Back to school and new beginnings feel exciting, except for one thing—the dress code wars! I wonder if parents know how much time teachers and administrators invest in enforcing these rules. We want our children to dress safely and “appropriately,” a word that has different meanings for many. I hold two perspectives.
When principal of a K-8 school, I enforced a dress code of uniforms that were part of the school’s mission. Parents loved the uniforms because they were affordable and the parents associated it with high standards, belonging, and pride. However, many children came to school with shoes, shirts, pants, and other items that were not dress code.
Much of my communication with students became about what they were not wearing and to fix it. Go to the nurse, call your parents, borrow the right item out of the lost and found. As the year wore on, so did these tiresome, negative conversations.
In contrast, my daughters attended a junior-senior high school with no dress code. Saggy pants? Go for it. Tank tops with spaghetti straps? Perfect. Shorts and flip flops in the snow? No problem.
Except that “belly shirts” were the fashion and my younger daughter fought me mightily over wearing them. It was extremely hard being a parent and holding the line.
What began to change her mind? A teacher, who began a conversation with the students in his class:
“What message are you sending with your clothes? Why?”
This teacher kept the conversation going for a few weeks, until the students had taken enough time to talk and really understand the issue, and from many points of view.
That school’s mission was to teach students how to think. Doing this takes time and thought.
A teacher’s relationship with students should be deep enough to talk them through struggles that affect them daily. Let’s think about this. Consider the message. Is it one we want to send? Let’s think about who we are. How do we want to present ourselves?
A dress code may not be part of the curriculum. Teaching students how to think? It’s never out of style.
Veterans of World War II rarely speak of their service. In the case of my father, humility is part of the reason.
“Everybody did it,” he shrugged, referring to his peers in the 1940s.
He is one of a handful of remaining WWII veterans in his town. Read his story, published this week in the Metrowest Daily News.
If you are a veteran, or have a family member or friend who served in the military, record the story. Videotape it or take notes as you talk. Ask to see what pictures or memorabilia they have from that time–that helps to prompt remembrances.
Get your children involved–sometimes they come up with the best questions–because this is how they learn about family history, world history, democracy, and making peace.
Wandering around a local bookstore is a travel adventure to me. Naturally, that was part of my plan when my daughters and I visited a friend in Provincetown.
My 7-year old went one way. My 4-year old whined in agony.
“Mom, I’m not like everybody else in the family.” She threw herself on the floor. “I hate bookstores!”
News to me. We went to bookstores as often as the playground. Snuggling at night with a read-aloud, talking about the story as we read, and keeping piles of library books around the house was part of family life.
I led her to the children’s section and encouraged her to pick out a book. A few feet away, I sank into the nonfiction.
Soon, a little voice began. It was my 4-year-old, reading a book aloud. By herself. I held my breath. When had she begun reading? I asked her nonchalantly.
“Just now,” she said.
It’s one thing to be a teacher and witness the light bulb moment when children learn to read. When it’s your child, it’s a thrill. But it is not magic.
These are two simple ways to help your child be a good reader:
Keep all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and e-readers around the house. Kids need to be immersed in print to become good readers.
Kids need to see their family members reading. Read aloud to kids and read alone. (Even if reading isn’t your favorite activity.)
When you help a reader grow, you’re helping to build a better world.
On a weekend trip to Québec City, we visited sites recommended by a travel book— Montmorency Falls, the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupré, the farmer’s market, art galleries and cafés, all lovely and worth experiencing.
Sometimes, though, an itinerary needs to breathe.
My husband and I set off one evening to roam the cobblestone streets that overlook the great St. Lawrence River. Wandering of any kind invites the unexpected, and that’s what happened.
A wisp of song curled down a hill. The melody drew us up a narrow street and around the corner of an ancient stone building. There, in the shadow of Louis XIV, a quartet of singers sang opera.
One beautiful piece after another rippled forth in the sun. There was something for everyone, sort of an opera’s-greatest-hits program. And I melted right into it, shoulders and all. My imagination relaxed and soared.
Here’s a lovely wander for your imagination, the Intermezzo from the opera “Cavalleria rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni.
Eighty-five years ago, 11-year-old Venetia Burney sat at breakfast with her grandfather, who was a university librarian at Oxford.
He talked to her about the latest exciting news story, that a new planet had been discovered. A suitable name hadn’t yet been found, he pointed out.
Venetia’s teacher had taught her students that the other planets were named for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The teacher had taken the students outdoors on a “nature walk” to make a model of the solar system. Clumps of dirt were placed apart to show the planets’ relative distance from the sun.
When Venetia’s grandfather asked her what she’d name the new planet, she replied, “Pluto,” the Roman god of the mythological, dark underworld.
Impressed, he relayed this suggestion to an astronomer friend, who brought the name “Pluto” to his colleagues, who voted in favor of it.
Venetia’s grandfather rewarded her with £5 and wrote a note to her teacher, recognizing the “capable and enlightened” instruction and the value of the “nature walk…[where she learned about the] gloom of distance.”
What does this story teach us? First, when grandparents talk with their grandchildren about current events, it matters. Conversation knits generations together and helps children learn to think.
Second, when students learn interdisciplinary topics like mythology and science, they put together their learning in wonderful ways we cannot predict.
Third, when a grandparent writes a letter of thanks to a teacher, it is not only recognition, but also a gracious act of goodwill and appreciation.
We teachers and administrators must speak out when articles like this one appear. I take seriously my responsibility to cultivate social justice in the world. The Common Core and other state standards do no harm as a road map. It’s when we set children up for high stakes testing that policymakers go awry.
Make no mistake, test prep is everywhere and in every grade. If your kindergartner comes home with piles of worksheets, well, there you have it. Just because a five-year-old can learn to multiply doesn’t mean they should spend time on it. No body of research on young children supports this type of learning.
Children from privileged families in well-to-do areas don’t attend worksheet kindergartens. Children from generations of poverty and illiteracy do. Yet they are the ones who need play the most, to help them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.
All kindergartners deserve creative, loving, well-provisioned kindergartens—complete with wonderful play areas that include small furniture, blocks, dress-up supplies, tools, and homemaking areas with pots and pans. It’s hardly an understatement to say that our society depends on it.
To mark Take Your Dog to Work Day (June 26), I offer this piece from 2010, published at Lesley University as “The Magic of Mario and G Force.” Learn what a difference pets make in the classroom.
It’s a steamy spring afternoon in a city school. Twenty-six hot first graders in navy polo shirts plop onto the rug to hear their teacher read a story. Afterward, she asks her students to write a journal response from the perspective of hamsters Mario and G-Force, the class pets.
Then the magic of this lesson unfolds. As students drift to different areas of the room to write, many of them choose to sit in the camp chairs arranged around the large hamster cage. It has tall rolling legs, bringing it right up to student level—perfect! This means Mario and G-Force participate as full members of the class, offering viewpoints from all 4 sides as they nibble, groom, and snuffle around.
Students who gather around Mario’s and G-Force’s cage sit as easily in their camp chairs as if they were adults sitting around a campfire, except they have journals in their laps. Voices drop to a murmur as students read Mario’s perspective aloud to themselves or review G-Force’s opinion with a partner.
Where is the teacher during this half hour of student writing? Not at her desk, which is practically invisible. She’s working one-on-one with two or three students as the rest of the class handles the writing on their own.
And their writing is terrific! Children show me some of their journal responses and I see spirited and imaginative writing, wonderful vocabulary, and students who love to write. Mario-G-Force-and-camp-chairs-as-writing-center is a blueprint for success if ever there was one.
For first graders only, you say? Not by a long shot. I’ve been in secondary classrooms with pets and comfortable chairs and they are the kinder, gentler places our adolescents need to support their growth and development.
Try some Mario and G-Force in your classroom. The results won’t disappoint.
When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.
Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.
Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.
Approach using this recipe any way you wish. I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out. Then, I’d assess them along the way.
For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:
1. Students read the recipe. Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”
2. Student read the list of ingredients. Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar? How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”
3. Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them. Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.
(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do. It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t. The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)
Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can. Click on the recipe to enlarge it.
This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972. The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.
Forego the mugs, the trinkets, the gift certificates. I speak for many teachers when I say, “If you must give me something for Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d love a handwritten thank-you note.”
It’s the soul of teaching that matters to us teachers. Who could stick to such a difficult profession if there weren’t more than a marginal salary to it? We’re devoted to your children. We know we shape the world. We love the career that chose us. To us, it’s a calling.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. One of my students, an Army vet learning to teach middle school math, told me that she thought teaching was harder than basic training. Student difficulties, family problems, and student social-emotional-behavioral issues affected how her students learn (or if they learn) every day.
Above all, National Teacher Appreciation Week is not about what parents or the PTA think that they should give to teachers. Help shine a teacher’s soul by writing a personal thank-you note, an act that speaks volumes to a teacher.