Category Archives: teaching strategies

A Math Teacher A-Part From Most


If any teacher’s name is worth mentioning, this one’s is; However, as a respect to his privacy, I will call him Mr. M.

Mr. M is a highly energetic middle school teacher, who seems dedicated to making math fun, for his students, by utilizing an interactive white board, and a great sense of humor.

Not too long ago, I was told about Mr. M’s math class, by my daughter.  “He’s great Mom. You have to see.” I contacted him via email, and asked if I could come into his class to observe it.  I always look forward to meeting teachers who positively engage their students through the use of innovative and appealing methodologies, and a great sense of humor. This teacher matched my criteria.

As I approached his class, he was there waiting to greet his students, as they entered the classroom. With his expectations set high for his students, he greeted them in a jovial manner, “Hello precious.” If they didn’t greet him with a good attitude, he had them start again.  I walked up to
him and introduced myself.  From the introduction, I could tell that this was not going to be an average observation.   His humor was set on high
volume, and as we entered the class he told me that I could sit at his desk, “Temporarily”.  Broadway Show tune melodies were playing through his classroom speakers, and I thought that it seemed like a great way to kick off a math class. His students entered quietly, and amongst them was my daughter.
They all sat at their seats and followed procedural routine of setting up, and getting to work until Mr. M began his lecture.

Mr. M’s personality was vivacious and he was definitely charismatic.  He had his expectations set high for his students and expected them to perform their best, as well as participate. That’s exactly what they did.  They were drawn to their teacher, and seemed to have high regard for him.  As his students settled down, and prepared to begin class, Mr. M turned off the music.  He grabbed an interactive white board and he began to write computations on the board.  He joked jovially, but with a very serious undertone, as he jotted down fractions in algebraic equations. He spent some time explaining the equation and then had his students jot down and solve the problems. As they solved the problems, he circulated around the classroom, all the while he told funny jokes and made sarcastic-tongue in cheek remarks.  For the most part I thought he was really quite funny.  However, it was his students’ reactions that caught my eye.  As I glanced around the class, I noticed that every student was focused on solving the problems that were jotted on the white board.  I took note that everyone was participating, and all of them wanted to prove that they could do it; they wanted to show their teacher their best effort.  He wanted his students to work out the problems—find the solutions before being told.  When they finished solving problems, the students would all shine their results toward their teacher-holding up their whiteboards to show the work.  Mr. M would take the time to acknowledge everyone’s result, as he circulated around the class.  He pointed to each student and said, “excellent, or close, or good job”.  He positively reinforced his students, and as he did he would make jokes with them.  He also told them to think out of the box-nice to hear.

After his lecture, he allowed the students to work on their homework, quietly.  He told me that he does not like to overwhelm them with homework.  While they worked quietly, he circulated around the room, answering any questions or concerns they may have had regarding their work.  I took a moment to
observe the classroom.  I laughed to myself when I looked around.  The entire class was decorated in a variety of t-shirts, in a variety of colors, including
tie-dye.  Each t-shirt had either a mathematical equation on it, or a saying having to do with math.

Mr. M is a great teacher.  He, himself, is an “out of the box” thinker, and presents math with humor. He is extremely aware of what is going on around him at all times.  If one of his students gets off track, he quickly makes a joke, or quick witted remark in response; and he is open to their reciprocation. He has an excellent rapport with his students, and because Mr. M has high expectations for his students, for their participation and etiquette,
they shine for him.

As his students finished their homework, they quietly cleaned up and waited patiently for others around them to finish.  When the bell rang, he wished them, “well and safety.” With that they collected their items, greeted him, and left.  As they left, the next group entered.  He was ready and set up to go again.

I greeted and thanked Mr. M for his time and energy in allowing me to hang out with them.  I enjoyed my observation.  I wish more teachers taught children with the same enthusiasm and vigor that Mr. M has.  He sets the right attitude for appealing and engaging his students.


8th Grade Graduation Blues


It’s that time of the year again…

Schools are preparing for the big day-Graduation or Promotion, as it is sometimes called; and while there’s a buzz of excitement from most students, as they complete this part of their educational journey and embark on a new one; there is a feeling of withering hopelessness for many who are regretfully not invited to participate in their graduation ceremony-to walk before their parents, family members, and friends; and receive the honor of having their name called before
the members of the audience as part of the graduating class of 2011.

Yes, most students will receive this long awaited honor, but what happens to those who don’t achieve the grades?  Well I will tell you…NOTHING; but a nothing that is cruel, and I believe without positive results attained in the long-run  They will be out-casted to sit in their classrooms, or in the school cafeteria and wait while their peers, are given their diploma and best wishes for a wonderful future. These students will not have the opportunity to experience that feeling of joy and accomplishment. Why? It’s because they did not achieve the grade point average that they should have. These students did not meet their benchmarks.

No, I am not talking about high school graduates, nor am I talking about college graduates; I am talking about 13 and 14 year old kids who are being completely ostracized from their middle school promotion ceremony for not achieving a GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Oh, but wait, there is more. They are moving on to high school. Perhaps, I should say shuffled on to high school, as forgotten members of their school community, and according to this middle school, they are graduating. However, this school watched their struggling students from the sidelines, and they ignored the obvious, which was to intervene and offer them resources; and as a result those students academically drowned.  Yes, we are talking about a sweeping of struggling students under the carpet. So, while those young students sit and wait, and contemplate their emotionally cruel punishment; and wonder where they went wrong, their peers will excitedly participate in the graduation ceremony.

To you, my young unaware friends and weary parents, I say this. It may not only be about your lack of effort or motivation, but a failed school system whose politically canned responses to parents,  policies, procedures and legalities, are stack through the roof of omittance-omittance that they failed to offer the resources that you should have been entitled to..  It may be the administration of individuals that seem to say, “Phew.. Another parent out of my hair, and another group of students out of the way,” as they make their way clear of budgetary expenses needed to attend to their academically challenged students. Yes, of course, we should mention; that group of people we voted for, known as the school board, who decided on this life altering decision for your child.

What can be said about a school whose extremely strong and gripping “No Tolerance” policy is emphatically in place, (in fact, so strong that a student can receive a 3 day suspension for placing a thumb on a sprinkler head and squirting a friend with water); but when it comes to its students who struggle academically, has a very lax and meager Response to Intervention System in place, if any at all.

Who will come to the aid and assist those struggling students, so that they can grow and acquire the skills that they have needed for so long, in order to meet their academic goals? Who is suppose to intervene to help those learners?  It seems that some schools don’t know what Response to Intervention is at all; otherwise, why was it not put into place when it was necessary, so that these young academically challenged students could have the opportunity to gain the skills so that they could achieve.

What can be said about a school whose response to a plea from parents for help for their child, is to turn its back, tell the parents that their child is borderline in having needs, but does not qualify for services; and due to budget cuts, doesn’t have the Resources to help its borderline struggling students. Its business as usual and so they continue on, teaching as they always do, and following curriculum in order to meet their deadlines; and while they do, struggling students are being left behind as their peers soar forward.  They lag further and sink deeper, as teachers tell them to keep trying, to keep up; until these students feel that they can’t go any further, and give up trying.

This is a school whose protocol is to tell its parents, “We can’t help each student, individually. We have too many students to attend to.” Then with those
patronizing looks of concern, they thumb their noses and turn their backs on those students, our beloved children, who need the extra help.  All the while students and parents become anxiously caught in the whirlwind of bureaucratic policies, and the political correctness of the education system, and so academically challenged students continue to fail without receiving the guiding hand of help that they need from those professionals, whom they have relied on to educate them.

Someone recently told me, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” This my friends is what is taking place for our academically
challenged students at Silverado Middle School, and perhaps other schools, as well. While there is a strong focus of energy on “No Tolerance for disorderly
behavior, there seems too much tolerance where academic struggles in literacy exist, and these are eminent issues that impact students’ ability to achieve academic goals and achieve in life.

Accommodations generally take place when teachers recognize that a student is having difficulties, and then together they work to find academic approaches for solutions, to help these students succeed and achieve short term goals or benchmarks. However, at my last SST meeting, when I questioned the type of accommodations that were set in place and utilized to assist with my son’s academic challenges with literacy; their response to me was their website, a planner, their homework and grade check site, and a calendar.  As they spoke these words to me, I felt a patronizing chill of anger and reality, the rude awakening, that they would not support my son.

An (SST) is a meeting where the students in question, parents, counselors, teachers, Special Educators, and administrators meet to come up with a solution for the struggling student-HOGWASH- in my case. I have been to six SST meetings without resolutions for my son; a lot of air, but not a substansial plan of action for intervention.  Inasmuch, as students continue to fail, or have issues with subject matter, this school has done nothing or very little to help, except for classes in shadow math, or Accelerated Reader-of which I have read does little to resolve this type of student need, at this grade level.

Attention needs to be given to the core of academic problems, such as literacy issues, by school professionals to  attain positive results with intended objectives for  students who have difficulties in subject areas. In my case there was very little, if any, follow through or follow-up.

A lack of literacy comprehension is one of the root-stems of all educational problems in any subject. Without the ability to read comprehensively, all students including brilliant students, will meet with educational disaster, and many functional deficits throughout their lives. LITERACY COMPREHENSION has been a struggle for many students, and without intervention children cannot flourish acedemically.  A child who does not learn skills or strategies to help him/her gain prerequisite knowledge, in the ability to scaffold upon and understand what they are reading, cannot achieve academically.

In my case, there was never overseeing to help my child acquire strategies he was lacking, to overcome his deficit.  But in fact, he was ignored for so long and left on his own, as many other students who are struggling, and expected to show enough maturity and tenacity to rise to the occasion to initiate the need for help, while in fact  he was drowning and flailing academically, and giving up on his beliefs that he was able to succeed. He needed to be given the appropriate resources, and it never happened.

Without a flinch, or care about what happens to their struggling students; without ever giving them the help that they needed to learn the skills and strategies to keep in step academically, this Middle School has now passed the ball to the next school. As seems customary, their academically challenged students are being ditched, and now this school turns its back on these young academically challenged students, as they dwindle away
and slip through the cracks, a sad fate for many; they will be constantly reminded of their middle school, a school who failed to come through for them. Now, these students will go on to the next school, high school; with the dreams and hope that at the next school they will pick up the pieces and do academically better.

F.A.P.E: An acronym that stands for a Free and Appropriate Public Education, a Federal Law that stems from the IDEA act of 1974 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  Did you know that a child who attends a public school in the United States is entitled to a free and appropriate education to meet his or her needs? It’s not only for those who qualify for an IEP (individualized Education Plan), or who have disabilities, nor only for those who have a 504 Plan; it’s for ALL STUDENTS in public elementary through high school.  Each student is entitled to an education that is free and appropriate for them, and those who are having struggles but do not “qualify” as being disabled are also entitled to services such as; differentiated instruction to help them learn in how they learn best, and Response to Intervention to prevent or remediate their academic challenges.

My friends, I placed one of the most valuable and priceless treasures of my life in the hands of this School. I trusted them to educationally guide my child, to nourish his mind and help him learn, and to watch over him so that he could academically succeed in meeting his goals through guidance and a supportive environment; and this school failed my son, and so has failed me and my trust in them.

I received a letter of regret from school on Saturday May 28, 2011,  five days before his promotion, stating that my son will not be eligible to participate in the promotion ceremony, nor his promotion dance.  It was one of several letters that I received from them regarding my son.  Now, my son will not have the honor to walk through the procession along with his peers from the Graduating Class 2011, nor receive the blessings for a better future, by the Principle, and Vice Principle; though, he is being promoted on to high school. I will not get to see my son graduate, from middle school, as much as it would be an honor to see him proudly walk through the procession. Instead, graduation day will be filled with painful regret, and sadness for the close of one door, as he steps through the next.

Wrong doing is being done to many students, like my son, who have not done wrong, but are being punished for the failures bestowed upon them by not providing them with services and resources to help them overcome their struggles, achieve, and so succeed.

Solutions are needed to help our students who are having academic challenges in school, so that they can attain positive outcomes, and succeed in their own right; so that they have the opportunity to become positive and effective contributors in society.  Services should not only be available for those who have IEPs or 504s under Federal and State Laws and policies; but should be provided for all, and each individual student who display academic challenges for any extended period of time.

Now, I will ask… What kind of punishment is the omission from promotion ceremony for a child who is graduating from 8th grade Middle School, but is struggling in an academic undertow?  If it doesn’t have a positive solution or outcome for those students, then it is a useless punishment without a crime. It is an abusive approach from the administration to advertise to other students that their fellow students were not fit to participate. It is an extension of bullying, and it is meant to embarrass those students who did not make the grades, and remind them of their so called academic failures. It is WRONG! Educators need to focus on promoting students to be enthusiastic about learning, not turn them away from it and reject struggling students.  Refocused energy and attending to the need through responsive methods is the way to redirect students and redirect them down a path of clarity.

I say this… Present students with an educational environment that is positive, rewarding, and supportive; one that creatively fosters innovation and multi-faceted thinking; and you will meet with vibrant successful student outcomes.

Student Teaching? Be Prepared


I would like to reflect back to the first day that I met my fifth grade students, for my student teaching assignment. 
The very moment that I walked into the fifth grade classroom to introduce myself, before beginning my assignment, I felt nervous, about the manner in which I would be received by everyone, including the teacher. My stomach was knotting up, and I wanted to run in the opposite direction. Those first moments in the classroom can feel agonizing, but I survived, and so will you.  I remembered what a wise old owl (my mom) once told me, some years before. “Relax, breathe deep, and take ownership of the situation.” Oh yes, and above all “don’t sweat the small stuff, and by the way; it’s all small stuff’ “. 

I scanned the classroom, and then I replaced my anxious, nervous, kind of lost in the wilderness type of facial expression with my kind, comedic empowered expression, and said, “Wow, what a beautiful bunch of children.” They laughed and one of them blurted out, “Wait..until you get to know us a little; you’ll change your mind.”  I then smiled, and glanced back-making eye contact with all of them.  My thought at that moment, that very instant, was to let them know that I acknowledged them, and respectfully identified them as unique individuals.  I wanted them to feel comfortable with me, so I sarcastically joked back.  

I introduced myself and told the kids that I would be hanging around for about nine weeks.  I was due to begin my assignment, in this class, the following week, so I wanted to take the mystery out of what I would be doing in their class.  I explained that a student teacher is just like they are-a student.  I told them, “The difference is that I am learning how to teach”.   They seemed glad to hear that I could relate in some form to them, in being a student.  

I quickly familiarized myself with the energy between the students and the teacher.  Then, I intuitively took a brief moment to understand the teacher’s emotional position.  She seemed exhausted, and had no tolerance for distractiveness, or the sounds that wriggly fifth graders can make.  The students appeared apprehensive about her as their teacher.  I felt concerned about the dynamics of the classroom, but I smiled politely as I contemplated how I would make learning fun for them, and keep them engaged.

It is important to be aware of the dynamics of a classroom, and the personal boundaries of each individual. I took note of some of the diversities of the student population, of the students who had special needs, as well as the students who spoke another language.  I realized that differentiating lessons may play an important role in this classroom experience.  I then communicated my intentions as a guest in their classroom, and briefly let them know that  positive thinking was key to learning about a subject.  

As a student teacher, it is vital to have a grasp on your position as a guest in someone elses classroom.  I kept in mind that I am a visitor, and should never overstep my supervising teacher’s teaching boundaries. Communication is the key, so my teacher and I had a brief chat to familiarize ourselves with one another. We quickly talked about our teaching strategies. Our conversation was short and light.  Through this preliminary meeting we were able to briefly exchange ideas, share methodologies and discuss classroom management in approaching teaching her students.  We even laughed a little, to smooth out any possibilities of rough edges.  From our chat, my supervising teacher gained the understanding that I am very tolerant, and even-keeled.  Together as teachers, I felt that we would create a good balance for teaching her students, but above all I knew that from her vast experience as a teacher, I could gather a lot of information about teaching. 

My introduction proved to be rewarding.  As a result, I changed my anxiety to anticipation for my term with my new students.  On the same note I put my new students, and my supervising teacher at ease, about me.  

My advice to new student teachers is to take the mystery and anxiety out of the student teaching assignment.  Preview the classroom-take a quick glance of how everything is positioned.  Meet the teacher and discuss ideas and expectations that you each have for each other.  Schedule a time to review the textbooks to be used, and lessons to be taught.  Most important, introduce yourself to the students. Communicate your intentions as a teacher, and prepare them for your visit, before you begin your assignment.  Keep in mind that you are a guest, so review your classroom etiquette as a student teacher, with your professors.  Your success as a student teacher begins with your introduction.

April 19, 2010: Student Teaching – Learning the Ropes


April 19, 2010: Student Teaching – Learning the Ropes

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Dealing with Dyslexia


  A good friend of mine called me, from overseas. Desperately weeping, she said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel hopeless!” Her oldest son-of two boys- had given up, and had decided that he no longer wanted to attend school. Though extremely bright, her two sons had been performing proficiently low academically, in school.  Both of them had trouble reading, and if that wasn’t enough, passing an exam was nearly impossible.  They were suffering emotionally, and yet nobody around them could fathom the perplexity of their inability to make sense of what they read.

My good friend, aware of her sons’ academic difficulties, was beside herself. She had tried to find out more information about her children from the teachers.  She reached out to the school administrators for assistance, but received no support from either the teachers or the administrators. Instead, she was patronizingly told that her children had no learning issues, other than the fact that they were lazy troublemakers with behavior problems, and who lacked motivation. With feelings of bewilderment, she felt she had nobody she could console with.  Her boys, at that time were eleven and sixteen, were frustrated.  Their self-confidence was in ill repair, and they thought they were incapable of ever achieving academic success. 

At one point in time she was told about a center that tested children for learning disorders.  Delighted with the news she arranged to have her children tested.  The assessments at the center were costly, but for her it was worth the money, if she could find answers to help her boys.  Both of her children were diagnosed to have extreme dyslexia.

She felt an odd sense of relief and resolve with the outcome of the testing.  Excited, she took the results of tests to the school administrators. They threw them back at her and told her that the assessment results were not worthy of the paper that they had been printed on, and could not be accepted. She was stunned. There would be no accommodations for her boys, and no intervention to help them through their difficulty in learning at school.   

Now, her oldest son falters.  My friend was called to a meeting at his school.  “His teachers told me that he is useless, a failure, and a trouble-maker,” she uttered bitterly. My friend tried to explain to his teachers that her son is a good boy, who has a learning disability, and needs some accommodations in order to learn. Uncaring, his teachers told her that they were not psychologists trained to deal with the psychological learning problems of students, but in fact they said, “We are just teachers. If we were psychologists, then we would get paid more.” Apathetic and undiscerning, they turned their back on her.

Dejected, my friend left her parent/teacher conference with a heavy heart. Confused and anguished, her thoughts were on her child-she felt fearful for her son’s outcome. As she cried I tried to comfort her through her tears. I felt her agony, and maternal pain while she spoke, “My beautiful son.” So deeply worried, she began to blame herself. She told me that her son hates her now. I wanted to take my friend away from her space of consciousness and put my arm around her.  She needed to hear that it would all be okay, and that this would soon pass, but I know that this is just the surface of what may come to be. 

There are many parents around the world that have children who have some type of learning disability, and who may feel as my friend does-hopeless.
I say this: Unless education systems around the world unite, and develop an understanding about learning disabilities, children such as my friend’s son will be lost in the shuffle, left to wonder; and parents such as my friend will have feelings of despair.

School systems need to create positive intervention programs to help children with special needs. Our special needs students need to be brought to an emotional state of understanding that they are worthy, and capable of accomplishing goals and of becoming successful.

Teachers worldwide need to become educated in the areas of special education, in order to understand how to better teach, accommodate, and positively appeal to children with learning disabilities. Alternative approaches in teaching must be developed in order to help students with learning disabilities feel successful in school, as well as for their lives. We must keep in mind that the children of today represent our future on many levels.