have the decency to respect her own position enough to dress the part of a professional? If you want to be valued, play the part. Unfortunately, we live in a society that thrives on visual impressions.

I wonder how some kids make it out the front door in a few of the outfits I’ve seen entering the middle and high school and recall my niece showing me how she wore her shorts out the door at one length, but when she arrived at the bus stop, she conveniently rolled them up to a length that her father would have had her strung up for. Yet, somehow, said niece managed to make it into adulthood, rather successfully, and unscathed both by her father’s admonishment for inappropriate dress or a reputation that may have deemed her better suited for a job that required a pole. As my daughter rushes past me, my attempt at a goodbye kiss barely reaching her hurried cheek, I hold my tongue about the lip gloss that glistens a bit too much for my tastes or from a reminder to refrain from changing her outfit after she leaves (because I have already convinced her that I have spies all over town). I remind myself that I have drilled into her my favorite saying in regard to attire, “Don’t advertise what you’re not willing to sell,” and that I don’t want to go overboard and be faced with utter teenage rebellion (although I am not one to shy away from a just insurrection). I pray that school dress codes will back me up. While it is true that there are days that I wish my kids never saw a music video or any sort of media for that matter, I hope that we have reached a happy medium between respectful and inappropriate dress, because whether we want to believe it or not, how we present ourselves portrays an image that is difficult to erase.

I’ve rethought my opinion on the teachers that give extra credit for students that dress more professionally and want to thank them for attempting to keep the idea of demanding respect through one’s appearance alive. I concur that it is unfortunate that we all fall prey to visual influences, but until the world truly begins to see things in shades of gray, please reserve the flip flops for the beach.

Dedicated to Teachers That Make a Difference

On Facebook I read about a teacher from my junior high school that passed away recently.  I was never fortunate enough to have her, but her reputation was such that I remember her well.  In one of the posted photos, Ms. Morell is on a field trip with Mr, Byrnes.  Mr. Byrnes, on the other hand, I did have as my teacher and boy, did I love his class.  All the girls thought he was adorable, an important trait when in middle school, and hung onto his every word.  More importantly though; his class was fun and his stories were interesting.  Somehow, he managed to make history intriguing for me; something that never happened before.  I looked forward to his class and so did most of my friends, boys and girls alike.

Many heartfelt condolences appeared on Facebook for the late Ms. Morell.  People wrote all sorts of things about how they loved her class; how she made learning Spanish fun; how she understood kids.  The point is, thirty-five (or so) years later, people remember Ms. Morell.  They may not have thought about her often in the last years, but when they heard of her passing, warmth filled their hearts as they recalled the joy she brought to their edification.  We remember the teachers that leave impressions on us. How many of us can say we are surely going to leave an imprint in this world?  A good teacher does. We hope, as we send our children off to school each day, that they will be blessed with teachers that they too will remember in thirty-five years; teachers that made a difference; teachers that will fill the screen on Facebook (although by then I am quite sure there will be something far more sophisticated that I will struggle to have my grandchildren teach me).  The excitement for learning that a good teacher, a funny teacher, a warm teacher, can evoke is priceless.

Here’s to the Ms. Morells’, the Mr. Byrnes’, Kohuts’ and Edelsteins’, Mrs. Wells’, who managed to make a mark on my life.  Here’s to the millions of teachers that get kids, make classes interesting, and have changed someone’s path or brought light to a subject.  Here’s to the teachers that make a difference. about 1977

Where There is Passion; There is Hope

Another article about Fifty Shades found its way to the front page of my local newspaper recently.  Frankly, I am numb. This one boasts that due to Ms. James infamous, erotic novels, “businesses focusing on sexuality are seeing a significant increase in sales.”  Well, there is good news.  I know I will sleep better tonight knowing that for sure.

I began to wonder.  If my Shades of Gray were to be coveted the way Fifty Shades of Grey has, would the world suddenly take note of the desperate need our education system is in?  Would people begin to get more involved in fundraising for our schools?  Would teachers feel motivated to get back into their classrooms and give a little more of their hearts regardless of the impediments put on them by lack of funds, support and an excessive amount of red tape?  Would the government allocate higher pay for educators or mandate parents to assure their children attend school and do homework?

I love visiting book clubs and engaging in intelligent conversation about my book, particularly when the subject diverts from which parts are non-fiction (many) to questions like, “Do you believe that we should be putting money into curriculum like the dropout prevention program described in Shades of Gray?”  (At the risk of exposing my political views; yes – let’s put the money into keeping kids in school now, rather than funding prisons later!) In the next few months I am eager to meet with potential teachers and social workers at various high schools and universities and hope that they will take away from my book an enthusiasm similar to Olivia’s or mine; not unlike the fervor that ignited the real ACE program. I can’t promise the passion my book might kindle will cause the same kind of sales Fifty Shades has, but then again, if one doesn’t dream, neither story would have been told.