Why Educators Need to Be Taught Cultural Sensitivity

Why Educators Need to Be Taught Cultural Sensitivity

Each year, millions of students, both traditional and non-traditional, pile into colleges and universities to enter the amazing profession of education. From college campuses to online-learning facilities; many are setting out with the vision that they have the power to save the world. They go through their loaded programs filled with mega-amounts of information to help their future students get from point A to point B. They are taught strategies and concepts with the hope they will one day help to make America’s students College and Career Ready. This over-arching goal is one that is believed to promote over-all professional preparation, whether it be preparing a student for a vocation or preparing them for higher-learning. Future teachers receive entry into teacher-prep programs, taking courses that will assure they are ready to teach the common core and/or work with students on different learning levels. However, the idea of addressing someone’s cultural differences, which may have the biggest impact on learning, is never even considered.

I was extremely fortunate. For my undergrad years, I went to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, a private college that makes a point to address diversity, dispositions, and cultural differences. I remember having a professor that looked like Miss Frizzle on the magic school bus. I believe her name was Dr. Staley (it’s been a VERY long time). She taught foundations of elementary reading. She would often tell us, “When you are instructing a child, remember you have no idea what they went through before they walked through the school doors.” How often do we really think about this? Furthermore, even if we thought about it, can you imagine the options? Are you only accustomed to one way? Dr. Kim Boyd would assign us practicum experiences throughout the city of Tulsa to assure we had different experiences with different communities, different races, different socio-economic groups; assuring we had background experiences from diverse educational settings. We spent just as much time discussing the likes and differences of each cultural setting than we did talking about the learning objectives.  At that time, practicum hours were a prerequisite for entering the teacher prep program. Now, many colleges and universities do not have future teachers experiencing practicum/face-to-face experiences in educational settings till 2nd semester of their junior year. Lots of programs allow 85% of instruction online and practicum hours during their senior year. This is way too late! Even if they felt they wanted to change majors based on the practicum experience they received, they are so far along, many wouldn’t due to time and financial commitment to that degree. So not only have they not had many experiences in different settings of teaching, they have had no classroom teaching on understanding cultural differences. Why is this important? Let me give you some recent examples:

  • Student expelled for telling another student to “kill yourself”.
    • Although this sounds harsh, this is a common phrase used by many comedians as a point of embarrassment, not an actual act
    • Student sent to an alternate setting for telling another student “I’m gonna stick you”. Teacher and administration felt this was a threat to stab another student.
      • “Stick” could mean MANY things. In this setting it was a punch. Student said, “If you say one more thing, I will stick you in the face.”
      • Student made to remove head wrap during PE due to it restricting movement
        • Student wore head wrap for cultural/religious beliefs

I could go on and on as many of these are made public and blasted on social media outlets daily. However, there are many other issues that stem from this as well. There are many teachers that leave the profession daily feeling they are not equipped to deal with student differences.  Almost 90 percent of teachers are female, and nearly 80% of all teachers are white. With the vast amount of cultural differences seen within our public schools (race, ethnicity, religion, cultures, money, etc.,), teachers need more insight and experiences than their natural surroundings.  Here are some facts regarding teacher turnover:

  • One-third of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their career (Darling-Hammond, 2003)
  • To add to that equation, teacher turnover is 50% higher in schools with a high poverty student population than schools that do not have a high poverty student population (Ingersoll, 2011)
  • Beside the issue of limited experience working with students and other teachers with diverse cultures, working conditions in low socio-economic schools tend to be more difficult than in middle/upper class schools and also carry a heavier workload (Feinman-Nemser, 2003).

Unfortunately, the majority of new teachers in urban areas are put into more difficult teaching situations were cultural competency is most needed.

When we enter a school, often times we make huge assumptions. We assume that all teachers understand the diverse needs of students. We assume all teachers are able to shake off any learned and/or developed stereotypes or misconceptions about race, economic status, disability or culture. We assume our children will be nurtured mentally, physically and emotionally. What is not considered is when a teacher is dealing with behaviors completely unfamiliar to them, hearing conversation and jargon they do not understand, and seeing or being made aware of living conditions they would never imagine, they are blind-sided with a harsh reality they are not prepared for clinically or literally. Teachers are not receiving courses that discuss positive ways to discipline students depending on their cultural environments. Teachers are not often taught how to address students respectfully from different ethnic settings. Very few teachers had intense conversation or clinical experiences focused on the learning styles of students based on race or culture. We have to be aware of the differences and know how to respond to them. Here are some differences seen in education:

  • Welfare children experience 500 affirmatives and 1,100 prohibitions per week, while working class children experience 1,200 affirmatives and 700 prohibitions per week (Hart & Risley, 1995).
  • Children from families in poverty have about 70 percent of the vocabulary as that of the same aged children in working-class families, and only 45 percent of the vocabulary of children from professional families.
  •  In a study using a panel of over 6,000 children matched to their mothers from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth datasets, research implies that for every $1,000 increase in income, math test scores were raised by 2.1 percent and reading test scores by 3.6 percent (Dahl, & Lochner, 2010).

By no means am I saying Cultural Sensitivity would remove these numbers. A lot of times these numbers are created before children are ever old enough to enter a school. I am saying they would help us address student’s differences more adequately.

            One final story,….I use to work at a school called Cooper-Whiteside Elementary School. This was an amazing place to go to work each day. The students were so excited to see you; it literally made your heart warm. There, I started a program called The KING’s Club. It is an acronym for Keeping Inner-city Neighborhood’s Great. We worked with boys, focusing on social skills, problem solving/problem resolution, etiquette and many other areas. One of the teachers of a young man in my program came to me around mid-November of that particular school year very aggravated at a student, ready to give him a stern disciplinary action. She told me day after day he brings his homework to me unfinished. She said it had been going on for the past 2-3 weeks and felt he was just lazy and obstinate. She was tired of talking about it. She wanted something done. I asked how he has done on assessments. She said he has done great, which is why she knows he is just playing her and she is fed-up. I had KING’s Club that day. I told her I would talk to him immediately. We had a great KING’s Club session. I and some dear friends (Monte Hensley, Cornell Shackelford) would make sure all the boys got home safely. That day I purposely took this student and his younger brother home. I told him the concerns of his teacher. He informed me he was doing the best he could. We got to his house and his mom wasn’t there but his older siblings told me she would be home soon. I went in and we began working on his homework together. I noticed a teenage sister putting candles all throughout the house. It was mid November, so after the time change, it would start getting dark before 5:00 PM. I immediately realized why this amazing boy wasn’t finishing his school work. He didn’t have power in his home. I got up and told the kids I would catch their mom tomorrow. I did not want to cause them any embarrassment. The next day I spoke to the teacher. I told her why he was only finishing part of his work. Without power, he could not see to the materials to complete the work adequately. She then became sad and upset. She felt bad for being so hard on him, but then wanted to blame somebody for this child not having lights. She even stated she was going to call social services because no child should have to live like that. That’s when I lost it! I told her the mom is working two/three jobs to provide for 4 children! The kids are always clean. They are well behaved. They had food and the place was pristine. If you want to do something, call someone to help them get lights! This was not a bad mother. This was a poor mother. This was not a bad teacher. This was an uneducated teacher. She could not understand how a child could live in a house without lights. Even more so, she couldn’t fathom living without lights herself, so it had to be “bad”. Well, there are a lot of good people from good families who have had the lights turned off, went without running water, or even ate less than they desired. We have to be equipped as educators to understand and be prepared to educate the whole child despite how different their lives are from ours. We have to be able to listen, even when words are not spoken. We may have to adapt lesson for the needs and challenges of different students. If we are taught how to work with students with complex backgrounds, we won’t pity them, ignore them, or provoke them. We will TEACH them, using variety and choice. We will assure they are given an opportunity to learn they way their mind works. In doing so….. we, the educator, will be more successful and fulfilled for it.





Changing Lives,……..Through a Book

Changing Lives,…Through a Book

            In the education world, it is known and understood everything builds from the foundation of reading.  Reading allows for understanding concepts, which in-turn builds overall comprehension of subject areas. This is not in question. We also know that students that are read to have a higher vocabulary. This also is not in question. However, I do not think we push the conversation for reading in the right direction to encourage students to read. Yes, we may say the right things to encourage parents to encourage students, but how do we truly encourage students to become life-long readers early in their lives?

            I had my nephews this weekend (who happen to be phenomenal readers). Although they wanted to plaster away at video games or wrestle with one another, my 2-year old son brought the youngest of them (who is 8) his favorite book, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Although his words may sound a little skewed, he can nearly recite the entire book to you including (in his lil’ boy voice) the author as we say, “Written by Anna Dewdney. She is the author. She wrote the book”. As my 8-year old nephew read this book to my 2-year old son, they both could relate to this story! They laughed and giggled. The older boys chimed in with similar, real-life stories of when one of them had gotten upset wondering where Momma was. I could tell as the story ended, they were all comforted by the idea that “Momma Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.” They were then ready to read more books. Why? It was a lesson of assimilation or even the idea of imagining something better. We have to look into the lives of our potential readers and assign them an option that will support who they are. Whether you the teacher or you the parent, we have to look for those literary opportunities that can speak into the life of that particular child; almost like a pharmacist prescribing the right medicine.

            I will never forget reading Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (who is SO AMAZING!). Yeah, I heard the song a gazillion times, but seeing the words on paper with these amazing drawings of how I could only hope I could be with my son one day,……. WOW! It took me to another level! Yeah, I have had men in my life, but did I really want to model what I had seen? This book, in a matter of 28 pages, took me on such a realistic journey! From the time I put my wife into the car to the time I first watched him sleep, I can see me in this book. I can only imagine the deep conversations over haircuts, the first major fight, watching him play sports, and the overall idea of him becoming a man,….I gained so much insight; all in 28 pages. When I read this to my amazing nephews, do you think those same thoughts along with Nelson’s vibrant images won’t awaken a desire in them to be the most outstanding men they can be? Of course it will! This is just one example of many we could share with so many amazing authors. Examples?

  • Chris Van Allsburg using Two Bad Ants to teach others about the importance of home, family and being grateful for what you have
  • Patricia Polacco allowing her own life experiences with cultural differences, struggles, family and friends to take you on journeys like Bsbushka’s Doll  and Emma Kate
  • Major stories of those who were willing to risk everything for the rights of others like Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert’s Papa’s Mark to Marie Bradby’s More Than Anything Else
  • Lastly, loving who you are despite how different you may be such as in Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones series to Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (illustrated by the creative David Catrow)

These are just a very small portion of books that would allow a student to choose reading because they can truly relate to the story being told. If allowed the time to intimately take written adventures, students could find a new world that not only would strengthen their vocabulary, but also provide answers to some of the social and societal concerns our world throws at them daily. One thing is for sure, we live in a world that seems to become more judgmental and stereotypical daily. As the adult genre all walk with their heads focused on screens masked behind apps or droids, so many amazing authors are making books that allow our students to see it is okay to look different, sound different, dress different; it is okay to be who you are no matter what that is. What is so much more important than how you look or what brand of shoes you wear is how you treat others. There are books that clarify to students that we will all make mistakes but how we rebound from those mistakes define who we are. If we put Pink and Say (Polacco) in the hands of a 4th grader today, there is a chance he will read The Souls of Black Folks (W.E.B. DuBois) tomorrow. If we put Angel Child, Dragon Child (M. Maria Surat) in the hands of a child today, there is a chance he/she could be reading The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck) tomorrow.

            As an educator, I certainly want our children to read to strengthen their ability to understand, associate, and retain content knowledge. However, I would much rather them use literature to learn from the successes and mistakes of those before them, strive for the goals that others they admire have reached, and realize there is nothing they cannot accomplish. I want them to understand that through literature, they can take their destiny in their own hands, and as said in the book More Than Anything Else, they can “…hold it forever.”

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Unrecognized Power

Unrecognized Power

            I love super hero movies! I absolutely love them. From Marvel comics to DC (or others), I cannot wait to read it, listen to it, or even watch it. I use to think I was a super hero,….well I kind of still do (laugh)! Yet, it intrigues me most to learn about the super hero that had no idea he/she had powers at all! It took them a while to tap in to them and realize the substantial, significant power(s) they possessed. However, when they found them, the impact of their existence became overwhelmingly substantial. Have you ever seen the movie Unbreakable featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis? In this movie, Bruce Willis is a middle-aged man, who realizes he is different, but does not quite know or understand how. Well, he was lifting weights one evening after work. He continues to add weight and it does become more difficult to lift, but he realizes he has the strength to do it. Eventually, he has every weight he owns on this bar and realizes he has the POWER to lift it. Once he recognizes his power, he begins lifting it with ease.

            This makes me think of the different points of entry individuals have within America’s education system that have immeasurable impact that is not often recognized. The first one is that of the teacher. In the state of Kentucky alone, there are approximately 42,000 public school teachers in a state with 173 districts. Each district only has 1 superintendent. Each building only has 1-3 administrators. The dominance of the teacher within a school setting is completely overwhelming. This is not about intimidation or gaining power. It is about understanding your voice. One thing I truly admired about the building I was fortunate to be a principal in was that the teachers took the time to teach each other first. They modeled best practices for one another. They discussed researched methods that propelled success, which made the singular role of the administrator that much easier. I know what you are probably thinking (if you are an educator). “Well that is why we have a teachers’ union!” Although I have been an advocate for teachers unions both financially and in action, this has nothing to do with the needs of adults (which are what teachers unions focus on). This is about the needs of children. We have to stop saying “What if?” and be the “What if”. We can make a point to get outside of our four walls of instruction, and discuss our successes with the peer next to us. Teachers have the capacity to help other teachers. We have to stop waiting on a teacher who truly loves teaching but has areas he/she struggles in to be put on a corrective action plan, and start mentoring that teacher as a support to students. Research done by Adam Gamoran and Geoffrey Borman (Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, 2006) showed that if low-income minority students could be assured of having teachers who fell in the top 25 percent of effective teachers four years in a row (after having a subpar instructor), those students could close the achievement gap altogether. So what if a student was not in the GAP and consistently had quality teachers continuously motivated by other quality teachers? That impact could change a nation. If a teacher shares his/her successes with other teachers, and other teachers are humble enough to take that information and continually add to their toolkit, the power of (all of) those super heroes in education could be devastating. This is just on a district level. Now, with the use of technology and discussions around peer mentoring, this could be done on a state level. Teachers could mentor each other and share information for the best interest of the students they serve. I know it sounds all kumbuyah-ish, but it is exciting to think about the power and/or impact of teachers when they take the time to strengthen each other.

The quiet super hero who truly does not recognize their own power is the parents. There are over 680,000 students in the state of Kentucky alone, which means there are at least 1.3 million parents (not including grandparents or other family advocates) within the state of Kentucky alone! That means if parents know there are things they should be concerned with on a building level, a district level, or even a state level, with one polite voice in the best interest of their children, they can make an impact. There are 26 states with a higher population than Kentucky. So this power is even stronger in other states. You might be wondering how you can make an impact. Become a part of the school’s PTA or Site-Base Decision Making (SBDM) Council. Volunteer within the school building. Become a lunch monitor to help with behavior. Ask if you can become a reading pal for struggling students. MAKE A WAY. Being a part of these organizations will allow you to have input on your school’s improvement plan, curriculum development, after-school activities, and even the direction of their budget. SBDM councils even discuss what type of teachers the school will need and the hiring of a school principal. The impact you could have as a parent in the life of your child and many, many other children cannot be overlooked. 

Now, the question is what type of super-hero are you? There are good guys and bad guys. Are you a Superman or a Doctor Doom? If you spend more time creating dissension instead of proposing solutions, you are a villain. If you refuse to accept change, even if it is in the best interest of the child and his/her learning environment, you are a villain. If your actions are based on what you as a parent or you as a teacher would rather have, and not what is best for the children within that school and/or district, you are a villain that is probably doing so much more harm than good. A true super hero is willing to listen. He/she is willing to give change a chance. He/she is patient enough to give others a chance to grow and not judge them too soon. People and systems deserve a chance to succeed or fail, but if failure is the product, a super hero should rise up to help find a solution. Because super heroes always have their hands in the action, they shouldn’t have to come from too far of a distance to make a difference. So, are you that hero? You may not be able to totally save the day, but you definitely have the power to make a difference. The choice is yours.


One Message

One Message                                    

I once heard a preacher say that every minister really just has one sermon God gave them to preach. However, life provides many ways for them to live and teacher that message. How very true is this in the life we live? Everything we do impacts our singular purpose, whether good or bad. Everything we say, every action we take, and even the unnecessary judgments we make of others, impact the message we send and eventually the message we receive.

We can see this example in many of history’s game-changers. When we think of Mahatma Gandhi,  William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev,  Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, and the recently deceased Nelson Mandela; all of these individuals affected millions of human beings throughout the world in several ways. Yet, when it is all said and done, we can sum their many stories and vast experiences down to one message. Through their ups and downs, their uplifting experiences to their torturous memories; that one message they shared with us resonates deep in our core and inspires us to make a difference in the lives of those we not only love, but have an opportunity to come in contact with in some way, shape or form.

When I reflect back to my pliable years and my experiences that helped to shape my values, I think of those people that made a huge impact on my beliefs. I think of their singular message and how it impacted the man I am today. I was fortunate to have many, many experiences. From sports, to debate; from public to private; from urban to rural- so many experiences allowed me to see what a person’s true message is. Their message is not always what they choose to allow people to see. If you choose to visibly promote one unity, but all others feel is division, isolation and segregation; what message did you really leave? If you choose to live a visible life that is lavish with all the finer things, but your children only know bill collectors, eviction notices and hungry sleepless nights; what message are you really sharing with them?

This directly correlates to my profession. As an educator we always talk about closing the Achievement GAP. The government provides huge amounts of money through competitive grants to programs that write proposals to address this GAP. States and districts spend millions in consultants, research teams, and out-of-a-box initiatives that provide an “instant cure” to the problem. Yet the GAP continues to get bigger and bigger. It is not just education. We see the same symptoms in the prison system (https://www.aclu.org/school-prison-pipeline), national debt, and I could go on and on. So, as it relates to education and also the strength of a nation, how can we address this hypocritical conundrum? In Against the Night, Chuck Colson states, “A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest.” It blows me away sometimes when I hear questions colleagues (educated people within the field of education) ask me, “Greg, what made you different? How did you make it?” In other words they are asking me, “What made you not like them?” They obviously do not know their role in the lives of those they serve? Their message is damaged. What they fail to realize is I had so many people within my family and outside my family from all cultures and backgrounds making an investment in to my life; people who acted on the motives superior to their own immediate interest; MOSTLY TEACHERS! Mrs. Miles – who made me want to be an artist; Mrs. Jackson – who told me I was the next Langston Hughes; Mrs. Page – who gave me the desire to hear and play notes that strengthened the fiber of my culture; they all put something in me I desire to give children and educators daily and none of these teachers mentioned looked like me or were from anywhere near where I was from.  I am a teacher simply because I was “taught” to care more by others who didn’t have to. They made me understand it mattered not what my last name was or where I lived.  It only mattered that I was a future success.  They made their “One Message” a life experience for me. In fact, I became an example of their “One Message”.

So, what if we applied this concept to the field of education? I truly believe we need assessment to measure growth and to hold educators accountable to meeting the needs of students. However, if we took more time measuring dispositions and purpose within our educators (especially our future educators) and training educators to meet the social and emotional needs of ALL students (no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, religious background, etc.), I would argue the need of over-assessing would be minimized and the ability to show growth towards meeting the GAP would be substantial. Since I believe we will always have those that are disadvantaged, we would obviously always have some form of a GAP, even if it was strictly socioeconomically represented.

Education departments are huge money-makers for universities (future blog). HUGE!! As a principal, there were times I had nearly 200 applicants for 1 position. BUT, if we found teachers who were passionate and prepared; whose message and purpose was truly to prepare all children for success, there is no telling what our education system could accomplish. Imagine the administrators and district leaders this focus would produce. Consider all of the students whose lives would be changed.

Teachers are the ones that prepare others for EVERY profession. A stronger message, a stronger student, a stronger nation, a stronger world. So, what message will you leave?



Teachers, lets go for a walk!

This is an excerpt from a working document titled, Creating Greatness by Dr. Gregory E. Ross

Teachers- Let’s Go For a Walk

Do you know your students?  Do your students truly know who you are?  It is very common in today’s society for teachers to live in a drastically different community than the students they teach.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but having a sense of relativity and relatability to the children we teach is crucial to the success of those we are serving.  Again, they did not choose us.  Before we make negative comments about the student, we need to take ownership of the students we serve.  If we have a car that we truly love, and it begins to make funny noises, do we park it and wait for someone else to fix it?  Not at all!  That car is more than a car! It’s our friend, a source of our confidence, and even more so,……….a major INVESTMENT!  So, what do we do first? We get books about the car.  We ask others who own similar cars to tell us all about them.  We research the ins-and-outs about the car, focusing on what really makes that car tick.  We become so knowledgeable about the car it’s as if we are one with the car!

Hmmm, what if we did the same thing for the students we serve?

When you are sitting across the table from a child in your classroom or in your school, you should have the same desire for success you would feel if you were sitting across from a child you personally created.  There is no way we could expect you to love that child equally as you would your own, but we can expect you to be driven to seek the same success for that child you would want your own child to have in his/her classroom. Let’s look into something not as intimate. We will go back to the car experience.

  • You have read about the car you adore. Have you read about the children you serve?  Have you looked at data to assure you are looking into all learning styles, and also relevant learning tools to assure the child had every opportunity for success? 


  • You got under the hood to see what makes it tick and also to assure it has all it needs. Have you took the time to “get under the hood” of your student’s mindset? Do you know their learning styles or key dispositions? Are you even sure their basic needs are met (www.learning-theories.com)? Are you aware of what encourages or motivates them?


  • You went to the place you got the car from to learn more about it from experts Have you went to the community your students reside to see common living similarities or drastic differences in between the two communities? Have you spoken to someone who has commonalities of upbringing similar to those of your student(s)?


  • You have gone as far as finding what will make the car more/less sufficient.  I bet you bought a magazine to see what products are best to maximize your vehicle’s ability.  Have you researched what it takes to make your car sufficient? Have you looked at what works for kids within your learning environment? Have you truly taken the time to see what has lead to the success of the individuals that look like the students you serve? Have you found examples of success from those with similar backgrounds of your student(s)?

If you answer “no” to any of the above questions, you may not have looked at what it takes to create life-long learners in your classroom/building.  They need you more than you know.  The walk you take each day probably has nice sidewalks, smiling faces, a few pets, flowers and yard décor.  It may even have a nice quiet street with a cycle lane.  The houses range from quaint to quintessential.  Although you may not know what your neighbor does, you know they work hard at it.  You have no problem reminding your neighbor their sprinklers were left on or they forgot to close the garage. Why? Because the environment lends itself to particular comforts that allow open communication and even some forms of accountability.  If your neighbor’s grass gets to high, the community association would waste no time letting them know it needed to be cut. Their yard does not just reflect them. It reflects the entire community, right?

How different do you think your student’s neighborhood is from yours?  What trends are they seeing that would conflict from the neighborhood you live in?  Do they value the same thing? That same walk you just took in your descriptive neighborhood, would you be willing to do so in theirs? Even so, did you manage to even think about how many things in your “normal” life conflict with that of your students? The life educators often live is a night and day difference from that of their students.  That may not be a fair analogy.  In night and/or day, you can still see. You can actually do some of the same things at night that you do during the day (and vice versa). However, the absence of light and day maybe a better scenario.  It is the absence of light that makes the difference. Fire is the absence of cold. Freezing is the absence of heat. If a student doesn’t even understand or fathom what it means to have someone help him when he gets home from school, how does he know what he/she is missing? If a student lives in an environment where no one has a two-parent home, how can they ever relate? If a student has never been to a library, how can they wish to have a library card?

PBS has a show called Sid the Science Kid, created by the Jim Henson Company. This remarkable show walks through the life of a multiracial boy named Sid, who lives in a beautiful home with caring parents, a little sister and an inquisitive mind. Let’s take a walk in a day of Sid’s life.  Sid wakes up in his amazingly cool bedroom with a cool scientific analysis that usually came to him in his sleep. He runs down to breakfast and discusses this idea with his family. His beautiful mom takes him to school on her way to work and he gets out of the car and runs into an inquiry-based classroom that is both held inside and outside. His gorgeous, Latino teacher takes his idea and creates scientific experiments, field trips, and other forms of hands-on experiences to continue the formation of this scientific idea in the minds of her students. Sid’s cool grandma picks him up and has a relative story from her historical experiences. He gets home and shares what he learned throughout the day about that idea. He goes to bed, but before he calls it a night, he thinks of ways he can change the world through science based on the ideas of what he learned that day. Isn’t that amazing! Now, let’s compare/contrast that with the average students I had in my school when I was an administrator. The average student I had would get up that morning and get dressed for school on their own, sometimes getting younger siblings dressed as well. They would catch a school bus. They would be greeted by loving teachers. They would eat breakfast at school. They’d get the best education their teachers knew to provide. They would walk or catch the bus to a daycare, local after school program, or a housing authority youth center. They’d get home after 5:30-6:00 PM, fix themselves something to eat. Wait for mom/ dad to get home from work or wherever they had been. Talk in sentences that usually can be answered in one word. Watch TV, followed by going to bed only to do it all over again. Does this life sound similar to Sid the Science Kid’s life at all? I could go on and on with scenarios of differences that defy race or ethnicity, but are more of a battle of socioeconomic outliers and education level, but the bottom line is “Do you really know your students?” As we continue on, we are going to look at things from three different perspectives; the teacher, the administrator, and the district. We all must know who we serve and the benefit of each role within that level of servitude. The success of each child desperately depends on our level of awareness.





A Letter from a Teacher- “Inspired”

The following is a letter from a teacher named Michelle Handegan. She titled it “Inspired”.

“A student won’t feel successful until they succeed at something,” is a quote from a random speaker, at some random conference, sometime during my career. This quote has stuck with me for many reasons, but the main reason is I believe your self-concept comes from your mastery of success. Self-esteem plays a part in how confident a person becomes. Mastery of performance is the greatest confidence developer. In simpler terms, confidence is gained when you succeed. Students or individuals that have a poor self-image, self-esteem and confidence make poor choices, and usually struggle in some capacity.

What is my job as a teacher? My number one priority as a teacher is to find the thing or things to lift students up, celebrate their successes to ensure confidence. This provides a student with the tools to face the challenges in the world they live with confidence and security to make great decisions. Some might think the job of a teacher is to simply impart knowledge. In my opinion, that view separates the difference between the teachers that collect a paycheck, and the teachers that truly care about making a difference. Sure, I have many other responsibilities as a teacher, but knowing that my influence alone can be the one factor in making sure a child has a positive experience growing up is my greatest professional reward.

So you ask, what is the main reason I have this philosophy and became a teacher?  The answer to that question is simple; I didn’t want any other child to feel the way I did. A child that was bullied and tormented in school, and vaguely remembers anything positive from the school experience.  I was the young adult, with no self-esteem, a poor education foundation and no courage to face the world. I am the adult that has nothing but negative memories from her education. I don’t remember any teacher going above and beyond to point out my successes. That is why I became the teacher I am. I want to knock down the barriers that get in the way of learning. I want to find the talents that lay in each individual. I want help students that feel the same way I did and give them all positive learning experiences. I want to empathize with the parents and partner with them to give the child the tools of success.

As I reached adulthood, it wasn’t clear to me what my life journey was destined to be. The path was intimidating and very unclear. Honestly, reflecting back I was afraid to commit to anything in fear of failure. Struggling to survive on Long Island by myself, I knew change was needed. Living on the edge, without any resources, I made the decision to relocate to Kentucky moving back in with my parents.  Struggling with no confidence, poor motivation and no clear path, I signed up for some classes at Murray State University and held a minimum wage part-time job. I had no interest in the classes I was taken but was able to pass them. It wasn’t until I learned I was pregnant with my son, that I even considered attempting a career choice. Call it a kick in the rear, it certainly was! Considering my grades and ACT score, I knew I had to start somewhere. So I attended remedial classes and started there. This is a lesson I teach my students, and even some parents. You have to start somewhere.

The strength from my will to succeed for my child and the encouragement I received from others helped me to gain what I consider my first success; my admission to the Education department at Murray State. My first mentor, role model, and professor encouraged me and told me that I can do this! Looking back, it wasn’t until I entered the career of teaching and learned from the amazing professors and administrators that influenced me that I realized I was a chosen one; a child’s teacher.  Teaching is where I learned to be successful, confident, and proud of whom I became. The gift or calling to teach was within me and I know in my heart I am not supposed to be doing anything else but make a difference in the lives of children. Several individuals I have worked for have been my mentors, and role models. They have pushed me to be the best teacher I could be and showed me what the education system is supposed to look like and sound like. They have instilled many values in me about the education system. And believe it or not, these values have enabled me to have several positive teaching experiences, and yet have also led me to walk away from some career choices. I have learned over the years that it is okay to take big risks, especially to be part of a team that shares the same values and philosophy of teaching as I do.

Every minute, of every hour, of every day spent in the classroom solidifies my desire to teach. The need for making a difference is too immense; therefore, I won’t give up, and will continue to spend each day teaching and impacting children in the classroom by engaging them in positive learning experiences and pushing them to their fullest potential. My goal is to one day be an administrator so I can mentor, and be a role model to others. Not to mention my ultimate goal of impacting student’s educational experience in a big way! Until then, I plan on finding the hidden talents in each individual I teach, and provide them with the knowledge they need to build on their successes!

What made you want to become a teacher?

All of us as educators found our way to this profession in one way or another.  Some of us had parents who taught.  Many of us were inspired by an over-achieving teacher through school.  I’m sure there are a large number of you who just wanted summers off.  My story is quite hilarious in itself.  I was originally a double major in art and journalism.  I was a naive freshman very far from home and NO,…….I mean NO MONEY.  I went into an art class and they stated I needed this particular pencil.  At the time, the pencil was nearly $50.  I didn’t have $5 to get a haircut or even $2.50 to do laundry! $50! After the class, the professor was very open with me about how expensive an art degree could become the next 4 years.  I felt my humble beginnings failed me again.  I was the only kid I knew who went to college for the first time on a bus.  Discouraged and disappointed, I was heading to the registrar’s office to drop the class and see what else was out there for me.  On my way, I saw this tiny lil’ thing! Cute as can be!  My day just got better.  She had on a sun dress that was a lot more upscale than my tattered baggy jeans, mix-match shirt, and clip on tie (ties were part of the dress code of the university).  I may have been down, but one thing was for sure, I was not was shy! In some corny way I asked her if she needed some help with her books.  She laughed at me.  She asked, “Why are you not in class?” I thought I was being clever by stating “I could ask you the same question.” Her response? “I am headed there now.  Like to join me?”  With a smile on my face I said “Sure!”  It was a pretty good walk to the class hall.  She never said a word.  She did chuckle from time to time. We get to the class and she takes her books from me.  She tells me to have a seat and she will be back in a minute.  She walks to the front of the class and introduces herself as Professor Kim Boyd (now Dr. Kim Boyd) in the elementary education department.  My heart sunk.  She told the class to welcome her new friend that helped her with her books.  I was completely humiliated.  Then, the only other guy in the class, Marcus from Chicago, told me who she REALLY was,………..the wife of the Dean of Students, Clarence six foot, five inches, ex-basketball star Boyd.  He was tall, dark, handsome, big and IMPORTANT!  Every part of me worried and thought- I am going back to the bus station after this class.  However, for the next 4 years, she mentored me.  She taught me to expect greatness from every child put in front of me.  She taught me to not see just today, but see the excellence of tomorrow within that student IF we expect it. She taught me to look at each day with newness, for we did not know what that child has been through the last 16 hours since he/she left us.  She showed me this profession is a calling, and challenged me to answer the call.

Now, let’s go back to the original question.  How did you come to the education profession? Did you choose it or did it choose you?  Now that you are in it, are you treating it with the utmost integrity and concern it deserves?  Is it a job to you or a calling?  Is it part of your purpose or just a paycheck?  Either way, I am not here to judge you.  However, I do hope something in this book can make you realize the vast responsibility you have as an educator to push for excellence in every child.  You can help create purpose in the life of a young person.  That is extreme power.  With that same hand, and that same voice, you can extinguish a fire in the life of someone destined for greatness until they met you.  No matter how we got here- WE ARE HERE NOW! When they walk into a class, they didn’t ask for us.  We chose to be there. It’s up to us to challenge them to be the best they (individually) can possibly be.  That’s part of our call.  This takes innovation, creativity, and a “Cage Busting” (Hess, 2012) mentality. Are you ready for the challenge?

I live and teach on inspiration. I look hard for things that might inspire me. With that said, I also hope to be an inspiration to students, parents, and other educators (my peers).