Monday, February 23, 2015

"It truly is a joyful burden. It's what we do, it's why we teach: because we love our kids, and we want the best for them." Margaret Platt, History Teacher

The news is filled with stories about inappropriate teacher-student relationships. In the past two weeks, not one, but two male teachers in the same suburban Pittsburgh school district have been arrested for having a sexual relationship with female students.  I cringe in embarrassment and horror every time I hear this kind of news story.  I am and always will be a teacher, and the behavior of a few teachers in the news paints the entire teaching profession the putrid color of distrust.  I am not accusing or saying that I believe the charges against either teacher. I am simply saying that stories like this are bad for the teachers, the school districts, the community, and the students. 

I absolutely loved teaching high school for 37 years.  My school building was filled with hundreds of beautiful teenaged male and female students.  They were my STUDENTS, and I was their teacher, which I believe is a relationship to be revered.  Students looked to me to discuss grades and parents; to give advice on relationship questions and prom gowns; to help them to complete essays and job applications; and to guide them through traumas of school and growing up. I truly cared for my students, therefore,  it is inconceivable for me to entertain any possibility of crossing the line that must be drawn between teachers and students to enter into an inappropriate relationship.  I believe that teaching is much more than a job; I rather think that teaching is a calling, and it is in that capacity, that teachers must always weigh all possibilities when thinking about students. If any doubt exists concerning decisions to be made about students, the teacher must ALWAYS
choose to do what is best for the student.  In my mind, and I think in the minds of most educators, no other choice exists. 

I read with interest the front page of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW, which boldly stated as the headline: "Plum schools lack teacher-student restriction" with a sub-headline of "Accusations against 2 instructors stir move to limit fraternization."  A code of conduct already exists in Pennsylvania, and it is listed under the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Professional Standards and Practices Commission.  According to the TRIB, this Pennsylvania law restricts sexual harassment and sexual relationships.  Plum would like to augment this law with restrictions of their own, including  prohibiting teachers from using "electronic communication such as text messaging or social media to connect with students 'to deter any sort of misconduct'". (Source: The Tribune Review, 2/19/2015, page A6)  They want to go the extra mile to protect students, now that two accusations have been made. A little late is better than never, I suppose, but it seems to me that teachers should already know better than to cross the relationship line with students. I am not sure spelling out specifics really matters.

I simply hate to see these stories in the news, because true or not, the charges hurt everyone, and in most cases, accusations alone can ruin lives and careers.  

I urge my fellow educators to avoid any scenarios which could invite accusations of inappropriate  behavior, including "friending" students on Facebook and/or posting any content on social media that could be deemed as inappropriate.  

The teaching profession needs you to be the best teacher you can be, and you must remember that you are a role model, whether you are inside or outside the classroom. In simple terms, you must always do what is best for the students, and strive to be a positive role model.  

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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Monday, February 16, 2015

"Anger is poison. You must purge it from your mind or else it will corrupt your better nature." Christopher Paolini

I am always on the the lookout for inspiration and ideas for writing this blog.  I like to give my readers suggestions or questions for reflection they can carry with them through the day.  I also like to think that a person who reads my blog feels happy that he spent the few minutes to read it.

That introduction takes me to my next part, television news, and how it led to this blog.

If you watch the news at all, you know that so many angry people live on our planet, as well as in the United States. Random murders and other acts of violence pepper our newspaper headlines and newscasts; sometimes the perpetrators are labeled as "normal", and other times they are known to be "different." What is "normal"?  What is "different"? And who is to say?  

I think the one common strand in many of these acts of violence seem to stem from the same thing:  anger.

I have been thinking about why everyone is so angry, including children of all ages, and I believe I have narrowed in on a at least a few parts of the answer.  I want to speak to adults first.  In today's world, so many demands are made on our time, and those demands make us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes, even depressed. We tell ourselves that we can handle whatever life throws at us, because we do not want them to be applied to our lives, so we get angry instead.  Life is so much easier when you can blame someone for your feelings:  the barista at Starbucks made the wrong drink, the carpet cleaner will be late, the boss wants the report on his desk tomorrow, giving no extra time because you are caring for an aging parent.  We could find endless reasons to be angry every day, but it is not healthy for anyone to follow that pattern of behavior.  

Children are also angry. I think that with two parents working and all of a child's days and evenings filled with activities, the child has no "down time" just to enjoy being alone and playing or reading, which causes anger.  Additionally, when a child is presented with angry parents ranting about real or imagined problems of the day, the pattern of seeing and accepting angry behavior becomes acceptable and normal behavior for the child. In other words, angry parents create angry children.  Angry children act out in school, just as angry adults act out in society, which comes back to my statement about violence on television. (By the way, I do not even want to think about the messages parents are sending their children during road rage incidents.)

As a society, what can we do?  I suggest changing lives one person at a time.  When something happens to you that elicits an angry response, take the high road and walk away. Or explain (in a calm manner and a non-threatening tone) why you are displeased, and then move on.  Do I ever get angry?  Of course, but I think before I act.  I realize that not everyone has been gifted with a normal to high IQ, and perhaps that person is doing the best he can do.  I will respectfully say why I feel I have been wronged, and listen when the other person tells his side.  I write letters to explain the facts and my feelings.

Here is a personal example that I have been dealing with for months. I spent hours and hours (over 40) over a two week period because  the data transfer to my new computer was botched.  Some files I really needed for the promotion of my book were lost, and these were files that were guaranteed to transfer with no problem.  When I finally had them in the Outlook program, POOF, they disappeared!  I will not go into all the time I spent on the phone and in the store, but I wrote an email to the CEO of this giant big box company, and I had a phone call from corporate and the local store the next day.  I spoke about the issues the consumer faces, which they never even thought about.  No voices were raised, no threats were made; it was a solid back and forth dialogue about how the store could better serve the customer.  I have a $100 gift card to the store, and I made things better for the next person.

Parents, I taught school for 37 years.  i saw angry students, and then when I met the parents, I knew the apple did not fall far from the tree.  Please think about the impression you are making on your child.  All parents want their children to be happy in life, and showing anger is not going to help your child.  Hugging your child, sharing positive parts of your day and life, and giving yourself a little alone time to sort through your feelings are far better actions than showing anger.

I just want the world to be a little happier, and I am trying to make it happy, one person at a time.  Please join me in this crusade to overcome anger and replace it with kindness.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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Monday, February 9, 2015

"Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Teachers may never fully realize the impact - positive or negative- they might have on a student's life.  In today's blog, I want to tell you a true story about positive influence, one that will melt your heart.

First, I must say that I am so fortunate to have so many friends from North Allegheny Intermediate High School. Our faculty- all departments- ate lunch together in a common lunchroom, shared classrooms and study hall rooms, worked on student projects together, and worked as a team to help students in trouble.  I was at the same building for 35 years, and all of us, from those who are over 80 years old now and have been retired for years,  to those who just retired last year, stay in contact with each other and retain our friendships.  I know that not all schools are like this, but we were friends and supporters who helped each other through school, home, and family crises through the years, and we continue to support each other.  It should come as no surprise that I have limitless stories of great inspiration to share with you from so many talented teacher friends.

One of my extraordinary North Allegheny friends, and perhaps the best teacher I have ever known or seen, always went the extra mile for her students.  She did supplemental tutoring before and after school; she helped every student in her classes and study hall students with difficult projects; she answered questions on semantics and grammar that stumped the rest of the faculty; and she consistently showed her students that she cared about them as individuals, not just as students in her class.

One September, many years ago, a young 9th grade student walked into my friend's classroom. This student was not American, but was from a different ethnic background. This girl wanted so much to fit in, but her mother did not understand modern American ways or culture.  This adolescent girl needed a female American role model, and she found it in my friend, her teacher. Having a positive female role model was a godsend for this young lady who was stuck between two cultures, especially when a family emergency took her real mother away for an extended period of time and she needed a female and maternal influence. 

The student and the teacher saw each other in class every day for grades 9 and 10, and when the student moved on to attend the high school for grades 11 and 12, my friend continued to be not only her teacher/friend, but also her mentor.  They discussed and dissected issues from class projects to boys and dating to cliques and friendships . My friend realized that their relationship was shifting, and she was becoming more like an American mom than a teacher.

For over twenty years after the young lady graduated from high school, the two women met for coffee, talked on the phone, and exchanged cards and emails.  My friend continued to mentor her former student and helped her to navigate life.  Recently, my teacher friend received a gift in the mail from the young lady,with a beautifully written card, thanking her for all the time and guidance that was lavished upon her at a time when she was growing up and really needed adult concern, affirmation, and direction.  She expressed the hope that her own daughters would find a mentor as special as she had. My friend was touched to the core by this unexpected gift and note, and she shared this poignant story with me.  We rejoiced together that something so wonderful was recognized and appreciated, after all those years. 

Perhaps the best part of this true story is this:  the young lady is a teacher

Is there any higher compliment than inspiring one to become a teacher?  I feel sure that the scared 9th grader of yesteryear has become a beacon of light for her students, paying forward all that she received from her teacher, my friend.

I share this story with a happy heart, and with the thought of giving hope to my readers who are struggling with the problems within the teaching profession.  Sometimes, being a teacher can be so overwhelming. (Remember that I was a classroom teacher for 37 years, and i have not forgotten what it was like.) With all of the stress and anxiety about test scores, not to mention the administrative and parental pressures, teachers can lose sight of what their real work is. Focus on the students and what is best for them. Teachers are in school to help each student to achieve and to be the best he can be.  And maybe if you are lucky, some of your students will remember your guiding words  and kindness, and choose to become teachers, too.  

Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.  Henry Brooks Adams

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Monday, February 2, 2015

"Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity." Kay Redfield Jamison, Contemporary American Professor of Psychiatry

While I was traveling in Florida for the month of January,  I was stunned when the television news talked about enacting a law which would eliminate recess for elementary students, not just in Florida, but in many US states. The reason :  recess takes precious time away from teaching the standards and all of the material that must be covered.

Are you kidding me?

I have to wonder about the obesity problem that has been in the news for so long. Wouldn't taking away recess contribute to the obesity problems with our children? But for me, that is not the real issue.

I believe that recess provides just as much learning as a classroom setting, and in some cases more.  Kids can learn social skills, teamwork, and getting along with others, just by being on the playground. They learn to take turns, to lead others, to follow others, and to play by the rules.  They can learn about bullying and compassion, as well as standing up for themselves and others. They learn that everyone does not have the same talents; rather, that people have different talents. Someone who cannot catch a ball outside may be a fine artist in the classroom.  In my opinion, recess has real life lessons that students will carry with them for years to come.  I still remember playing hopscotch and dodge ball and football and whiffle ball, picking up teams, and learning the rules of the playground.  I quickly learned who threw the fastest pitches, how to catch a football so it didn't sting, and to include others who sat on the sidelines.  I can remember swinging on the swings with a friend who was sad, not conversing, merely comforting her by my presence.  I feel confident that my IQ for dealing with people increased because of my time on the playground.  

I am not saying that standards and learning are not important.  I simply think that children need a time for release and play.  Are so many children really ADD or ADHD, or are they just not able to sit still for long periods of time?  Recess gives kids a chance to use some energy on the playground, and then they can re-focus in the classroom.  For some students who have difficulty learning, recess is the only time of the day that they can really fit in and be happy.

Isn't that what we really want - for our children to be in a safe and happy learning environment at school?  I think recess contributes to both happiness and learning.  

Let's keep recess in elementary schools. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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