Jodee Blanco’s Powerful Memoir Describes Anguished Life of a Bullied Kid

$RVLCHPQIn recent years we have witnessed many well-publicized demonstrations of the disastrous effects that bullying can wreak upon on our students. As  caring educators, we have dedicated ourselves to protecting our students from bullying as much as we possibly can, and to educating the bullies in an attempt to extinguish this destructive behavior. Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman’s Inspirational Story by Jodee Blanco gives us one more reason to renew our efforts. In her book, she painstakingly describes her personal experiences as the kid who was bullied all throughout her school years.
This powerful memoir describes how one child was mentally and physically abused by her classmates. It offers a bold picture of what it means to be an outcast, how even the most loving parents can get it all wrong, why schools are often unable to prevent the behavior, and how bullying has been misunderstood and mishandled by the mental health community. Her story shines a spotlight on the harsh realities and long-term consequences of bullying, and how all of us can make a difference in the lives of kids.
Within 48 hours of its release, Blanco’s memoir hit the New York Times Best-Seller List. The volume is now required reading and summer reading in hundreds of middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities, and has become part of the curriculum in many schools.
The book was published in 2003 by Adams Media Corporation in Avon, Massachusetts. It can easily be found on amazon.com at the following link: Please Stop Laughing At Me.

What Makes a Great Teacher? Chris Lehmann Shares His Thoughts

When I established this blog, my intention was to recognize and celebrate great teachers. There are many loyal readers of this blog who are, I am sure, interested in the stories about these talented and gifted educators. But I am aware that, more than anything, classroom teachers want to know how they themselves can improve their practice, and so today I would like to share with you an article that I stumbled across on the internet yesterday. The article was written by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. He wrote this article a few years ago when he was a teacher at Beacon School, a progressive public high school in Manhattan. Here is Lehmann’s answer to the question What makes a great teacher?
lehman_chris_promopic[1]What Makes a Great Teacher?
by Chris Lehmann
What makes a great teacher? Sort of an important question, right? I’ve seen teachers who worked for hours on their lessons, who were scholars in the field fail miserably, and I’ve seen teachers who, if you give them five minutes before they walked in to glance over their material, they could run a class for an hour on any topic under the sun. In the end, what makes a great teacher? I wish I had a magic eight-ball that allowed me to figure this one out, but it’s something I’ve really given a lot of thought to… and I think what follows are at least some interesting ways to think about the profession. So what makes a great teacher?

1) Passion for teaching. This can manifest itself so many ways. I’m the “jump around the room” kind of teacher, and sure, that comes from a lot of passion, but some of the best teachers I’ve known have had a passion that students had to be quiet to catch onto.

2) Love of kids. You laugh, but it’s true! I’ve seen people come in and talk about teaching and talk about how much they love their subject and know about their subject, but they never mention the kids. Worse, we had an interview once where the teacher clearly knew his stuff, but he basically admitted that his classroom management style was fear and intimidation. Not who I want teaching kids I care about.

3) Love of their subject. Again… pretty important. I spent four years dropping by Mike Thayer’s classroom because to watch him explain physics or calculus was, for me, to understand how you could have a passion for something that was always a mystery for me. Great teachers not only love their subject, but they love to share that joy with students.

4) Understanding of the role of a school in a child’s life. High school is more than the sum of the classes the kids take. It’s a time to grow, explore, try on identities, find joys that might just last a lifetime. Sometimes the best teaching we do happens on basketball courts, in the halls after a class, at a local coffee shop or in a drama studio. The best teachers know that they are teachers for much more than the time they are in the physical classroom.

5) A willingness to change. This one gets overlooked sometimes, I think. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. We talk about how schools should be transformative for kids, but I think they can be just as transformative for teachers. If you expect kids to be changed by their interaction with you, it’s got to be a two-way street.

6) A work ethic that doesn’t quit. It’s a hard, draining job that will demand all that you can give sometimes. You’ve got to be able to have some balance in your life, but there are very few teachers who can be effective by cramming everything they need to do into the hours allocated by the average teacher’s contract. (And for the record, the overwhelming majority of the teachers I’ve met put in hours well above and beyond the contract.)

7) A willingness to reflect. You’ve got to be able to ask why things went the way they did… both on the good and the bad days. And you have to be able to admit when the reasons it went bad were because of what you did, not what the students did. (Equally important is the understanding that often things go right because of what the kids brought to the table, not because your lesson plan should be bronzed.) Teaching requires a willingness to cast a critical eye on your practice, your pedagogy and your self. And it can be brutal.

8) Organization. My personal Achilles heel, and one of the things I’m always working to improve. My Palm Pilot helped, really. But I hate paperwork and official looking documents, and it kills me. I am amazed at the people like Dale Lally who seem to get his papers handed back before the kids hand them in or seems to be able to put his hands on every unit he’s ever taught within a moment’s notice. Kids know what to expect, they know he’s going to be organized and have a structure to his class… and he’s still creative and spontaneous and interesting. I can only imagine how much better of a teacher I’d be if the structure of everything I did was just a little more organized.

9) Understanding that being a “great teacher” is a constant struggle to always improve. I think I’ve had some moments of great teaching in my career, but I also still see all the holes in my teaching — sadly, often times mirroring holes in my self — and I still want to get better… because I think I’ve got a long way to go to be a great teacher every day. And even if I get better at everything I see as weaknesses now, I can only imagine what new challenges will face me on that day.

10) Enough ego to survive the hard days. The tough days will leave you curled up under a desk, convinced that you can’t teach or the world is too hard for these kids or the work is too much or whatever the problem was that day… you have to have enough sense of self to survive those days.

11) Enough humility to remember it’s not about you. It’s about the kids. If your ego rules your classroom, if the class turns into “me vs. them” or if you can’t understand that a sixteen year old might be able to tell you something you don’t know, then don’t teach. Or at least, don’t teach high school.

12) A willingness to work collaboratively. Sure, there are some great teachers who close the door to their classroom and do what they want, but I think you send a strange message to the kids that way sometimes. Teachers are part of a school community, and even where that community can be flawed (and lots of schools are), a great teacher should be willing to work to make the community a better place.

Laura Towne: The Chalkboard Champion Who Taught Emancipated Slaves

35_towne_sm[1][1]American history is full of absolutely amazing chalkboard champions, and one excellent example is Laura Towne. This remarkable teacher was one of the first northern women to venture south in order to work with newly emancipated slaves.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in1825, Laura was raised in Philadelphia, where she moved in socially progressive circles. She was educated as both a homeopathic physician and a schoolteacher. She was also a dedicated abolitionist.

While the Civil War still was raging all about her, Laura travelled to St. Helena Island in Port Royal, South Carolina, where she founded the first school for freed slaves. She named her institution the Penn School. Laura was practical, independent, down-to-earth and strong-willed. She readily entered into the life of Saint Helena Island, where she began her work attending to the medical needs of the freed slaves. In June, 1862, Laura gave up her medical practice, and together with Ellen Murray, her life-long friend and fellow teacher, opened the first school for freed slaves. Nine adults students enrolled in the school, which operated out of the back room of an abandoned plantation house. Unlike most schools established for emancipated slaves, Laura’s school offered a rigorous curriculum, which was modeled on the schools of New England.

Laura spent forty years running her school and grew to love the life she had established in Port Royal. She and Ellen eventually adopted several African American children and raised them as their own. Upon her death in 1901, Laura bequeathed the Penn School to the Hampton Institute, at which time it began operating as the Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School.

Native American Loren Brommelyn: The Chalkboard Champion Who is the Tradition Bearer of His Tribe

7046458[1][1]Many teachers dedicate themselves to preserving the rich traditions of their culture group. One such educator is Loren Me’lash-ne Brommelyn, a “tradition bearer” for the Tolowa tribe. Loren, who is of Tolowa, Karuk, and Wintu descent, has dedicated him life to preserving the traditional songs, ceremonial dances, language, and basketry of his Native American culture.Loren was born in 1956 in the small fishing village of Nelechundun on the Smith River. His tribe, the Tolowa, numbered approximately 2,400 prior to European contact, but dwindled to only 121 people in the Smith River and Crescent Bay region by 1910. As a speaker and teacher of the Tolowa language, he considered the single most knowledgeable individual on the subject. He is also recognized as the largest single maker and contributor of men’s and women’s dance regalia in the Tolowa community, and he has a reputation throughout the northwestern part of the state as an expert basketmaker.
Loren earned his master’s degree in linguistices from the University of Oregon. He currently teaches at Tah-Ah-Dun Indian Magnet Charter School in Crescent City in northern California, and formerly taught for many years at Del Norte High School in the same town. He’s also a published author, producing educational material about the Tolowa language, and he played an important role in persuading the University of California system to recognize Native American language as part of the entrance requirements for world language. In 2002, Loren was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Education Association.

Chalkboard Champion Mary Jo Codey: The former First Lady of New Jersey

$R4OPBFLMany times gifted and active educators find themselves immersed in the world of politics. This is certainly the case with Mary Jo Codey, an elementary schoolteacher who is also the former First Lady of New Jersey. Mary Jo served her state during the administration of her husband, Governor Richard Codey, from 2004 to 2006. Governor Codey took office upon the resignation of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey.

Mary Jo was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and was raised in West Orange. After her high school graduation, she enrolled in Caldwell College, where she earned first her bachelor’s and then her master’s degrees in elementary education. She has also earned certification as a learning disabilities teacher consultant from Seton Hall University.

Once her husband took office, Mary Jo taught part time. Simultaneously she served as the ambassador to the Governor’s Book Club, which encouraged reading and literacy skills among elementary school children. This position gave her an opportunity to visit schools all over the state and read aloud to children. She also worked tirelessly to promote awareness for women’s mental health issues, particularly post-partum depression, and breast cancer.

After her husband left office, Mary Jo accepted a teaching position at a private elementary school in West Orange, New Jersey.