Archive for March, 2011

Out-of-School with a Broken Hand….

March 29, 2011

(Not my actual student, of course.)

This post is an example of the challenging situations tutors must sometimes deal with.

I’ve recently taken on a difficult three-month tutoring assignment for a student who is between schools and in a personal situation where she is unable to attend class.  The school has agreed to give her credit for the rest of the year if she works with a private tutor on her own.  She also has a broken right arm and fingers with a cast on which covers her fingers (and yes, she is right-handed).  She needs to be taught in every subject, so it is essentially like home-schooling.  In addition, student will not be able to write (or type) for 6-8 weeks (other than making a few scratch marks with the left hand) so this presents many additional challenges.

In addition to other students I’m tutoring for several hours every evening (in a variety of grades and subjects), I’ve taken on the high school student two hours every weekday morning.

This requires a lot of preparation on my part–as much as an ordinary classroom teacher doing three subject preparations a night.  However, part of the reason I’ve agreed to do this (from a personal standpoint) is that in a couple years, I expect to have other students in the same classes, and will be prepared to teach and tutor students in those classes at that time.  So I am improving my own skills and knowledge at the same time.

We’ve created a notebook divided into subjects.    With teachers on vacation and insufficient input from the school (at least at this point) rather than wait an additional two weeks for school to resume (since the student has already missed a month of school) I’ve jumped in and created a plan for each subject, and we have just jumped in and attacked them.  I’m pleased with my student so far.  I already taught her in a lower grade, and know her family well.  I’ve found she shows up on time, is always prepared with what I ask her to read, seems motivated, and has a good attitude.

I realized after looking at the math text book that she needs a specialized math tutor, which I have arranged to start with her in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, I’m getting her up-to-speed on a few pre-algebra parts of arithmetic she has missed along the way.  At the moment we are working on divisibility rules, and will follow with factoring, GCF and LCM.  One small problem I’ve run into is with the 7 divisibility rule (sometimes it works, and with some numbers it doesn’t work especially when they are larger numbers of five or six places).  Brian, any thoughts on this?

Divisibility Rules

Divisibility Rules

In  English the school is reading Shakespeare–one of the plays I’ve never read–and I actually know very little about Shakespeare.    Reading ahead each night and preparing notes both for my own use and the student’s use, I’m learning very quickly.  This will be followed by Great Expectations, which I’ve never read either.

Teaching Shakespeare in high school


I haven’t had time to start preparing Western Civ. yet, but they are studying Rome, and I presume will be moving into the Middle Ages.  The school is using quite a difficult university-level text book, Judith Coffin’s Western Civilization.  My thought at present is to read through the text book and outline the material, producing a study guide for the student.

I studied biology in 1970, and of course it has progressed dramatically since that time.  At the moment, we are studying microbiology.  In preparing to teach the student I found that our text books (2004) are teaching the old classifications of these organisms, so I  decided that I needed to teach her both the old and new classifications.   (I found out about the new classifications from reading on the internet.)

"Old" Classifications of Prokaryotes

"Old" Classifications of Prokaryotes

I found it extremely complicated, so to make it clear for both myself and the student I prepared several diagrams (in duplicate) to make it more clear.  I enjoy science, but most definitely do not have a university science background as a teacher.

"New" Classifications of Prokaryotes

"New" Classifications of Prokaryotes

These pages are some examples of what I prepared for my first lesson with my student.

The Four Main Characteristics Used to Identify Prokaryotes

The Four Main Characteristics Used to Identify Prokaryotes

I realized very quickly that what I’m teaching the student may not be the same as what the classroom teacher teaches her students.  So essentially, it is as if the student is in another class in the same grade.  I’m not sure yet if the student will be required to take the same tests (or how these might be sent back and forth, perhaps in sealed envelopes), OR if some other projects could be substituted for the regular classroom work, but I hope we will work out these details with the school when everything gets back.

–Lynne Diligent

Girls Bullying Girls – A Worsening Problem

March 12, 2011

Speaking as an elementary educator of 20 years, many parents just don’t realize (or believe) what their girls are having to put up with at school every day from other girls.  The American TV show Mean Girls has had a huge influence on even elementary girls’ behavior as low as Grade 1.  Aside from seeing examples of this behavior on television, this bullying behavior has now become pervasive at all age groups in elementary school.

What is driving this behavior?  In a word, it’s jealousy; sometimes extreme jealousy.  Girls are jealous for many reasons.  Some common examples are who wears “better” clothes (meaning more fashionable and with the right labels which everyone knows are expensive); who has the most expensive personal computers, Blackberries or telepones, and other gadgets; who takes the best vacations; who has the most fun parties; but mostly, in more than fifty percent of cases, it has to do with boysAnd yes, this is happening as young as KINDERGARTEN with some children.  It’s common in Grade 1; prevalent in Grades 2 and 3; and rampant  by Grade 4 and after.

Many parents don’t want to believe it, or else believe it can be “discouraged.”  In some cases, a parent can influence their own child to try not to get involved in this, but others around the child will be involved.

Here is a typical example.  In one third-grade class I know of, one girl named Sarah (names changed)  likes about three boys, but likes one in particular named Tom.  Tom is in love with Mary, and Mary loves Tom also (and yes, the children DO use the word love and DO have strong feelings).  Meanwhile, Tom is friendly with another girl in the class named Doreen.  He talks to Doreen and a couple of other girls in the class, but only as a friend.  Tom cannot stand Sarah.  Sarah is not pretty, but the reason Tom can’t stand her is because she is NOT nice.  Sarah gossips constantly behind many people’s backs and about multiple people to multiple people.  Sarah calls Tom all the time on his cell phone, but Tom doesn’t answer it when she calls (sometimes ten times a day).  Sarah is insanely jealous of Doreen because Tom talks to Doreen, but not to her.  Sarah pretends to be Doreen’s friend (their mothers are also good friends) but in reality does everything she can to sabotage Doreen, because she hates her.  She’s also mean to Mary and every other girl Tom speaks with.

Doreen can’t talk to her mother about these problems because when she tries, her mother doesn’t believe it, and doesn’t believe that Sarah is not a nice girl.  Doreen talks to me because I know the children well from having taught them another year, and I know their personalities.  Doreen is often in tears about these problems and I do my best to listen and make suggestions to her for how to stand up to these girls.  Doreen tried talking to another teacher, but the teacher didn’t want to be involved.  All of the above is just one situation in the class.  There are about ten similar situations all going on in the same class.  And this is repeated in every class throughout many schools everywhere.

This sort of problem is far worse than it used to be.  There were always little romances going on between children even when I was a child.  Any parent who doesn’t admit this either doesn’t remember what it was like to be a child, or is just nervous and upset by the thought of it, and just trying to “sweep it under the rug.”

Today’s problems, however, are more serious than ten or fifteen years ago, and I sincerely believe that the television program Mean Girls has had something to do with it.  I believe every parent and every teacher who has not seen the show needs to watch at least a few episodes on line (maybe six episodes or one season) to understand the behavior which is now going on in schools.  Even if your own child or your child’s friends have not seen this program, enough other children have seen it that it has changed their behavior for the worse compared to a half-generation ago.  In the past, this went by such names as “puppy love” and most children had positive roll models for their behavior on television (think Leave It to Beaver, or Father Knows Best).  Now, most of the role models children see on televison or from older children’s behavior is extremely negative.

Some girls are actually pushed into being bullies by their own parents’ behavior, particularly their mothers’ behavior.  Some girls are actually copying their mother’s behavior.  I know one girl in Grade 2 who often would announce loudly about any girl she didn’t like, “Oh, look!  She eats a LOT!”  This is a very appearance-conscious girl whose mother is just the same.  Their way of making themselves feel better is to step on those who they don’t like by loudly making this sort of comment.

Another Grade 4  girl’s mother constantly tells her, “You are SO much prettier than all of the other girls, and you dress more stylishly, etc.”  This is not said in just the normal way that any mother would be proud of her daughter and say how she is a beautiful girl, but in a way which compares her to the others and puts her above them–in other words, this particular mother has spent years attempting to create a superiority complex in her daughter, and this is why her daughter comes to school and constantly tells the girls she doesn’t like as they walk by, “Oh, there’s a bad smell!”  and waves her hands at her nose.  She constantly tells the other girls that their clothes aren’t as nice or as expensive as hers.  Yet she is popular with the boys because she smiles a lot and flirts with them all day long (and has been since at least Grade 2).

Sometimes the girls do really mean things to others.  On the playground, sometimes they run after another girl they don’t like, and pull up her skirt, then shout to the boys, “Look! Look! Her skirt is up!” leaving the girl in tears.

If it’s not one thing they are doing to pick on the girls they don’t like, it’s another.  Of course they are experts at doing these things when there are no teachers around to see (in the restroom, on the playground, in the line, or by taking the long way back to their seat and bypassing the person they want to torment).

This blog post only touches on this large and complicated subject.  Parents, if you want your child to talk to you about these problems, you have to be willing to listen and believe your children.  Don’t make light of their problems any more than you would make light of a friend’s problems who told you something similar was happening to them at work.  Sadly, many adults (even many teachers) and parents just don’t want to believe that young children have many of the same emotions and problems that teenagers do.  Because of this, many children in need of help and guidance are left to suffer these torments completely on their own.  Most elementary schools have no guidance counselors.  Most teachers don’t have time.  Most parents don’t believe it is really happening.

–Lynne Diligent