The Difference Between Teaching Students and Teaching Children


One of the many reasons I became a teacher was that I genuinely liked being with kids all day—even teenagers. While people often responded with horrified looks when they discovered that I did, in fact, teach teenagers, I always said, “Well, somebody has to like them! And I do.” They were more than students; I thought of them as “my kids,” people for whom I was not only responsible but for whom I sincerely cared. And this definitely influenced the way I taught and even the manner in which I planned my lessons.

With all of this in mind, a sentence in a recent article jumped out at me: “At some point, for those of us who do this work long enough, we realize the kids in our class are children first, students second.” Sure, it may seem obvious that our students are just kids. However, if we see them as kids first, their well-being takes precedence over their achievements. Rather than focus on standardized test scores and other grades, the physical, social and emotional health of our students becomes paramount. Continue reading “The Difference Between Teaching Students and Teaching Children”

The Value of Classes in Manhood and Heritage

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle,

“It’s a very, very dark world, but you can’t be afraid to be a source of light.” These words, spoken by a middle school student in Oakland, California, and quoted in a New York Times article, illuminate the premise of a groundbreaking program now underway in that school district. Designed to counterbalance racial inequality and the dearth of opportunities available to African-American boys, an elective class called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image” has become part of the curriculum of 20 of the district’s schools, for third through twelfth grades. Its impact has been nothing short of transformative, changing not only the way these young men perceive themselves but their aspirations as well. Continue reading “The Value of Classes in Manhood and Heritage”

Why Teach?

Kids are intriguing people. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. In the early years, they taught me as much as I taught them, imparting life lessons they had earned the hard way on rough streets as I set about sparking an interest in history. And we all gained from it.

Looking beyond tough and gruff exteriors, I discovered vulnerabilities that students had carefully hidden, fearing that revealing a softer side might elicit ridicule or, worse, bullying. Countering that required me to find ways to uncover those softer skills and present them as just that: skills. In so doing, gifts and talents were often revealed as well, allowing students who may not have shone in class ever before to take a bow. Watching them blossom under the admiration and applause of their peers was priceless. That’s another reason I became a teacher.

Then there were the “smart” kids. Continue reading “Why Teach?”

The Power of Kindness and Other Fine Qualities


Obviously, school is all about learning, which, to the average person, means academics. However, as educators know, there’s so much more to education. From music and art to physical education and shop classes, electives help to enrich and round out students. Yet even that is not everything. The truth is that the softer skills, those related to character development, are an equally important component, though not nearly as acclaimed.

Empathy, integrity, compassion, kindness, appreciation, gratitude — these kinds of skills are what make a person whole. Indeed, just as your kindergarten teacher always said, playing well with others matters. While content knowledge may well get students through the door of opportunity, soft skills often determine whether they will stay there. And these skills matter forever, not just in kindergarten. Continue reading “The Power of Kindness and Other Fine Qualities”

Immigration, Racism and DACA: Why Silence is Not an Option for Educators


Immigration, racism, politics—volatile yet unquestionably timely issues, they are so incendiary that they’re usually touched only by teachers of government, civics and other social studies classes. And “touched” is the operative word as not many teachers delve deeply into these quagmires for fear of being consumed by them. What will the principal say? How might parents respond? Rather than face the hard discussions and uncover the painful truths, many opt to ignore such topics or tread very lightly on them, bringing them up on on days like today when Dr. King is celebrated, even then giving them only superficial study. It’s time for that to stop.

In the wake of the unequivocally racist statements attributed to the President of the United States recently, it’s time to move certain aspects of politics into all classrooms—namely immigration, DACA and the racism that seems to permeate these topics. All across this country, students born in other countries , or whose parents or grandparents were, fill our classrooms. So when educators shun discussions of the vile words hurled at some of those countries, and by extension, at those students, the very existence of the students is essentially negated. At least, that’s the way the students feel. Continue reading “Immigration, Racism and DACA: Why Silence is Not an Option for Educators”

Why All Students Need More Teachers of Color


Let’s begin with this basic fact: Teachers of color comprise just under 18 percent of all teachers in the United States. However, as of the 2014-2015 school year, students of color are a new majority in public schools, representing approximately 50.3 percent of all students. It’s a glaring disparity. And the repercussions are reverberating in both expected and unexpected ways. Consider the following:

  • The dearth of teachers of color means there not only are not enough teachers with a common background as the majority students, but also that the lack of commonality influences the way in which these students are often perceived, casting the students’ differences from the teachers in a negative light.
  • The clearly measured severity of the punishments enacted against students of color, as demonstrated by numerous studies, are not diminished by this increase in the number of students of color.
  • Continue reading “Why All Students Need More Teachers of Color”

What’s in a Name?


How many of your elementary school teachers’ names do you remember? Despite the many years that have elapsed, I remember all of mine, from Miss Sanford in kindergarten to Mrs. Maloney in eighth grade. And it’s likely that you do as well. In fact, students usually learn teachers’ names the first day of school. After all, while teachers have many students each year, students in the early years have only one teacher. That certainly makes the teacher and the name memorable. Now here’s the question: How quickly do you learn all of your students’ names? Continue reading “What’s in a Name?”