Letter to the editor: There are many effective ways of reaching students
“Mrs. Heather-Lea, what would you really do?” That was a question a student asked me when we were practicing a lock down at our public high school. (I am a retired math teacher. I taught for over 30 years.)
My response went something like this, “First I might pee in my pants. Then I would probably be singing and praying.” Upon reflection, I think I most likely would be protecting my students with my body and telling them, “I love you.”
A teacher’s job is a difficult one. Being a good parent is the hardest job that ever existed and being a good teacher is running right up there, somewhere.
I have a job to do on Tuesday, March 6. I need to vote. The Mount Abraham Unified School District budget vote is for $28,343,828.
I am in a quandary. I want to support my schools’ teachers and students. Certain staff positions are being subtracted. Certain staff positions are being added. I do not agree with the direction that the superintendent and unified school board is taking. I filled out the survey after attending part of the Jan. 3 Community Budget Forum at Holley Hall. At that point in time, I said I would not vote for this budget since I did not agree with their plan for increasing student success.
I wrote: “You are going to hire coordinators, coaches, and interventionists. You need to define these positions with examples. What in the world is an interventionist? It is time to redefine success. Stop depending so heavily on testing for that definition.
Being a retired public high school teacher, for over 30 years, I reflect. Here are some of the ways I became a better teacher: I co-taught a math class with a technical education teacher. I worked with colleagues, from other disciplines and from math, who shared techniques and ideas, during in-service time. I decided that I needed to take students where they were and give them some tools with which to reason and think, now and in the future. I used much of my time connecting with students, outside the classroom giving individual or small group instruction.
Realize that success, as society defines it, may not happen during students’ high school experience. Follow through. Stay connected. Find out what happens to graduates. Do not predict their future with some label offered by a standardized test given in high school.
By all means, ask teachers for ideas of how to help them reach more students and become better teachers.
Also, tell us what articles you have read or systems you have analyzed that are determining this new direction you are heading.”
They never responded to my concerns. I still do not know how I am going to vote.
During the summers when I was still teaching, I did some traveling and would meet new people. They would ask me what work I did. They then would ask me what changes I saw over the years. I would say, “I think adolescents are dealing with more and more adult issues.” One of my students had once told me, “Mrs. Heather-Lea, I have seen it all.” At that point I probably welled up with tears and told her that I was sorry that she had to go through all that in her life. She and I spent many an hour outside the “normal classroom” time, so she could get more attention and small group instruction. We also developed a trusting relationship.
Students are facing many situations and conditions: bullying, (face to face or cyber), cancer, alcoholism, car accidents — some fatal, divorce, poverty, accessibility to drugs and sex, mental, physical and sexual abuse, suicide, parenting their own parents, missing parents because they are fighting wars, living with parents who are experiencing P.T.S.D., losing a parent due to death, having a parent in prison, experiencing racism, being exposed to advertisements which sell sex appeal and popularity, being exposed to violent images, being distracted by “digital cocaine”, . . .
How do we best serve our children?
Here is my plea to Superintendent Reen and our Unified School Board: Work with teachers and students to solve problems. What are the best ways of reaching children and adolescents? How do we respond to the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain they are experiencing? How do we offer guidance and support in their search for meaning and purpose in their lives?
Consider the following sources: Read student Ally Hoff’s article in The Bird’s Eye View, Issue 28, Winter 2018, “Finding What Motivates is Key to Success”. Here is Ally’s last paragraph. “Motivation can take time to acquire and many people need a little push, but it will come that much easier if you discover your interests and set goals for the future.” Read Cheryl Mitchell’s Ways of Seeing article in the Nov 2, 2017 Addison Independent, “After-school programming is key.” Holly Morehouse, director of the VT After-School Network was honored for her work and vision. Cheryl attended the ceremony. Holly expounds upon the idea of “having a third space for learning (the first two are the family and the school) as a critical arena in which children can explore their passions and interests at a leisurely pace surrounded by the loving and skilled attention of our communities.”
Watch Michael Moore’s movie, “Where to Invade Next.” Both Michael Moore and Holly Morehouse visited Finland. They share these ideas from Finland, regarding children and their growth: every town has a community center for youth. Every child will find and develop a hobby that brings them deep satisfaction. Give children more time to be kids. Allow children to find their happiness. Teach children to use their brains as well as they can. Stop teaching to the standardized tests. Teach children to think for themselves, learn how to be a happy person, and grow as a human being. Allow students time to play!
The first six years of life are a very powerful time to learn. Let us “front load” the education process. Start early with love, support and positive role models. (I have also heard that it is the best time to learn a second language.) Cheryl Mitchell also writes about her visit to her Granddaughter Ramona’s pre-kindergarten school in one of the boroughs of New York City. “The school … is filled with light and totally welcoming to families. It includes a supervised gym (for early drop-off or late pick-up to meet the needs of working parents) a full-time art teacher, and meals provided for all children. The curriculum is project based … The programs mirror the hours and days of the school year for older brothers and sisters.” New York City is providing this experience in all five boroughs. Perhaps Vermont can take this lead and use it to expand our pre-kindergarten programs. Cheryl Mitchell is looking for help to have these ideas blossom and become a reality in Vermont.
Too many individuals in our state are experiencing much pain in the area of drug addiction. I hope our Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, and Governor Phil Scott can also listen to these ideas. They offer a model of prevention. And I do believe their worth is “priceless” and perhaps far less expensive than any “war on drugs”.
All children need to have time and a healthy place in which to develop their interests and their very own filter with which to use their senses, their bodies, and their minds. They will find their meaning in life. They will develop tools to serve their communities in which they live and work and, in turn, serve themselves.
Desmond Tutu said, “It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” ( The Book of Joy, 2016, page 99) The Dalai Lama said, “We must teach people, especially our youth, the source of happiness and satisfaction. We must teach them that the ultimate source of happiness is within themselves. Not machine. Not technology. Not money. Not power.” (ibid. page 297) I hope that our pre-schools, schools, alternative programs, Mt. Abe’s Pathways Program, after-school programs, community experiences, recreation department classes, Vermont governor’s institutes, summer camps, are fertile places of growth and opportunity.
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