Category Archives: Students

Tending Gardens and Call for Teaching Memories

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

It doesn’t matter how long we have taught – there will always be moments that stay with us forever. Below is one of the moments that has stayed with me.


1990's 23

I wanted to scream! They were tugging at me all day. “Ms. Ellington, Ms. Ellington!” is all I could hear them say. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind the tugging although it could be tedious at times. I just wished at some point some of the children would learn to raise their hand to get my attention. I know, I know… it’s hard for five-year olds to remember, especially when they need something. Besides, kindergarten children are like a “garden of flowers” and we all know flowers need tending.

Young children live in a world of ego. On this particular day, ego had overtaken our classroom and was increasingly trying. Riley soiled his pants. Jenny fell and scraped her knee. Kevin’s mom and dad argued while driving him to school – leaving him crying for home all morning. So many things to tend to and I still had to teach at some point.

To make matters worse, the art activity I planned for the children was harder than I thought. So there I was, running from child to child trying to help each complete their project. There they were, twenty little budding flowers all in need of nurturing at the same time.

As I frantically tried to attend to everyone, my thoughts flashed back to a Swedish friend named Heli who worked at a restaurant I sang at in my “singing” days. Heli was always smiling and pleasing everyone. One night patrons and coworkers were running her ragged. She looked at me and in her stealthy Swedish accent said, “If I hear my name one more time, I’m going to hit the ceiling!”

My thoughts of Heli were broken when Katey and Brittany at once yanked at my sleeve. “Ms. Ellington, Ms. Ellington!” they shouted. Hmm… Again I thought of Heli and looked at their faces. With hands on hips and one raised eyebrow I said, “If I hear Ms. Ellington one more time I’m going to hit the ceiling!”

The room fell silent and I could see some of my little ones, mouths open in awe, slump in their chairs like wilted flowers in need of a drink. It was an awkward moment, eyes meeting eyes and nothing to say. For that moment, the weight of my day subsided and I was able to catch my breath though regrettably, it now seemed hard for the children to catch theirs.

Then, as if in slow motion from the back of the room, Joanna tip-toed quietly to me. She approached, face aglow. In front of me, she deliberately placed her hands on her hips, raised one eyebrow, and with a missing front toothed grin said, “Oh, Ms. Ellington!”

We all burst into laughter and the moment of peace I thought I experienced gave way to a renewed sense of enthusiasm at being with these lively children.

These days, when I am caught up in classroom stress, I still see Joanna standing before me with that missing front toothed grin.


This is a good time to reflect on positive teaching memories.  I look forward to hearing about yours!  Thanks in advance for leaving a reply and sharing!

 

Why kids need more music in schools

In his postlude to The Mozart Effect author Don Campbell shares miracle stories of treatment and cure through music.   Excerpts recount music and its role in the treatment and healing of abuse, pain, aggressive and antisocial behavior, attention deficit disorder, depression, developmental delays, high blood pressure, etc.  The benefits of music are limitless.

As the American educational system seeks to cut the arts from classroom experience, we see children and adolescents seek out more available forms of art – usually portraying the more violent and dark side of life.  Young people perceive, and then opt to imitate the art that fuels their imagination.

Education can offer a positive approach to fueling that imagination leading toward the productive lives we want our children to meet by providing a healthier experience.

There are those trying to do that.  Be sure to watch as CBS’s 48 HOURS presents The Whole Gritty City, Saturday, February 15th at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Some say society is ill and we need to do something to heal it.  Will we help? 

“Each illness has a musical solution.  The shorter and more complete the solution, the greater the musical talent of the physician.”

-  Novalis

Learning Disabilities – a second look

I’ve taught for many years in a system that I have often questioned when it comes to students and learning disabilities.  As an outside-of-the-box thinker, I’ve always hoped for more freedom in teaching to reduce the necessity for a child being labeled as learning disabled when I thought there might be a better way.

In my opinion, schools need to offer a more “balanced” curricula including both visual and performing arts as well as extended opportunity for inquiry and exploration. If offered, I believe we would have a much smaller ESE population.  Walk into any ESE class and you will find talented students in these areas.  If not, you’ll find students who lack focus because their minds are sparked with imagination and their personalities are bursting at the seams from the skill and drill activities they take part in.

Google search famous people with learning disabilities and you’ll find less than average students who had the tenacity and intrinsic abilities (not valued by education) to prove their teachers wrong.  I share a list and a YouTube presentation.  Both are inspiring and encouraging.

Famous people with learning disabilities:

ADD/ADHD

Will Smith, Jim Carey, Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw, Babe Ruth, Greg Louganis, Vince Lombardi, Pablo Picasso, Ansel Adams, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Frost, and Edgar Allen Poe, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Malcolm Forbes, Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, FW Woolworth, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Alfred HitchcockHenry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Cher, Buddy Rich, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, President John F. Kennedy, President Thomas Jefferson, President Abraham Lincoln, President Dwight Eisenhower, President George Bush, and President George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Nicolai Tesla, Louis Pasteur, Galileo, and Sir Isaac Newton…

The list goes on.  What were some of them told and what did they share?

Sydney Smith said, “The real object of education is to give children resources that will endure as long as life endures; habits that time will ameliorate, not destroy; occupation that will render sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful, and death less terrible.”

Reading, writing, and math are all important but there has to be more if we are to help our students actualize the above realities.

If you’re still with me – thanks for reading and listening!!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

What about the child?

In 1918, a special commission of the National Education Association presented a set of goals on the “purposes of school”.  The list included:

  • providing the child with a sense of ethics
  • teaching the child responsibility for his/her own health
  • teaching the child sensitivity toward the responsibilities of citizenship
  • mastery of the three “R’s”
  • teaching the child to use leisure time well
  • encouraging worthy human relationships with family and friends
  • teaching the child to make a living

We have come to teach a new generation of students and the goals these days seem to focus on teacher quality and offering great schools for students to learn in. While the Common Core Standards stress highest student achievement for all I have to wonder – wouldn’t the goals presented in 1918 be practical for our students today and if so – why are we not paying more attention to them?

Thoughts anyone?

The greatest teacher gift

ajaylaToday was the last day of school for my kindergarten students.  One child came up and said she had a gift for me, but forgot it. I told her she had already given me a wonderful gift.  Then I thought of Ajayla…

There is a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Sometimes, teachers come in small packages…

 “Open mine, open mine!” they shouted.  The children sat on the floor in front of me - eyes wide, waiting for me to open the gifts they had brought their teacher.  Most children in this very special group of first graders beamed with pride, but I had mixed emotions because some not able to share a gift might be hurt.

There were many gifts this last day of school.  From a multicolored spray of wild flowers in a crystal vase to several teacher books.

 Amid their excitement, giggles, applause, and me thanking the children, one of them anxiously called out.

“Ms. Ellington!” Ajayla said, eyes twinkling with her effervescent smile.

 “I have a gift for you!”

 “You do?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s in my backpack.  Would you like me to get it for you?”  she asked.

“Of course!”  I nodded. Ajayla, for the young age of seven was an old soul, wise beyond her years.  The children looked at each other curiously, some watching her every move as she enthusiastically raced to her backpack for the gift.

Ajayla returned with tightly cupped hands and a radiant look on her face.  She stood before me, her back to the others. A few children leaned to see around her, and then all sat motionless – curious to see what the gift would be.

“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” she whispered in my ear.  I smiled as the colorful beads, perfectly placed in her braided hair tickled my cheek.

The children giggled.  I closed my eyes and held out my hands.  I waited.

“Can you feel it?”  she asked.

I felt nothing.  Eyes still closed, I moved my hands slightly forward straining to feel.  I shook my head.  “I don’t feel…” I began to say.  Then suddenly, I felt the gentle brush of her warm fingertips resting on mine.

“Do you feel it now?” she whispered.  A rush of emotion went through me.

“Yes, Ajayla, I feel it!”  I said.

I opened my eyes and looked at her.  She was glowing. Her fingers now clutching mine. “It’s a wonderful gift!” I exclaimed.  Ajayla leapt forward and wrapped her arms around me.  It was clear the other children understood.  They broke into a round of applause.

“I’ll never forget you,” she said.  “I’ll love you forever and wherever I go you
will always be here in my heart.”

I held her close.  As I did, the others began to surround us, each reaching to be part of our embrace.

“Boys and girls,” I said, “Ajayla has given us all the greatest gift today. Giving and receiving gifts is wonderful, but the greatest gift you can ever give or receive is not one you can see or touch.”  I paused to hold back my tears.  “You can feel it though.”

The children smiled.

“Where?” I asked.

“In your heart.” was their reply.

Meanwhile these three remain:

faith, hope and love;

and the greatest of these is love.

 Corinthians, 13; 4-7 

Transforming society and lives through music

cello players    Looking at the work of Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela we see how the arts can transform society by bridging the gap between rich and poor while increasing intellectual and emotional capacities in children. From an original group of 11 impoverished children Abreu built the more than 300,000 student El Sistema, a nationwide organization of more than 100 youth orchestras made up of students from poor and middle-class neighborhoods. As Abreu states: “It is evident that music has to be recognized as an element of socialization, as an agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values: solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion.”

Is it time to implement a proactive approach to our societal dilemmas by providing all our children means for a better way?  Some think so as is evidenced by El Sistema groups forming around the world.  For information on the USA group go to http://elsistemausa.org/.

Teaching Without Tests

This is teaching as it should be!  Allowing students to have a choice in demonstrating their knowledge is definitely differentiating and acceptance that one size does not fit all – in teaching, learning, or assessment!  Thanks for sharing Nicholas!

Teaching Without Tests.

Colin Powell: Kids need structure

A great talk!  Helps us learn that students are more than a grade on a piece of paper.  Just look at what a straight “C” student can do with the right structure!

Music and its importance to learning

I was once asked what my greatest personal accomplishment was.  My answer was a no-brainer.  My greatest personal accomplishment was
overcoming a birth defect to go on to make a living for many years as a
professional vocalist, then teacher.

I was born with a hemangioma under my tongue which prevented me from speaking normally until after surgery at the age of five. The doctors said surgery would be too dangerous to attempt before then.  It turned out that the age of five was almost too dangerous.  As doctors were about to do a tracheotomy due to swelling, I began to breathe normally.  I suspect God had a long list of things for me to carry out with my voice!  :-)  Healing wasn’t easy and I had just come through years of being teased by other children.

The taunting left me embarrassed to speak so my parents encouraged me to sing to use my voice.  That I did! After surgery, my singing and a short stint in speech class found me off and running! (Or I should say “talking and singing”!)

Though my shyness remained, my junior high school music teacher helped me realize I had talent and encouraged me to use it. Because of his encouragement, I held many leading roles in high school and college theatre productions and went on to earn a living as a professional vocalist for many years before becoming a teacher.

MB900184975I have long shared with colleagues the importance of using music in the classroom – no matter student age.  I was thrilled to meet with my neurologist to review an MRI of my brain after falling and badly hitting my head weeks earlier.  He shared the pictures stating,  “All is well – you have a highly developed brain – especially your cerebellum.”

I knew the reason immediately.  “I have been a musician all my life!” I shared trying to contain my enthusiasm.

“We see this development in people having experiences in music from an early age on,” he shared.

Music has great significance to learning – especially to children who may lack self-esteem or sit through class day in and day out trying to fit a “one size fits all” educational expectation.  Learning is hard to without being provided creative experiences which create neurological connections that enhance learning.

One of the most important books on this subject is This is your brain on music written by Daniel J. Levitin.  For more information you may want to explore -

Cover of "This Is Your Brain on Music: Th...

http://daniellevitin.com/publicpage/books/this-is-your-brain-on-music/

Enjoy and be sure to listen to music!

Remembering Dr. King, Dad, and life lessons from both.

MLK

He sat at the edge of the sofa, glazed eyes fixed on the TV screen, tears streaming down his face. My brother and I watched silently with our father as the body of Martin Luther King was pulled by two mules on a mule cart. Thousands of people marched in tandem. My father wept, not ashamed to cry in front of us. “Why did they kill him?” we asked.

“Come close,” Dad said. “Never judge anyone by the color of their skin. There are good and bad people in every group,” he said. “Look to the person, and not the group they belong to. Consider everyone as an individual – an equal – remember that.”

08-06-2009 11;44;31AM

This would be one of the many life lessons I learned from my Italian father. Like King, Dad sought fairness for all in a time when it was not a popular thing to do. Similar to Dr. King’s life cut short at the hand of an assassin, Dad’s life was cut short in a car accident. I would only realize the meaningful extent of both of their legacy’s through their deaths.

Today, I can see my father on the sofa and the images of King’s funeral procession as if it was yesterday. I take comfort knowing the lessons I learned from both that year are handed down to each new group of students that enter my classroom.

The significance of today – the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the historical second inauguration of President Obama will be meaningful to some though not all. We have come a long way but the road is long and we still have a way to go.

For the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech illustrated…

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/video?id=8961639&pid=8961633