Thursday, September 15, 2011

What I Really Want to Tell Parents and Teachers

I have read two articles recently that have both stirred some strong feelings in me as a parent and as an educator. The first was an article titled “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents” by Ron Clark. In this article Clark goes on to list a handful of things teachers should be telling parents or at least wish they could. Some of the things on this list offended me as a parent and yet some I found myself nodding my head with as a teacher. The second article was titled “What Parents Really Want to Tell Teacher: What You Do Hurts Our Children” by Laurie A. Couture. Her article is in direct response to the Clark article and goes through a list of things parents want to tell teachers. She lists ten items that outline how teachers are failing kids and essentially blames teachers for a long list of offenses towards children. As a teacher, I was sick to my stomach reading many of her claims about teachers.

Both of these articles are more destructive than positive. They make broad generalizations with little actual substance. Guess what? There are horrible parents out there. For some kids, the best part of their day is being with loving and supporting teachers at schools. There are also parents out there that due to working conditions are simply not home when kids are home. It is the teachers at school that Couture claims are “hurting” our children that are there to pick up the pieces and help a kid learn and grow as a person and a student. Regardless of what systems are in place, it is still individuals that make the difference.  

Yet, there are great parents out there…lots of them. They support teachers and help in any way they can. Many of them are members of PTOs and volunteer as schools. When their kids get home from school, they are there to help them with homework and be loving and caring parents.

On the other side of things, yes there are bad teachers out there. Some are mean to kids and some are “hurting” kids. I am not now nor will I ever defend these teachers. They should be removed from classrooms immediately. However, to assume that due to a few bad apples we have to condemn a profession is ridiculous. There are also bad mechanics out there but I still take my car to get fixed by one. In addition, there are bad barbers out there, but I am not swearing of haircuts and growing out my hair. I work with amazing human beings that choose to dedicate their lives to helping kids learn and grow on a daily basis. This is something that should never be condemned no matter what systems might be in place.

There are also amazing teachers out there. I should know because I teach with many of them every single day. The give selflessly of themselves to ensure every kid is loved, nurtured and inspired in the short time they are together. I see them working tirelessly to help kids regardless of what the parental support is at home. They do this even within the system that many claim is broken and not working.

For every bad parent out there, there are millions of good ones. For every bad teacher out there, there are millions of good ones. In my classroom I teach my students that we don’t make judgments or assumptions about people. Both Clark and Couture make judgments about groups of people possibly based on their prior experiences. I choose to treat people as individuals and teach my students the same. One of my students got picked on by an 8th grade student. Did I tell him that all 8th grade students are bad and should be avoided? Nope, because that would have been wrong.

What I want to tell teachers is that not all parents are bad. Parents are a key part to the success and failure of a child. I want to tell parents that not all teachers are bad either. Teachers are a key part to the success and failure of your child. We can’t judge groups of people because we are individuals and should be treated as such. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life Lessons


Kids are kids before they are students. This is something I truly believe in and try to remember every single day. Part of that belief is knowing the curriculum I teach is not the only important lessons my students will learn from me during their time in my class. Last year I started a new teaching situation as a team teacher. One of my Social Science classes became a team teaching class with myself and a reading teacher in our building. The reading teacher I was assigned, Lauren, was a phenomenal teacher and I knew it was going to be a great learning experience for me and I was right. Apart from all the “stuff” we taught the kids and each other, we started something that we continue to this day. We teach Life Lessons.


Yes, I know many think that teachers do this every day and you would be correct. However, as many that know me know, I am pretty overt with certain things and many would consider me rather blunt. What we started doing was Lauren and I would observe our kids and see what was going on in their lives. We would then offer these life lessons to the class to make a direct connection to what was going on with them in hopes of providing some guidance and in many cases…some humor. Our list of life lessons continues to grow but here are a sample of some of our so called Life Lessons. The artwork was student created and inspired by some of our more popular lessons.

  • Life Lessons
  • Wear deodorant
  • Shower on a daily basis
  • Don’t pick your nose
  • Don’t negotiate with terrorists
  • Don’t make fun of people for puking
  • Wash your hands after going to the bathroom
  • Saying “excuse me” does not excuse a fart
  • Observe the ten foot rule when blowing noses
  • Barn doors should be kept closed at all time
  • No dating
  • Boys should kill spiders for girls
  • If you are going to eavesdrop you better do it well
  • Many more…

These lessons might be goofy but we find them to be rather effective in creating respectful and productive kids…not students. I am sure there will be plenty more to share as the year continues. One thing for sure is that junior high students always provide and endless supply of potential life lessons. If you have a great life lesson to share leave us a comment…Thanks!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Rules Have Changed


Parents,

There are a few things that need to be cleared up about the game that is school as it relates to the experiences in my classroom. Yes, I know you were in school and so was I. However, things have changed and what your children will do in my class is probably not what you are used to. I am not making any assumptions of wrong or right, but simply offering a new way of doing things. With that in mind, here are a few “rule changes” you can expect this coming year.
  • Grades will not be a focus. They are simply something I am required to submit but do not necessarily indicate my thoughts on your child. I will use them as checkpoints on the journey of learning, not end points.
  • I am on your team. Teachers and parents should not be sitting on opposite sides of the table. With that in mind, I want to be on the same side of the table learning with and from you.
  • I do not assign homework on a nightly basis. Homework does not equal learning and often discourages it. When I do assign homework it might be to smell a flower or play with a dog.
  •  I am a teacher and you are a parent. When they are in school I will teach. When they are at home you can parent.
  • I will not give your children the answers but simply the means to find them.
  • I am not the expert in the room. I plan on learning for your child as much as they hopefully will learn from me.
  • Extra credit does not exist so please don’t ask for it. Please bring in the tissue boxes but know your child will not get any “credit” for it.
  • I will allow your child to redo or retake any piece of work  they do this year. If I don’t let them redo something they have failed at, they will never learn it.

I hope these changes are not too out there and uncomfortable for you. I truly try to provide the best learning experience possible for your child on a daily basis. Please don’t think I have all the answers because I don’t. The game that is school is constantly changing and so too must my approach as a teacher and yours as a parent. My door is always open and I welcome the conversation at any time as we are on this journey together.

Thanks!

Mr. Stumpenhorst

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Remember

As I sit in front of the TV watching the ceremonies in remembrance of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, I am taken back to the exact moment it happened ten years ago. I had just come into work at my on campus job as a college student and a co-worker said, “dude, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” We proceeded to head down to the basement where the one cable TV was hooked up. It was there we saw the second plane crash into the second tower and where we stayed for the remainder of the day. We didn’t move from that place the entire day and stayed glued to the television.

I also remember a few days later when I attended a home football game down in our stadium. To this day I don’t recall if we won or lost, or even who we were playing. What I do remember was being overcome with emotion while the national anthem played and every person in that stadium singing along. It was another one of those moments that will live in my memory for ever.

As I reflect on the moments and the moments being replayed on the TV this morning, I am left with a great number of questions that I don’t think I can answer.

Are we still as unified as a country as we were in the moments following that tragedy? If you watched the presidential address the other night, I would say no. “Grown up” men and women acted like children as the president spoke. Adults sat in defiance as comments were made with aims of improving the lives of Americans. We are so unified that our own government can’t work together to help the people they serve.

How do we teach about this day to students who were either not born or too young to remember? What do you say to a kid that asks why it happened? What do you show them and what do you not show them? I struggle with this even with my own children at home who just asked me, “why did someone fly a plane into a building?” I don’t have an answer for that.

Do we still remember? After this tragedy unfolded, there was a rush on bumper stickers with American Flags and various messages of remembrance hung in cars, houses, and places of work. Some people even change their Facebook profile pictures to some patriotic image and wore ribbons on the anniversaries. Ten years later the bumper stickers are faded or falling off and we have moved on…do we still remember?
What good has come since the attacks? According to a reporter, we have sent 2 million American troops overseas since the 9-11 attacks. Have we accomplished anything? Bin Laden is dead. Sadam is dead. Is the world safer or have more rallied to the anti-American cause?

Do we treat people better as a result of 9-11? I still remember right after the attacks when the news started reporting about violence being down to Muslims throughout our country. One I remember clearly was attacks at Michigan University against Muslim students. It sickened me to see Americans attacking other Americans out of fear and ignorance. Have we gotten any better? Do we still have empathy and sympathy for other cultures and races? Is racism still prevalent and just waiting for an event like 9-11 to rear its ugly head? As a teacher, I will continue to teach empathy and tolerance for all so that my students will always value people no matter where they come from or what they look like.

Most Americans, and I will put myself in this category, have moved on with their lives and only “remember” this day once a year when it is thrown back in our faces. Is it important to relive it over and over? Should we move on and while trying to remember? How do we do that in an authentic way rather than the media frenzies that are being aired on TV? If we must remember let us remember all the heroes that saved lives. Let us remember people of all races and backgrounds giving selflessly to bring people out of those burning buildings.

I will end with a cliché statement because I truly don’t know how to bring my thoughts to a close…I offer my condolences and prayers to all who lost family members and loved ones on that day ten years ago.