Conformity and the Common Core

standing in lineWe demand that our students raise their hands to ask a question, yet we require that they produce a self-identity reflection project. We insist that students stand in line before entering the classroom, yet we request that they think outside the box when answering that math reasoning question.

Conformity and the Common Core appear to be mutually exclusive. How are we supposed to teach students to think for themselves if we’re overly concerned with adherence to classroom management rules?

Put your backpacks away. Get out your pencil. Sit down. Wait for instructions. Raise a silent hand.

No, this isn’t the 50’s these are some of my classroom norms.

I’m not proud that I’ve had to conform to traditional behavior management systems in order to keep sanity in the classroom. That’s not what I thought I’d be spending 50% of my time on when I decided to become a teacher. In fact, I’m pretty frustrated that, after trying the new ways of running a classroom, still, at the end of the day it feels like I’ve made little difference when it comes to behavior.

On one hand, common core is about being creative, letting your students guide projects and lead learning. On the other hand, if the behavioral needs are too great the creativity gets tossed aside.

Now, I’m not a militant. I’m not perfect; my students are perfect; the system isn’t perfect — and I don’t expect perfection. But I was hoping that when I entered this profession, I’d get to be more creative and not just be a “stickler for the rules”.

The reality is that behavior outweighs creativity. If the classroom is not running smoothly, we cannot do fun things. Some would say the opposite. I was one of those, before I became a teacher. Conformity, fortunately or unfortunately, is required to move forward.

Hurry up and get with the game, cause I’d sure like to do some fun things. C’mon, kids ūüôā


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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To the Kid who Doesn’t Want to go Back to School

I hear ya! I’m not a fan of early mornings or homework either.

But when it comes down to it, school is not about the bell schedules or even the grades.

‘Um, what!?’, you gasp.

 

School is a Microcosm of Our Society

Your school represents a small city, a way of learning how to navigate the bigger world around us. Social norms (standing in line, pleasantries, forming groups) are learned behaviors. The ability to challenge yourself and challenge others is a skill, one that school is helping you learn. This Social-Emotional Learning piece of becoming a well-rounded adult in our society is at the heart of your six-hour school day.

Think about public schools, charter schools, independent schools, home school, self-instruction, and private tutors — these all present a different way to learn the material. There are so many ways to learn and so many teaching styles to learn from. It’s why even the state allows parents to choose the way they want their children taught and who to teach them.

Going to School is Really about Self-Discovery

Going to School is more than just learning math and reading and then taking a test to see how well you understood those subjects (or, in reality, how well you take a test).

Going to School is about expression, social norms, working together, developing your EQ (Emotional Quotient), challenging yourself, challenging others to see a concept in a new way, inspiration, inspiring others, grit – seeing failure not as the end but, rather, as part of your success story, discovering new talents, fostering independence, and using education as a ticket to stability and security.

You can learn anything from any book. Heck, you can learn anything from YouTube!

But going to school allows you to learn about yourself.

So I get it. There are lots of not-so-great things about going to school. But I urge you to consider looking at school in this new way. It can be an adventure, a journey of self-discovery. And who knows what you may find during that quest.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Life is like a Box of…

Pralinen

Tests.

Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add¬†undergrad, grad school,¬†and professional development¬†to that number and I¬†can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me¬†about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood¬†of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we¬†make a contingency plan:¬†If I fail this test, I will have¬†ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to¬†take a course in the summer.¬†¬†Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay¬†our timeline,¬†it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to¬†each¬†fear and a¬†realistic contingency plan in place,¬†I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things¬†as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset:¬†This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it!¬†I try to help¬†my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we¬†tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Goal Setting Sets the Tone for Confidence & Improvement

Goals

At the start of every tutoring session or¬†parent meeting I ask my clients: What are your goals for our time together? This helps set the tone, providing structure to what is often a difficult moment in time — the moment someone asks for help.

Goals versus Expectations

Setting goals is different than having expectations. Goals are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Expectations, on the other hand, are the “I wish you could’s” and the “I want you to’s” of life. Most of us have those sore childhood memories where our parents wished we could just do this differently or wanted us to do something that way instead. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid! Of course, parents want only the best for their kids but when your best is not your child’s version of best, then there is a conflict.

Conflict comes in many forms and one of those is having unattainable expectations. You want your child to go to Harvard? Okay, let’s really think about this: (1) What does it take to get into an Ivy League school? , (2) Is this really the best school environment for my child?, (3) Am I helping my child become a life-long learner and not¬†just creating a “teach to the test” kind of student?

Shoot for the stars, yes! But combat the pressure of high expectation with a loving dose of reality.

Set Daily Attainable, Specific Goals to Build Your Child’s Confidence & Productivity

Nothing gives a student a reality check like setting daily attainable, specific goals. Child-led goals work best because they learn to take ownership and responsibility for their own actions or inactions. A life lesson, for sure!

To do this effectively, start with two goals – both should be things¬†they could slightly improve upon¬†but for the most part got it¬†already –¬†and one challenge goal,¬†something new or something they have wanted to try but keep putting it off.

If your child is on the younger side, a sticker chart visibly placed in their room or in a common area is helpful. Let them choose where they’d like to put it. Some kids prefer to be more private as they learn something new and aren’t quite ready to shout it out to the whole family.¬†Immediate gratification (ie: small prizes)¬†and verbal praise helps younger kids solidify their confidence and keep coming back¬†to challenge themselves¬†further.¬†If your child is a little older, say a ‘tween’,¬†have them keep their own¬†self-created reflection¬†chart privately where they can earn bigger prizes for things that take a week or two to accomplish.

Set specific goals, such as complete math homework between 4:30-5:15 or write one paragraph for your English paper before dinner. Goals are baby steps.

Goals¬†can also encompass something that’s difficult outside of homework like social skills (ie: invite one new¬†friend over for a play date this weekend)¬†or trying a new food (ie: asparagus, yum!). Learning is not limited to just academics. We need to broaden our goals to challenges outside of the classroom too.

If It’s Just Not Working, Rework Your Thinking

Oftentimes, our goals may initially reflect our expectations, just worded in a different way. If that’s the case, take a step back and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes, making sure to consider your child’s learning style¬†and whether we may be putting too much or not enough pressure on your child to perform up to a certain standard. Starting slow with clear, attainable goals is usually the best beta test.

The end goal is really to help our kids love learning. We can do this by helping them increase their confidence through small accomplishments, which leads to increased confidence when the work, and life, gets harder.

You’re right, those¬†Harvard dreams could very well be in your child’s future. However, we want to make sure they enjoy the process of learning on their way to the big leagues.

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Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

Who Am I to Judge?

a-funny-kidsAcceptance, collaboration, putting yourself in another’s shoes, admitting someone else may have a better idea.¬†These are not just difficult concepts for kids but boy oh boy, are they difficult for us grownups too.

No Need to be a Critic¬†—¬†a Struggling Student is their Own Judge & Jury

Working with kids who are struggling in school gives me a window into each child’s values, belief-system and self-esteem.¬†I’ve taken note — when it comes down to it, each and every kid who is not making the grade truly feels left out.

At the root of all the anger, anxiety, blame, tears, skipping school and bullying is a genuine feeling of inadequacy. No matter the age or the problem, they feel judged by their peers, their teachers, their parents and themselves.

Mindfulness Abates Judgment

It’s not without work that I’ve¬†learned to¬†be¬†intentional about stepping back for a minute and recognizing my own inability to judge anyone. Really, who am I to judge?

This ability to learn to love myself and others just as we are comes from the expected variables, including age, life experience, forgiveness for past wrongs¬†and most recently¬†yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for a good five years now and the thing that my Type A brain loves most about¬†it is¬†the fact that¬†there is no judgment. I’m not supposed to judge others (especially that one guy in the front of the room whose hot tree is like perfect every time!) and I’m certainly not supposed to judge myself.

That’s what I teach my students. No matter the diagnosis or the grades, no one is allowed to judge you, not even the harshest critic – yourself.

This is not to say a student shouldn’t strive for that ‘A+’ or try out for the lead in the school play, only that we all have different abilities, learning styles and gifts. Some subjects will be harder. That’s a fact. Withholding judgment¬†is not a free ride to eliminate trying your very best.

Be Free from Judgment & Help Your Child Learn to Love Learning

The goal is to be free from judging the aftermath: Judging yourself as a parent for working late again, judging your child for getting a C on his math test, judging your spouse for not doing his share of the housework, judging that mom at the playground who always has your kid’s favorite bunny graham snack.

Learning to accept what is, opens the door to what could be.

By refraining from judging yourself as a parent, teacher or provider, you are giving your child, your student, the freedom to explore.

Isn’t that really what’s at the crux of the matter. We feel stifled, so we judge. We need the freedom to say let’s try this, instead of I must do this.

By giving ourselves that freedom, we are teaching our kiddos how to love learning. And that’s the ultimate gift.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.