This past month the West Virginia teachers decided to walk out. The teachers were disheartened because they were to receive a 1% raise but would be required to pay more for health care. The legislators drug their feet and argued over the details, wondering why on Earth the teachers were so upset. WV ranks 48th in the country in teacher pay. Many teachers took the job knowing their salaries were not going to be high, but they were assured that their insurance benefits would make up the difference, so they settled, oh, I mean accepted that fact.

Now, I grew up in WV and have a niece who teaches in WV currently. When I graduated from college in the 80’s I searched for months for a teaching job. So, did many of my friends. Not one of us found one in WV. We all relocated to find jobs elsewhere. We did find jobs in Ohio, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. We built our lives in these new states and made homes for ourselves and our families.

We have returned to WV to visit family, but we have seen sadness there. Businesses closed, buildings in disarray, unemployment high, underemployment the norm, and people looked tired and worn down by life. My son once asked me why everyone in my hometown looked so sad. I was shocked that a young boy would notice this. I wanted to say because they are worked to death and unvalued, that the leaders in WV do not seem to have a vision for their citizens, but I said that there were just a lot of elderly people and they sometimes look sad.

I have endured WV jokes. (yes, we wore shoes), my close friend lives in New York City, she has endured WV jokes. However, when all her “big city” friends got to know what a hardworking, ambitious, articulate, amazing person she was, their opinions of WV changed. The stigma of being from WV and being ignorant should not exist.

Every state, every city, and every school need great teachers. These are the people who make change. Education has long been the key to getting out of generational stagnation and poverty. Education is hope. Education is the light that should pull children toward a better life.

Teachers do way more than just stand in front of a classroom and lecture. (Even this image is old school in today’s classroom.) Here are just a few things I have either done or witnessed, do you still agree that teachers really deserve just a 1% raise or even a 5%?

  • Brought in snacks for students who had none
  • Provided shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant in bathrooms for students so they would not feel self-conscious and could focus on learning instead
  • Created a closet of dresses, belts, and suit coats for students who had nothing to wear for formal occasions.
  • Brought in a washer/dryer to the school so students could have clean clothes
  • Took students’ clothes home to wash so they were not embarrassed by stains or smells
  • Bought school supplies, binders, markers, colored pencils, stickers, etc…
  • Drove students to local college campuses to open their world to higher education
  • Sat for hours filling out college applications with students
  • Provided translators during parent/teacher conferences for parents with limited English
  • Held parent/teacher conferences late into the night or at various times during school hours, so even parents with 2 jobs had the opportunity to come and talk to the teachers
  • Brought in shoes for students, cleats are expensive, dress shoes are a luxury
  • Hired a beautician to come to the school and wash & cut student’s hair because they were traumatized by an abusive situation during their last haircut
  • Sat with students during suicidal episodes, anxiety attacks, bi-polar explosions, abuse accusations, and police questioning
  • Took students to district competitions who would have missed it and their chance to show their academic prowess because of no means of transportation
  • Tutored students for free during lunch or afterschool so they could succeed
  • Attended funerals in the middle of the summer for a former student’s family member
  • Found scholarship money or donations for students who wanted to take band but could not afford an instrument
  • Started an all school free breakfast program for any student
  • Advocated to high school for students so they would be accepted to private high schools because they deserved the opportunity
  • Attended soccer games, track meets, choir concerts, band recitals, plays, basketball, baseball, and softball games

Believe me, teachers do these things and much more daily. Let’s respect teachers and education. It is time!

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.                           

Nelson Mandela

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Right now it feels as if the world is spiraling out of control. Everyone has an opinion about everything, whether they have accurate knowledge on the subject or not. I have been trying to understand some of the reasons for this discourse, maybe you will disagree, but here are my thoughts.

When I grew up, we were expected to work hard, listen to our parents and teachers, treat others how we wanted to be treated, and be respectful. Unfortunately, our current society’s pendulum has swung to the side of, what’s in it for me? Now, I am not saying that some self care isn’t important, but it seems to have gotten out of hand.

My mother never got a break, a day off, a relaxing day at a spa or a girls’ vacation, ever. Of course she could have used a reprieve from the monotony of raising 6 kids with little financial resources. My father never went on golf outings or fishing trips with the guys for the weekend either. It just wasn’t common in our home or even in our city where we were. We worked hard, loved America, loved our families, loved God, and put others needs in front of ours.

People said that it was okay to think of yourselfokay to put yourself first, okay to ask for what you needed. Of course this concept was more than okay, everyone needed a little re-setting of the mind and soul. The problem was that society took this idea and became self-absorbed. People craved attention and posessions. Technology and social media helped to self promote and angrily voice opinions. The original theory was a good one, but what has come of it, not so much.

As an educator, my hands are tied in many situations. I see parents bullying teachers and the system, Yes, I said it, bullying. They complain about everything. They believe that their child is never wrong, and they do not allow their child to be held responsible for their actions. Hello, welcome to life people! Believe me, I let a lot go in my classroom, but if you forget your homework and get a “missing” it is just a reminder to be more conscientious next time. It is to teach you responsibility, that’s it!

What do parents do instead? They say, you can’t do this to my child, they couldn’t help it, they had practice or forgot their book at school, etc. so the dreaded “missing” is unfair. They say things like, this is hurting my childthis is causing harm to my child. No, sorry to say, you are hurting your child. Allow them to take ownership and learn, allow them to grow from each experience, please.

Educators spend a lot of time and money getting their degrees. They continue their education, paying for it out of their own pockets, and participate in professional development during the school year. Educators plan exciting lessons, grade tests, spend hours on report card comments about each child, and use their own money for supplies. They are not in this field to write up your child and get him/her in trouble. (Okaythere are some of “those” teachers who have a fixed mindset, I know).

The point, accountability, responsibility, and respect for others are missing. We have to stop blaming others and reconnect with each other as human beings. Parents, please talk to your children, listen and pay attention to them, don’t overindulge them. Instead, empower them to advocate for themselves. We need to build character, not tear down each other. 

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I have a lot of students who worked below grade level in the elementary and middle school grades. Students would come into my classrooms with various roadblocks in attaining instant success in education. Many of the babies had language barriers that made it difficult for them to score high test scores on proficiency/achievement/standardized/high-stakes tests in English speaking schools. Although I never once blamed my students for the English language deficiency, I knew that having English as a second language negatively impacted their scores on these yearly exams.

Let me explain something…..I believed then and I believe now that all of my students were and are BRILLIANT! To have the bravery and fortitude to walk into a classroom day after day and not truly understand what is being said, is mind boggling to me. I can’t even imagine sitting in a room, watching a teacher write words (not in the language I speak at home) in cursive, saying these crazy, insane words known as content vocabulary words day after day and then be expected to complete assignments independently with no cues, expected to write paragraphs in this alien language, and solve complex mathematical problems written with the sole purpose of confusing or tricking the reader, see and recognize words like “text”, “paragraph”, “selection”, and “passage”, while realizing that they all mean the same thing. No wonder so many of our children would break down weeping or shut down after ten minutes. What an incredible JOKE! Hey, but don’t worry, these students who speak English at school…with their teachers….only….are allowed to have a dictionary and extended time. (Sarcasm) Yep, that will make the situation equal for these children. (Sarcasm) Yep, these test scores from these biased, ridiculously written tests by these companies making huge money are capable of determining which students are “at level” with a group of same aged peers.(Sarcasm) These test scores, which are not, in any way, a true measure of a child’s intelligence should determine which teacher deserves her position or a wonderful evaluation? WHAT A JOKE!!!! Yet, here we are, in 2018, still listening to these people telling educators and parents that these test scores are what matters. And I have to admit, that there have been moments when I have been sucked into the craziness. I worried about my kids’ test scores. I bragged about the students who did well, and I searched, worried and lost sleep trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. But do the test scores even matter one bit????? NO they do not.

Those students, the ones who struggled, cried, quit, and bolted from the room, those same students who were turned down by high schools because their scores weren’t good enough….well they are doing GREAT! They are excelling at other high schools by working hard, studying for tests, and listening to the words their dedicated teachers taught them. They finally realized that a number on a standardized report means absolutely nothing. They have 3.0 and much better grade point averages, they are deeply involved in their schools, they are being accepted into colleges and are excelling, they are receiving scholarships to numerous schools, and they are standing straight with pride and confidence. I am so proud of each and every single one of the students I have taught, because they are beating the system. Even when others were telling them they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t good enough, they are proving those people wrong every single day.

Those stupid, useless tests mean nothing. What matters is the love, acceptance, beliefs that teachers have in their students. What matters is a hug, a shoulder to cry on, the ability to break down concepts, the ability to create connections for understanding, and a belief that speaking another language isn’t a curse, but a truly great gift that we should foster and build. The celebrations of a student’s home culture is incredibly important because when you find joy in what they believe and how they are raised, then you, as an educator, are telling them that they are important, vital, and should be proud of where they come from. You are telling them that even though differences make school hard sometimes, they don’t make school impossible.

If only educators could focus solely on true education and the educational needs of their students. Just think of all the wasted time, tears, and frustration that could be replaced with experiences that build scheme, educational opportunities, artistic activities, and joy….Just think….

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I Just Need a Break

I once taught a student with a very distinctive voice. His voice was one of a kind and for some reason it was like a beacon for me. No matter where this student was; in the lunchroom, gym, back of the classroom, front of the classroom, in the room next door; my brain honed in on this voice and I could hear what this student was saying, who he was talking to, and I could determine, just by the lilt of a word, what kind of mood he was in. I could not escape this voice because this boy was the type of kid who talked constantly….even when he was by himself. I could be teaching a lesson, the class could be engaged, maybe they would be working on a project, having a discussion, or silent reading, it didn’t matter because this kid was talking. Now you have to understand that this student was pretty smart. When he was on task, he could be a great contributor, when his stories and responses were insightful, but his mouth got in the way. I can still, to this day hear myself blurting out, “Please, just stop talking for one second!” “Please!!!! I just need a break!” “Would you please, just take a breath!” He would look startled, maybe shake his head, but inevitably he would just start talking again.

This student had ADHD. He was not my first student to have ADHD, but was memorable because for me, his diagnosis proved to be a great challenge in my classroom, not only for him, but for me. If you have ever worked in a typical classroom, you know that within every group of students there are those that stand out, that are loud, that never stop fidgeting, that can’t stay organized to save their lives, and those that have no power whatsoever to stay focused. If you’ve been in education for awhile, I bet you have noticed that the number of these special students have multiplied. There are no longer one or two, but now you have five, six, ten. I like to tell parents who have these little guys and gals that they are not alone, these students are the norm rather than the exception and fellow educators, I want to tell you that we have to adjust, we have to embrace their learning differences, and we have to accommodate….in the typical classroom.

If you stay abreast of the latest research and if you are acquainted with all the new methods, theories, and strategies out there, this is old news. Classroom dynamics are changing all across America and we can no longer look to the intervention specialist to absolve us from our struggles. So I guess I’m proposing that if we want to make a difference, if we want our students to achieve in our classrooms, if we want students to leave our classrooms knowing that they had a teacher that truly cared about them, then we have to adapt our typical classroom to fit the needs of our atypical students.

Everyone learns differently. All teachers were taught about the various “modalities”. We know that there are tactile learners, visual learners, auditory learners and more. We know this, yet are we using this knowledge to redevelop lessons, to redefine the way we teach curriculum, to breakdown concepts so that all in our classrooms will learn? Students with ADHD need structure and routine. They need multiple breaks and work well with hands-on tasks. These children need all the help they can get with developing executive functioning skills so colored folders work, writing assignments on the board works, creating checklists and keeping all of their passwords handy works. Chunking information, tasks, assessments, and only requiring necessary assignments for practice works. Guided notes, developing short term goals, and limiting free time works. Do your homework, keep your records, and brainstorm with past teachers to see what is best for the child now sitting in your room. These children are told “No” and “Stop” and “Settle down” so much. Remember to praise, high five, give them a sticker for accomplishments. Make them feel loved, accepted, and cherished inside the walls of your classroom. Find what they are good at and let them fly!

That boy, the one with the voice, well I ended up teaching him for four years, and although there were times when I just needed a break, I realized that he had those moments too. We got to know one another and I realized that he was a great big brother and friend. He made great strides in reading and did really well on oral assessments and tests with multiple choice and short answer. His math skills improved with practice and little by little he began to believe in himself. I do not believe that all ADHD children should be on medication, but I do believe that some children thrive on the right meds, but with this kid, it didn’t matter. His parents couldn’t afford it so I was made or forced to try other techniques for him. He made me work hard and frankly there was no way I could push him off to the side and ignore him. I had to find what worked for him and I can honestly say that when he left my school I truly missed him. I’m happy to say that he’s doing great and I’m glad when I run into him. I can feel confident knowing that I did everything I could to make him succeed and this is good because knowing this allows me to sleep at night.

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