Education

Love Bug: Kids Flourish When We Focus on Their Strengths

Close up look at the common dragonfly.

Bralyan loves bugs.

I met him during the first week of school as I conducted the standard assessment of how many words he could read per minute from a second-grade story. After the assessment, I gave him the customary caterpillar sticker to put on his shirt to show everyone that he was going to emerge as a great reader during his second-grade year.

You would have thought that I had given him a piece of gold.

"Oooh, I love bugs," he marveled as I handed him the sticker. "I have seen caterpillars around the trees at my apartment. They spin a chrysalis and turn into butterflies.

“Have you seen a roly poly bug?,” he continued. “They're my favorites!"

And so a friendship began around the pyrrharctia isabella, the armadillidum vulgar and other bugs that make up the most diverse group of animals on the planet.

This interaction told me some crucial things about Bralyan. It told me he is a smart kid, and it also told me that keeping him engaged in school would likely include bugs.

I later learned that Bralyan and his family moved here from Mexico when he was a baby. His mom and dad speak only Spanish at home. He speaks English at school.

Awful Leads to Wonderful

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin / Shutterstock.com

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin / Shutterstock.com

Being a teacher is like being a farmer. You rise early in the morning. You irrigate and fertilize the field that is your classroom. You plant the seeds that are reading, writing, and arithmetic. You hope for good soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain that are good homes, healthy foods, and adequate healthcare for your students. You work with your hands, feet and heart with your plants who are your students. 

Your harvest is your students. 

Your winter season of fallow fields is your summer break of empty classrooms.

Helping Billy Inherit the Earth

Child holding the earth, olly, Shutterstock.com

Child holding the earth, olly, Shutterstock.com

I try to teach in the present. With Billy, though, I found myself thinking about the future. Will middle school be a challenge for him? Will he be an outcast in high school? Or a target for bullies?

I wondered what contributions he might make to society as an adult. Would he start a revolution in the art world?

If his peers constantly slap their hands down and say there's no room for him, how will he react? Will he become a part of what author Alexandra Robbins calls the "cafeteria fringe, those people who are not a part of the school's or society's in-crowd? Because he seems different, will he be labeled geek, nerd or weirdo?

As a teacher I want to help him overcome. But what can I do?

A Revolutionary Picture

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Outfielder Larry Doby of the Chicago White Sox in 1957. Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Baseball players Larry Doby was black and Steve Gromek was white. Gromek was from the working-class culture of Hamtramck, Mich., and Doby from the Jim Crow culture of Camden, S.C.

One year earlier, on July 5, 1947, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Doby had become the second African-American behind the great Jackie Robinson of the immortal Brooklyn Dodgers to play for a major league baseball team and the first African-American to play in the American League.

It was a revolutionary picture because it showed the world a way white supremacy and racism could be overcome.

Protecting Immigrant Families: Webinar on Family Unity Waivers

Whether encouraging children to succeed, caring for elders at the end of life, or investing in struggling communities, strong families can make all the difference. Unfortunately, our broken immigration system often negatively affects families, increasing both their emotional stress and financial burden. Too often our laws actually separate family members from each other in ways that create lasting damage. 

Recently, the federal government announced a policy change designed to keep families together as they navigate the process of applying for green cards. While this shift will also streamline the process and reduce the complexity of application, the new rules can still be confusing to those seeking help. That is why the Interfaith Immigration Coalition is working to educate the faith community about these developments. On September 10, the Coalition will host a webinar from 4-5 p.m. EDT for faith leaders interested in learning more. Take this opportunity to hear from policy experts, legal advocates, and faith leaders about this important topic.

When: Monday, September 10th from 4- 5 p.m. EDT

Where: Phone

RSVP here.

Living Letters

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?

One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.

"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth"

What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.

The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.

She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.

Imani was growing cabbage.

She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud. 

"Wow," she whispered.

I love the sound of learning.

James and the Giant Book

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev  / Shutterstock.com

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev / Shutterstock.com

In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.

I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.

"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man. 

There is.

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