Sunday, May 24, 2009

Innovations in Teaching

Mrs. Warnecke, my first grade teacher from forty-five years ago, sent me an old newspaper recently that included an article highlighting her classroom in my elementary school. The date immortalized on my hometown paper is February 28, 1965, and the reporter is eager to disclose one of the newest ideas in teaching, a strategy that exemplifies true innovation in the classroom:

"There's a relatively new activity in educational circles that is guaranteed to delight youngsters, amuse teachers, and horrify parents. Actually, everyone has participated in similar activities, but now it has a name - Show and Tell."

Show and Tell!

I can't believe that this activity was literally born in the sixties. I feel sure that cave-children were acting out the workings of the first wheel or the warmth of the first fire for their cave-teachers. But, no, Barbara W. Short, the "Women's Editor" for the "Women's News" of the Durham Morning Herald, reveals that this new technique is all the rage in schools of the sixties. And her article is chock full of examples.

One student talks about visiting a friend in the hospital and seeing him walk on "crunches." "When he walked, it went 'crunch, crunch, crunch,'" she said.

Another student shares that he hates school because "there ain't no tv."

Interestingly, the Show and Tell conversation turns to history and a heated discussion of Abraham Lincoln and which war occurred during his presidency.

"The first war," says one student. "No," adds another. "It was the second war." A little girl is sure that it was "the thirteenth war."

But the war "made us free" asserted another student.

"I'm not free. I'm six," reported a little blonde. Well, I'm glad we got that straight.

This article made me think about our current innovations in teaching and how we may read about them in forty-four years and think, as we do with Show and Tell, that we've always taught this way.

"There's this board and it looks just like a white board, but you can navigate it like a computer screen. Just touch it! It's amazing..."

"Your class can actually talk to a classroom in another country, just by logging on to your computer."

Will either of these innovations be the Show and Tell of the future? Probably not. It's just difficult to measure up to a classic.

And speaking of classic, the article refers to my teacher as "Mrs. Richard Warnecke." Evidently, back in the sixties, women didn't have their own names.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers in the Middle

Today is Mother's Day. Although I am myself a mother of four, I always think of MY mother when I think of Mother's Day. Today I went to her house to deliver the yearly MDP (Mother's Day Plant) and as I left I gave her a big 'ol hug.

My mother is 81. She weighs 100 pounds in her heaviest winter clothes and has difficulty getting around - yesterday she tripped over the cane that is supposed to keep her from falling. So as I stood there and held onto my feeble mother today I was thinking about how much more attention she gets from me now that I'm older than she did back when she was really mothering me, those crazy adolescent years when she was responsible for everything I ate, everything I wore, and all transportation I needed to get me where I needed to go. I didn't appreciate her then like I do now. And now, of course, she's not taking me anywhere. I'm the one running the "elderly shuttle," as she calls it.

As I drove away, I thought of the mothers at the other end of the spectrum, mothers. My stepdaughter came in today with a pricey purse in tow, surely not purchased by my three-year-old granddaughter, Taylor. And think of those young women who have newborns. They surely get gushed over when it's their "First Mother's Day."

But there's another group of mothers out there. Those Mothers in the Middle are suffering, and I see their pain. One reason I know so much about middle school motherhood is because I watched my own children turn from precious mommy lovers to evil mouth clicking demons when they went to middle school. Not only did I not know anything when my kids were teenagers, their friends' parents were awesome! I would hear, "But everybody's parents let them do more than you let me do!" And I would answer, "Well, I guess I just love my children more than other parents love theirs."

The real reason I know that middle school mothers are suffering is because I see it when they come to talk to me about their children. I hear it every year:

"He always made straight A's until middle school."

"She's never cared about boys until now, and I can't get her off the phone."

"He must be hanging around with bad kids. He's never used that language before." (I've always wondered who the bad kid's parents blame the behavior on.)

Some mothers come in for a conference and spend the entire time frantically explaining the child's behavior at home, detail-by-detail. I feel like they just need to be heard; surely they don't expect me to come home with them and start handing out expectations and rewards in an effort to turn around the behavior.

Some mothers argue and place blame on the teacher while others lament "I don't know what to do with him either. He's going to give me a nervous breakdown."

On this Mother's Day I'd like to tell all of you Mothers in the Middle - it will be okay. My children turned themselves around just as they began to experience a little freedom. A driver's license and a car can really boost a negative attitude (mainly because they want to keep those car keys.) And somewhere along the time my daughter went to college she called to tell me she sure missed all the things I used to do for her. (It was especially helpful that three of my children didn't have air conditioned dorm rooms. August in the South can sure make a kid homesick.)

Middle school is a tough time for kids - those are some very difficult years developmentally. If you don't believe it, think back on your own adolescent years.

Oops. I think I better go back and give my poor little mother another hug. And another MDP, too.