You Can Be a Teacher, Too
Part 2: Parents and Children
Edwin Lint, MA
Educator and Author
©1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 DiskBooks Electronic Publishing
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Basic principles for all quality instruction, Including Volunteer Programs
The most common trap into which a volunteer education manager can fall sounds something like this:
Question: Aren't these people volunteers who work as a goodwill service to this organization or community?
Answer: There may be no money involved but there is time. The teacher's time, the student's time, the supervisor's time.
1. Each teacher will have a written job description and relevant performance standards. Of course, such a job description should reference competence in our four main areas: compassion, communication, content, and control.
2. All teachers will receive pre-service and in-service training in how to fulfill the requirements of their job descriptions and meet minimum performance standards.
3. Each teacher will be given a regular performance evaluation to assess on-the-job competence as measured against the relevant job description and performance standards. Such an evaluation will include the following areas: compassion, communication, content, and control.
4. Teachers who show evidence of failing to perform satisfactorily will participate in a corrective action program designed to improve performance in the deficient area(s).
5. Teachers who fail to respond to an appropriate corrective action program will be considered for dismissal.
6. Dismissal will be the final disciplinary action, following these progressive disciplinary actions:
a) Verbal reprimand.
b) Written reprimand.
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I wish I could say that once you have turned your child over to the teacher and the school, he/she will be in good hands from then on. In most cases that will be true, but there are exceptions. As a professional educator as well as a parent and taxpayer, I resent these exceptions as much or more than you do.
One of the big problems is that schools cut corners on human rights and have gotten away with it for years. Persons arrested and suspected of a crime have rights. Convicted felons in prison have rights. Minorities have rights. People in mental institutions have rights. Persons with disabilities have rights. They all have their rights and in most cases those rights are right!!t
But what about our run of the mill children? They spend up to seven hours a day in the care of strangers. Don't they have rights, too? You better believe they do and it's about time parents woke up to the fact that it's our job to make sure those rights don't get trampled on.
Here s a partial list of things all parents and educators should be thinking about in connection with the rights of a child in school.
While a child is in school, he/she ...
1. Should be considered innocent of breaking a school rule and not punished until he/she is found guilty as a result of a reasonable investigation.
2. Should not be punished in a group as a result of something which one student or a small group of students has done.
3. Should have free and constant access to the restroom. He/she may be asked if he/she can wait but never told he/she can't go.
4. Should have a chance to drink water after physical exertion, such as playground activities.
5. Should have a chance to wash his/her hands before eating lunch.
6. Should not be spanked, whipped or physically punished in any way. When parents use physical punishment, it must be balanced with physical love on a ratio of ten hugs to one smack. Teachers are rarely in a position to do this much hugging.
7. Should not be subjected to public sarcasm or ridicule when disciplining him/her.
8. His/her problems at school should be confidential among the teachers who work directly with him/her and his/her parents. Other teachers, parents or people in the community should not be involved.
9. At all times he/she should be treated as a person of dignity and worth. He/she is not a non-person. He/she is not a semi-person or a sub-person. He/she is a full-fledged citizen of the United States and a human being, created equal with the principal and teachers of the school he/she attends.
10. Every reasonable effort must be made to maintain the highest possible levels of quality of living and quality of learning in all aspects of the public school education program. This includes things that are personal, social, educational, environmental, physiological and spiritual.
Some of the things on this list can cause a lot of arguments. Not all teachers, principals and maybe even parents will agree with me on all points. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the things on this list represent the only right and fair way to treat children in school. I also believe that in your lifetime, these rights will be guaranteed every child in public school through the school codes of all 50 states.
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The job of being a parent is the most important responsibility you'll ever face. I'm sure you already know that but I just want to say it again.
An education is an extremely important part of your child's life, both in the present and in the future. He/she will spend up to 990 hours per year for up to 13 years in the care and custody of your local school system. When you match up the important job of a parent against the important job of a teacher, guess who's in the middle? Right! Your little Johnny.
Even though you live in a topnotch school district, the time may come when your job as a parent will take you to the teacher, principal, superintendent or school board to make sure Johnny isn't getting squashed there in the middle. Some of the things in this book may help you if such a time comes. Maybe you've already made a trip to the teacher or other school official on behalf of your child but didn't feel satisfied. This section should be especially helpful. You can do better next time or you can even go back and tackle a problem that still isn't solved. Now here's the important part. If you feel there's something going on at school that is hurting your child-educationally, mentally, socially, physically , or spiritually-it is your God-given duty to do something about it. When the Mama Bear sees that one of her cubs is in trouble, she doesn't hang back for fear she'll cause a fuss. No way! She jumps in with teeth and claws and does her thing. This section is designed to help you make like a Mama Bear in the most courteous and logical and rational and effective way possible.
Let's say just a little more about this business of being a Mama (or Papa) Bear. Many times parents have come to me with problems their children are having in school, problems that may range from poor reading skills to denial of the right to use the toilet. In every case I ask if this problem has been discussed with the teacher or principal. Time after time the parent will mumble something about not wanting to cause trouble or being afraid the teacher will take it out on the child. Hogwash! (Not a very professional word but it shows how I feel about this attitude.) A good teacher wants to know how you feel about your child's education and welcomes your visit and comments. A poor teacher probably already knows his/her shortcomings and doesn't want to draw the principal's attention to a situation that may have occurred before. Either way, my experience as parent and educator indicates that the child makes out better-not worse-as a result of the parent getting into the act.
Let me share a story from my first year as a teacher. I had a very alert seventh-grader who could handle the class work with no problem but was a little smart with her mouth. I was young and inexperienced and I shot her down in front of the class. Used sarcasm and really hurt her. Well, she went home and told her mother- as she should have done. Her mother sent me a letter of complaint- which she should have done. (A visit would have been even better.) I was wrong and I apologized. But the point of my story is this: I really watched myself around that girl from then on. Why? Because I knew there was a real Mama Bear back home and I respected them both for it.
Getting Ready for School
I'll be talking about what you can be doing at home with your child during the years he's too young for school. The title of this section kind of looks like I'll be telling you how to avoid missing the bus. There may be a solution to that problem but my wife and I could never find it. If we're talking about your first child, I need to say this section will not take the place of all those books parents like to read about raising children. I'll only get into those things that tie in very closely with "getting ready for school.
to Talk and Read a Lot to Your Child
A good education in America' s schools depends on your child's ability to understand what is said to him/her. Along with this go the abilities to express ideas in words, read other people's ideas that have been written down, and express his/her/her own ideas in written form. We call this whole area "language arts".
All of these skills will be given a head start if you talk to your child all the time, right from the day of birth. When you're feeding him/her, talk about it. When you're bathing and dressing her, talk about those things, too. Talk about his/her toys, talk about yourself, talk about the other members of the family. Talk about the pets, the weather, people you visit and who visit you. Talk, talk, talk all the time about everything around you and never stop talking. Only God will know the precise moment when that little brain will make the first connection between a word he/she hears and something he/she sees, feels, tastes or senses. The sooner and more often these connections are made between words he/she hears and things in his/her little world, the better he'll learn in school.
As soon as you're sure your baby is making regular connections between words and things around him/her, start using books. Get books with lots of pictures and talk about what's in the pictures. It's better if the pictures are real photographs instead of drawings. It's easier to make a connection, or "association" as we say, between a word and a photograph since the photograph is more like the real thing than a drawing will be.
Point to the pictures and talk about them. Encourage Baby to hold the book and play with it. Since books will be his/her constant companions during all his/her school years, it's important that he/she learns to enjoy them as quickly as possible.
Baby's early books should be "board books", so called because their pages are as stiff as a board. Board books are sturdy and the pages thick and extremely easy to turn. My grandchildren especially like what I call cube books. They are about four inches square.
Keep valuable books in a safe place so you're not required to scold or punish him/her for tearing a page or scribbling on a cover. You want him/her to always see books as fun things, not no-no's. Always hand him/her a book right side up and gently change it when he/she turns it up side down, without saying anything about the mistake. As soon as he/she regularly handles a book right side up it's time to use books for telling stories. Most parents read stories to their children but in the beginning it's best to "tell" instead of read. You certainly don't need the words to tell the stories of the Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Face your child and hold the book so he/she can see the pictures, pointing to the pictures as you talk. Then-really get into the story. Ham it up! Be a star! Your child will love every minute of it and beg for more. I couldn't count the number of times I've done the four different voices that go along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The trick is to make Papa Bear's voice low enough so you still have room at the top for Baby Bear's squeaky little voice. I get a sore throat just thinking about it. But it was fun . . . still is with my grandchildren. If I would announce right now that I'm about to do a full-scale "Goldilocks" with sound effects, Jim and Jessi would be on the road from Nashville and Philadelphia within the hour. Judy and Dave (who live closer) would have their kids here within minutes.
As your child gets a little older you should start reading to him/her from simple books so he/she understands that the words on the pages contain the fun of the story. With him/her on your lap, hold the book so both of you can see and then read slowly while you follow along beneath the words with your finger. In this way he/she learns that reading works from the top to the bottom of the page and from the left to the right.
Keep on reading to him/her in this way for as long as he/she fits on your lap. After a while you can stop pointing to the words with your finger but you should never stop reading to him/her until he/she has learned to read for his/her own enjoyment, usually about the summer between the second and third grade.
Reading at Home
Teachers don't agree on how much should be taught at home before a child starts school. Some say leave reading and numbers completely alone until he/she gets them in school. Other teachers say teach as much as the child is ready for while still at home. Here's what I suggest as a middle ground.
Teach him/her to recognize his/her own first name and the names of family members when printed. Teach him/her to name the letters of the alphabet when he/she sees them printed but it's not necessary to say the alphabet in order. Teach him/her to recognize the numerals 0 through 9 but don't encourage him/her to count out loud unless he/she's counting something specific. This is probably enough before he/she starts regular school.
Most people who aren't teachers think learning the alphabet in order is the first step of learning to read. Actually, recognizing and naming the letters is much more important than saying them in order. The only reason we teach alphabet order at all is because of dictionaries and phone books. And, most parents think it's cute for a little child to count up to 10: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.
In the beginning counting should be limited to counting real things: 1-2-3 apples; 1-2-3 cars. Oral counting without things may make it harder when it comes time to count things.
When teachers in kindergarten and first grade write on the board or paper, they use something called manuscript writing. In manuscript writing, all letters and numerals are made with straight lines and circles. You may not make them perfectly but if you can come pretty close, it will make the letter and word activities you do at home helpful instead of harmful. Above everything else, don't use all capitals for a word you want him/her to recognize, even his/her name.
Don't do any writing at all with him/her beyond crayons and a coloring book. Putting the circles and lines down in a certain order and moving the pencil in certain directions make the manuscript letters. His/her teacher will want him/her to make the letters just that way and it's better if you don't get involved before school starts. A little drawing and coloring is all right but NO LETTERS.
Here's one thing you can do around the house that will help him/her get ready for reading and not do any harm. Print household words on cards- making proper manuscript letters- and tape them up with masking tape. Make word labels for the door, window, chair, table, sink, stove, and so forth.
If you have access to a word processor and printer, print out your labels using the Courier font.
Here is an example of the Courier or New Courier font.
When he/she gets used to the way the words look [their configuration] make another set of cards he/she can hold in his/her hand. Ask him/her to match the words in the two sets. Later you can hold up the cards in the second set as "flash cards" and see if he/she can name the word without the clue of seeing it taped to the abject. With all school-type activities, go very slow and easy. Don't push, don't get uptight, and don't scold for failures. He/she probably isn't a genius and he'll learn in his/her own time and at his/her own pace. In fact, when the student's ready to learn, it will be hard to hold him/her back.
I just thought of one other learning activity you may want to try at home. Make up two flash cards with BOYS on one and GIRLS on the other. Now here s where you'll break the no-capitals rule. On these cards all letters should be capitals since that's the way the signs will look on the toilet doors at school. If he/she learns these, try MEN and WOMEN. Knowing these words will be helpful in places other than school
Your Child to Obey
Don't expect the teacher to do in kindergarten or first grade what you haven't been able to do at home. Be reasonable in what you expect your child to do and then don't accept anything else. Children quickly learn just how much they can get away with and when they have to obey. If you expect obedience, you'll get it.
I heard about some research done several years ago to find out why some teachers could control classroom behavior and others couldn't. With the teachers' permission, the researchers observed classrooms where things were orderly and other rooms where it was bedlam.
Later, when they compared their observations and videotapes, the researchers found that the teachers with good classroom control were those who acted like they expected obedience to reasonable requests. Not because of fear, or size, or spanking, or yelling, or sarcasm. Just expecting obedience and accepting nothing else. You can have that, too, in your home. Work on it.
Your Child Some Classroom Experience
If yours is an only child or is home alone with a parent or baby-sitter much of the day, he/she should have a little classroom experience before starting school. It will help if he/she knows how to act in a group of children. How to share, how to take turns, how to wait in line-things like that. He/she'll also need to be able to sit quietly for short periods of time with a tabletop activity such as puzzles or crayons.
A well-run Sunday school or nursery school will give him/her this head start toward getting ready for school If these aren't available, maybe you can play school a little right there at home with such things as puzzles, crayons, cutting and pasting.
Summer before Your Child Starts School
Find out what regulations your school district has about a child starting school for the first time. You'll probably need his/her birth certificate and some basic medical information. When you have all your information together, go to the school and have him/her pre-registered. All these things should be taken care of long before the first day of school.
I can still remember my first day of school. It was at a one-room country school with all eight grades in Stonington, Pennsylvania. Mom packed a lunch of a Lebanon bologna sandwich and Dad took me to school. But, somebody had goofed; I wasn't old enough for first grade and had to wait till next year. I ate my first school lunch at the kitchen table!
Also, make sure your child can take care of himself in the toilet, including wiping. If he/she can't, work on this during the summer. And washing hands before eating is important. Schools have a lot of people and they also have a lot of germs as a result of all the people. Good hand-washing skills are necessary.
First Day of School
Yes, by all means take him/her to school that first day. Just be sure to leave school without him/her. There may be tears and clinging and even a little bawling. Don't budge. If you take him/her home, you'll have a bigger problem tomorrow.
If your child has a nickname based on his/her real name, make sure the teacher knows what it is and knows how to spell it. School can be a lonely, scary place and it's even worse if the teacher is calling you "Robert" when Mommy and Daddy have always called you Bobby or Bob or whatever. If a nickname is not based on his/her real name, such as Skippy, or Cricket, the teacher may not chose to use it.
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A Parent's Guide to Teacher Tenure and Unions
If your state has a tenure law, you need to understand what tenure means (Pronounced TEN-yer). The first two or three years a teacher works for a school district he/she will be on a form of probation. If he/she does a good job as far as the school district is concerned, he/she becomes a permanent employee at the end of this trial period. Educators call this permanent status of employment "tenure". It takes a lot of proof to get a teacher out of his/her position once he/she has tenure, regardless of what kind of a lousy job he/she's doing.
As a general rule, tenure doesn't help good teachers, only poor ones. If a school district is really on the ball, it wants to hold on to good and experienced teachers, not get rid of them. Sure, some shady districts are willing to fire an experienced teacher who's doing a good job so a green teacher fresh out of college can be hired for less money. I suppose politics can get involved with who's hired and fired, too. I guess these two situations are part of the reason we ever got tenure laws in the first place.
Unions have a lot to say about the way a school district disciplines teachers. If you've belonged to a union or been a union steward, you know about this kind of thing. Teacher unions can also have an effect on the quality of your child's education. When I started teaching in 1958 I'd never heard of teachers going out on strike and shutting down a school district. Now it happens all the time and I'm sure that during the school year of a long strike, the children are the biggest losers.
For something less than a major offense, the union will want the district to use progressive discipline. For the first offense a verbal reprimand is given. If it happens again in a certain period of time, the teacher gets a written warning. If it happens a third time, the teacher gets a day of suspension without pay. After a couple suspensions without pay, it's time for the district to go for a dismissal.
Along the way, the administration must keep good records of the teacher's performance and write down everything that might relate to a disciplinary action. Sometimes a teacher will do something big and bad enough to get fired the first shot out of the cannon but not very often. Therefore, a good system of progressive discipline must be used to protect both teachers and children.
Now, the bad part, the really bad part. Many teachers never get burned at all for their educational malpractice. Sounds impossible but I know for a fact that it is true.
It happens for one or more of these reasons.
1. Nobody makes a formal complaint. Children may go home and complain to their parents about what a teacher has done. Parents may mumble and grumble among themselves about what a certain teacher is doing. But nothing comes of it. The school year ends, the children go on to another teacher and the whole mess starts all over again. As the years pass, a teacher who should have been fired long ago can hurt hundreds of children.
2. Teachers hang together and cover up for each other. Don't kid yourself. Teachers know what's going on in the school where they teach. They know who's doing a good job and who isn't. And teachers will complain among themselves about a rotten apple in their barrel but no one will do anything about it. Kind of an unwritten law but it's a bad law.
3. Wake up, teachers, and police your profession before parents arise as a long-silent mighty consumer group and do it for you.
4. Principals whitewash complaints when parents do make them. You're right, it shouldn't happen but it does. All principals were teachers before they became principals. That fact give you any ideas? Sometimes the student is transferred to another class or school to keep an angry parent quiet. Or, if enough parents complain, the teacher is transferred to another school. And the problem goes on and on.
5. Parents don't work together. Very rarely do you see a group of parents banding together to deal with an unsatisfactory teacher. A lot of complaining? Yes. But unity? Hardly ever.
Now all these bad situations don't happen everywhere and all the time. They happen often enough, though, to allow incompetent teachers to go on hurting thousands of children year after year.
Schools Are Monopolistic; They should Be Competitive
When you move into a new community, one of the first things you look for is a grocery market. If the market in your immediate community is dirty, expensive, and staffed by rude employees, you'll look for another one. That's because markets are operated on the basis of competition. If you don't like the closest one, you'll drive a little farther to find one you do like. And there will be no market police to tell you where you can and cannot spend your own money to buy groceries in a clean, pleasant environment.
What happens if you move to a new community that has a rat-trap school with a rude principal and ruder teachers? Can you look around for a school you and your kids like better? In most communities, you cannot. You are a captive of the physical location of your dwelling. The teachers and their unions have established an ironclad monopoly. Even if the administration is convinced that a given teacher is doing a poor job, that teacher is so protected by the union and its rules, it is next to impossible to do anything about it.
John Stossel of ABC news, tells of a large eastern metropolis that has collected a fair number of unsuitable teachers over the years. These teachers are not fit to come into contact with students. Are they being fired for cause, as you might expect? Oh, no! They are paid a total of $20 million a year to report daily to "rubber rooms" where they twiddle their thumbs until retirement. That's an education monopoly at work.
Stossel also tells of a principal in a Belgium school who says of her parents, "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school ... You can't afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again." And that's competitive education at work.
Competitive education works because the money follows the child. It is known by various names: charter schools and voucher system are two of the more common. Be sure of one thing. The teacher unions will instantly recognize it as an end to their monopoly and fight it tooth and nail!
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