Teacher Professor

March 24, 2013

Testing Anxiety

Filed under: College information,Home Things,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:27 pm

Warning- this is long. This is long because I have a lot to say about it. A writer from She Knows Canada (http://www.sheknows.ca) asked me for “some quotes” and I told her that I was afraid that I was going to write a rant. I see a lot of anxious parents at college- and there are so many things I want to tell them.  

I talk a lot about test anxiety to college students- how to breathe through it, how to focus on the positive, and how to manage the rush of anxiety that can block the thinking process. How to focus on how you’re going to answer a question rather than the question itself. But last week, a parent asked me what advice I had for the PARENTS who were waiting for the results of their children’s test scores- or exam results- or grades- or other high-stakes measures that can determine their child’s future. More specifically- “What can I do to help my child with these tests?” And I had to pause for a moment at this challenge of perspective-shifting.

There have always been high-stakes tests that determine a future. Whether the “test” was a dissertation defense that took place between 3-5pm on April 20th that determined whether or not you got a PhD, or taking the PSAT from 8-12 on a lovely day in October that determines National Merit scholarships, or an audition in January that determined whether you were going to Julliard; there have always been moments in life where your whole future determined upon performance for a few hours on a certain day.

This really is similar to the real world. Business contracts are won and lost based on a presentation of 15 minutes. Legal cases are won and lost based on the words that are chosen in the closing arguments. Your ability to get a job is determined on how well you do in an interview. Life’s turning points really do happen in a few minutes.

But here’s the kicker- failure used to be full of potential. If you didn’t get into a college of choice, there was another college available. If you didn’t get the account, you learned, and tried again with another firm. If you failed out of school, you could find another job that didn’t require those skills. Economically, we had a middle class, which meant that if you weren’t at the top of your game, there was a soft landing. There were possibilities there.

These days, parents are very well aware that second chances are few and far between. Good people do go on unemployment because there isn’t another job waiting for them. Smart people do end up working at McDonalds because the job market is so constricted. Your local college will cost a small fortune to attend and the job prospects are limited for those graduates because the only jobs in the area are either only for high-achieving students, or don’t pay well enough to enable your child to move out of your house.

Complicating this pressure is the generation in which many of our young people have been raised. Young college students grew up in a generation that had child care, seat belts and other symbols of care and protection. This generation received trophies merely for showing up to athletic events and there was a great deal of focus on their self-esteem; a focus that has led to record levels of narcissism. They perceived that their wishes could be bought and paid for by their parents, symbolized by bedrooms covered in “Little Princess” pinkness. I see college students bringing in their Disney gear so that they can retain that feeling of being cossetted and loved and protected from that big bad world.

The big bad world is full of pressure. It’s pressure that has grown worse- much worse- over time. It’s why we as adults are the most medicated, the most stressed-out, and the most politically-polarized culture ever. The test really isn’t the pressure- the pressure comes from our culture.

Parents and college faculty often get frustrated with students who appear to be unmotivated and uninterested. This “slacker” attitude is really a response to stress, with the added dollop of helplessness. In other words, kids are unorganized and self-absorbed, not because they don’t care, but because they care too much, but don’t know what to do or where to start. Our stress has become their stress, only they feel powerless to do anything about it.

All of this paints a very bleak picture; it probably doesn’t help to know that high stakes tests really are high stakes. And it certainly doesn’t answer the parent’s question to me- how can we handle the stress ourselves and what can we do? The answer is multi-faceted, but because lists are a helpful strategy (see #3), here are a dozen things that a parent can do to help their child (and themselves) handle high-stakes tests:

  1. Test performance is not something that you can make happen. You can provide guidance, tutors, or incentives, but ultimately, your child is going to perform the way that they are. The key is not what YOU as a parent do, but what your CHILD does. You want your CHILD to have testing strategies, a reward system of their own that they set up and to self-advocate for themselves. YOU cannot go to their teachers and ask what your child needs to do- you need to help your child practice what they’re going to say when THEY come to a teacher to ask what they can do to help learn the material. Don’t teach them the test content.  Teach them how to teach themselves the test content.  You have done your job when your child doesn’t need you.
  2. Understand the difference between Failure and failure. Capital “F” Failure are those things that you cannot fix- ever. Those are few and far between and generally involve life prison sentences. Little “f” failures are those things that you can fix, or bounce back from, or try again. Almost everyone in the Fortune 500 can point to decisions that they made that were wrong. Even Donald Trump has declared bankruptcy over and over again. These people learned from their mistakes and tried something new. There is a wonderful phrase that “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” In other words, while high stakes mean limiting of choices, there are still choices. And there is always trying again.
  3. Teach your child to make lists. Lists of what they have to do, what needs to be done first, what projects are due when. Lists connected to calendars are amazing tools-and often, they involve technology- always a plus! I think about college kids appearing uninvolved and listless- which can indeed, be “list-less”.
  4. Encourage your child not to come home. They need to get involved in their school. They will succeed if they want to be there and if they know others there. If they know the counselors and faculty and other students and understand that they all want them to succeed, they will be more engaged in their classes as well. “Involved” generally does not mean partying or hanging out. A group of uninvolved students leads to less involvement. Involved means being active in formally organized activities in which adults are involved as well.
  5. What would they do if money were no object? Play the game of “Life” with them (there’s an app for that!). Have them plan backwards-what do they want to be DOING when they’re 50? 40? The reason we take money out of the equation is that money comes to those who are passionate about what they do. Otherwise, they are earning money to do something for 8-10 hours a day that they hate so that they can have moments of what they really want to do. Also, realize that with the changing world, interests become careers tomorrow that don’t even exist today. If a kid likes to travel but gets airsick, they can make travel apps. If a kid likes basketball but is too short, they can design virtual games. If a kid likes fashion, they can design the next car. There are so many possibilities in this world that require creativity and interest. The future belongs not to the jobs that can be replaced by computers, but to those who can create new ways of doing things.
  6. Give the right kind of feedback. Carol Dweck’s now famous study gave three different types of feedback to kids who had done well on a test. The first were told how smart they were, the second were given a generic “nice job”, and the third group was told how effective their strategies must have been and how their hard work had paid off. In subsequent tests, the group who had been told how smart they were did worse than any other group.  The highest group?- The group who had been praised on their effort. I see it in kids all the time “If I’m so smart, how come this stuff is hard?” Don’t tell kids that they can do it because of innate abilities. Emphasize the amount of work and the type of work that leads to good results.  Celebrate their “hard work”, not their grades.
  7. Enjoy the journey. My husband, a college administrator, asked me to tell parents that if their child is “undecided” about what they want to be, chances are that they will be highly successful in whatever they finally do choose. Yes, they may take an extra year or two to graduate. But studies have found that they have higher rates of actual graduation than the kids who declared their first semester and realized two years in that they really don’t like that choice after all. As someone who got a business degree before I realized that what I really wanted to be was a teacher, I can attest to years of education wasted. Kids who are interested in lots of things can often become our greatest entrepreneurs. If they fail out of a program, perhaps that is simply a signal that they were really supposed to do something else. Adult lives rarely move in straight lines. These high stakes tests can sometimes guide those lines. For years, I had posted on my desk “This life is a test. It is only a test. Had this been a real life, you would have received further instructions about where to go and what to do”. If we grieve what we failed at, we miss what we’re good at.
  8. Model anxiety-reducing behavior. You can talk about how you face challenges and how you deal with the pressure, but you need to show them. Generally, actions such as drinking, over-eating, and calling incessantly are not good models. They will do as you do, not as you say. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t soothe yourself with a lovely mani-pedi every now and then, but it does mean that you have to show them what resilience looks like.
  9. Learn about other role models. Bill Gates dropped out of college. Yes, it was Harvard, but he still didn’t finish. Look at Steve Jobs who was fired from Apple- a company he himself founded. Look at Oprah who grew up with a single mom. There are lots of role models out there and they all faced adversity, shrugged it off, and found a way to move on. Help your child identify a role model that they can learn from.
  10. Help others. Whether it’s tutoring others, planting a garden at a local elementary school, or volunteering at a clinic, by helping others, children can see that their efforts have value. We know that the happiest people are the people who see value in what they do- who understand that their efforts are making the world a better place. Have your kids make the world a better place.
  11. Be in the moment, but keep your eye on the goal. Life is often a series of hoops to jump through. We will all spend a great deal of time doing things that are not what we would rather be doing. When anxiety gets to us, breathing, and being in the moment, allowing it to happen and knowing that it will pass can help kids deal with the anxiety of testing.  Teaching your child that doing these things allows us to get to where we would rather be is a great gift that comes from delayed gratification. There is a wonderful old test in which little kids are told that they have one marshmallow now or get two marshmallows when the adult comes back. Those who could wait an unspecified amount of time for the reward could handle frustrations better. Angela Duckworth, in her studies of successful kids calls finds that persistence is the most important factor between kids who do well and kids who don’t. It’s not ability. It’s grit.
  12. Back off. Yes, it’s a test. Yes, it’s a high stakes test. Yes, their future depends on it. But it’s their future. And they have to make it. What they need is your belief that they are a good person, and your support if they need a soft spot to land. They are going to make their own direction, and they have to want their future more than you do. Listen to them, ask them questions, but they don’t want you steering, they want you cheering.

The original question was “How can we help our children in college through test pressures?”, which relates more to the parents’ anxiety than the children’s- or relates to the parents’ anxiety about their children’s anxiety.    I’m a parent myself.  I know the heartache and stress.  I know that I worry that my child is going to be living in my basement for the rest of his life.  But I also know that I have to keep my anxiety about their lives to myself and I have to be the rock of support for them.  I have to let them make mistakes, and I have to help them learn from their mistakes.  I have to help them face obstacles, and not shield them from the obstacles.

I’ve described a dozen things, but the most important thing really is this:

Ask them to do their best, and love them no matter the results

Thank you, Mother… 


December 15, 2012

The Deep Roar of WHY: To the Teachers

Filed under: Autism,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 10:46 am
Tags: , , , ,

My daughter heard the news yesterday that the killer may have had autism or Aspergers or on the spectrum, and turned to me with horror in her face – “Didn’t I have autism?” I cannot tell you how the pain of that cut the wound of yesterday’s events even deeper.  I held her and rocked her through not just the horror of the day, but her terror at being lumped in the same category as this evil, evil man.

I never turned on the television last night.  Reading the news online was bad enough.  Had I turned on the television, I would have not been able to stop crying, terrified my children, and never stopped holding them.  I knew I couldn’t  handle it.  And so, I turned away from it in order to save my own sense of stability, my own sense of strength and to send prayers to the families.  Like so many others, we stayed quiet at home and treasured what we have: our health, our love, our future and our peace.  I value those things and can realize how small the little irritants really are.  There were few words that could be said.

But there are a few things that I can say that need to be understood as we become caught up in the deep call of WHY? that is resounding because the answer of “just because” is not good enough.

This is for the teachers out there- in the wake of yesterday’s horrible atrocities, there are many, many things being written.  I hope that this finds but a few of my teaching colleagues- and the teachers to come.

First, it needs to be recognized that teaching puts us on the front lines.  That a very sick, evil person who is seeking to create as much horror as possible, will seek out and hurt children because by killing the innocents, a statement is made about the loss of a future.  There were numerous teachers and one very brave principal who tried to stop the massacre by literally throwing themselves in front of the madman, and who huddled children in closets and who tried to reassure and show children that there are people that you can count on.  It needs to be recognized that teaching is about helping children- their minds, their hearts, and their lives.  Can we please stop bashing teachers when they are the ones to whom we entrust our future and our children’s lives everyday?

The quote from Mr. Rogers is making the round:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  Teachers are some of the most caring people I know and they face great stress and pressure every single day.  Teachers are helpers.  Everyday.

The other issue is that while there are rumors that the gunman had autism, that is no more relevant to his warped state of mind than the fact that he was male, he was white, he was in the middle class, or he came from a divorced family.   He may have had autism, but autism did not make him who he was.

Simply put: Autism does NOT make you a killer.

Teachers who are looking at the events of yesterday, and feeling the pain, not just of their own personal children, but of our colleagues, cannot be afraid of a child with autism more than they are afraid of any other child from any other background.  Children with autism cannot handle the emotional intensities of others and so they walk away.  NOT because they don’t care, but because they care too much.  They look “unfeeling” but it is because they have fewer emotional walls than others and they choose to put the emotions “over there” rather than lose themselves to the emotional intensities around them.  It’s a coping strategy- compartmentalizing.  Dealing with something later.  Scarlett O’Hara embodied it in her line “I’ll think about that tomorrow“.

Please read the following statement from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) released today:

Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and their families. Recent media reports have suggested that the perpetrator of this violence, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or with another psychiatric disability. In either event, it is imperative that as we mourn the victims of this horrific tragedy that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between autism or other disabilities and violence. Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Should the shooter in today’s shooting prove to in fact be diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with another disability, the millions of Americans with disabilities should be no more implicated in his actions than the non-disabled population is responsible for those of non-disabled shooters. 

Today’s violence was the act of an individual. We urge media, government and community leaders to speak out against any effort to spuriously link the Autistic or broader disability community with violent crime. Autistic Americans and other groups of people with disabilities persist in facing discrimination and segregation in school, the workplace and the general community. In this terrible time, our society should not further stigmatize our community. As our great nation has so many times in the past, let us come together to both mourn those killed by acts of heinous murder and defend all parts of our country from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.”

Media inquiries regarding this shooting may be directed to ASAN at info@autisticadvocacy.org

I don’t know what caused Adam Lanza to take the lives of so many babies and brave ones.  I don’t know why- I’m not sure we’ll ever know why.

But in that roar of “WHY?”,  the answer is not “autism”.

Teachers, thank you.  Thank you for being a helper.  And please, please know that children with autism especially need your help right now.   single-candle-burning-600x360[1]

January 27, 2012

Change in Education- Why, What, How

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 7:30 pm
Tags: , ,

Notes from a First District RESA session with the GA State Superintendent- Guest Speaker

Willard Daggett– January 27, 2012

CEO of International Center for Leadership in Education

We need to be looking at countries with growth- not those who are already on top.  During the past 5  years, even in a global recession, there are countries with double digit growth:

  • Vietnam
  • Indonesia
  • Brazil

We are used to a Euro-centric model of education- and the Asian model is eating us alive.

Problems with cultural differences- they do not accept special education and they do not allow all children to live.  His daughter, born with epilepsy and developmental differences would have, by state policy, received no medication until age 3.  Survival of the fittest.  Not a perfect comparison- we see potential in the underdog- but we also have to focus on developing all of us.

Change is hard in American schools:

  • Just try to change the bell schedule of a high school
  • Just try to change the room where a teacher teaches.

We are this close to losing public education and everyone else thinks they know how to fix it except those in public education.

Myth:  It is a myth that schools are failing. More kids graduating  %, scores are up.  Even with:

  • Standards: Georgia has never seen a standard it didn’t like.
  • More tests
  • More diversity.  Long term is a strength.  Short term is a challenge.

But: World changing faster than schools.

Schools are improving but we’re worse off than ever because of the increasing skill gap.

Action:  With funding from Gates Foundation, they found the 25 schools which had improved the fastest.

  • Did not say highest performing.
  • Those that were the fastest improving- who moved from the bottom 5% to the top 10%.
  • None did it the same way. But there were certain trends.
    Stage 1- Why- got a sense of purpose
    Stage 2- What- set a goal
    Stage 3- How- Decided how to do it

No one believes they are the problem. Until you feel you are part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.

Change is hard.  If you go too fast, you feel like a cat among dogs. (Picture shown)

World is changing


  • Semantic web:  Analyze documents through keywords – Google– old technology
  • Meaning concepts- Wolfram Alpha
    -verbally and visually connecting information

    • Implications:
      Term papers

Goal for growing up: using resources and working with others.
Why don’t we let kids use smart phones: look up answers and text each other?  We call it cheating.

Technology is changing:

  • Projection keyboard and projector. No more keyboards or monitors.
  • Technology going into watches and jewelry. In 2-3 years, computers going into clothes and buttons. Solution? Naked tests!
    Coming soon – medical molecular devices.  Examine colon polyps, kill cancer cells- Personalized medicineIs this chemistry?  Biology?  Physics?  Where do we teach this content-connnected information?

Financial word is changing

  • US is borrowing 41 cents for every dollar we spend.
  • Everyone agrees until we have to make changes.  Stalemate in politics

Same with schools: Everyone agrees we need to fix schools until a change impacts some grownup.


  • Example: Shenzhen. Fishing village 1980. Olympics 2016
  • The US has 9 cities with a million people. Europe 36.
  • China has 160 cities with over a million people.
  • Even more: there are 168 million preschoolers in India- they would be the 4th largest country in the world.
  • Both India and China have moved to a 270 day school year.
  • China graduates 86% of its 18-year olds. The ones that live, true- but still 86% is an impressive number.
  • US- 5% of population 24% of consumption. We are a nation of shoppers. They own us.

Gridlock in political arena. We seem unable to be able to make the changes that are needed.
We have the same problem in schools. We can’t figure out how to heal ourselves. If we don’t, we will lose public education.  

WHY do we need to change?
Until you create a real level of anxiety, people won’t accept any form of solution.

Research is crystal clear- teaching reading in the content areas improves scores in the content.  Teaching how to read math problems raises scores in math.
Study- 75 high schools lexile levels. The higher the score, the higher the reading level. Average levels: (My visual guess from chart detailing the highest point of the middle 50%- #s are approximate)

  • Junior/senior level English Language Arts classrooms- 900.
  • College literature courses – 1100.
  • High school content (math)- 1150.
  • Career and Tech Ed has the highest reading requirement. Have to be able to read- and write!- those manuals.
  • College textbooks- 1350.
  • Military- 1250.
  • Personal use (taxes, forms, etc.)- 1350.
  • Entry level workers- 1360.
  • SAT, ACT-  1200.

Academic skills for entry level jobs have surpassed college readiness skills.

We have been looking in the rear view mirror at where we’ve been and planning where to go.   We can’t do this anymore!


State comparisons- Standards and Reading
Massachusetts is the only state looking at job required skills.
Georgia is the lowest state for proficiency on NAEP data.  Used to be Mississippi in 2005, but by 2009, Georgia is the lowest. (My note here: I can’t find this data- GA looks like we’re in the middle of the pack according to the NAEP site)
State has to dump standards for depth. Everyone will like it until you mess up someone’s laminated lesson plan.

Have to raise standards- fewer and different.
Kids have to function to application to real world unpredictable situations. Test at knowledge within a content area.

Takes time to get there.

Rigor and Relevance Framework
Rigor= Blooms taxonomy.  From Awareness to Evaluation

  • A= low level knowledge, low level application. High school
  • B= low level knowledge , high application- career tech
  • C= High knowledge, college prep
  • D= real world, good paying jobs. In an effort to get to D we drove them to A.

*Relevance makes rigor possible*
Ex. Teaching degrees of a circle through football. School in NC involved the coach in teaching degrees of a circle to 2nd graders. Playing football with degrees.
Ex. Adopted child with EBD. We are taking kids out of what they like and doubling them up in what they’re already failing at for the convenience of adults.  We MUST integrate music and art. Must teach rigor and relevance through integration. It is critical to teaching to a child to find out what the kid likes.

Where are the jobs?

  • Routine jobs are giving ways to non-routine jobs.
  • Routine jobs
    • Rules driven
    • Require Problem solving
    • Use Algorithms- If… then.
    • Can be digitized and outsourced.
    • Non routine jobs. Ex. Building principals- like pulling a slot machine.
      • Results driven.
      • Require Decision making.
      • Require More innovation creativity.
      • Cannot be outsourced.

Quad A are preparing them for routine jobs.
Quad D prepares kids for non-routine jobs.

We have the highest unemployment in history but the highest number of unfilled jobs.

We have to teach decision making, not knowledge and problemsolving.


  • Develop a Culture of high expectations
  • Relevance of instruction
  • Integration of multiple disciplines.
    • Ex: One school got rid of their chairs of departments- gatekeepers of the past.
    • Strong relationships.
      • Ex. Looping classrooms.
      • System wide focus on literacy
      • Focused and sustained PD

Recommendations- Next navigator. Next steps. Road map… his programs

  • Use the data from National Essential Skills Study  Focus only on those skills that are relevant.
    • Ex. Skill: Give clear directions. Rank #2 for business. Rank #28 for ELA teachers.
    • We must use the data to drop 40% of state standards.  Focus on Common Core

End of session- lots of quiet chatter, lots of concerned looks.  General look of being stunned…

Oh wow… I have my work as a teacher educator cut out for me…

September 8, 2011

Becoming History

Filed under: Home Things,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 7:04 pm

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Were you teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty ’cause you’re a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?

—Alan Jackson

I didn’t know anyone who died in September 11th.  We know people who knew people, and we know one man who missed American Flight 77- the one from Dulles that crashed into the Pentagon.  He missed the flight because he had just received a phone call from his wife telling him that she was pregnant with their first child- a child who is now my son’s best friend.  But we were not directly impacted.

We have stories, though- along with all of the Americans that day- we all know where we were, what we were doing when we first heard, or saw it.  The horror of that day- and the shared horror of it- are all seared into our awareness of ourselves as Americans.  Such moments are called “flashbulb moments” as we remember clearly exactly where we were and what we were doing because of the intensity of the emotion. I’ve been listening to other people’s stories this week- along with so many others- and I read the stories in the newspaper and online.  In the words of Alan Jackson, “Where were you when the world stopped turning?”  We are grieving as a collective nation share our individual stories.

My children are 15 months apart- Elizabeth born in March, 2001 and Ray born in June, 2002.  They have hit developmental milestones very close together.  They learned how to talk by talking to each other.  They both learned how to ride a bike together.  They both started loving and then hating Barney at the same time.  We call them the “Almost Twins”.

But that day, September 11th, separates them.  Elizabeth was there.  She was the baby we held on to tightly that terrible, terrible day and the quiet, horrible days afterwards.  Ray… Ray was perhaps a result of September 11th as I forgot my medications- all of my medications- that week, and James and I held tightly to each other.  He was part of a little “baby boomlet” that occurred in June and July of 2002.  September 11th is a dark demarcation line between the shared childhoods of my children.

Last weekend, in rememberance of the 10 year anniversary, I started educating them about September 11th.  I wanted them to know.  We watched “United Flight 93” and “World Trade Center“, and we talked about it.  It was an… odd experience.

Elizabeth wanted to know exactly what she was doing on that day.  “Chewing your toes” wasn’t the answer she was looking for, and so she kept asking- hoping that somehow the gravity and horror of the day would have been recognized by an infant.  She wanted to add her part to the stories that our friends and I have been sharing around the dinner table or in quiet moments. She wants it to be recognized that she was there, too.

Ray wasn’t there and felt left out.  He wanted to talk about the facts and the details of the planes and the process.  He wanted to know the fear and the panic of those who were on the planes and in the Towers, but he was much less interested in the experience of us, those who weren’t directly impacted.  He wanted to understand it as a movie, as a documentary.  As something that was real, but not personal.

Seeing the difference in my two children, I began to think about history- and the way we understand history.  Every generation has their “horrible” moment- a moment where everyone at that point knew where they were.  For this generation, it was September 11th.  For my parents’, the assasination of JFK. For my grandparents, the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Moments at which fear and anxiety and a need to come together and grieve and appreciate life are shared by an entire country.  Moments of pure living that remind us of how tenuous living can be.  Moments that shaped history.

I have always loved history.  I love reading historical novels; I love going to historical places; and I love getting to understand how and why people were like at different times.  I can’t go visit battlefields because I can sense the horror and the fear that still lingers around places that are calm and peaceful now.

And yet, I have no direct feelings about the assasination of JFK.  I can watch movies and think “Oh how awful that must have been“, but it’s theoretical.  It’s from a long time ago.  And they dressed funny.     It’s not disrespect.  It’s not lack of imagination.   It’s just that it’s not my reality.  They aren’t my emotions.  It’s history.

For Ray, there have never been Twin Towers.  He can look at my pictures of my first visit to New York with the Towers in the background, and they’re from a long time ago when people dressed funny.  I cried at the memory of that day as I watched the movies.  He wanted to know what happened afterwards.

September 11th is a 5th grade standard in the Georgia Performance Social Studies Standards.  It’s in there along with the Civil War, World War I, Vietnam and the Cold War.  This year’s fifth grade class is the last class who was alive on that day- and they were infants.

September 11th is a dark demarcation line between the shared childhoods of my children.  It’s a line between my life and my son’s.  It was my reality… and next year, when Ray is in fifth grade, September 11th will truly start to become history.


There is a poem by Carl Sandberg that expresses this better than I can.  I grieve, and I respect and honor those who lost loved ones.  And in my child, I see the Grass beginning to grow…

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work–I am the grass; I cover all. 
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:What place is this?Where are we now? 
I am the grass.
Let me work

— Carl Sandberg

August 25, 2011

A Flawed Formula

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 6:33 pm

Written after too many lectures trying to prepare teachers for a changing world of Education…

A Flawed Formula for Education


An Educated Work Force = Time (in most cases 12 years- in some states 13, and in still others, 14) multiplied by the EFfectiveness of the teacher (as judged by helping children pass the test), multiplied by the established EXpectations (as defined by standards- Common Core or state-specific). 

This is the formula that educational policy task forces, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and most state departments are operating under. The formula that shapes the changes in education.  It’s not a “real” formula, but it’s the one that appears to be the driving force of Education today.

It’s an appealing formula.  There’s logic to it.  If you have good stuff to teach (standards) and you teach it well (Teacher effectiveness) over the length of time that children are in school, students will do well.

It’s an appealing formula- all of the various components are manageable, maneuverable and measurable.

It’s an appealing formula.  And it’s wrong.

A formula is derived when the relationship of one or more changing variables can predict the results of the outcome.  We all know formulas like:

  • The area of a triangle= (Base x Height)/2
  • Distance = Rate x Time

These all look at the relationship between two things  and their impact on a third thing.  Predictable.  Easy. Stable.  But here is the key assumption:

  • Nothing else impacts the outcome

If you drive a steady rate of 50 miles per hour, you will drive 50 miles in one hour, whether or not your tires are bald.  Whether you are in a gas-guzzling Hummer or an electric Tesla does not impact the distance =  rate x time formula.

There is a tremendous flurry in education these days, focusing primarily on two of these factors: Teacher Effectiveness and Standards, although there is also some limited discussion about allowing students to graduate “when ready”.  A Google search of “Teacher Effectiveness” yielded 2.7 million results, ranging from New York to California; from New Mexico to New Hampshire.  There is a great focus on “teacher effectiveness”- which generally translates into test scores.  If students do well, teachers must be effective.  If they don’t do well on the tests, then teachers are ineffective.  And the test scores are related to the content standards.

So there is also a flurry over content standards.  Forty-three states have adopted the Common Core Standards, according to the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.   These standards seek to be consistent across states so that, as in the case of a colleague of mine, her child does not suffer when he moves from Alabama to Massachusetts and encounters higher expectations.

And there is even some talk about changing the time required for graduation.  Georgia’s “Move on When Ready” program states that when students can complete their coursework, and take the test, they can begin dual enrollment.  The time it takes to complete an education can become flexible.

But for this formula to work, nothing else can impact the outcome.  Nothing.  And that’s where there are severe problems with mandating excellence, and requiring achievement.  Because the formula takes two things out of consideration:

  1. The highly diversified abilities and backgrounds, of children in schools, and
  2. The ever-changing landscape and culture of public school education in America.

The Missing ABCs of the formula- Abilities, Backgrounds and Culture

I have taught in both the private and the public school sectors.  I was a highly effective teacher in private school- heck, I might even have the courage to say that I was a GREAT teacher in private school.  I took kids to higher levels of learning.
We had debates that encouraged critical thinking and hands-on projects that encouraged creativity.

And in my private school, I had parents who enforced homework.  I had kids who showed up on time, clean, well-fed and attentive.  I had kids who, although diverse in their world-cultural background, were fairly similar in their economic backgrounds- they all were on the same soccer teams, saw each other at the mall and understood the “rules” of success.  They did not talk back to teachers; they said “I’m sorry”.  And the kid who kept getting into fights?  Well, we told his
parents that they had to look elsewhere- that we couldn’t serve their child appropriately in our setting- which, we couldn’t.  We didn’t keep a psychologist on staff.  We had learning programs for some kids who might be struggling, but certainly if a child was “too low”, we couldn’t serve him either.  We certainly wouldn’t have even accepted the child who couldn’t stay “dry” in her pants at age 6 and we couldn’t provide transportation to the kids who lived across town, even if they did qualify for our scholarships.

Certainly my students weren’t perfect.  I had the student whose mother drank and he was so anxious that any negative feedback would send him into full-blown tears.  I had the kid, whose father was a well-known doctor, who acted out for  attention and got it by having the nanny fired.  I had the insecure darling of a media giant who had her own iPhone at age 7, but never had a friend over.  Even these houses had secrets and anxieties and issues.

But in my private school setting, I could adapt for children’s different learning needs and provide choices in their educational experiences.  I could ask a parent to send me to specialized reading training so that I could help her child even better.  I knew that the parents, the kids and my administration expected success, worked together for success, and got success.  And in my private school, I was given gifts during Teacher Appreciation Week; I was thanked during conferences
for going “above and beyond”.  I was told that I was the reason that parents were willing to pay more money than some of them could really afford- so that their child could get a “good” education.  In the end, I could point to our standardized
tests and show that compared to those “other” kids, my kids were learning at ever-improving levels.  In that school, I could TEACH.  And I had the numbers to “prove” that I was effective.

I have also taught in public schools.  In public schools, we take EVERYONE.  Everyone.  And that means… everyone.

There is a Zero Reject policy in public education.  No child is considered uneducable.  That means that all of those children that my- and other- private schools couldn’t serve?  Public schools take them.

Public schools take the child with severe intellectual and developmental delays who needs help in learning toileting skills, but has a hilarious sense of humor and laughs at all jokes.  Public schools take the child with autism who throws tantrums and chairs.  Public schools take the child who needs a psychologist so that he can learn how to handle frustration and anger.  It can’t provide the psychologist, but it does take the child.  Public schools take the children who are
gifted at very young ages and because there are no books at home- because there is no cultural appreciation for learning- they channel their abilities into leadership- of gangs instead of corporations.  Public schools take everyone.

Public schools take the children who did not choose their parents well.  In my public school classrooms, I had the child who was going home at age 9 to take care of his younger siblings because his mother was too strung out on drugs to be home, much less cook dinner.   I had the child whose parents were so beaten down by the system that they didn’t bother showing up at school because they knew that the teachers were going to make comments about how uneducated they were and how poorly their child was doing as a result.  I had the child whose mother told me that it was my job to teach her child how to read and how to act so that he can get a job, because if she did, she would mess it up.  She didn’t have the confidence or the ability to help herself, and she was terrified to mess up another generation.  Or at least that’s how I interpreted “You gots to do it.  I fu3#$ed up myself- I don’ wanna f@$k him up, too.”  She knew the language of her streets, but not the formal language that I used.  I didn’t know her street language, either.  We both learned a lot that year.

I ‘m not talking about the “tyranny of low expectations” from  special education or any system that recognizes the challenges children face.  I mean simply that my job was harder when the other parts of the educational system weren’t working together.  When kids are carrying burdens that are the stuff of my worst nightmares, it is harder to teach them.

I was a good teacher in a public school.  I could get some discussions going.  I could provide creative, interesting ways to connect children to content.  But when a child is hungry, or a child is tired from playing video games all night, or a
child is afraid of adults, it is very, very difficult to take them to “higher levels of learning”.  My test scores were not fabulous.

It’s typical for teachers to blame parents and for parents to blame the “schools”.  Most polls find that “schools” in general are terrible, but “my school” is going a pretty good job.  When parents know their schools, and teachers know their parents, we can understand each other and we can appreciate the burdens we carry.  But when we look at schools and parents we don’t know, it is easy to make judgements.  And test score cut offs.

As a public school teacher, I can’t force parents to do “their job”- I can only teach the child I have in front of me.  “Good parents” are a bonus to a public school teacher, not a requirement of the job.  I don’t get to wring my hands and say “If only”, or “they should”.  I have to teach them all.

And it’s not just the kids or the communities- it can be the culture of education itself.  When schools are paid for by property taxes, the system is set up to reward wealthy communities and to punish poorer ones.  When Congress mandates that states follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but only pays 7% of the total cost, states must scramble to fill in the rest.  When we know that special needs are often related to poverty, we cannot be surprised when schools in high-poverty areas are low performing.

It’s racism/classism/what every “ism” you want to call it, to hold a bar in such a way that children only from certain backgrounds are successful.  When 5% of whites are dropping out of school, almost double that with 9% of African-Americans, and a shocking 18% of Hispanics are dropping out of high school, society tends to tell the low income and minority students to “try harder” by raising expectations.  If 20% of our white, middle-class students were leaving, we would change the system.  The system is designed to help those who are already successful, and to denigrate those who struggle.

Teachers are quitting by the droves.  50% quit within 5 years.  50%.  They spend a year longer than they went to college to get the degree.  And why are they quitting?  Not because they’re “ineffective”, but because the pay isn’t considered worth the hassle.  Because they’re not given mentoring opportunities.  Because it’s hard.  Because those sacrifices of your family time, your own income for snacks to feed the children, and your creativity are not appreciated or recognized by a general public who says “Don’t complain- you get a Summer vacation!” and then connects your paycheck to test scores over which you have limited control.   When essays like this are considered whining and I should get over it.

And by creating this “bar” that we’re “raising”, it’s clear that we’re not Finland– who has highly educated, well-paid teachers, a high number of immigrants, and very strong scores on international tests.  Because Finland, who has little poverty, a strong health care system, and a culture of collaboration- Finland’s “formula” looks something like this:

  • Whatever it takes

As a teacher, I was delighted if I had children in front of me who came into school well-rested, well-fed, and respectful of me and the job I needed to do.  It made my job easier if I could start a classroom off at point A and wind up at point Z by the end of the school year.  I can still do an amazing job and teach the child if those things aren’t there.  But if I am to teach my students from vastly different abilities and background to understand math and science and to be able to read and understand our history and to think critically , I have to trust that the grownups around education can do the same thing.

Our formula is flawed.

March 28, 2011

Complaint of a Gifted Child

Filed under: Home Things,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 6:15 pm

Ray just posted his new blog… I warned him of the consequences, but he said, and I quote “Oh bring it on!”.  This, folks, is a twice-exceptional child…   Wanting challenge- but aware of what is hard for him.  Miss H- please be kind to his poor mom who has to help him with all of this…

March 19, 2011

Lost, But Making Good Time

Filed under: Home Things,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 10:44 am

We’re lost- but we’re making good time! Billy Crystal in City Slickers– originally by Yogi Berra

Do you see this photo?  The one lane, rutted dirt road that led away from the washed out bridge and then consequently led to a series of switch-back one-lane tractor tracks?  This road that led me round and round through Deliverance country- lined with Walmart mansions and trailers?  AT 5:00 in the morning? This is the road that my TomTom-GPS took me on from Fayetteville, AR to the Rogers XNA airport- which is, on the (visual) map, a few double-lane roads away.  28 miles away.  That took me 1.25 hour to traverse on tractor paths.  This is that road.

I was going home from a long three days of watching teachers try to include kids- kids who needed peers, who needed access to the general curriculum and kids who needed information to be presented in visual ways, or in smaller chunks, or in ways that kept their attention- kids who through no fault of their own needed something different and who needed grownups to teach them in different ways.  And watching teachers who could and did, who couldn’t and didn’t, and everything in between.

After swearing at the Tom-Tom, and jolts of anxiety waking me right up without coffee at 4:30am and praying, praying that the GPS signal did not fade out in the depths of the Ozark mountains, I wound up on a paved road, 1/2 mile from the airport- successful in my path. I was shaking, traumatized, and resolved that I would never again depend on my GPS, but use my own sense of visual awareness to consult a hard copy map.  (A promise quickly broken, btw, as I crossed the state of Georgia looking for the Duluth High School where the state Chess Championship was held- next post!)

As I sat waiting for my flight, I thought about the possible metaphors for my trip- the parental search for treatment for autism- going from one thing to another, going to places you had never dreamed you would find yourself, trusting- and losing trust- in yourself and your sense of direction.  A sense of palpable relief when you find you’ve made forward movement.

I thought about how teachers are in search of strategies to help children, but are lost in a confusing mix of “this is how it’s always been done”, relationships between teachers, confusing directives from administrators, and not seeing themselves and their classrooms on the path, and losing their way.

And of course, I thought of my children as they grow up, and how they will follow certain paths that don’t look like the beaten paths; at how many washed out bridges we’ve found and will find, and how many switching tractor paths they are going to go down as they navigate schools, and relationships and love and…

And as I say there in the airport, waiting for my plane, I finally realized that it didn’t really matter which metaphor I picked.  In the end, we were on our way home.

February 23, 2011

Running Your Own Race

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Gifted,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 5:29 pm

This past weekend we did the Bridge Run.  Or as it is more formally known, the Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run.  It was a 5K- up and over the bridge for 1.5 miles and back again- a 6% grade, or so I am told.  The steepest “hill” around- the highest point in the region, and the highest bridge in Georgia.  A little Run that had about 800 people two years ago, and swelled to 2500 people this year.  This year, we had Kenyans in the crowd who came here just to run it.  It’s turned serious.

Hoewver, more than that, it was the bridge that we spent New Year’s on top of- the bridge where at the midpoint of the midnight, we were hovering in that space and time between.  There was no way I wasn’t going to do the Run this year.

Truthfully, I should say James and I walked the Bridge Run, because as Jess from Diary of a Mom says, I only run if blood is involved.  James used to run, but let’s just say it’s been a while for him and leave it at that.  He and I walked.  Together.  Not hand-in-hand as an elderly couple were, but we kept pace with each other- him with his six-foot-tall-on-a-good-day pace,  and me trotting beside him.   We talked; we hugged at the top; we held each other’s necks when the other was gasping for air.

Elizabeth was coming off of an injury to her heel, and she alternated between running and walking.  And Ray… Ray was our little marathoner.  He ran more than the race, because he kept doubling back to run with Elizabeth until he outpaced her, when he would double back again.  We joked that he ran the race twice.

I was so struck while I was trudging up and down the Bridge at how many different ways people were going about this.  There was one woman who clearly had some form of physical disability that impacted her gait.  She wasn’t in the best of shape.  We walked around her easily when we were behind her.  However, we stopped fairly often on the road back- to catch our breath, to ask someone to take our picture on the summit, to tie a shoe… and in all cases, we found ourselves again behind the woman who kept putting one foot in front of the other.

There were the serious runners- the ones who were here for the race aspect and who were competing.  There were the serious runners who just love to run.  There were the firemen- and one firewoman!- who were running as part of their training.  There were the old couples who were out for a nice walk.  There were the people who were there to go over the bridge.  There were the political-statement makers who walked carrying banners.

The beauty of the Bridge Run was that everyone was allowed to run their own race.  There was an order of things so that people didn’t get in each other’s ways- the serious runners went first, the team runners went second, the team walkers went next and the out-for-a-good-time walkers went last.  Everyone got to play.  Everyone got to feel the joy of being up on top of the world.  Everyone got to enjoy the music and the free doughnuts afterwards.  Some finished earlier; some took a while.  Everyone did the same distance.

Some got medals.  Some got a personal best.  Everyone got an experience they won’t soon forget.  Everyone got to run their own race.


If only schools allowed children to run their own race.  If we are to hold children to the same standard, then we have to make adjustments to other parts of the educational experience- the time we teach them or the pace at which they go.  I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way.  The National Center on Time and Learning has noted how we are expecting so much more of schools these days- challenging standards, anyone?- yet, the actual time given to learning is so much smaller than the time given to schooling in other countries.

This issue of time affects gifted children and children with disabilities equally.  When gifted children are constrained because they are not provided challenge at a pace that they need, their energy level and love of learning drops.  When children with learning disorders face demands that are unreasonable, they also become frustrated and their love of learning drops.  When we assign children to a lock-step program of time and content being held constant, then there is a need for special education and gifted education to deal with those children who aren’t running the race that everyone is running .

One of the things that has always appealed to me about the Montessori philosophy is their mantra of “follow the child“.  While children of similar age ranges are grouped together, and while they are in school for the same amount of time- when a child is ready for the next “step” of a curriculum, they are provided that step, whether others of their age are working on that level or not.  The children go through the curriculum at their own pace, socializing with their age peers, learning from their friends, teaching those who are starting in their content they just mastered- but facing their own personal challenges. There is no need for gifted education or special education in a Montessori classroom….


And so we were not pursuing a medal.  We each had our own goals.  And Elizabeth and Ray and James and I stood on top of that soaring expanse and felt our spirits soar- not because we were in a race with anyone else, but because we had run our own race.

Heading up!

Music at the Top

We're on the Top of the World

3.1 miles later! Goal met!

February 17, 2011

Can’t Get No Satisfaction- IEP version

Filed under: Autism,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 12:41 pm

A friend of mine from Vanderbilt’s Kenndy Autism Center and I are involved in some VERY interesting research- looking at parents’ and teachers’ satisfaction of how that IEP process works.  We all have our stories- heck, we all have our nightmares.  We go into an IEP like we’re going into a battle.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes, it doesn’t.  But IEPs are stressful for everyone involved. 

But there’s little to no research out there about what makes a “good” IEP experience- and what makes a “bad” IEP experience for families and teachers of kids with autism.  Almost none.  So… that’s where we come in.

What I am asking my readers to do- teachers, parents- anyone who has ever sat in on an IEP of a child with autism- is to fill out a survey that we’re doing.  You might need to copy and paste the URL of http://tinyurl.com/mla3wm into your browser. AND please, please forward this on to anyone you know- anyone else who has sat down at that IEP table- on either side, and share your story with us.  The survey itself should take no more than 10 minutes.  It will help us communicate to schools, advocates, and parents how to makes this process better. 

There will be some questions about your zip code- and if you’re not in TN or GA, you will get a message that says “Routing problem“, and then continue to offer questions.  If you have TN or GA zip codes, you will be asked about specific TN and GA advocacy groups.  If you’re not in TN or GA, please keep on,  but indicate if you DO use an advocacy group.

All information is anonymous- there is no place to put your name or any identifying information- it’s just an online survey with no way to track back to you or your child at allSo- go ahead.  Be honest.

I can’t emphasize this enough- We really, really want to hear from you.

IEP Survey for Parents & Professionals of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

What contributes to satisfaction with the IEP as written and implemented?

Is it…

1) Preparation for the IEP meeting?

2) Processes used for planning and conducting the IEP meeting?

3) Perceptions of the IEP meeting?

Please tell us!

Complete the survey at http://tinyurl.com/mla3wm


If you wish to take the survey on paper, call or email us with your address.

Lynnette Henderson, PhD               615-936-0448 or 866-936-8852

Claire E. Hughes, PhD                 (912) 279-5848


January 29, 2011

Falling Into the Gap

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 1:30 pm

I had a revelation the other day.  I was telling a teacher friend about my son’s struggles with handwriting and how far he had come in reading and behavior, and she said “It’s too bad he’s struggling with writing- they do a lot of writing in third grade,” and I realized the vastly different perspectives that teachers and parents tend to have.

We parents want to look backwards.  We want to celebrate the growth of our children- babysteps that they are- “inchstones” as JoyMama calls them.  We find some joy in looking at the growth our babies have accomplished because we know the struggles that it has taken them to get to this point.  We arrive at Point F and we look proudly back at Points A, B and remember how long how long! it seemed before they moved off of Point D and look!  Here we are at Point F!

Teachers see a child who is at Point F and know that everyone else- that mythical typical child- is now on Point L and they sigh at the amount of work it is going to take to get the child moved there, knowing that meanwhile, that mythical typical child will have moved on to Point O.  Teachers look at the gap.  IEPs look at the gap.  Special eduation looks at the gap.  It’s their job to try and reduce that gap, and in order to do so, they have to keep measuring the gap- a distance in which the child keeps losing- either by falling farther and farther behind, or even simply by staying behind. 

But here’s the thing- we parents are very, very, very well aware of that gap as well.  We stay up late nights Googling because of that gap.  We cry to each other about that gap.  Every time we see the gaps between our child and other children, we are overwhelmed by the enormity of that gap- and how long that pain has been in our lives. 

Its that pain of the gap that is the reason parents stop coming to IEPs meetings, why they stop showing up to school events, why they give up. 

So  many teachers sit in judgment about “those parents”- those parents who don’t respond, who don’t come into the school, who stop answering phone calls.  They get frustrated when they know that the forward movement of the child could be helped if parents and teachers worked together.  I get lauded at times because “at least you’re a parent who cares”.  If there’s one thing I want my teacher friends to know is that all parents care.

All parents care.  We just don’t all know what to do or how to face the system.  We all have a hard time balancing the many, many demands in our lives.  And so many parents are frustrated because their requests are ignored; they are not provided information, because growth is still viewed in a negative light when the child is behind and we don’t know how to cope.  And when we are belittled, and ignored and the emphasis is on how much pain there is ahead, we sometimes opt out in order to cope the best or only ways we know how.  Some parents opt out with the help of drugs, alcohol, or in my case (at times), work.  Some stop showing up.  But we all care. 

 When the successes are ignored, when the growth is not acknowledged, when the pain of the battle is not shared, when there is not enough support, then parents and teachers stop working together.   And the gap between home and school widens. 

Sometimes, you have to look backwards to know how far you’ve come- and to help with how far there is to go.

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