Sunday, August 24, 2014

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Will Rogers

I enjoy spending time in thoughtful reflection before I write this blog each week.  I try to think about ways that teachers and other adults within the school setting can impact the students in a positive manner.  The idea for this particular blog presented itself during some golf matches this past week, as the team and I were traveling to several golf courses far away. Since I have been coaching for over 30 years, I have known most of the school bus drivers for years, and I always enjoy the chat time with the driver after our team meeting on the bus.  

While traveling to a match, it suddenly occurred to me that the bus driver is the first face of the school district for every student on that very important first day of school.  A bus driver, like a teacher, has one chance to make a good first impression on the students, as the driver represents not only himself, but also the school district.  The driver can influence each student's day in a positive or negative manner, first thing in the morning every single school day. I view that as a very important job, and I talked with one driver I have known for years about his position. He told me that he has a regular middle school run during the school year, and that he decorates the inside of his bus for every holiday. He organizes students with a seating chart on the first day, and establishes the rules of the bus.  He even makes little personalized antimacassars (coverings)  for each seat with the child's name draped on his or her seat.  He knows every child by first and last name, and he has minimal discipline problems.  I attribute good student behavior to the personal connection Bob has made with each child, as well as the fact that he is so positive and makes each child feel special.  If I were in middle school, I would want him to be my bus driver.

When I was in elementary school, my bus driver was one of my favorite people in the world.  I even invited him to my house, and through the years, Bill and his wife Helen became two of my parents' closest friends.  Bill and Helen had no children of their own, and they spent many holidays and Christmas days at our house.  I have fond memories of getting on the bus each morning and afternoon, knowing that Bill would be there, taking care of all of the students, singing and smiling and joking with us as he drove.  He was such a positive daily influence. . 

I write about being positive quite a bit, as I try to live by my philosophy of choosing to help others and choosing to be happy, as each person has a direct influence on others.  I choose to make my influence positive.  It is worth noting that each time you meet a new person, in a school setting or beyond, you have only that brief moment to make a first impression. Just like the bus drivers Bob and Bill,  try to make your first impression be a positive one.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. William Glasser

With the new school year looming on the horizon, I want to address the importance of a child and the feeling of "belonging" that is so essential to being happy in school.  A well-adjusted student is one who has a stake in the welfare of the school and one who is a good citizen and ambassador of the school.  Every student needs to have a personal connection to the school, whether it be through a teacher, a class, a sport, or an activity.  I believe this is true for all schools, but it is especially important for those in middle and high schools.  (If you doubt the veracity of that statement, think of all of the school tragedies that have occurred since the atrocity at Columbine. Virtually all of the perpetrators were "loners" who did not "belong" at school.)

When a student participates on a sports team, the participation practically guarantees new friends and opportunities at school and beyond.  As a coach, I promote team activities so that everyone is included and all of the boys on the golf team have an opportunity to get to know each other, as players and friends.  During practice rounds, part of my coaching strategy includes having the new team members play with the boys who have been on the team for a year or more.  I want the new players to get to know the culture and expectations of our team.  I am sure that most coaches encourage good sportsmanlike behavior and inclusion of all team members. 

But what if your son or daughter or student is cut from a team?  Although being cut is a difficult hurdle to overcome, most schools offer many activities, and you should encourage your child or student to get involved. If you are the teacher and you know a student has a special interest, try to steer him or her toward that club or activity.  At my former school, activities included: Student Council and its many special committee heads;  Key Club;  library assistant; Spanish , French, German, and Latin Clubs; Talent Show, Spring Musical; Yearbook, Newspaper; Amnesty International; SADD; Chess Club, Band, Orchestra, Choir, Drama,  and Ukulele Club, just to name a few. 

Belonging to a group at school can actually change a student's entire view of school.  Years ago, I had a very shy young man in my English II class.  He had a quiet sense of humor, but not very much self confidence.  I suggested to him that he should audition for an emcee role in the Talent Show (which I was directing.)  He did, and his transformation was unbelievable.  This young man was not athletic, but drama became his "sport."  He appeared in every musical and stage show at North Allegheny for the next three years until he graduated, and seeing him perform made my heart burst with pride.  He was so afraid, until he felt that he "belonged", and everything in his school life improved, from grades to friendships, as well as notoriety for his roles on stage.  He went from being a star in my classroom to being a star in the school. It is amazing how a sense of belonging can change a person.

Help the young people in your charge or home to find something they really enjoy at school. The sense of fulfillment they get may even turn into a career. A young lady who was the treasurer in four high school musicals became a CPA with Deloitte and Touche. I can think of at least five young people from my Introduction to Theater classes and the Talent Shows and Spring Musicals who are now appearing on Broadway.

High school can be a great time in the lives of young people, but only if they feel that sense of belonging. Kids will listen to caring adults who want what is best for them.  Be that caring adult for someone this school year.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Monday, August 11, 2014

“I learned much more from defeat than I ever learned from winning” - Anonymous

On Monday, August 11, WPIAL Fall sports begin. That is the first day for all Fall sports try outs.  I know this because although I am retired, I am still coaching the North Allegheny Varsity Boys' Golf Team. Thinking about and working on the try out process for the golf team reminds me of the times that I tried various sports in high school, which I did not like nor did I do well.   I tried swimming, but got "swimmer's ear", and I could not hear for two months.  I also was not allowed in the water, which was fine by me.  In fact,  I am still a terrible swimmer.  My senior year, girls' basketball was offered.  The coach was a screamer and mean, and my parents never raised their voices, so basketball/his coaching style was not for me. I loved playing baseball as a young girl, and since all the kids in my neighborhood were boys until I got much older, I was included in every game.  I was shocked to find out that in the 1960's girls were not welcomed in little league- it was for boys only.  (I guess I was ahead of my time.) I could not be a cheerleader, as I never learned to do a split (ouch), and I never mastered all the twirls required to be a majorette, so it was Academics and high school clubs for me.(I took up golf after high school, but golf was for boys only until the late 70's, and I graduated in 1970.)

In times past, every student did not receive a trophy just for participation.  Clear cut winners and losers were announced, and no one went home with a consolation trophy.  In today;s society, parents are worried about hurting a child's self-esteem if he/she does not "win".  I disagree with the "everyone wins" theory.  I had many disappointments, both as a child and as an adult, and I can remember my mother saying that in life, you never win all of the time.  She said that the small disappointments I had in my younger years would help me to grow and to accept the letdowns which would inevitably happen as I got older.  She was right.  Childhood lessons became adult lessons.  I found out that sometimes, even if I happened to be the best candidate, someone else got the job.  Learning that lesson did not ruin my self-esteem; instead, it made me more aware that life is not always fair, just like Audrey taught me when I was a little girl.  I still believe it to be a valuable lesson. 

I think today's parents, although trying to protect their children, are actually setting them up for a painful adulthood.  In my opinion, learning the lesson that everyone is not a winner early in life is far superior to having a shelf full of meaningless trophies and finding out that in reality, everyone does not win every time, nor does one win just by participating.

Learning this lesson early on worked for me.  How about you?  I welcome comments or suggestions.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Monday, August 4, 2014

“It is strange that what seems at first alien becomes second nature in the blink of an eye.” ― Sara Sheridan, The Secret Mandarin

August is upon us, which means back to school cannot be far behind.  Kids everywhere are beginning to wonder which teachers they will be assigned to for certain subjects, hoping they will get the "nice" or the "easy" teachers, or at least one they know.  Anxiety in students and teachers and parents will be mounting this month as the first school day draws nearer.  What can you do as a parent and as a teacher to help assuage the anxieties of that first day?

If you are a parent with a very anxious child, I urge you to make an appointment with the guidance counselor before the school year begins. If your child is going to a different school from the previous year, you should also set up a tour of the building.  Kids fear what we ALL fear- the unknown.  When I taught at North Allegheny Intermediate for 35 years, a meeting was held for the incoming ninth grade parents and students. (NA had 3 middle schools that fed into the Intermediate HS) Information was dispersed about courses and class times and general procedures, and then students could walk around through the building to "get their bearings" a bit before the rush of that important first day.  I recall that when I would be in my classroom putting up bulletin boards or organizing my papers for the start of school,  many students would stop by the school building for a second or third tour of the building.  They would peek in my room in a shy manner, perhaps to ask a question, and I would tell them how much they were going to enjoy being a part of our school.  I would explain an easier way to figure out the building than by looking at the map in their hands, and after these sometimes brief or sometimes long conversations, some of the anticipated terror of the first day was dissipated. For these students, just by being at the new building once or twice, the dread and fear of the unknown diminished.  If you are a teacher with friends who have anxious children, please steer them in the right direction to help their child. 

If you are a teacher, you can welcome these lost and wary students when you see them in the halls, both before school begins while you are working in your classroom, and on that first overwhelming day. Position yourself at your classroom door, and paste a welcoming smile on your face.  You will be able to spot the lost and on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown student instantly by the look on his face!  Be kind and point him in the right direction.  Tell him it is all right to be late on this first day.  Remember that you are an ambassador of the entire school during this short encounter,  and for this student, you may represent the entire school in one brief moment.  Be sure to be positive.  I never thought too much about these kinds of moments, but one year, I helped a ninth grade girl who was lost and crying.  I told her she had no reason to cry; in fact, I would accompany her to her next class and explain the situation to her new teacher, and that if she insisted on crying, she would ruin her perfectly beautiful eyelashes.  The next year on the first day, that young lady was in my English class, and she told me that she and her mom had requested me as a teacher because of that moment of kindness.  I was just doing my job in a positive manner.  Finding out that tidbit of information was a real bonus!  I have always believed that you can never know how much a small kindness can affect another person.

In closing, August is a month of pre-school angst.  If you are a parent or a teacher, you have the ability to help new students to become familiar with their new school.  Once they are there a week, all will be OK, but give them the guidance and help they need before that big first day.

Rittman Publishing, LLC