Tuesday, October 04, 2005

September 29th Coloradoan Article

Extra Helpings of Education (I forgot what the title was edited into)
By Greg Pierson

The other day I observed a woman ladling food onto her husband’s plate at the all-you-can-eat buffet. I was curious – obviously this man was perfectly capable of helping himself. I mean, why would you help a person with something they could do for themselves? And then the teacher in me kicked in. How can parents and teachers get students to quit playing victim and help themselves?
I do not want this to turn into an episode of Jerry McGwire where parents end up pleading, “Help me help you!” Humans are the only creatures that expect better results while continuing in the same cycles. We all play the victim at times. Sometimes we need a bit of help but don’t know where to turn. My goal is to help students and parents get extra help on schoolwork by knowing when, where and how to access information.
To begin with, extra help is not coming in one minute before class. Extra help is not time to suck up. It is not time for grade grubbing, whining, or any extreme measures (including violence, blackmail or forgery). Most of all, extra help is not punishment. After all, if a coach asked your child to stay after sports practice for a little one-on-one instruction would you balk?
Extra help is a time commitment, which shows effort from a student. Sometimes it is before school, sometimes at lunch, sometimes after school. Many times students can help themselves and they are not even aware. Even in this age of instant gratification getting extra help still takes a wee bit of time.
Attending classes is the main course in education; however, most teacher contracts’ allow them time before and after the school day. This is a brilliant time for students to get some individualized attention.
If personalized instruction isn’t what you have in mind, computer labs on campus are commonplace. Computers are in school for a reason (not Ebay) -- for students to complete schoolwork. Help yourselves. Knowing when a media center or computer lab opens is individual to schools. If your student needs to complete their work on a computer, perhaps a call to the main office is in your near future.
Lately, in discussions with my colleagues, I’ve learned how differently each teacher makes time and information available. For example, math teacher Eric Harding has set up his own website complete with daily notes scanned in from his overhead. Students can be self-sufficient and parents can keep things (due dates and study help) in check with a simple visit to the school homepage and a click on “staff websites.” On the other hand, Sheila Long, language arts teacher, has her students create their own plan for makeup work. This plan includes: work the student needs, when they need it, when and where the student will work on the assignment, and finally when the teacher can expect it. The more specific the plan is – the more successful the turn in rate.
Occasionally “when” and “where” are troublesome specifics of a meeting. My wife used a three-ring notebook for students to sign up for extra help. The binder was always available to students on a counter in her room. That way her students could make the call on “when” (day and time) to meet. The “where”(as with most teachers) was in her classroom and, with a quick signature, students knew they’d get her full attention for their own needs, questions, make up work or advisement.

Maya Angelou said, “Education helps one cease being intimidated by strange situations.” It never fails that in teaching kids to become responsible citizens we create intimidating situations. Information is the key to unlock that door whether it be a visit to the computer lab, a quick look at a teacher website, or an individualized conference. I am all for students being proactive in their education- many times all it takes is a nudge from mom and dad instead of a heaping spoonful on their plates. Encourage your kids to get the information they need on their own but be aware of staff websites. Students, the easiest way to find out what teachers expect is to ask. Just think of extra help as a second helping of mental nourishment that you can spoonfeed yourself.

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