Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

Typical one-room school church
Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

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In School in Germany: Children of Divorced Parents

Tunnel of Uncertainty

 

 

This entry starts off with a quote to keep in mind: Life is one long tunnel with uncertainty awaiting you. Run as far as you can go and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

The key to success is to have a permanent support group that is there for you whenever you need them. For children, the support group consists of family, such as parents, grandparents and siblings, but also your distant relatives. Yet suppose that is nonexistent?

Divorces have become just as popular a trend as marriage, for in the United States, an average of 3.6 couples out of 1000 people divorce every year, eclipsing the trend of 3.4 couples tying the knot out of 1000. This trend has existed since 2008, despite the parallel decrease of both rates since 2006. In Germany, 49% of married couples split up after a certain time, which is four percentage points less than its American counterpart, but five percentage points higher than the average in the European Union.  Reasons for couples splitting up much sooner have been tied to career chances, lack of future planning, the wish for no children, and in the end, irreconcilable differences.

While the strive for individuality is becoming more and more common in today’s society, the effects of a divorce can especially be felt on the children. In Germany alone, more than 100,000 children are affected by a divorce every year with 1.3 million of them living with only one parent. The psychological effects of a divorce on a child is enormous. They lose their sense of security when one parent has to leave and may never be seen again. In addition, families and circle of friends split up, thus losing contact with them. Sometimes children are the center of many legal battles between divorced parents which can result in intervention on the legal level. They feel isolated and sometimes engage in risky and sometimes destructive behavior, especially later on in life.  When one parent remarries, it can be difficult to adjust to the new partner, even if that person has children from a previous relationship.

In school, children have a sense of difficulty in handling homework and other tasks and therefore, their performance decreases. Furthermore, they can become more unfocused and agitated towards other people, including the teacher- sometimes even aggressive. Depression, anxiety and indifference follows. Surprisingly though, adolescents are more likely to process the affects of a divorce better than children ages 10 and younger. Yet without a sense of hominess and love, children of divorced parents feel like running through a long tunnel of uncertainty, with no end in sight, as seen in this picture above.

During my time at the Gymnasium, I encountered an example of a student, whose parents divorced a year earlier. He was a sixth grader with potential, yet after the parents split up, his performance, interest in the subjects and attitude towards others decreased dramatically, causing concern among his teachers. While I had a chance to work with him while team-teaching English with a colleague who is in charge of the 6th grade group, one of things that came to mind is how schools deal with students of divorced parents.

In the US, intervention is found on three different level, beginning with school counselors and peer groups on the local,  psychologists on the secondary level, who help both parents and children affected by the divorce, and the tertiary level, which involves forms of law enforcement, should the situation get out of hand.  In Germany however, according to sources, no such intervention exists, leaving the parents on their own to contend with the effects of the divorce, and teachers (many with little or no experience) to deal with the behavior of the students, most of which is that of a “one size fits all” approach, which is not a very effective approach when dealing with special cases like this one. Reason for the lack of intervention is the lack of personnel, cooperation and funding for such programs, with areas in the eastern half being the hardest hit. However such programs, like teacher and counselor training, peer programs for students and divorced parents, team teaching and even 1-1 tutoring can be effective in helping these children go through the processes and get their lives back in order, getting them used to the new situation without having their studies and social life be hindered. Without them, it is up to the teacher to help them as much as possible. Yet, as I saw and even experienced first-hand, teachers are not the wonder drug that works wonders on everybody. Their job is to present new things for students to learn and to help them learn and succeed. Therefore additional help to deal with special cases like this one are needed to alleviate the pressure on the teacher and the students.

 

This leads to the following questions for the forum concerning children of divorced parents and intervention:

1. Which school (either in the US or Europe) has a good intervention program that helps children affected by family tragedies and other events, and how does that work in comparison to the existing programs in the US?

2. Have you dealt with children of divorced parents in school? If so, how did you handle them and their parents?

3. Should schools have such an intervention program to help children like these? If so, how should it be structured? Who should take responsibility for which areas? What kind of training should teachers and counselors have?

Feel free to comment one or all of the questions in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook pages.

 

I would like to end my column with the conclusion of my intervention with my patient. When I and my colleague team-taught, we did it in a way that one of us worked with him, while the other helped the others in the group. Being a group of 23 sixth graders who had English right after lunch, it was a chore and a half, but one that reaped an enormous reward when I left at the conclusion of my practical training. That was- apart from a standing ovation- a handshake from my student with a big thanks for helping him improve on his English. Sometimes a little push combined with some individual help can go a long way, yet if there was a word of advice to give him, it would be one I got from a group of passengers whom I traveled with to Flensburg a few years ago:

Things always go upwards after hitting rock bottom.

In the end, after reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, one will see relief and normalcy just like it was before such an event. It is better to look forward than looking back and regretting the past.

 

Author’s Note:

Here are some useful links about children and divorced parents in both languages that can be useful for you, in addition to what I wrote in this entry. Two of them was courtesy of one of the professors who had dealt with this topic before and was very helpful in providing some ideas and suggestions on how to deal with cases like this. To him I give my sincere thanks. Links:

http://www.familienhandbuch.de/cms/Familienforschung%20Scheidung_und_Trennung.pdf

http://schulpsychologie.lsr-noe.gv.at/downloads/trennung_scheidung.pdf

http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2009/2009landuccin.pdf

 

Happy Children’s Day

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When was the last time you did something special for your child? Did you take him/her to the zoo to feed the animals, throw a party and invite his/her friends over, or made a special treat for him/her? If it has been a while and you have not had a chance to make a child happy, then today is the day. While we have special days of celebration for mothers and fathers, today is Children’s Day, where we take pride in our children and do something really special for them.
The interesting part about Children’s Day is that for the most part, they are celebrated on two different days: 20 November and 1 June, which is today. The one on 20 November was based on an proclamation by the International Union of Child Welfare in Geneva in 1953, which was later supported through an agreement with the United Nations General Assembly in 1954, calling it Universal Children’s Day. Five years later, a Declaration on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN and signed by all its members 30 years later.
While Universal Children’s Day is still being proclaimed by the UN to this day, most countries in the world celebrate Children’s Day independently instead of celebrating it with the UN- Canada is one of a handful of countries that have Children’s Day on the same day as the UN’s Universal Children’s Day. The main date of celebration is 1 June, as an International Day of Children was proclaimed in 1950, based on agreements made by countries in the former Soviet Bloc, including East Germany. When Communism made a rapid descent to oblivion beginning with the Berlin Wall falling on 9 November and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the former states continued to celebrate Chidren’s Day on 1 June. East and West Germany had their Children Day celebrations on two separate dates: 20 September in the western half and 1 June in the eastern half. Since the Reunification, the country has still celebrated Children’s Day on two separate dates. Officially it follows Canada’s suit, yet still the former East German states celebrate on 1 June.  Interesting enough, the USA is one of only a few countries where Children’s Day is recognized in regions within their own boundaries. Although Children’s Day has been celebrated on the first Sunday in June since President George W. Bush introduced it in June 2001, many communities, states and churches celebrate either earlier or later, thus making the national holiday obsolete. And is there a country that does NOT celebrate Children’s Day or even recognize Universal Children’s Day? You betcha, and alarming enough, you find this on European soil- in Great Britain. With claims that it is a holiday that is wasted and keeps children out of schools, as Gordon Brown claimed during his time as Prime Minister, Children’s Day is not celebrated in the UK, although its western neighbor, Ireland, celebrates this day on 25 March. (Makes me wonder whether current Premier David Cameron should set an example for others like Brown to follow….)
So what do children do on this special day? It varies from country to country. In places like Ecuador, Albania and Bulgaria, children receive gifts from their parents and other family members. In places like Australia and New Zealand, they organize activities around annual themes that deal with domestic issues and children. In some places, like Mexico, children are honored with activities, parades and other events. Bulgarians promote children’s safety by driving with their lights on all day long. In Vanuatu, children make speeches addressing the issues like child labor and abuse, while being honored through parades, etc. In Paraguay, Children’s Day is in connection with the anniversary of the infamous Battle of Acosta Nu on 16 August, 1869 where the army of 20,000 men crush an army of 3,500 children ages 6 through 15 who were fighting a battle already lost. It is a national holiday to commemorate the atrocities that were committed by the Brazilians during the five-year war. While the children can visit the zoo for free on their special day in Slovakia, they are treated like kings in Thailand, where a theme is created by the government and children can tour all aspects of the Thai regime and other institutions. And yes, they can use the public transport and visit the zoos and other places for free as well.
While the churches in the USA honor their children during a Sunday church service- as agreed upon through first the Universalist Convention in Baltimore in 1867 and later through the proclamation by now former President George W. Bush- in Germany, children usually receive presents from their families and schools and kindergartens arrange for field trips and other events to make their day special. After all, the children are the future and efforts are being made to encourage families to have children. This includes many states providing funding for parents who take maternity leave for up to three years, as well as for constructing kindergartens, renovating schools and hiring teachers. Even companies are constructing kindergartens and encouraging their workers to work and take care of their children, a mentality that is for the most part unthinkable in other places, like the US and the UK.

There is a reason for that, which is the fact that Germany, like many countries in western Europe is on the decline in terms of population. At the moment, the population is at 79 million, down from 82.3 million in 2000. The causes of such a decline are emigration to other countries, the population is aging, and lastly, the working conditions which discourages people from creating families. Henceforth beginning in 2005, the government and the private sector began taking a proactive stance and created measures to encourage people to have children. In the seven years since the initiative was started, we have seen a moderate increase in the population but only in areas where the job prospects are at their highest- in technology areas, like Jena, Dresden and Frankfurt, as well as in large cities in the northern parts of the country, including Berlin, Hamburg and other areas. Even big cities like Nuremberg and Munich are seeing population growth as a result of these measures. Whether this will offset the population decline remains to be seen, but Germany is taking steps in the right direction to replenish the population.

Regardless of the reasons for having children, we should take advantage of Children’s Day and look at our young ones for who they are, treat them like king and help them along the way. After all, we are the ones responsible for our children’s future and the children are the ones who are leading the way to one that will be better than what we have at the moment. I would like to close this entry with a Thai saying that states: “Children are the future of the nation, if the children are intelligent, the country will be prosperous.”  We have taken many steps to foster the children’s development. We should enjoy the day and take pride in the next generation that will lead the way after we are gone. Enjoy this day, everyone.