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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

One of Nashville’s favorite Hockey players, Predator’s Viktor Arvidsson, was recently signed to a seven year contract for 29.75 MILLION dollars! All he’s got to do is show up and have fun. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/cover-story/article/20999248/viktor-victorious-an-interview-with-viktor-arvidsson

You don’t have to attend college to play hockey, you just have to be born with some natural talent and determination. And the juxtaposition of that almost 30 million contract next to the starting salary of 30 thousand a year for our teachers (the same educators some think we should train in firearms) says volumes.

In many states across the country, public school teachers are organizing for a living wage and better conditions for their students after years of funding cuts.

” For K-12 expenditures, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that in 29 states, total state funding per student was lower in the 2015 school year than in the 2008 school year in real terms. In Arizona, spending per student was down an astonishing 36.6 percent; in Oklahoma, it had dropped 15.6 percent; in Kentucky, 5.9 percent.”

Why is this union walk-out different? Because teachers aren’t just looking for a pay hike; they want well-maintained, not crumbling buildings, they want a smaller student-teacher ratio, they want every student to have up-to-date textbooks. This did not just happen overnight or after our 2008 “recession;” I recall outsourcing janitorial staff in the 90s to save money. Property taxes were funding everything from an increasing need for special education staff and transportation, to maintaining teachers’ rising pensions and medical benefits.

In TN, teachers can expect a starting salary of $36,402. Of course you don’t risk loosing your teeth due to pedagogy, and you don’t have quite as much down time as say a hockey player. But you are expected to furnish the ever-present supply of tissues and Purell, pencils and paper, and the patience of a saint. It’s no wonder there’s a teaching shortage – even when both partners are working, it’s nearly impossible to provide for a family of four on a teacher’s salary.

“Inherit the Wind” was playing down the road at the Nashville Repertory Theater, so Bob and I braved the cold and Lyfted over to see a play about a man who was trying to teach evolution to his high school science students. Based on the real “Scopes Monkey Trial” that took place in 1925 just east of here in Dayton, TN, the courtroom battle between science and religion ran in almost every newspaper in the country and around the world.

The ACLU was challenging passage of the Butler Act earlier that year; “The Butler Act forbid the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical story of Creationism. By teaching that man had descended from apes, the theory of evolution, Scopes was charged with breaking the law.”

The play was turned into a famous movie in the 50s in partial reaction to the McCarthy hearings. But the playwrights were more concerned with our “right to think,” rather than a battle between evangelicalism and facts. Still, this anti-intellectualism is alive and well today at a time when almost 40% of the American people still believe in Creationism.

On the brighter side, since the election there’s been a growing resistance to Trumpist ideology; red states are electing their first blue legislators in years, students are leading the country fighting gun violence and the NRA, and the #MeToo movement has ushered in a new wave of feminism.

The more Mr T chips away at fundamental human rights in the name of personal and corporate greed, the more WOKE our citizens are becoming; it would seem that critical-thinking skills are thankfully still being taught in our schools. My generation started a sea change in the fabric of American society, now it’s up to our children’s generation to repair some of this past year’s damage. And young voters are registering in record numbers!

After all, who doesn’t want to save the polar bear’s ice? Or is ice hockey more important than the Antarctic? Granted, the 24 year old “R-V” Predator seems like a great guy, and who doesn’t love a good hockey game? Are they both mutually exclusive?

Meanwhile, remember our cherry tree the Love Bug was climbing? It’s in full pink pom-pom bloom despite freezing temperatures.

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Call me crazy, but yesterday I picked up the latest, golden-colored Atlantic magazine with a picture of the Donald on the cover. “The Mind of Donald Trump” is the cover story, all about how a psychologist would dissect the Trump brain, what makes him tick. Since he had recently entered my dream life, yes folks, Donald gave me six million dollars for a book deal, In. My. Dreams., I figured I owed myself a reckoning. But I didn’t read that story, I read the one about kids, and achievement, and toxic stress. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

It seems we are now a country with more than 50% of children living below the poverty line, requiring free or reduced lunches at public schools. Once I got over that shocker, I read on…educators are looking beyond standardized test scores to predict why some poor kids fail and some thrive in school. They are looking into the character traits that contribute to a child’s academic success…

“…often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.”

In other words, who has true grit? Lo and behold, research has shown that this stuff cannot exactly be taught. It takes a combination of forces, all environmental (although if you ask me, nature plays an important role here as well) that combine in the right way during early childhood, and can be enhanced by a certain pedagogy. And most importantly, if a child is raised with “toxic stress,” he or she will adapt to school in a way that makes learning nearly impossible. They will close off and become “behavior” problems.

Toxic stress is defined as severe and chronic stress, the kind a child living in poverty is more likely to encounter. Is it safe for them to play in the street, or walk to school? Do they see loved ones routinely, are they consistent when they do ? Are they hungry, can they sleep at night? Are their needs being met? Imagine a child growing up in Syria, or Chicago. Stress baths a developing brain with all the wrong signals.

In a way, they are learning not to trust the world, or anyone in it.

“When those signals suggest that life is going to be hard, the network reacts by preparing for trouble: raising blood pressure, increasing the production of adrenaline, heightening vigilance. Neuroscientists have shown that children living in poverty experience more toxic stress than middle-class children, and that additional stress expresses itself in higher blood pressure and higher levels of certain stress hormones.”

Yesterday I also got a note from the Bride telling me that a certain Principal was moving from their neighborhood school to a magnet school. Yes, in Nashville there are public elementary schools where one can be immersed in Chinese and learn to stand and speak in class, into a microphone, with impunity. Students grow their own veggies and feed into the very best high school. The problem is getting into those schools is a matter of luck – it’s a lottery system. Which in my mind seems cruel and unusual.

It’s one thing to abandon “No Child Left Behind,” which arguably didn’t work anyway, but then to offer the best practices at only some schools in the country is a piecemeal approach to the problem. Fostering a feeling of belonging, a willingness to learn and resilience almost always comes down to each individual teacher.

Let’s train and teach our educators, ALL of them, to foster true grit in their classrooms. Failure is OK, keep trying. Don’t say to the boys who sit at the back of the class with their caps pulled down covering their eyes, “We know who the losers are in this class.” Let’s make every school magnetic, with high expectations for every student and : “…less lecture time; fewer repetitive worksheets; more time spent working in small groups, solving problems, engaging in discussions, and collaborating on long-term creative projects. It’s a style of teaching and classroom organization that is relatively common in independent schools and in wealthy suburbs but quite unusual in inner-city public schools.”

School is almost out for the summer. It’s time to raise a child who feels her or his world is a safe place. Let’s work on our children’s resilience this year, a little indomitable spirit never hurt anyone. It’s takes a piece of grit to create a pearl.  IMG_4265Yesterday, the sun came out.

 

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At some point, we will all become teachers. Some of us have the gift, others will struggle. Patience is a prerequisite.

Great Grandma Ada is not afraid of technology, she embraced the iPad with her usual flair. The Rocker put a picture of the Love Bug on her home page and we downloaded the NYTimes. I taught her how to use the Notes App, and Bob explained the fine points of email. Then the Bride put her Great Grandbaby right into her hands…virtually.

Is FaceTime great or what?

While we were in NJ, teaching Ada the finer points of iPad, our little Bug was in Nashville learning how to clap her hands. Her Dad was playing his music as usual, and out of the blue her arms opened wide. She’d already started dancing, bouncing and swaying to the beat, but this was new, real clapping!

And I thought of all the possibilities all the joy all the sheer number of “things” this beautiful baby girl has ahead of her to learn. She is a perpetual student of life, much like her Great Grandmother. And experiencing this through my daughter’s eyes is magical.

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