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Mr. Halvorson

My most powerful personal experience in a learning community did not take place inside of classroom walls. In fact, I was in bed, missing my sixth-grade Christmas party due to the dreaded chicken pox. What timing! I had been looking forward to the event for weeks. Everyone was bringing in treats, and our teacher had a number of games and prizes planned. Meanwhile, I was miserable at home, trying not to scratch myself silly. About an hour after school had ended for the day, a knock sounded on our door. This might be a good time to mention that I lived a half-hour from town, at the top of Mount Kilkenny. Our driveway (AKA York Pond Road) was about five miles uphill. There were only three houses at the top of the mountain, all lived in by employees of the Berlin Fish Hatchery. Knocking at the door was a foreign occurrence. My mother opened the door to find my teacher, Mr. Halvorson, complete with bow tie and sweater vest, standing in the frigid mountain air. In his hands he held a bakery box. He had personally stopped at a bakery and bought me an assortment of goods. On top of

Literacy is Powerful

My name is Milton Whitley. I am 57 years old and until five years ago, could barely read or write. School was especially hard for me. The teacher used to spank me with a big stick when I didn’t know something. It put fear in my heart and made it hard for me to learn. People called me retarded. I believed I was retarded. I dropped out of school when I was 14. Didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t read or write. For a long time, I worked in a sign shop installing signs. But, when I hung these signs I didn’t even know what they were saying. If one letter was off, if it was spelled wrong, I didn’t even know. Not knowing how to read or write made everything difficult. It made me boil with anger inside. I was using drugs. I got with people just like me; used drugs; no education. I didn’t care about education. All I knew were slang words. Street language. One time, I was given a form to fill out at a doctor’s office. I couldn’t read a word. I sat in my chair staring at the paper for a long

4.4 speed

One of the most important things I learned is that practice makes perfect. I say this because I used to be the slowest person in the school. Therefore, I started practicing on my speed, getting my legs stronger, and doing so because I wanted to get faster. As the days went on, I recognized that I was getting faster after all the hard work I been putting in. One day at school in P.E. our class had to do a foot race, and I came off on top. Now I am one of the fastest persons in the school -if not the fastest! Therefore, I say practice makes perfect: if you want to get perfect at something keep on practicing to get better and better. Most people learn from any and everyone. Everyone has their own way of learning it just depends on how you do it. I learn a lot of ways: listening to others and doing as told, but mostly from my caring teachers, coaches, friends, and relatives. They have all said to me at some time or another: “All you have to do is set your mind to it, and you will achieve.” I mostly learn by

Education is the key to everyday learning

The most important thing that I have learned and experienced is working with young children. I know that all my life helping kids has brought me great joy. Now I am a Sunday school teacher, and I work at a daycare/after school facility. Next school year, I will be assisting a daycare teacher who teaches two year olds. The career I have chosen for myself is Early Education teaching, because I want to expand children’s knowledge and see them grow. I enjoy standing in front of my Sunday school class and expanding their knowledge and helping them better understand concepts of bible lessons. I think the reason this career is pulling me is because I never had great learning skills. I struggled through school and I wasn’t taught what I should have been taught. My Mom and my Dad never sat down with me and helped me. Reading to a child is very important for their learning experience. So many children are more knowledgeable that have been read to than children who haven’t. I know because I was never read to although I had many books. I would go and pick up a book but couldn’t comprehend what was going

Well Rounded Education is Best

I was in third grade when a very caring teacher, Mrs. DeCarlo, realized that although I was “smart,” I struggled in class and that maybe something was going on. I got evaluated for IQ and learning disorders and they discovered I was Dyslexic. Having a label to put with my struggles helped me to get the right interventions needed to develop my skills to the best of my ability. I went to resource classes for the extra help, which made a world of difference. Mrs. DeCarlo’s teaching style helped a lot too. In fact, I would say having her for third through fifth grade made all the difference for me. She was very creative in our class work. We did not sit in rows and get talked at all day like many teachers do. We did everything in group settings and break out sessions. Hands on was big for her. Math was all about manipulatives so that you could “see” the problem in real life and not just theory. Creative writing was one of my favorite parts of our week. She had many ways to include it in our daily work, such as story starters. She didn’t just explore our

A church basement on the South Side of Chicago

I grew up going to my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago. It is the best learning community I’ve ever been a part of and the best learning experience I’ve ever had. That is high praise because I have been lucky enough to attend extraordinary schools and to have great professional development and learning experiences as an adult. My mother created a unique culture. Everyone was challenged to do their best, every single day. It was the ultimate in high expectations, both for individuals and the group as a whole. There were no short cuts or excuses. We did lots of things in teams and groups. These collaborations created positive peer pressure where we encouraged one another. Folks who were strong in one thing were helping ones who were weak in something else. We had a sense of camaraderie. We were all in it together. Everybody was both teaching and learning. Ten-year-olds taught five-year-olds, and fifteen-year-olds taught ten-year-olds. At every stage, you were expected to continue to learn and improve, but you also were expected to help others. The older students took great ownership for how the younger children were doing. At

“I want to tell my mom about the skunk track!”

“What is that?” the boy asked the old man pointing at a spot in the mud. “Looks like a critter track. I bet you left one too,” said the old man, looking around at the muddy footprints on the rocks near the boy. The boy looks at his own tracks in the mud and on the rocks and asks, “Who made these?” “That is a good question, I have a book of prints and maybe we can figure it out.” The old man and the boy scurry up the rocks out of the creek and head to the house to get the book to see what left the track in the mud. They find the book and take it back to the creek to compare the track to those in the book and figure out that it was a skunk. “I want to tell my mom about the skunk track!” exclaimed the boy. “Good,” The old man replied, “let’s write it in our journal so we don’t forget to tell her tonight when she gets home.” They sit down and the boy tells the old man what to write and they construct a few sentences about what they saw and

It had already been a long school year and it wasn’t half over.

It had already been a long school year and it wasn’t half over. I was vice president of my daughter’s elementary school PTA and our school community was in its second year of a new principal. The start of the previous school year, we’d not only welcomed a new principal, but also a new assistant principal, new teachers, new students, and new parents due to the tumultuous effects of redistricting and several significant retirements. The top of the PTA had turned over along with the school’s administration. The physical plant was old and in need of much repair and as always the budget was tight. The new principal was hired to whip our test scores into shape and she knew exactly how she was going to do it. No one fully appreciated until much later that her notion of how to make sure no child was left behind might not match the notions of others in our school community. That first year of so much change was full of bumps and bruises. As parents and members of the PTA we were totally unprepared, unorganized and under-supported. By the middle of that second year, and despite being in line to head-up

Randy Ross’ Learning Story

I believe that learning is optimized when every student has an effective educational advocate(s). In my experience, great educational advocacy is exemplified by stalwart ‘door knockers’ such as Mr. Bishop. As a college-prep math major in high school (many moons ago), it was not until my junior year that I could take an elective. I opted for a course in music theory. It was the first course in music theory I would take in school. Not knowing how to navigate courses in my high school’s music department, I enrolled in the first course in harmony (Harmony I). On the first day of class, it occurred to me that I knew everything that would be covered in that course. After the teacher quizzed me, I was shipped off to the second course in the sequence — Harmony II. After sitting through the first lecture in this class, again I felt I knew everything that would be covered. I was quizzed and the teacher transferred me to the third course in the sequence, Harmony III. I knew all the technical theory that would be covered in Harmony III as well. However, the course would cover one area that totally stomped me —

We need a renaissance of creative thinking

As a consultant to early childhood teachers, I hear, daily, complaints about people being made to be with children in ways they believe to be injurious; between the current penchant for testing and the current belief that naming de-contextualized letters leads one to reading, and that everything is better taught to younger children, there is a great deal of pain felt by sensitive teachers who know how to help children by teaching OUT of lockstep, by learning the child’s interests and then helping him learn the tool subjects. Wonderful teachers are leaving the field, which now hosts many who can stay because they are insensitive to children. When I taught community college I had to outlaw the question “will it be on the test” and was frantic when I realized that the class I was teaching were interested in getting their grades and getting out, and had no interest at all in child development. These teachers-to-be were the products of the kind of education I’m describing, in Oakland, CA, a community where education can be the only way out of poverty that’s legal. We need a renaissance of creative thinking, teachers not constrained by uniform curricula and “all on the

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