just posted an article about Amazon’s new portal, Amazon Ignite, where
teachers can buy and sell lesson plans and curriculum materials by topic.
I’ve been out of the classroom too long, because I didn’t even know about a
similar existing site called Teachers Pay Teachers, which offers more
than 3 million free and paid resources.
I confess my first reaction was ambivalence. My best
teaching grew out of collaboration in lesson planning. When my high school was
the beta site for Writer’s Workbench, the cutting-edge text analysis program
from AT&T back in the 90s, we had a group working on how to use its
capacities effectively. It could check for far more than spelling, and I
challenged my students to use its analysis to improve their use of sentence
variety, to limit their use of passive voice, to improve diction and style.
When just two of us taught the British Literature Junior Honors class, we met regularly
to develop our plans together. Some of my favorite lessons, like the guided
imagery to understand the role of thanes in Anglo-Saxon England, grew out of
those meetings. When the chair of the Special Education department and I
co-taught an inclusion class in American Literature that had 5-7 Special Ed
students enrolled, we worked together every week to refine our plans. A
semester-long problem-based-learning experience emerged from that collaboration
that energized both us and our students. And during my last year of teaching, I
served on a team with two colleagues that pioneered a social justice curriculum
for sophomore English, including four nonfiction books. We met regularly, too,
and great lessons grew from that. So why would we commercialize these lessons?
I’m all for teachers making a decent living, and sites
like this offer income potential. On Ignite educators can earn a 70%
royalty on all sales, with a $.30 transaction fee for products under $2.99. And
the top seller on Teachers Pay Teachers earned over $2 million, while
more than 150 other teachers earned over $500,00. I would have loved to bring
in extra money for the nights and weekends I spent planning creative lessons.
Steven Ross, a professor in the school of education
and the director of the Center for Research and Reform at Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, acknowledges that the materials may not be evidence-based,
but says, “Teachers are kind of in a vacuum in terms of what’s available. I
don’t see anything wrong with teachers sharing information.” And Ignite
will offer verified customer reviews and allow customers to preview materials.
So many teachers generate creative ways to approach
learning, and others could benefit from their leading work. So what’s the
downside? I guess I’m wistful for the days when teachers worked in pairs and
teams, knowing their students and brainstorming creative ways to reach them. I
have to admit that these sites won’t prevent that kind of teamwork, though, and
they certainly will offer resources to those lone rangers who don’t have the
chance to work with others. “The times they are a’changing!”
this month, Education Week published an article on how to build a more LGBTQ-inclusive
In the latter 90’s when I became engaged in Safe Schools work, there were no
articles like this in mainstream education publications. The world clearly remains
unsafe for many LGBTQ youth, especially in the current political climate, but
my heart soars to see important conversations taking place that may change
teachers and the culture of schools. And the article’s ten tips are valuable
and explained well.
very first should not be news: “Know that your students are ready to discuss
LGBTQ issues.” Students have been talking more frankly and openly for a long
time, but too often the images and messaging they are exposed to are biased.
Schools can make this a learning opportunity. The article also urges educators
to “Recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity is multifaceted.”
Just as our binary view of sexuality was too limited, we need to expand everyone’s
understanding of the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identify instead
of trying to fit everyone into neat little boxes. This is a learning opportunity
for many teachers as well as students.
article advises educators to intervene as they should/would with any
identity-based attacks, but to do so without discouraging discussion about what
terms mean. And number 4 is one of my favorites: “Don’t assume talking about
LGBTQ issues has to involve talking about sex.” We don’t make all conversations
about straight people about their sex lives; in fact, such conversations are no
doubt rare in schools. “In Reading the Rainbow, researcher Caitlin L. Ryan and
educator Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth ask us to ‘shift our understanding of LGBTQ
people away from sex and toward who people are, including how they live, whom
the love, and with whom they build family and community.’” Age-appropriate
discussions can and should provide a fuller perspective.
wish someone had shared the fifth point with me early in my personal journey.
Learning to “Trust your own positive intentions” is daunting when you see kids
at risk. But the article is right when it points out that even an “imperfect
advocate is better than a silent bystander.” I know I was imperfect, but my LGBTQ
students were patient with me and taught me. And I wish someone had told me
then to “Integrate LGBTQ-inclusive books with other books and make them easy to
check out anonymously.” I had some of those books on my shelf to signal that I
was safe, but they were all grouped together. And I couldn’t “Treat LGBTQ characters
in literature as whole people with many interests and identities” – the literature
we read lacked those characters. I did make sure to include a fuller
perspective with authors when I could, but now I would make sure our literature
selections were more inclusive. And when we talked about LGBTQ characters in
class, I would now know to “Speak in terms of relationships rather than labels.”
The article suggests that when a class is exploring The Color Purple, for
example, the teacher might ask students to explore the main character’s
relationship with another character instead of just labeling her as a Lesbian.
the ninth point is important and far more inclusive in its own right. We must
not “rely on LGBTQ students to explain LGBTQ characters to the class” any more
than our students of color or students of particular religions should explain
their experiences to the class. If we “Build in substantial free response and
open discussion time,” students can grow their understanding of roles and
experiences without placing that burden on their fellow students.
I am thrilled by the specificity of these
recommendations and the openness of the discussion in the article. Times have
changed. But we must take the issue of inclusiveness even further. Every one of
our students has an intersectionality of identities. We really need to become
more aware of who our students really are as individuals and what situations
they come from so that we can be sure that schools and classrooms are safe and inclusive
for every student. Our stude
I’ve just finished the last section of the draft of my teaching memoir, which describes an incredible Problem-Based Learning experience my students had working for a Chicago law firm. It reminds me of how much I still miss my own problem-solving class, but I’m thrilled that I continue to encounter similar efforts occurring today. In Aurora, Illinois, the city partnered with the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy [IMSA] to offer the “Smart City Youth Design Challenge” for middle and high school students. More than 50 youth will be selected for a one-day challenge at IMSA to design Aurora as the smart city of the future.
The second largest city in Illinois, Aurora has much to
offer already. The Fox River runs through a scenic downtown on its way back
from recession, and the city is home to the famous and popular art deco
Paramount Theater. From a news release from the city: “Poised to become a
sandbox for innovation, Aurora is partnering with world-class companies and
investing in smart city infrastructure to become a leading-edge urban
development hub for the state of Illinois and beyond.”
Working in small groups led by facilitators, participants
will create ideas and design for what transportation, education, entertainment,
community, energy and other parts of the city could be like in a city of the
future. They will then get to pitch their ideas to a real audience at a special
event with the city leaders.
“Our youth not only represent our future potential, but
they also are a reflection of our present priorities,” said Mayor Richard
C. Irvin. “What we do now to empower them can have a direct impact on our
city, country and world.”
I believe in learning opportunities like this. I have seen
the ideas of students become reality when they are given a chance like this. I
only wish these opportunities were commonplace instead of the exception. Every time
we challenge our learners to work on a real-world problem for a real audience,
we give them a chance to grow their skills and their self-esteem. For 17
semesters, my problem-based learning class did that. I miss it, and I hope that
there are many more opportunities like it for students everywhere.
Our two oldest grandkids left for college last week. They
both attend a top-tier Ivy on the East Coast. They meet to work out most
mornings before heading off to class, and both seem well settled. They remind
me of the pleasures and challenges of my own college experience so many decades
So it saddens me to read Frank Bruni’s New York Times review
of the new book The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us by Paul
Tough. The author catalogs “student after student whose route to
college and experience there are rocky in the extreme.” 
He describes how disadvantaged students of lesser means are, both in terms of
access and preparation. We have changed the way we think about college in a
world that seems to offer less promise to future college graduates. And he asks
an important question. “To spur innovation, compete globally and nurture
prosperity in a country where factory jobs have ceased to be the answer, we
need more, better college graduates. So why aren’t we doing more to create
Though Tough describes a few programs to do just that, they are few and far
Psychology Today tackles this issue as well.
It identifies three factors:
A focus on material success
The rising cost of college
“Delayed adulthood and external locus of
Students today face mounting debt for an increasingly unsure
financial future, a reasonable source of anxiety. And the advent of helicopter
parenting and less independent play for children, allowing them to learn to
self-regulate and get along with others [beautifully explained in The Good
News About Bad Behavior, discussed in an earlier post], has led to delayed
adulthood and fewer coping mechanisms. Dr. Diane Dreher writes, “Unfortunately,
today materialistic values, college costs, and controlling parents are
impairing this vital developmental period—and may be undermining our students’
ability to flourish.”
I am not so blinded by rose-colored glasses as to remember my college
days as anxiety-free. Though I was less worried about my future prospects than
many students today, I did struggle with test anxiety and dorm relationship
issues. And attending the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s certainly
prompted a host of strong emotions about the Vietnam War, civil rights, and
feminism. Perhaps one of the biggest differences stemmed from our naïveté… We
really believed we could change the world, and that belief feels harder to
sustain for now, even for a perennial optimist like me. I don’t think college
students today find the same comfort in optimism.
For me college was a chance to meet diverse people and explore
different points of view and areas of study. Our granddaughter had a healthy
discussion with a male friend whose position on abortion is the opposite of
hers – that’s how we find mutual understanding if not agreement. I’m not sure
that kind of open discussion about controversial issues is common. It should be.
College is a time for exploration and being exposed to diverse ideas. Somehow
we need to explore ways to ensure that college provides those opportunities at
less emotional cost. That means we need to explore how students and their
families pay for college without impossible burdens. We certainly need to help
children build emotional coping skills earlier in life by giving them more
freedom to learn them. And we need to educate parents about the impact of their
helicoptering and to convince parents that their conviction that a certain
college or colleges will determine their child’s future is not only unfounded
but harmful. We need a paradigm shift if we hope to develop the educated
graduates our nation needs.
One of the education blogs I follow is The Principal of
Change by George Couros. A Canadian educator and consultant, a former
principal, and author of The Innovator’s
Mindset, he writes with passion and compassion. Like me, he believes
in the central role of good relationships between learner and teacher. This
graphic is his, and it accompanied a blog about how to start the school year
with questions like these. He suggests that we each find the questions that
would be most meaningful to our group of learners, because asking them and
paying attention to the answers will be powerful in building the relationships
requisite to learning.
I love this idea, and for several years I did start the
school year with a set of questions like these. I asked students for written,
signed responses, but I took it a step further. I actually invited them to ask
a set of questions of me. I then printed a set of my responses to their
questions comm, and I added personal notes responding to their comments individually.
They knew they were seen and heard. They knew I was willing to invest time in
them. They knew more about me than just the rumors that I was really tough!
I really liked this process, probably more than the students
did — or at least more than they would admit! I’m not sure why I gave it up:
probably time, since there’s never enough, and the need to experiment with
other approaches, since I tried to find a way to begin each course with community-building.
But revisiting this concept reminds me of several points:
Teachers need time for community-building, regardless
of the strategy they choose, and that time usually pays off in the long run.
The inch-deep mile-long lockstep curriculum, if it is
unavoidable [sigh], would be well advised to build in time for this.
When teachers get to plan together, they are more
likely to be able to generate powerful community-building strategies than when
they work as lone rangers.
You wouldn’t build a house with a proper foundation; you
wouldn’t pave a road without preparing the underpinning. Why do we blunder
directly into instruction without laying this footing?
This quotation really resonates for me right now. Last night
I submitted a section of my teaching memoir to my writing group about a class I
created for my high school that involved service learning. Using the Problem-Based
Learning approach developed in medical schools, my students learned to define a
problem and the criteria for an effective solution. That guided their research
and helped them to generate and evaluate solutions. They worked problems for
the school and the larger community. One year my students even worked for a Chicago
law firm on a problem in Toledo, Ohio! Each of these problems became a form of
service to others as my students struggled to figure out how to provide the
answers their “clients” sought.
For so many of my students, this service became transformational,
changing their views about themselves and their place in the world. Some
redesigned the gardens for a local historic site, some figured out strategies
to promote the Post-Prom celebration to keep students safe after prom, and some
helped redesign the eighth-grade orientation. One group not only redesigned a
vandalized part of a local trail for the county, but they chose to do the hard
physical work of rebuilding. And when vandals struck again, long after they’d
received credit in class for their work, they repaired it on their own time. Time
after time, I watched students discover the satisfaction of doing something
helpful for others. For most of them, this was a new experience. This class
showed them the enormous payback for their efforts.
I even saw that reaction among my creative writing students.
When they wrote children’s books, we took field trips to local grade schools to
read them to children. I’ll never forget my hulking football star sitting
cross-legged on the floor of a second-grade classroom, reading his story to a
rapt audience. Out of that grew a collaboration with classes from a grade
school within walking distance. We visited them once, and they returned the
favor. My students partnered with children to write children’s stories, which
they sent home with the children. Having a real audience for their work fed their
sense of satisfaction, but the gratitude of the children and their teachers,
expressed in priceless, hand-drawn thank you notes delivered to the class, gave
my students special satisfaction.
Dieter F. Uchtodorf wrote, “As we lose ourselves in the
service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness.” And from
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Live’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What
are you doing for others?” I watched students embrace those concepts because
they had experienced them firsthand.
If I ruled the world [a phrase I used to use with my
students], I would mandate service learning for all high school students. Only
through experience can they discover the satisfaction and happiness that derive
from doing for others. And if our young people understood that, wouldn’t that
change our society for the better? As generations of graduates entered the
world with a desire to help others, wouldn’t we all benefit?
Last week we had the pleasure and privilege of attending our
middle granddaughter’s graduation from a Chicago public magnet high school. The
ceremony was held at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago
because the school auditorium was too small for the class of over 450 and all
of their supporters. The event was lovely if long, and we especially enjoyed
seeing a certain young woman prance across the stage with grace and confidence
to receive her diploma. The class stats were mind-boggling: every student was
headed to a four-year college, and they’d logged countless volunteer hours in
the community, won numerous academic and athletic championships, and earned $56
million in scholarships! Memorable and impressive, to be sure. That’s part of
the package of a top-notch magnet school.
The part we didn’t anticipate happened when the Special Education students walked across the stage to pick up their diplomas and certificates. Part of the mission of Whitney M. Young Magnet School is “To give students with disabilities the same high school opportunities as their non-disabled peers.” In addition to a sizable faculty and staff, the school has a Best Buddies program that pairs regular and special ed students. Some of these students could not make it across the stage without physical support; a couple had trouble following the directions. But each and every one of them received the same response from the audience of parents, friends, and peers: loud cheering and applause with great gusto. This is a truly inclusive community where high-achieving students whose academic success is often a given appreciate and celebrate the success of those who have overcome obstacles to be able to march across that stage. Their genuinely joyful response was uplifting.
When I commented on it, I was assured that those who have attended
multiple Whitney Young graduation ceremonies experience that every year. Being
part of that kind of school culture, with genuine inclusion, prepares students
to work and live with others regardless of their circumstances. It gives me
hope for the future.
As I scramble once again to finish garments for a jury
deadline, I find myself reminiscing about my first experience sewing clothing for
myself. As a woman of a certain age, I hark back to the binary days of applied
arts in junior high: shop for the boys and home economics for the girls. All
the girls in my seventh-grade home ec class had to make a skirt using the same
pattern. Each skirt had the same pleats, set-in waistband, and side zipper. Our
only personal touch was the choice of fabric. I loved the blue and green shadow
plaid I picked, but the process and the product failed to inspire me. I wore
the skirt a few times and put it away, along with any thoughts of making my own
Always passionate about fashion, however, I often thought of
becoming a clothing designer [one of the dozens of careers I fancied in high
school], conveniently ignoring my lack of sewing experience and skills. My
parents’ housekeeper made my prom dress from a pattern and fabric I chose, and the
summer before my wedding to a “starving” graduate student, I designed an entire
trousseau, but she put it together. I would design; others would sew.
That summer my mother presented me with a sewing machine.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“You love clothes and you won’t have any money for them for
a long time…” she replied.
“How do I use it?” I asked my mother, knowing full well that
she didn’t even know how to sew on a button.
“I don’t know. Figure it out!” She smiled.
Figure it out I did. How
hard could it be, I asked myself as I bought Impressionist print voiles and
linings and made two wonderful shift dresses that I wore for years.
For a long time I remained self-taught, making all my
clothing as well as our window coverings and bedspreads. I gave up sewing when
I went back to teaching full-time, but one of the great joys of retirement was
the freedom to sew without pressure. Sewing workshops and guidance from the wonderful
mentors in my wearable art group elevated my skills. I had collections of
garments made from vintage Obis in runway shows, and I even developed a
collection called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” whose color
palette and use of vines as a motif was one of my favorite efforts. And here I
am working on another collection.
I find myself thinking about the factors that changed my
desire to learn:
A need to know, since sewing my own clothes was
the only way I’d be able to have anything new for a long, long time
Some early success to encourage me to keep going
The chance to personalize my efforts and to use
my own creativity
Following success and positive feedback, the
desire to take it further, to elevate my skills and understanding
Excellent teachers/mentors who challenged and
supported my efforts
I see these factors as impactful and available in the classroom
setting. Relevance exists in our curriculum, and good teachers help students
see that and give them a need to know. In my own field of literature, others
write about its importance to hand down culture through stories, expand
horizons, grow vocabulary, improve writing skills, and teach critical thinking.
All these offer value, but I believe the most compelling reason to teach
literature is the way it serves as a vehicle for us to explore the human condition
and address the “big questions” about life. What does it mean to be a good
person? Is man inherently good or evil or both? What are our responsibilities
to each other? And on and on… Through our exploration of literature, we can
consider these questions and even the answers provided by some of the authors. In
those settings, outside of our personal experience, we can develop our own very
Other content area teachers can make powerful arguments for relevance
in their fields as well. I came to understand grammar and structure in English
through my study of French and Latin. I make constant use of math skills
whether it’s calculating ingredients or pan sizes or planning yardage for a
garment or roughly adding up purchases in my head as I shop to follow my
budget. History offers huge lessons that we should be heeding today. If we look
at the rise of populist dictators in the past, for example, we have ample
warning for what is happening globally and domestically today. I use my understanding from chemistry to
rethink recipes, from botany as I grow orchids and succulents, and from physics
as I seek to understand how things work and how to solve problems. The
relevance is there – as teachers we need to make it explicit.
We need to provide classroom lessons that allow students to
achieve some success before we escalate our expectations of them, scaffolding
their lessons. Starting with more accessible demands allows for those early
successes, and then teachers can build upon them. Just as I began with a simple
shift and have progressed to lined jackets and drafting my own patterns,
students need easier tasks to accomplish before they move on.
Well-designed lessons can also encourage creativity and develop
opportunities for students to personalize their learning and tap their own
creativity. We need to stop thinking about one-size-fits-all instruction and encourage
more open-ended experiences. Thanks to my predecessor’s model, my Advanced
Placement English students worked in small groups to develop a director’s notebook
for King Lear, transposing the play to another time and place, creating
costume sketches and scenery, and explaining their choices. What better way to
think about the timeless themes in the play and what they mean to us today? Given
the chance to be creative in their approach to the play, students developed and
articulated a deeper understanding of it.
As teachers we can
and should build ever escalating demands into the curriculum, as long as we’re
there to support students if they struggle. Mastery of a give skill should be
followed with the next most demanding level of that skill, whether it’s moving
from a simple paragraph to an extended essay or narrative, or moving from
simple short story analysis to deep reading of longer, more complex literature.
We should start with accessible tasks but continually elevate our expectations.
We need to be there to help students when they find those tasks increasingly
This kind of teaching requires a more constructivist
classroom, a far cry from the bell-to-bell talking at students that I was
trained to do. Problem-based learning helped me make that shift, and the
students and I both benefited. But those factors can be embedded even in a
traditional classroom approach if we put students’ needs first.
So I’ll return to my sewing machine and my looming jury
deadline, grateful that I was able to make that shift before I retired, hopeful
that teachers and students today will continue to make shifts like it, too.
Another school shooting… Yesterday one student was killed
and eight injured by gunfire at a Denver-area charter school. We barely react
any more. We’re too accepting of this “new normal.”
Education Week reassures us: “With two large-scale school
shootings in 2018—17 killed in Parkland, Fla., and 10 killed in Santa Fe,
Texas—public fears about school safety and gun violence are high. But the data
show that, on the whole, schools are one of the
safest places for children.” Is
that supposed to be comforting? Schools should be safe places. We should be
doing more to keep all schools safe. But we don’t know how.
Just last week Florida’s House of Representatives passed a
controversial bill that would permit classroom teachers to carry guns in
schools, and the Governor is expected to sign it. How can this be the answer?
Even if I had been thoroughly trained to use a gun, my fear of guns and the
reality that many of my high school students could have overpowered me and
taken it away suggests that teachers toting guns might only add to the problem.
We are called to the profession for our love of learning and desire to empower students
to experience that. How many teachers are drawn to policing? What would be the
impact of gun access on their relationship with students?
Wouldn’t we be better served addressing key issues?
What drives shooters in the first place and what
we might do about that?
What can we do about access to guns by
individuals who show signs of being unstable?
How can we better identify those individuals?
Why would any civilian need bump stocks and semi-automatic
rifles? Can we outlaw those?
I had high hopes that the courageous students of Parkland
would drive a serious discussion that led to meaningful problem-solving here. I
was naïve. But we need to look at the root causes of school shootings and
address them directly, instead of settling for dangerous “band-aids” like
arming teachers, band-aids that themselves might just lead to more wounds. Our
students deserve that. So do our teachers. The time is now.
I don’t do heights. I don’t much like snakes, mosquitoes or heat and humidity either. How then, did I find myself 94 feet above the jungle, walking 940 feet between three strong metal towers on a swaying bridge? By climbing fourteen flights of steps in 98ﾟheat with 90+% humidity.
A better question might be why, or even how? The answer speaks to educators. Our trip facilitator knows me well and he knew the situation. He’s helped me overcome my limits before, though perhaps never so dramatically. We talked about the canopy walk before I even left the safety of my home. He knew how to help me choose to go.
He said, “You can do it, I know you can, and I’ll help. Just
take your time – we won’t rush you. And you won’t want to miss it.” He made me
believe in myself enough to overcome deep-seated fears because I believed him.
I could, he’d help, I could take my time, and I’d be sorry if I skipped it.
It’s worth noting that when we kayaked the Lake Country of
Italy with him two years earlier and I chose not to take a clumsy funicular up to
a frightening height, he didn’t push me. Instead we had a wonderful paddle. So
if he said this wasn’t to be missed, I wouldn’t miss it.
And I had additional support to see me through. Our kayaking
buddy Ada, with whom we’d taken two other trips, had seen my bypass the funicular
and knew I wanted to do this terrifying climb. She promised to walk with me. I
would not face this scary challenge alone.
So I climbed. At halfway up I questioned my sanity, but I
kept going. When we finally reached the top of the first tower, the view of the
jungle’s canopy was breathtaking. The drop to the ground below looked gentler
than it must have been, and I finally caught my breath. Dripping in sweat,
cursing the heat and humidity, I did take the time to do a 360ﾟview.
My husband had patiently climbed right behind me, but at the top I lost him to his
camera. While he clicked away, taking pictures I knew we’d both be glad to have,
I headed out on the walkway toward the middle tower, determined to complete the
walk before I lost my nerve.
The first half felt fairly stable, and I found myself
looking ahead and around rather than down. This
isn’t so bad, I thought to myself. I stopped briefly at the middle tower,
winded and dripping with sweat. I need to
finish this, I thought, and I can do
Sadly the second 450’ swayed far more. Whimpering, I practiced
self-talk. I wanted to quit but knew that the closest path to the safety of the
ground was straight ahead. Happily my friend Ada walked back to join me. I kept
my eyes on the back of her neck and hung on to the coarse rope cable to gain an
illusion of control. My legs were trembling when we reached the far tower, but
I had done it – I had completed the dreaded canopy walk and was alive to tell
Now I just had to make my way down 14 more flights of
stairs. Since everyone else was captivated by the view, I worked my way down
slowly. I wanted to kiss the ground when I reached it, as I had after my son
talked me into riding Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland, but the mud seemed
unappealing. Finally the others joined
me and we hiked back to the lodge though the jungle. Dehydration and fatigue
sapped my energy, yet I was triumphant! I had just done something I’d been sure
I couldn’t do. I could have been faster, more graceful, less noisy in my whimpering,
but I’d done it nonetheless. And now, when I face new challenges, I will be a
bit more confident because of this triumph.
Next month I’m going to model a semi-transparent dress in a runway
show. I’ve had garments I’ve designed on the runway before, but I’ve never had
to model them myself, and this garment is particularly problematic. But I will remind myself that I completed the
canopy walk, and that will see me through.
Why write about this in a teaching blog? Because sometimes
our students feel as apprehensive as I did. We may not understand why, but we
need to recognize their fears and help them conquer those fears. Those who don’t
share my acrophobia may never really understand how hard this walk was for me,
but they can help me succeed by acknowledging my true feelings and showing me
how to overcome them. We need to tell our students, “You can do this. I’ll help
you. Take your time. You’ll be glad you did.”
And in collaborative, constructivist classrooms, we need to
encourage their classmates to support them the way Ada supported me. I am
reminded of a presentation in our American Lit class by a student who struggled
with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When he stood up to speak, he started
biting his arm. Quietly the other members of his group stood up, surrounded
him, and nodded encouragingly. He was able to present his part of their material.
With their support, he triumphed. Far less dramatic situations happen in
classrooms every day, and teachers and classmates can make a difference.
Students who overcome their fears and do something they thought they couldn’t become
empowered to tackle additional challenges. It’s up to us teachers to help that