Thursday, August 7, 2008
Returning to classroom
By SUE WATSON
Marshall County teachers met for an upbeat, back-to-school send-off Friday.
Teachers were very interactive throughout the sessions and had county superintendent Don Randolph all smiles during breaks.
“I wish we could bottle some of this enthusiasm,” he said, as he moved around the Byhalia High School cafeteria during the first break of the morning.
Roger Cleveland, guest speaker and consultant for the district this year, found teachers eager and involved when he presented a session on drop-out prevention and school culture.
He asked if teachers were ready for the kids and answered his own question after a reading of his credentials by instructional services director Jerry Moore, which drew long applause.
“Accolades are not important,” he said. “It’s what you are doing for the children that’s important. Are you ready for the kids? They are coming anyway.”
Many teachers answered in the affirmative when Cleveland asked if they could improve this year.
Then, using the music industry as a metaphor, Cleveland said the industry addresses changes by meeting the needs of its clientele. He showed an old 78 and then a smaller 45 rpm record, an eight track tape, cassettes, cds and then an iPod.
“Are we adapting to the needs of our clientele?” he asked.
Improvement just takes an extra degree of effort, he said, employing another metaphor. One extra degree from 211 to 212 boils water, he said.
“Boiling water produces steam that will drive a locomotive. A drop of one degree from 33 to 32 produces snow. What is that one extra degree of effort that will transform your environment?” he asked.
Cleveland’s motivational talk in the first session focused on education equity and cultural competency which he said is a necessary ingredient for good student achievement.
Educational equity includes believing students can learn at a higher level, he said, and understanding how they interact at heart.
Equity addresses ideas of justice, fairness and fair play. It also concerns equal access to an education regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, disabilities and religion, he said.
“With will and skill, everything else will fall in place,” he said.
Equity also includes ramping up expectations of what students can achieve, using a variety of teaching approaches that fit the student's learning styles and more, he said.
It also includes “agitating the comfortable and comforting the agitated” to get out of one’s comfort zone, he said.
In discussing school culture, Cleveland noted that everyone has a culture and to attack a person’s culture is to attack their innermost self and their self-esteem, creating issues for the person.
“The pillars of culture are a person’s worth, values, beliefs, and attitudes,” he said.
Of these, attitudes are the hardest for a person to change, Cleveland said.
Attitudes include one’s approach, stance, outlook, humor, feelings, thoughts and mindset. An example of an attitude is is the optimist or the pessimist.
Communication is the key to understanding one’s culture and another’s, he said.
“Discourse patterns cause miscommunication,” said Cleveland, offering numerous examples of patterns in various regions of the country.
“I don’t care to do it,” means “I don’t mind doing it,” in Kentucky,” he said.
In the North, “please” means “would you please repeat that?”
“How we communicate in gender also can cause miscommunication,” he said.
But many times a person sees only the top of the iceberg when they consider another's culture, including the teacher.
“The deep culture is not worked with,” he said. “Most things in school go into deep culture where the real issues are. Notions of modesty, conception of beauty - these differ from culture to culture and cause cultural mismatches.”
Body piercings, baggy pants, expressions of profanity are acceptable in some cultures and not in others.
“We cannot dismiss or devalue the cultural values that come from home,” Cleveland said.
Students should have their grammar corrected in school because they will be expected to speak and write standard English, he said. But students and professional people code switch depending on where and whom they are with and what is expected of them.
Other things in deep culture include whether a person makes or avoids eye contact, one’s conception of sin, and conversational patterns.
“So, it is not a matter of the black male can’t learn or white female teachers can’t teach,” he said. “But it’s a matter of miscommunication between home and school patterns of speech and expression. You have to know your kids. Cultural mismatch is when students' beliefs are opposite of the dominant culture in school.”
When culture is rejected, it creates miscommunication, hostility, alienation, diminished self-esteem and school failure, Cleveland said.
Other activities and presentations Friday included – Asthma 101, by Jennifer Cofer; instructional services, by Jerry Moore; CPR class, by cheerleader sponsors and coaches; special education; dropout prevention, by Janie Conway; and new teacher orientation.
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