Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What are They Thinking??

The Waitress

Last night, my family ate out for the first time in a couple of weeks. We hadn't eaten at our favorite restaurant for several months, so that was where we went. The waitress, one we hadn't seen before who was either in her late teens or early twenties, greeted us in a very friendly manner. When I asked her how to pronounce her name, she told me and said she was from Indonesia.  She then, quite chattily, admitted that she had grown up in the US, and that most people could not pronounce her name correctly.  She then said that kids can be mean and that, because she was of mixed races, children were very cruel to her.  She said in school they had teased her about her heritage, calling her "shrimp and rice" and other names based on traditional foods from her parents' separate heritages.  After telling us this, with no prompting from us at all, she casually shrugged her shoulders and said matter-of-factly, "Kids can be so mean."  Her attitude showed that she had heard this many times.  Even though she was out of school, she was obviously still hurt by names she was called while growing up.


The last year my daughter was in public school, in first grade, she was in a "special" class which only had 10 children between grades 1 - 3 but had a certified teacher and two adult aides.  Her best friend was a boy named Matthew.  One day in the spring of that year, she came home very upset about something. After much questioning, I discovered that an incident had occurred on the playground that day.  She and Matthew had been playing on some equipment, as usual, and some older boys had come over and started teasing my daughter.  Matthew (also a first grader) had stood up to them and got knocked down for his efforts, but they left after they did it, so I guess he had some success.  I e-mailed the teacher and found out that none of the aides or teachers on duty had seen the incident.  A week later, we had a pre-scheduled play date with Matthew and his family.  I mentioned the incident and found out the dad (a single parent) had no idea anything had happened.  He knew exactly which day it had happened, though, because his son had come home ready to fight anyone and everyone and hadn't stopped fighting, even at bedtime, but the dad had not been able to find out anything that had happened.  We thanked him for his son's bravery in front of the bullies in our daughter's defense.  From what he said, even after the teacher was informed about the incident, she had not done anything or even told Matthew's dad that it had occurred.  At that point, we had already firmly decided to homeschool before this happened, but it only served to reinforce the "right-ness" of our decision to homeschool.


If you are like most parents today, you probably just scanned over those two stories of two completely separate people, two separate ages, yet both bullied.  Most people (myself included, unfortunately) dismiss incidents such as this as being normal, commonplace. I've even heard some parents describe bullying like this as a type of modern "rite of passage," something which must be suffered before being a proper adult.


Why are bulling incidents such as this expected in our day and age?  We should be horrified at the treatment these two young people received, yet most of us just shrug it off.


Incidents of teachers being the instigator of bullying raise a little more ire, but still not enough. When I was teaching, I had a student whose experience clearly demonstrated a normal reaction. 

I was teaching 5th grade and in March, the students came back from their Strings class in a very agitated state - all of them.  Since it was time for their Art class (held in the regular classroom), I was only in and out of the room, but I noticed that everyone was unusually "snippy."  Finally, I came back and found the class in an uproar, everyone telling the art teacher that something had happened and she was fiercely denying it.  I immediately pulled two trusted students (separately) into the hallway to get their telling of the event.  Apparently, one of my boys (a very large 5th grade student) had been tightening his string on his violin's bow in the previous class.  He had tightened it too tightly and it had bent, though not broken.  The teacher walked past him and noticed.  He then grabbed this large 5th grade boy boy on the sides of his neck, using the backs of his hands, and picked him up out of his seat.  He then let him go and said, "Now you know how the bow feels when it's squeezed too tight!"  The story was the same, as well as the wording of the teacher, whoever I called out.  When I called the boy out, he told the same story, though he was highly embarrassed about it.  His mother was the type who was very involved in her son's life, so I knew she would take action.  I spent the rest of my plan time (Art class for the students) speaking with the principal about the incident.  She was shocked because, even though she didn't really like the strings teacher, she had not heard anything even remotely similar.  When I returned to class, she asked me to send students to her.  We discovered several things had happened in that class (students threatened to be locked in closets, fingers intentionally being smashed painfully to put them in the right place, etc).  The principal told me that she needed backup from the parent, because this teacher had more tenure than she (the principal) had with the district.  I told the student to tell his mom that night what had happened and that she needs to come to school the next morning to talk to the principal about it.  The next morning, she was waiting outside the office when I arrived.  She came over to me and said, "How should I react when I talk to the principal?"  I was shocked! For a few moments, I couldn't say anything.  Her child had been picked up by the NECK by a TEACHER and she was asking how she should react???!!!  I finally said that the principal was on her side, so don't personally attack her, but she needs to be furious about the event. 

As the principal investigated further, she asked the other 5th grade teacher (there were only 2 of us) if her students had said anything about abuse occurring.  She said no, nothing had happened.  The principal came by her room later in the day and poked her head in the door.  She publically asked if there were any events from strings class that the students needed to report, and no one said a word. She officially concluded that it was only my students who were being abused.  Of course, this other 5th grade teacher is the teacher who proudly did the "Rip-Rip Dance" (as she called it) when a student in her room wrote their name on the wrong line on their papers, dancing around the room in her stilletto heels, tearing their paper to shreds.  I had already stopped rotating classes with her when I looked into her room one day when it was time to trade classes back and found six of my students standing stiffly in front of the chalkboard, having her using military-style berating techniques to scream at each student about mistakes they had made when writing an essay (did I mention she was formerly military?  She was).  Keeping this in mind, I wasn't sure her students would recognize abuse anymore.

By the way, for those of you who are curious, this strings teacher was investigated by the school district. Events of abuse came up at other schools where he taught, though none had been previously reported.  He needed one more year of teaching before he could fully retire with all benefits.  He finished the school year (though with my students, an aide or the school secretary was present in the room at all times) and then he spent his last year working downtown, receiving full teacher salary but only having to copy papers and do other "gofer" work so that he could honorably retire. 


Parents today have forgotten that they have a choice.  None of these events were the reason we decided to homeschool, which is a sad testament to me.  Many incidents of bullying, whether from students or teachers, go unreported.  It hurts my heart today to hear parents of students in public schools who talk about bullying that their child has been going through.  Yet, most of them do not even talk to the staff at the school when they hear about others are being cruel to their own children. They excuse it as being "normal." 

No, no it's absolutely NOT normal to allow your child to be degraded or bullied, and it should never be accepted.  However, parents are too busy in their own lives to take time to talk to school staff even when they do hear of things.  If your child is in public school, when was the last time you walked down the hallways when students are there?  Are you seeing what your child sees every day?  Or were you bullied so much that you don't want to spend any more time than necessary in the location where your child spends his day.  You might be surprised at the changes since you were there.

"I can't homeschool."

I realize that being a certified teacher, I don't have the fear of teaching like other moms do. However, I recently heard a statistic that I want to share with you if you have decided that you aren't capable of teaching your own children.

If you have done any research at all, you know that the average homeschooler scores higher than the average public and private school student.  That is well documented.  However, think about this (also based on the strongly scrutinized studies which have yet to be disproven):

Take two women who did NOT graduate high school.  One decides to homeschool, while the other puts her child in public school.  According to data collected over the past couple of decades, the homeschooling student will outperform the public school student on every measure used, whether academic, social, or emotional, even though the homeschooling parent never graduated high school herself and the public school student had certified teachers educating him. In fact, and this surprised even me, the homeschooling child of a parent who never graduated high school herself will score higher than the average STUDENT in either public or private school, no matter the education level of the parents. WOW!

Let me say that again in another way. According to statistics (yes, you can always find exceptions), a homeschooler who is taught by a parent who has never finished high school will score higher than a public or private school student (yes, private school students are included) whose parent is very highly educated!

Why is homeschooling different?  Children are not bullied.  Children are encouraged to think.  Instruction is personal, not just "feeding the chickens" as is done in a school setting, where the teacher throws out the knowledge and expects the students to "gobble" it up on their own. 

Statistics of Faith

One last statistic I want you to consider.  95% of homeschoolers follow the religion of their parents when they become adults.  Only 9% of public/private school children follow the religion of their parents after they leave home.  Which statistic do you want your children to be in?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Write Your Own Story Problems

The purpose of Math is to teach people to think.  It teaches patterns that people can use in real-life situations to resolve problems.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of that purpose is lost in today's world of worksheets and lists of isolated "math problems."  Children (and adults) do not connect the value of higher level math to everyday life.  It is important that you teach your child (or children) how to connect what they are doing to the world around them.

If you are using the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract method of teaching, you are well on your way of teaching connections from "school work" to the "real world."  When I teach parents how to teach, I separate the 3 angles into separate lessons.  When I am using that method to teach children, however, they do not even notice that I've changed gears.  They just know I am asking them to do the next step.  Here's an example of a lesson I used this week with both my daughter and a 2nd grader whom I tutor.

I gave them the (abstract) problem of 17+26.  I write it vertically on a piece of paper (small paper, actually - a note pad).  I then asked them to solve the problem.  Both girls struggled a little, even though we've done similar problems in the past. 

Not waiting long for them get frustrated, I pulled out some dimes and pennies and had them show me 17 cents (one dime, seven pennies). Under those coins, I had them show me 26 cents (two dimes, six pennies).  I then asked them to put the pennies together and see if they had enough to trade for a dime. They, of course, could and I physically got a dime to trade for ten of the pennies. We stopped and marked on the paper that we now had 3 pennies (in the answer spot) and added one dime (over the tens place in the problem).  I then had them count the dimes and they added that answer (4) under the answer bar so that the answer was 43. 

I then took it a step farther.  In the past, we stopped at that point, but now we needed more to develop the concept.  I had both girls write their own story problem for the math equation I had given them. I did the writing (no reason to make it more frustrating - they can do the writing after we've done this a few times).  I asked them each to name something that there could be 17 of.  My daughter said stuffed animals, my tutoring student said diamond rings.  I then asked them to tell me who has the stuffed animals or rings. My daughter said they were hers, my student said her grandmother had them.  I then asked if the addition symbol meant they needed more or less of the toys or rings, and they both said more. After writing 2 sentences, I told them the answer bar meant we needed a question.  They both needed help coming up with a question related to the problem, but I happily helped them at that point by giving them 2 different questions which would be acceptable and let them choose which one to use. I know that in the near future, I will not always need to help them so much, but it's okay to give a lot of help when learning a new concept.  Here are the Math problems we ended up with:

(1)  I had 17 stuffed animals.  I had 26 more in my tent.  How many stuffed animals did I have in all?

(2)  My grandmother had 17 diamond rings.  She had a girl party and got 26 more.  How many diamond rings did she have for the party?

(hmmm...If it's going to get me 26 diamond rings, I might want to figure out what this girl party is and have one myself -haha!)

We then read over the problem a couple of times, allowing the girls to each read aloud the story problem she had written and making sure they saw that it matched the numbers in the math problem we had solved first.  After that, we did one more problem in the same way, though for my tutoring student, we chose a subtraction problem (with regrouping).

NOTE:  these lessons were separate for each girl, but it would have been educational, also, if they had been at the same time so they could compare their story problems.

That was the entire Math lesson.  It took about 20 - 30 minutes, but I believe they got much more out of it than if I would have given them a worksheet with 25 addition problems on it.  I want them to understand how math connects to the real world, because when they become adults, I want them to be able to think for themselves, and math is a monumental piece to that incredibly complex problem of developing reason.