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Learning To Learn

I believe the most important thing to learn is to learn how to learn. I’ve been in school for ten years and from my experience with my studies I realize that I would be no where if I didn’t know how to successfully learn. I remember very vividly a time when learning was key to moving forward. I was in the sixth grade and the end of the year was coming fast, my grades were slowly slipping I didn’t know what to do. I desperately needed help so I decided to stay afterschool and go in for help. My teacher knew exactly what to do; she took it back to the very beginning and asked me a deep question; what is learning? Seeing as how I couldn’t answer the question, she told me the answer. She told me that learning is taking skills and utilizing them to make them stick. A now easy simple question led to conversation which went deeper and deeper, making me think harder than ever. After that day my grades went up, my attitude changed and I realized what I needed to do; I need to gain more knowledge. I need to learn more. This experience

Learning a Lesson

I was in the fifth grade at Barnett Shoals Elementary School, a small elementary school in Athens, Georgia. My best friend was Alexis. We’ve been friends since third grade, and we became very close. I didn’t have that much when I was a kid. Even though she was my friend, I wanted her purse because I didn’t have one. I wanted to fit in with the rest of my friends. I decided to steal her purse and cut it to make it seem like it wasn’t hers. I knew as soon as I had taken it that I had done the wrong thing. Some people make bad decisions before thinking it through which makes things complicated. Once they do something wrong, they get in trouble and should learn not to do it again. There are consequences for every bad action. When I went back to school, she found out that I stole her purse, and she did not want to be my friend anymore. I was sad because I lost my best friend over something I had done. A couple of weeks later we weren’t talking which really frustrated me. As soon as I saw her, I started crying. After

Honoring The Kiss

When I entered 1st grade in 1939, Mrs. Dickerson, a kind, soft spoken, gentle woman was our teacher. One day, she assigned some quiet seat work to the class and then invited my friend Donnie and me to sit by her and read with her. Neither of us knew that she was giving us some individualized attention because we were struggling readers. Mrs. Dickerson made both of us feel special. After reading with her, she asked us a comprehension question that neither of us could answer. She suggested that we think about it over night. That night, I dreamed the answer and rushed to school to tell her. I burst into the room and shouted, “Mrs. Dickerson, I know the answer.” With a smile on her face, she quietly asked, “What is it?” I gave her the answer, and with an even bigger smile, she said, “Yes, that’s it.” And then she leaned down and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I began to love reading and eventually went to college to become a teacher. I felt that in becoming a teacher, I was honoring that kiss. Now a man in my 70′s, I still feel that kiss, its

Flunking Out to Figure It Out

I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, and I had just gotten back into school after flunking out my freshman year, so I thought I was ready to get serious, but I wasn’t exactly confident about my prospects. I took a course on African-American Music & Literature with Craig Werner, and for the first time, a light went on. He played songs I was listening to on my own time, and showed me how to find the deeper meaning and connect it to a larger meta-narrative that was all around me. For the first time I saw that the world was far more connected, and complex, than I’d previously imagined. The stories we read opened up new worlds for me, and tapped into my innate curiosity about people, culture and identity. Professor Werner challenged me to fulfill my own intellectual potential, in ways that made me work harder than I’d ever worked as a student. Because of his class, I discovered that I really loved to learn, and that it was possible to combine all of my passions. And I decided to become an educator largely because I wanted to give other people the gift that he had

Andrew Margon’s Learning Story

A great teacher’s lesson can give you goosebumps and if you’re lucky, mindbumps too. Marlene was my English Teacher and Choir Director in High School. She was everywhere. If your jacket smelt like stale cigarette smoke she would let you have it. In the classroom, she shined some light into your lazy, dormant, misunderstood, overactive, apathetic or whatever-other-state your adolescent mind might’ve been in, and actually got you up in front of the class to act out a scene from Orwell’s 1984, guiding you to draw connections between your reality and Orwell’s fiction. In choir, she led diaphragm strengthening exercises and taught us songs in a dozen different languages, once again, guiding us to drawing connections. She tended to different spaces that allowed learning, growth and positive escape. She had high expectations and high energy. Sometimes she could be downright mean. She cared for you and took her job of helping you grow very seriously. She taught to your complexities. She had the ability to figure out what you needed and a fine-tuned ear for hearing the beauty and potential in your particular voice. If it was a roar, she showed you the merit of a whisper; if it was

Barnett Berry’s Learning Story

I had a few powerful teachers who shaped my long career in advancing teaching as a 21st century profession. One was Gloria Smith — who taught me 9th grade civics (1970) and gave me a framework at 14 years of age for making a disciplined and educative case against the Vietnam War. Gloria was very sympathetic to my developing anti-war views (which I later discovered), but she made sure there was structure and process for civil debate among our classmates (including some intense encounters I would have with Don Carpenter ‘ a ROTC and an avid supporter of the War). Gloria became a dear friend and later she asked me (when I was a college sophomore majoring in sociology) to work with her in tutoring several students of hers who could not read very well. I returned to my old high school and watched an excellent teacher struggle to reach all of her students. I realized how little preparation she had for the students she was now teaching. I watched her learn, but without any teacher development system in place to help her teach. She launched my career in teaching and later to ensure that every child has a qualified,

Jan Resseger’s Learning Story

My primary school in an upwardly mobile neighborhood of a small Western town in the early 1950s was new and clean. The floor was vinyl, the walls a pale pastel. Dim round ceiling lights produced what was said to be the correct amount of light without glare. Desks in rows, we were arranged in alphabetical order. Paragraph by paragraph we read aloud from basic text books cleaned of excitement and controversy. Work completed, were were allowed to read the faded orange biographies on a shelf at the back of the room — Louisa Alcott, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, George Washington Carver, Henry Clay. School was one of the places I learned the virtues of compliance and obedience, what most families expected of white, middle class American girls in that era. My classrooms represented the values of my town. Maybe this is the reason I pay a lot of attention to the physical space in the schools I visit. At one time I assumed that school buildings that appealed to the imagination, that sparked curiosity and intellectual rigor were settings for the education of the wealthy, but I now know that is not true. At Chicago’s Harold Washington Elementary School, hallways display

What a Difference a Word Makes

In 9th grade my English teacher would say to us, “PEOPLE, we are going to begin an essay today.” At first I thought it was a mistake. People? Really? But again and again she referred to us with a word that meant to me respect, acceptance and relevance. We were important to her, we were important in the classroom, we were important period. It completely changed how I viewed myself, what I might be capable of, and gave me confidence to find my voice in a subject that was never going to be my best, I wanted to do my best, to rise to the occasion; it propelled me forward. It was clearly one of the best learning experiences I ever had. Personal note: from a rather rural district high school in Canada, I went on to the University of Toronto, and acquired a Masters of Science degree.

A beacon of hope — in apartheid South Africa

In a Cape Town, South African Colored high school rife with the inequalities of apartheid, Mrs. Hilda Levin, my English teacher, represented a beacon of hope and encouragement. She was a White teacher, venturing each day into the Colored neighborhood where I lived (apartheid’s success was evident in our tendency to think in terms of racial categories); a courageous act in the volatile 1980s, when such teachers were compensated with danger pay. Barely five feet tall, she nonetheless made great demands on me and my classmates. She urged me to write creatively, and often. She proposed thought-provoking topics – or no topic at all. Once she got to know my interests and abilities, she offered suggestions of books to read. Thus I encountered the writings of Ayn Rand, and Harper Lee. She taught me the rules of English grammar and assorted writing styles – all of which stood me in good stead when, three years later, I entered a US university, and was able to edit papers for fellow students. But Mrs. Levin’s support extended beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Amidst the many disruptions generated by student boycotts, she remained at school late into the day, to assist us

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