Tag Archives: achievement

Teachers — Born or Made?

“Teaching  is a natural gift; it cannot be taught through college training.” This statement posted on a substitute teacher’s forum was actually directed to me based on some previous discussion around the qualifications for a substitute teacher. I decided not to engage in a “nature versus nurture” debate and actually fell back on my “it depends,” answer to the question “What do you say?”

One of the things teachers must learn is to make sure you understand the question before you answer it.  I’m still not sure if this was a question about teaching or a question about the value of a college education.  But it did set me to thinking.

I think some of the fundamental qualities required to be a teacher are not easily taught. A couple of examples:

  • A love of children
  • A love of learning
  • A love of teaching/nurturing
  • Flexible thinking skills

I do think those qualities can be learned. There is a, however, a difference between learning and teaching. I know a lot of people (kids included) who are tired of being taught but are anxious to learn. One of the distinguishing features of an outstanding teacher is his or her ability to engage the learners and make learning “fun.”

When I started in the business of education, my focus was on adults. Macolm Knowles was just developing his adult learning theory and the word “andragogy” was becoming commonplace. They were heady times for educators.  As is often the case with new concepts, an unfortunate polarity developed. The term “pedagogy” had been around longer, applied to child learning. No one thought to raise the question of whether or not it makes sense to draw such a solid line between child learning and adult learning. We were too enamored of the labels and the differences.

But I digress–mostly to make the point that adults tend to be more task-oriented and self-directed learners than kids.  For most adults, learning is about application rather than memorization.

Colleges have been too slow to recognize this difference as an opportunity. Ironically, there has been a tendency to cling to teaching methods more suited to kids. Another digression we could take–what is the teacher’s role in teaching students how to learn?

When we look at teaching, there’s a lot that can be taught in a classroom–college or otherwise– including strategies and techniques. But if we’re not careful, we end up with the equivalent of trying to teach someone how to play tennis without spending any time on the court.

I “interviewed” my niece (Thanks, Abigail!) for this article–she’s currently completing her student teaching, a 75 day (15 weeks–one semester) assignment. She estimates that 15-25% of her college program involves actual teaching–partly because she ended up team teaching during her observations.  Not all students get that opportunity–much depends on the supervising teacher.

Can teaching be taught in college? We need to be cautious about one-dimensional thinking and yes or no answers. If  we think the answer is found in whether or not the teacher can pass the test, let’s remember that the real test isn’t a final exam or achieving certification. The real test will happen in the classroom–one reason it’s important to learn there.  Or maybe in a Dr. Seuss like way, we should be learning “here, and there, and everywhere.”

A Page in Mr. Boomsma’s Brag Book

Teachers are, I think, students just by nature of the profession.  But in this case, I became a student both officially and formally by completing an online course offered by STEDI (Substitute Teacher Division, Utah State University) titled “Advanced Classroom Management.”

I wish I could tell you that it was a grueling and stressful experience. Truth be told, I’d actually taken an older version of the course some years ago. So this was a bit of a review and I was able to complete the self-paced course quickly.  Being a typical adult learner, I undervalued the material–at least until I finished.

Then I remembered, sometimes the greatest value of a course is that it reinforces what you already know and increases your confidence. I use many of these techniques while teaching. They are integrated into the Substitute Teacher’s Workshop I offer in conjunction with several adult education programs. So, as the saying goes, “It’s all good.”

Students of all ages often ask, “Do we have to learn this?” I understand the question but also find it a sad one. What happened to the joy of learning?

Seth Godin recently posted some thoughts about the smoker’s lounge at the Helsinki Airport. (There’s still one there.) He observed that most smokers in the lounge didn’t look particularly happy. They had the appearance of doing something because they had to do it.  He also observed many people standing about the lounge checking their phones. They didn’t seem particularly happy either–probably for the same reason. He wondered when we are going to start building social media lounges.

One thing to like about Seth is he makes you think. I’m not sure if his post is about addiction, human nature, social media or something else.

But I do know this: Things that initially bring us pleasure can easily turn into habit and drudgery.  We continue to do them because we have to do them even though the value has diminished. That may include learning.  But when we really start to think about it, the cigarettes, phones, and I would include lessons, do not change. We change–collectively and individually.

But when we really start to think about it, the cigarettes, phones, and I would include lessons, do not change. We change–collectively and individually–how we think about things and our attitude towards them.

Let’s make learning fun.

Finding Dead Rainbows at Bangor Grange

I’m looking forward to being the featured speaker at Bangor Grange’s Quarterly Communications Connection on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Grange Master Brenda Gammon describes Community Connections as an ongoing part of the Grange’s efforts to “provide information and resources and a way for our community citizens to connect with each other and those resources.” The event is free to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Bangor Grange Hall at 1192 Ohio Street in Bangor.

The presentation is entitled “Searching for Dead Rainbows—where you stand makes a difference” and is based largely on my work with small people. “Rainbows are about hope and promise. Where we find hope and promise has a lot to do with where we look. And where we look has a lot to do with where we stand.

Gammon said she is looking forward to the program because it will touch on a variety of topics ranging from mental health to bullying and dealing with depression. “But it will be upbeat and fun because Walter has some great stories about his experiences with kids.”

Additional information about the Quarterly Community Connections can be found at http://BangorGrange.org or visit http://http://wboomsma.com for information about the presentation.

How Do You Spell… and does it matter?

According to a recent warning from Techlicious, there’s a fairly slick scam being foisted on Amazon users. Except maybe it isn’t so slick if you’re paying attention. Here’s a sentence in the warning  from Techlicious that caught my eye:

For instance, one tell-tale sign of bogus emails is the presence of sloppy writing in the email — especially misspellings and grammar errors. However, not all scammers failed English 101, so some phishing emails actually do sound and look professional. So, looking for language anomalies may not be 100 percent reliable, but they are usually red flags.

That’s sound advice, but there’s one problem with it.

I maintain several blogs/websites that include contributions from others. I have come to the conclusion that many adults either do not know or do not pay attention to basic rules of grammar. Therefore, I do a fair amount of editing.  Yes, it makes me feel needed, but it also makes me feel sad. Why aren’t we more interested in the mechanics of writing and communication?

I don’t consider myself a “Grammar Nazi” — in fact, I believe there are times when one should ignore a fine point of grammar in the interest of good communication.  However, my high school English Teacher (Thank you, Mr. Russo.) often  said, “You can’t intentionally break the rules of grammar if you don’t know what they are.”  He often made this statement when students started whining because they didn’t see the point of learning the rules, keeping us focused on communication and the role those rules play. (We also learned that violating a rule of grammar unintentionally sometimes resulted in communicating something we did not intend to say.)

Well, technology gives us another reason to pay attention in English Class. An inability to recognize fundamental spelling errors and violations of grammatical rules increases the odds you will fall victim to a scam. 

Yes, in the larger sense it’s actually about paying attention to detail. I received a phishing email from “Capital1” instead of “Capital One.” In the scam reported by Techlicious, the request to “confirme” your order details is like waving a red flag.

I’m truly excited to report yet another reason to promote a knowledge of  “good” writing, including spelling. Aren’t you?

Where You Fly Makes a Difference

One of my more fun presentations is a series of stories beginning with one young fellow who spots a dead rainbow. Rainbows are, of course about hope and so are most of the stories. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, but each leads to the inescapable conclusion that where we stand makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a difference to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a difference to someone else.

Two of the stories are about bullying. One is about a little guy named Rudolph who is a victim of some typical bullying. The story shows that, when it comes to bullying, where you stand (or in this case fly) can make all the difference.

The story is told in a simple song published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. While it may not have been originally intended as such, it really is a song about over-coming bullying. We didn’t call it bullying back then, but today we probably would. Fortunately, I don’t sing the song, I merely recite it as poetry with some editorial comment.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
You know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Here’s a little experiment for you. Close your eyes and, without singing the song or reciting the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” try to list Santa’s Reindeer. You’ll probably find the song irresistible, but I’m betting the eight regular sleigh-pullers aren’t all that memorable. You don’t readily recall them, but you do recall the most famous reindeer of all. That’s significant. You recall him because…

rudolphRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

Rudolph stood out in a crowd because he didn’t exactly fit in with the crowd. He wasn’t like the other reindeer. While we don’t know how old he was, he’s often pictured with very small horns suggesting he’s an adolescent. We know that “fitting in” is very important during adolescence, so there’s little doubt Rudolph was not a very happy reindeer. He probably hated his nose. And it didn’t help that the other reindeer were bullies who made fun of him.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Reindeer can be mean, can’t they!? And so can kids. It’s a complicated social dynamic, but a kid who is different—maybe wears a different style clothing or has a different physical characteristic (a red nose?)—gets ostracized and maybe worse. Simply being ignored by others can be painful. Being the last one standing when teams are selected is bad enough. But when they start to laugh and call names, the hurt and pain can seem unbearable.

I think it’s interesting that Santa apparently doesn’t take action. He could have started an anti-bullying program. Maybe created a stop bullying policy and hung up some kindness posters in the barn. In fairness to Santa, we’re not sure if he knew what the other reindeer were doing to Rudolph. He was probably busy keeping an eye on the elves and all the kids. How else could he know if they’ve been bad or good? He clearly had plenty on his plate besides the milk and cookies kids often leave him. So we can perhaps forgive him for not knowing that his reindeer were being mean to Rudolph.

We might also wonder why the SPCA didn’t respond and try to protect Rudolph, although it’s not clear whether cruelty among or between animals is covered by their mission statements. They seem a bit more focused on human cruelty against and neglect of animals.  Rudolph simply did not have much of a support system.

Let’s look at what did happen.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

The song doesn’t record Rudolph’s answer. I suppose he could have said, “The heck with you—why should I help after what I’ve been put through by those other reindeer!?” We only know that Rudolph was finally recognized as having something to contribute. Ironically, the very thing that had separated him from the herd became the very thing that gave him status. Instead of cowering in the corner of the barn, Rudolph became the leader of the herd. And the results of that change were significant.

 Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You’ll go down in history!”

Consider what didn’t change. Rudolph didn’t get nose surgery and his nose didn’t dim. The eight other reindeer didn’t attend some anti-bullying intervention and suddenly become more loving and accepting.

Circumstances changed. It became foggy. (We could rightfully wonder how all of Santa’s previous trips were on clear nights, but that would spoil the song and story.)

What ultimately happened is, I think, most important. Santa does play an important role in the outcome of the story. He’s obviously more troubled over the foggy night than he had been regarding Rudolph’s status with the herd. That reality might put a little smudge on Santa’s image, but let’s be honest. He needed a solution to the foggy night problem.

And there was Rudolph with his nose all aglow—a solution to a problem. Santa saw him differently for the first time—not as a misfit reindeer with a defective nose. So, perhaps grudgingly, Rudolph steps to the front.  He had to raise his head so the glow would light the way. And in that moment—as is so often the case with childrens’ stories—all is well! Everybody’s happy! Santa can make his deliveries. The eight bully reindeer no longer have to worry about running into things in the fog. They are shouting with glee!  In all of the picture books I’ve seen, Rudolph is smiling and his head is held high, not just to light the way but because he feels valued.

The song doesn’t record whether or not the “other” reindeer change permanently. Sure, they were shouting out with glee but that was because they were able to complete their rounds without hazard. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not they became any kinder and accepting as a result of the experience. If another reindeer came to the barn with, say, a deformed antler, would they laugh and call him names? Would they let poor Bent Antler join in any reindeer games?

I don’t know.

One thing I am fairly certain of, though. I think Rudolph began to think differently of himself. While I am sorry for his pain, I’m also glad that no one stepped in and deprived him of the opportunity to do just that—to learn and discover who he was—uniquely and individually.

What we think of ourselves goes much farther in defining who we are than what others think. A change of circumstances may trigger it, but the real change lies within ourselves. Our own self-value beats a red nose or bent antler any day. Where we stand makes a difference