Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Makes a Good Teacher

As we head off for a well-deserved holiday break, the article summary below is from What Makes a Good Teacher? (no hyperlink available).

We can all compile a unique list of important teacher characteristics, yet the ones below (including a fundamental aim of education) resonated for me as especially important.

One of my personality habits/traits/quirks is continuous introspection (I would never be alone on a desert island), and the list below helps focus my reflection on the type of teacher I am and where I can better.

Amidst the hectic chaos of the holidays, try to find some time for yourself  to reflect on the following:
  • How is your year going?
  • How are your students progressing—collectively and individually?
  • How are you finding that balance between knowledge acquisition and student empowerment?
  • How are balancing the 'magic blend' of challenge and nurture in your classroom?
  • How well are you are working with your colleagues?
  • How well are you are communicating with your students’ parents?
  • To what extent are you demonstrating the teacher qualities below?
I could add many other questions—but the real key is taking some time to reflect on what you're doing and, if needed, make some mid-year adjustments.

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution type of person (I’m more in into making long-term habitual changes in my life and profession), yet any change emanates from within. 

Thank all of you for your work and effort at Trinity thus far this year—and have a wonderful and fulfilling holiday season!



There are two ways that ineffective teachers can harm students: putting them off a subject and undermining their confidence and self-belief.

Good teachers do exactly the opposite of these things, and, as a result inspire, guide, and give their students a broader sense of life’s possibilities--the desire to know more, understand more, achieve greater insight.

Here are several qualities that the best teachers possess:

Enthusiasm – students often catch this in their classrooms

Charisma – teachers can be pied pipers for their subject

A capacity to clarify and make sense – this quality illuminates any subject

Humor – it lightens the hard work students need to do

Kindness – a teacher’s power is enhanced when there’s a human connection

A genuine interest in students’ progress – this involves constantly checking for understanding and responding accordingly

Good teachers have these qualities in varying proportions, and the net effect is that students begin to teach themselves.

And that, paradoxical as it may seem, is the best outcome of good teaching-- independence of endeavor and soon therefore of mind should be one of the fundamental aims of education.

Some novice teachers worry that if they show humor, kindness, and interest, they’ll come across as weak. But there’s no inconsistency in being both kind and firm, humorous although not prepared to tolerate messing about, and interested without being partial. It is a matter of operational tact and good timing.

Good teachers are those who remember being a student. They hear themselves as their students hear them. They know which aspects of their subject might present a difficulty, which require to be grasped before which, and what their best students will be keen to know, and why. Students’ questions and doubts compel one to think and rethink, often prompting one to see things that had not been noticed before. For this reason it is never boring to teach the same subject repeatedly. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Pledge of Allegiance

This week’s article summary is an interesting history lesson.  

The Weird History of the Pledge of Allegiance illustrates that traditions we might assume always were actually morphed over time, often due to changing societal beliefs, norms, and mores.

Until I read the article below, I didn’t know much of history of the Pledge—why and when it came to be and why and when its recitation was accompanied by putting your right hand over your heart. I would have guessed the Pledge came to be sometime before, during, or soon after the Revolutionary War. Boy, was I wrong!

But, there was one aspect of the Pledge I knew even as a little boy: that the phrase ‘under God’ was added to the Pledge in 1954. 

Why did I know this? Because my mom used to regale me with why and when it was added. As you will see in the article below, it was added by the federal government during the Eisenhower administration amidst the growing reality of the Red Scare and the Cold War.

My mom was in 10th grade in 1954, and she remembers being told at some point in the school year that the Pledge of Allegiance beginning each school day would now include the phrase ‘under God.’ 

Like a lot of sophomores then (and now), my mom had a rebellious streak. Rather than go along with the new practice, she and some of her homeroom friends (co-conspirators?) would typically remain silent or significantly lower their voice as the teacher recited ‘under God’ as part of the Pledge.

I really don’t think my mom was exerting her right to freedom of religion or protesting the importance for separation of church and state—she was just being an annoying teenager. 

As a kid I loved hearing my mom tell me this story—which, I’m sure she's embellished over time for effect. I don’t think she had any ulterior motive or message for me, I .e, be an individualist, yet I remember thinking that my mom was pretty cool for going against the norm. (Hey, I grew up in the 60s where protest was the norm.)

To this day, if we’re at an event where the Pledge is recited, she doesn’t say ‘under God’ during the Pledge—and I always smile at her. Still a rebel (well, maybe a quasi-one) at 77!

Anyway, read the article below and think about other traditions and perhaps even Google how they came to be and how they might have changed over time.



I walked into the one-room schoolhouse just as the schoolmaster was leading the children in the Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands — one nation, indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.

Wait. What?

Along with my family, I’m visiting a reconstructed 1840s schoolhouse on the outskirts of Chicago in which volunteers recreate a typical morning of instruction. In here, the year is 1893, Grover Cleveland is President, and the Pledge of Allegiance is barely a year old — and, you’ve likely deduced, quite different from the one most Americans speak today. In fact, what you’ll also notice as you read further is that the Pledge — like virtually all writing and art — reflects more about America (as well as its fears) at certain moments in history than a stable, verbal vow of duty to one’s country and schoolroom.

The Bellamy Pledge (1892): In 1892, Francis Bellamy, a minister, pens the Pledge of Allegiance as part of a national patriotic school program, which would coincide with the opening of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The creation of the Pledge also reflected two widespread anxieties among native-born Americans at the time: the fear of new immigrants (especially in the Northeast) and the complacency of post-Civil War Americans oblivious to the dangers facing the country. Bellamy’s new Pledge, then, would serve two purposes: to rekindle the patriotism and heroic duty of the Civil War years, and to Americanize foreigners. In addition to the words of the Pledge, Bellamy devised a salute: At the words to my Flag, the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

Clarity for Immigrants (1923–24): In 1923, the pronoun my was dropped from the Pledge of Allegiance, and the words the Flag of the United States of America were added. The American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution made this change so that immigrant children — who could theoretically be pledging their native land (rather than the U.S.) as they spoke — would be clear as to which flag they were saluting. The next year heralded further refinement of the pledge--adding the words of America:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands — one nation, indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.

Let’s Rethink That Salute (1930s):  By the mid-1930s, Americans had begun to notice eerie similarities between the Bellamy salute and the “Heil Hitler” salute in Germany. Then, with the onset of WWII some women’s clubs, parent and teacher organizations, the Red Cross, and the Boys and Girls Scouts, for example, more vocally expressed their concerns about the parallels.  With the growing concerns about American citizens being mistaken for Nazi sympathizers, the Bellamy salute was officially done away with in December of 1942. Congress passed an amended Flag Code decreeing the Pledge of Allegiance “should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.”

Under God (1954): The Pledge of Allegiance underwent yet another change in 1954. Responding to the threat of Soviet Communism, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words under God to the pledge. This would “reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and “strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.” Congress’s 1954 amendment would create the Pledge of Allegiance most Americans say today: 

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Parenting Habits to Break

This week’s article summary is 5 Bad Parenting Habits to Break

There is nothing overly surprising or earth shattering about the advice below, yet the simple recommendations are challenging to break for any parent. 

As I've written about this year, parenting today is tougher than it was a generation ago because today’s societal norms emphasize more instant gratification, climate-controlled satisfaction, and perpetual happiness for children. It’s more difficult for parents to say no in an age that has lost sight of what ‘no’ means. 

Parents’ goals for their children today (as articulated by Madeline Levine) remain the same as in previous generations: develop a clear sense of self, i.e., independence; exhibit success through a strong work ethic of persistence and resilience; and develop friendships, i.e., learn to work with others. These three qualities then help support  young adults who see the significance to and belonging in their lives. 

As outlined in Parenting for Character, parenting requires the delicate balance of demandingness (setting high expectations for behavior and requiring kids live up to them) and responsiveness (providing support as kids strive to reach high standards and express love).

Awareness of the 'bad habits' below is one way parents can help children develop that sense of self and belonging. 



Following are 5 bad parenting habits that the parents should break now.

Buying them everything they ask for: Buying your kids everything they want is really a bad habit that you need to break now. You love your children and you want them to be happy as much as possible. So you shower them with a slew of gifts but this is actually not good at all. Your kids won’t learn the value of money, which is very hard to earn during this difficult time. If your children want something really badly, it should be better for you to let them earn it by themselves. You can suggest they do some jobs around your house to earn the pocket money to purchase it.

Screaming, yelling and nagging: Parents have to face stresses of life every day and that usually makes them deal with high emotional situations by screaming and yelling. In addition, they often want things to be done to their liking and thus they put that pressure onto their kids. Your children learn by seeing and watching. Try to talk calmly and stop nagging your children in all situations so that your kids will react to conflict situations in the same way.

Having unrealistic expectations: A lot of parents feel their kids’ success is a reflection on them. They have high expectations for their children. This can harm the kids because it can batter their confidence. Your kids can also end up with symptoms of stress.

Ignoring: Apart from pushing your kids too hard and buying them everything they want, ignoring is another bad parenting habit to avoid and stop. This can make your children feel unworthy and damage their self-confidence. So try to spend enough time with them and give them the attention and love that they deserve. It can help in building a strong foundation for a lasting relationship.

Being over-protective: As a parent, you want the best for your children and can do everything to keep them safe. However, if you constantly protect them, it may hinder their growth. So every once in a while, you should let them make a mistake so that they can learn from it and be strong.