Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Being Different

Being Different

What is it to be different? It seems a pity many will see those who are different as lesser than themselves. They stare, tease and condemn those who are different, assured in the knowledge they are better when, in reality, they are the lesser for their actions.

At this time of the year when day and night are so different, when the solstice condemns one half of the world to their longest night and the other their longest day, wouldn’t it be a greater world if we could celebrate our differences?

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
DR Jane Goodall (English ethologist & zoologist)

Friday, 10 June 2011

"The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.” H. L. Mencken

“The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.”
H. L. Mencken
This quote comes from “Prejudices: Third Series” by H L Mencken. It was tweeted by Montberte (Steve Cushing)

More of the quote….

“The business of dealing with children, in fact, demands a certain childishness of mind. The best teacher, until one comes to adult pupils, is not the one who knows most, but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and the wonderful which slips easiest into the infantile comprehension. A man of high intelligence, may accomplish the thing by a conscious intellectual feat. But it is vastly easier to the man (or woman) whose habits of mind are naturally on the plane of the child’s. The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.

I have seen, in my career, skilled teachers who have been able to do exactly what Mencken suggested. They were able to break down lessons in such a way as to make it more easily understood by the children in their classes. They instilled the excitement of discovery in the minds of the children in their care and seemed to know what was achievable by the children and how to challenge them.

I would view the word ‘childlike’ as not being childish in the sense of immature rather as having an empathy for the good qualities of a child’s mind in terms of understanding. I would challenge Mencken on his separation of people of high intelligence. Some of these teachers I have known were quite intelligent yet had a natural affinity for the mind of a child.

It was my hope to emulate such teachers and capture the excitement of children whenever possible. I’ll give one example of an unplanned experience shared with one of my classes.

"The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.”

I was in a school where grass was at a minimum and asphalt reigned supreme. Our school’s assembly had finished and it was time for classes to return to their rooms. Leading the class, I suddenly asked them to stop then gathered them around a crack in the asphalt.

“What can you see?” I asked as I pointed to the crack.

“Ants”, came the reply.

Ants were swarming out of the crack on this warm day. Some had wings. I explained this was how ants spread. The flying ants would pair in an attempt to found new colonies. I explained normally ants would climb an object then launch themselves into flight.

“Watch,” I suggested as I poked a small stick into the crack near the ant hole.

To the excitement of the class, the winged ants started climbing and launching into flight.
I could have explained this in class, held up photos, shown videos but that random encounter on the playground impressed the children more than any planned lesson. They returned to the class excited about what they had seen and wanting to know more about the ants.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to go off on some tangent when a spur of the moment opportunity presented itself. My reward has been parents complimenting me for their child’s excitement on arriving home, not for the normal lessons but for the unexpected lessons. No, students didn’t outscore the children in other classes in testing but feedback has shown they loved being in my class.
Perhaps I was childlike. All I know is I could get as excited as the children for some serendipitous experience.

Veni, vidi, didici
I came, I saw that, I have learned

 P.S. I must have done something right in my career. Most of my friends on Facebook are former students. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.” Bill Gates (1955 - )

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”
Bill Gates (1955 - )

Found this quote on http://www.quotationspage.com/ . Interesting and makes me think of my past.

When in school, I wasn’t exactly the most studious student. I did only what was necessary to achieve what I wanted. Placement in university wasn’t hard. I was accepted by the then seven universities in the state and was able to choose the one I preferred.

Easy study life?

No. I wasn’t exactly regular to lectures especially when the Student Union cinema was showing recent release films at a very small cost for students each Wednesday to Friday. Result, I failed my first year. It was the kick in the pants I needed.

While many students didn’t need to study to get into university, they applied themselves whereas I hadn’t. Repeating the first year, I never looked back as I applied myself, gained my B.Sc. degree then Graduate Diploma of Education.

“Success is a lousy teacher.”

There seems to be a trend with young children, at least in Australia, to make them feel they can’t lose. Every child gets a prize in party games or a trophy in sport even if their team is the “wooden spooner”. There is the issue of self-esteem but we do need to lose sometimes so we appreciate the wins.

While typing this, I was also checking Twitter and came across an interesting link to a blog article. The post deals with the issue of behaviour in the playground, always an issue for schools.

“Perhaps too many children arrive at school expecting to always get what they want and being right. Perhaps too many parents view school as a free child minding service and therefore are not interested in the learning in the classroom but will make a huge fuss over playground antics.”

We need to know losing, failing, not being right and not getting what you want is also a part of life. We are much more likely to learn when life doesn’t go our way than when we find all is easy.

I have heard teachers of the very young say one of the best lessons a parent can give their child is to teach them they can’t always win.

Monday, 6 June 2011

“I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Einstein

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Albert Einstein

Many have probably heard the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” It seems to me to be similar to Einstein’s quote. A teacher can’t make their students learn. It’s their job to provide the environment where children are encouraged to learn.

In my career, I tried to make the classroom a place where children felt comfortable and happy. For the young, it’s an important step to learning.

When adults are asked what they most remember of school, you usually hear stories of things that went wrong, of bullying, a teacher who hated them, bad marks, and other negatives. It seems these experiences are easier to remember but when asked about positive experiences the responses can be wide.

One of my greatest rewards in teaching has been contact with former students. Their positive feedback over the years tells me I had been on the right track to learning. Many have said they remember me as one of their best teachers or a person who inspired them in their career. One former student had told me she was sitting in an in-service with other teachers discussing those who have inspired them. When she mentioned me, the leader said she knew me.

What a buzz for a teacher to be remembered fondly by students now ranging up to around 40 years old. In an earlier blog, I quoted Henry Adams, “A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops.” Perhaps I have had some affect.

“I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

I have seen many teachers in my career who have been able provide positive conditions in which their students can learn. I have also seen teachers who seem to miss the mark. The students tend to know which teachers they really want to have.

We need to continue to encourage teachers to provide a positive learning environment and provide support for those needing help. It can take money and time but it’s worth it. After all, as teachers we’re there for the children. Investing in education is investment in the future.


One aside, I have been asked which school year is the most important in a child’s life. Many might argue it’s their final year when they try to gain access to universities, colleges or trade training. I’ve always felt it’s their first school year whether you call it kindergarten, prep, or Year 1. Capture their minds when young, encourage their learning, be positive and you can set them on a lifelong path to learning.

The day will come when everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.

“The day will come when everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”
Andy Warhol

I’ve often seen this interpreted as everyone will have 15 minutes of fame but more specifically, it states “the day will come”. Having died in 1987, he wouldn’t have been aware of the spread of internet-based opportunities to be famous.

Not many months back I had little online presence. A search would have shown a few hits based on earlier work in schools and more recent references to video work I have done. While I have been using computers in class since 1981, my profile was limited to email and some Facebook dabbling.

About two months back I decided to take the plunge. Facebook continued but I’ve added Twitter, several blogs, You Tube channel, Google+, and several others. Now searches reveal numerous hits.

“The day will come when everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

It could be said the day has come for an unknown to be known. How else could I have been able to so easily view and leave comments on the work of children in United Kingdom classes, give support to those in need in countries around the world, share my photography with others, communicate easily with teachers and others around the world and contact people from my past?

We do hear about the dangers of online use and the need to take care. Do we really know who the person we are chatting with really is? I’m sure, like me, spammers have contacted many of you or ads disguised as real people have popped up. Caution on line, yes, but I’m glad we have it so readily available.

In the last 24 hours I was able to look at the homework of a 7 year old UK girl and leave positive comments for her video clip on Australian animals. My contact was sparked by a tweet from a Twitter follower. Suddenly, a 7 year old is known by someone on the other side of the world as well as who knows how many others.

With fame meaning renown or widespread acclaim, a 7 year old and her blog has the potential to make her famous even if it’s only till the next homework is given. Online has become a pathway to be known.

Doubt it? I suppose many of you have heard of Justin Bieber. Like him or hate him, he’s a good example of how online can lead to fame. In my case, who needs to be famous? I just like the chance to write and hope maybe a few people take the time to read what is written.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted." Garrison Keillor

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.  They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted.”
Garrison Keillor
b. 1942
U.S. author

Over the last week, and a week last month I’ve had the pleasure of looking after an eight year old boy and his ten year old sister while their mother has had to attend a course. I say pleasure deliberately as it has been just that.

Never having been a parent, I have found it a satisfying experience to make sure they are fed, clean, happy and at school on time.  The daily routine starts with them stirring and coming in to see me each morning as they know I’m an early riser. They stay in the warm room while I go out to the kitchen to make them breakfast and prepare lunches if it’s a school day.

When it’s time, I send them out to catch the school bus. They smile and hug me as they say goodbye. To me, that is thanks enough for I know they feel safe with me and appreciate what I do for them. I know my time with them isn’t wasted.

During the day while they’re away I go about my routine of making beds, washing clothes, ironing, shopping, blogging, Facebooking, etc.

At the end of the day, they arrive back on their school bus and run to say hello before telling me they’re hungry. I smile and make them something and sit and talk with them or help them with homework or watch them as they go online. Then when it’s time I send them off to bed.

It’s a simple routine followed by parents around the world yet for me it’s an experience I treasure more than I could have known before they came into my temporary care. This level of care is more than I’d experienced in all my years of teaching.

With the weekend now ended we had spent time at the local heated indoor pool. With the girl’s 11th birthday on Tuesday, I took her shopping on Saturday morning. The boy didn’t want to come along to girl shopping and chose the comfort of the warm house. On Sunday it was a trip to an amusement park for a morning of fun before an afternoon back home.

My previous post was directed at teachers with the theme “A teacher affects eternity.” Today’s theme is based on “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”

Thinking of my more personal caring for two children, a teacher affects eternity yet the same can be true for anyone caring for children. What gifts we give to the children in our care such as love, support, comfort, time, and understanding can also affect eternity. Truly nothing we do for children is ever wasted when a carer has the well being of the child in mind.

Tomorrow, the children’s mother will return. The children will be glad to be back with their mother as no one can replace her. Perhaps their experience with me will have boosted their self-esteem in the knowledge more than just their parents can care for their well being. We can never know how much what we do for children may influence their future lives but in no way was my time wasted.

How empty will the house seem when they’re gone? That is a dilemma I must face. I will have more time to waste instead of never wasted time.

Such is life when caring for children.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

"A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops."

"A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops." 
Henry Adams - "The Education of Henry Adams"
US author, autobiographer, & historian (1838 - 1918)

When talking to teachers of the Year 1/2 (6, 7, 8 year old) children at my last school, I was told they had a meeting each year to discuss which teacher would best suit the children when they moved on to Year 3/4 (8,9,10 yo). Those who were independent and needed little support were sent to one teacher, the more average children were distributed to three other teachers and those who needed nurturing would be sent to the fifth teacher. I was told I was the fifth teacher they felt could bring out the best in children needing more support, both academic and emotional. I was the TLC* teacher.

I've had many experiences with positive responses from teachers, parents and former students. Examples are...
+ Parents telling me their child only liked school after being in my class
+ Former students telling me I was the best teacher they had
+ Others saying I influenced their career choice to become teachers or work in IT
+ One former student explained he often wondered how he might have ended had I not been there when he needed me

Looking back over the years, I remember many teachers who were willing to put in the extra work to support their students and know so many could point out the positive influence they've had.

"A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops."

I have been thinking about this quote and how true it can be. A child succeeds because of the support of a caring teacher. They grow to become teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, child carers, sales assistants, etc and pass on the positive influences and support they have learned. In turn those they influence pass on to more and so on into the future so truly... "no one can tell where his (or her) influence stops."

Consider the maths... one positive teacher influences the lives of say 10 children who grow to each positively influence the lives of 10 more children and so on....

1 teacher --> 10 students ---> 100 ---> 1000 ---> 10000 etc

The numbers can be mind blowing in only a small number of generations.

Is teaching worth it? If you have a love of children and a desire to pass on your enthusiasm to learn and teach, you may create for yourself an "eternity" of positive influence not possible for our physical existence.

*TLC - Tender Loving Care