Monday, March 13, 2017

Those Kids vs. My Kids

Over the past several weeks, two of my former students have been on campus meeting with our current student teachers.  Since both of these individuals attended Maryville College during the early 1990s, I was curious to hear what they had to say.  As a teacher, I often wonder what students remember about my classes.

These former students reminded me of two terms I used, and still use, when I talk about the relationship between teachers and their students.  Some teachers, when referring to the students in their classrooms, will use the term “those kids”.  This term “those kids” makes it clear that these teachers are trying to separate themselves from their students.  With this separation, teachers often form a list of the causes for the students’ poor academic performance in their classes.  These kids refuse to study.  They don’t care, so I will not care.  They do not have parents that care; as a result, there is no one to supervise homework.  They do not have a work ethic, and most of the adults these students know are on welfare. By using these excuses, teachers remove themselves from having any significant impact on student learning.

On the other side of the coin, some teachers will use “My Kids” when referring to their students.  Several terms come to my mind when I think about teachers referring to their students as “My Kids”.  One term is family; other terms are my group and my team, and we are going to learn together.  But most important of all, these teachers assume part of the responsibility for their students’ academic performance.   As I have told my students on numerous occasions, the only behavior you can control in the classroom is your behavior.  Does your behavior in the classroom enhance or inhibit learning? 

I realize that many of the demands placed on teachers in our current political climate are often unrealistic. You may be thinking, “Dr. Simpson, how dare you place the success or failure of the students in my classes on my shoulders alone!  The community, parents, and students themselves must bear part of the responsibility.” 

I agree!  However, we cannot wait on the community and parents to change.  This change will not take place.  The next generation is the only group that can change.  This next generation consists of your students.  Effective schools and teachers are the only hope for many of these students.  When you walk into your classroom tomorrow morning, start with a new “can do” attitude.  I am your teacher.  I know how to teach so that you will learn.  Follow me, and I will change your life.

A few weeks back, I saw one of our teacher licensure graduates wearing a shirt with the following words, “I’m a teacher—What is your super power?”
Bless you my children. 

Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Director of Teacher Education
Maryville College

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A New Beginning for Students and Teachers

Happy New Year! As we enter the New Year of 2017, many of us will make one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Although it seems that few people are able to keep their resolutions, I do not think that making resolutions is a waste of time. For a New Year’s Resolution implies a new beginning or second chance; it is a time for a new start.

I have found that students often look at the beginning of a new semester as a new beginning for their success in the classroom. They want to have better grades, and just be a better student in general. Teachers should use this new beginning as a positive effect in the classroom. Integrate high interest material and instructional strategies into your instruction. Make your first student assessment one that will reinforce the anticipation of the students that this will be a better semester for them. Then send as many positive notes to their parents as possible in which you acknowledge the early effort and success of their children.

Often as teachers, we also need a new beginning. Maybe the fall semester was difficult for numerous reasons, and you have developed a negative spirit toward your students, the administration, or the educational system in general. This negative spirit may be something that you never thought would happen to you. At this point, it is important that you climb out of the negative pit. First, be honest and admit where you are in your professional life. Second, determine what caused you to go down this path. Get a pen and sheet of paper and write down all of the success you had last semester. Don’t short circuit this activity; write them down. Be sure to list the growth you saw in many of your students. Put this list in a place where you will see it numerous times during the day. Make a commitment to have personal contact with as many students as possible in the first few weeks of the semester. Keep sending those positive notes home to parents.

To be honest with you, I am deeply concerned about the future of education in our country and how our children will be impacted. Regardless, when my students enter my classroom, I am going to close my door and provide a positive learning environment. I refuse to let the negative political and social climate in this country destroy the joy of my classroom.

Bless you my children,

Terry L. Simpson

Image credit:

Monday, November 28, 2016

The National Anthem and the Right of the People (even students) to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances

During this past August, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the playing of the National Anthem to protest the treatment of people of color by the United States government. He has since been joined by other professional athletes, and recently an entire college basketball team knelt rather than stand during the playing of the National Anthem before their basketball game. Many people probably think that professional athletes, as adults, should be allowed to do what they want. But college athletes can also be considered adults. In either case, they should be prepared for the possible consequences of their actions from fans and the general public. However, do we extend the same rights to high school students? Do high school students have the right to petition the government in such a visible and often controversial action?

I know what you are thinking: Dr. Simpson, you are treading where angels fear to tread! I have been told that before. However, I believe deep down in my soul that this issue should be addressed. I cite two United States Supreme Court cases which establish a strong precedent for the right of K-12 students to petition the government.

The first case is the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette ruling in 1943, during World War II. This time is often considered the most patriotic and unified time in American History. The West Virginia State Board of Education ordered that the salute to the flag be a regular part of the program of activities in the public schools, and that all teachers and pupils be required to participate in the salute honoring the nation represented by the flag. It was clearly stated that refusal to salute the Flag be regarded as an Act of insubordination, and would be dealt with accordingly.

This policy was enforced against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who considered the flag a graven image. Any salute or pledge to the Flag was considered bowing down to an image. They instructed their children not to salute or pledge the flag.

The Supreme Court ruled that the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcended constitutional limitations on the power and invaded the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control. The State of West Virginia could not require children in Jehovah’s Witness families to salute or pledge the flag. Some may argue the citizens in Germany and Japan would have never been permitted to publicly show this level of defiance, and you would be correct. Had they been free to do so, the tide of history may have turned. But they lost the war and we won.

The second United States Supreme Court ruling that sets an even more powerful precedent to this issue is the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District ruling in 1969. In December 1965, a group of adults and students determined to publicize their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands during the holiday season.

The principals in the Des Moines schools became aware of the plan to wear armbands. In December 1965, they met and adopted a policy that any students wearing armbands to school would be asked to remove them. If they refused, they would be suspended until they returned without the armbands.

Only five students were suspended for wearing them. There was no indication that the work of the school or any class was disrupted.

The Supreme Court noted that these students neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude into the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussions outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. The Supreme Court ruled that in these circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny citizens, in this case students, their form of expression. These students had the right to wear black armbands and protest the Vietnam War.

When I was a middle school and high school teacher, I always wanted my students to have the courage to take a stand on controversial issues and to support causes in which they deeply believe. However, when working with students younger than age 18, additional support should be in place. These students often need guidance to think through the possible consequences to their protest. If you refuse to stand during the presentation of the National Anthem in order to call attention to the treatment of people of color by certain government officials, what may be the reactions from peers, fans, and the general public to your protest? Not everyone will be on your side. Are you prepared to stand alone?

Before you conclude that public protest with its possible negative public reaction is too much for a middle or high school student to bear, I remind you of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. She stood in protest to the Taliban’s war against the education of girls. A Taliban assassin boarded her bus on the way home after school and shot her in the head. She was 15 years old. I hope you know the rest of the story. This attempted assassination strengthened her resolve to fight for the education of girls. If you have not done so, go to You Tube and listen to her speech at age 17 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize:

She puts us all to shame.

On a personal note, this issue is very difficult for me. I have always been patriotic at the core of my values. Three of my dad’s brothers made careers out of the military. My dad and his oldest brother served in World War II. One brother served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The youngest brother served two tours in the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot. A number of my cousins have also served in the military. I came of age during the Vietnam War, and while attending college had a 2-S deferment. Almost immediately after graduation in 1971, I was reclassified 1-A. I expected to be drafted at any moment. However, the government started a lottery drawing of birthdates to meet military quotas. The drawing for my birthday was well above 250, so I was never drafted. During this time in the history of our country, I was never involved in the antiwar movement, and I was deeply distressed about the treatment of our men and women in uniform. Regardless of my personal views, I defend the rights of students to protest government policies as protected by the First Amendment.

Bless you my children,

Terry L. Simpson

Monday, November 14, 2016

Post Election Reflection...

 During the past week, I have spoken with several of our teacher licensure students and students in general at Maryville College.  Their post-election emotions range from elation to fear about the future.  As Director of the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, I believe that I need to make a statement about our program and the future.  I am not concerned about your vote on this past November 8, but I am concerned about the well-being of the children we teach as well as their families. 

I try to be a person of faith, and I know that often I fail to be a role model of that faith.  However, my walk of faith has given me values that form the core of my being.  Over 60 years ago, I was taught a song in my little rural Baptist Church.  I’m sure many of you will recognize the words: 

Jesus loves the little children,
all the children of the world; 
red and yellow, black, and white, 
they are precious in his sight; 
Jesus loves the little children of the world. 

I am not asking you to have the same walk of faith that I have or have any walk of faith for that matter, but as a future teacher in the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, I expect you to consider all the children you teach as precious.  In public schools we teach all the children, and these children and their families could be different from you in a hundred different ways.  These differences do not matter.  All children are precious.  As long as I am director of the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, this will be one of the foundational dispositions in all we do.  If you cannot consider all the children in your class as precious, you are in the wrong teacher education program.  I suggest you consider another profession. 

Bless you my children, 

Dr. Terry L. Simpson 
Director of Teacher Education 
Professor of Secondary Education  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tennessee Social Studies Standards and Tennessee History

Several of my colleagues in social studies were appalled when the Tennessee Department of Education removed Tennessee History as a one-semester course in the 7th grade. The state education officials assured us that Tennessee History standards would be incorporated into the American History standards. We warned that the Tennessee History standards would be increasingly ignored and finally removed from the American History curriculum because of the emphasis on testing in the American History curriculum. Our predictions are rapidly coming true.

I have been following the current debate over the revised American history standards, which includes the removal of several Tennessee History standards, including the study of events and individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement. How can anyone justify the removal of standards related to Alex Haley and his saga Roots? I have seen first-hand how the story of Alex Haley inspired African-American students to search for their own roots. One of my students traced her family to a particular plantation. She knew the lack of formal records for slaves would mean she could never go back beyond this point. I will never forget her excitement when she was able to trace her lineage back to this specific plantation, even though her ancestors were slaves.

One of my chief fears is that the removal of these Tennessee standards will weaken our students’ sense of place. In 1971 Dr. Jennifer Cross presented a paper What is Sense of Place? at a conference at Western State College. She identified several relationships to place, which included the following:

  • Spiritual – emotional, intangible 
    • feeling a sense of belonging 
  • Ideological – moral and ethical
    • living according to moral guidelines for human responsibility to place, guidelines may be religious or secular 
  • Narrative – mythical
    • learning about place through stories, including: creation myths, family histories, political accounts, and fictional accounts.

In my Sociology of Education class, I often quiz the native Tennessee students about their knowledge of Tennessee history. I have never had a student that knew that East Tennessee was the home of a strong abolitionist movement. The nation’s first abolitionist newspaper, The Emancipator, was published near Jonesboro by Elihu Embree, a Quaker and abolitionist. Consistently, more than 90% are unaware that in June 1861, 30 counties in East Tennessee held a convention in Greeneville to explore the possibility of Eastern Tennessee breaking away from the rest of Tennessee and forming its own state. They do not know that Andrew Johnson was the Vice Presidential candidate on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1864 because he was a Southern unionist. Some of the young men who drive around with the Rebel flag on their pickup trucks should be told that the majority of rural East Tennesseans were pro-Union, and not Rebels. 

Additionally, few have no more than a rudimentary knowledge of local history. They do not know that Friendsville, which is located a few miles from the Maryville College campus, was originally a Quaker community. They are not aware of the rich oral history of Friendsville as a key player in the Underground Railroad, which runaway slaves used in their escape north to freedom. They do not know that Quakers took a bold stand against slavery in the United States. The southern government closed Maryville College after Tennessee seceded from the Union, and they referred to Maryville College as “that damn Yankee College.” Neither are the students aware that Maryville College was the first college in Tennessee to grant a college degree to a woman, in 1875.

If our schools do not provide this sense of place to our children, we are left with the stereotypes of native Tennesseans imposed on us by others. Just go to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and you will get the stereotype: Traditional Tennesseans are drunkards, lazy, shiftless, and uneducated, whose children often go barefoot and have few ambitions. I am a native East Tennessean, and these words do not describe me, nor thousands of other East Tennesseans. If schools do not teach the truth and provide our children with a positive and healthy sense of place, who will teach them?

Bless you my children,
Terry L. Simpson

**Photo credit-Cara Alexander

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Day Maria Saved Me from Myself

It was the late 1980s, and I was teaching United States History in a Texas high school. I had already taught middle school social studies in Tennessee for 8 years. Furthermore, I had completed 15+ graduate hours in history before I began teaching.
In spite of being a history major at the undergraduate level, I had never studied the history of Latin America. This changed when I took a graduate course in Latin American history. During this course, I completed a short research paper on Francisco (Pancho) Villa, which included his raid on Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916.
Like too many male history teachers that I knew, I loved to tell the “blood and guts” stories in history. Before you get too angry, I know this statement verges on being a stereotype of male high school history teachers. However, I am referring only to the male history teachers that I knew at that time. I announced to my class that on the next day we would discuss Pancho Villa, and I would share information about his invasion of the United States and his raid on Columbus, New Mexico. I had never read of this event in any middle or high school American History textbook. In fact, Mexican History was seldom mentioned outside of a very brief reference to early colonial history of the Americans and the Zimmermann Telegram, and its impact on our entrance to World War I. Regardless, I had all of my “blood and guts” stories ready to go.
Then there was Maria.
She was a very quiet Hispanic young lady in my 9th grade history class who never said a word in our discussions. However, when I mentioned Pancho Villa her arm went up, she was waving her hand to get my attention, and she had a huge smile across her face. I was so shocked that all I could say was, “Maria!” She responded, “My mother told me that her father (Maria’s grandfather) rode with Pancho Villa.”
I am quite sure I turned pale and stood speechless for 30 seconds (an eternity for teachers). In spite of being caught off guard, I retreated to that classic teacher response, “Maria, go home tonight and ask your mother what her father told her about Pancho Villa, write down what she says, and you may share it with our class tomorrow.” She did exactly what I asked. It was not a very good report mainly because I did not give her any help, and she was in that world of using Spanish at home and English at school. What did I do with my “blood and guts” story of Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico? I folded my notes on this raid, took them home, and never again used this story in class.
Why? First, I could not think of any educational value in using this story in my 9th grade United States history class. In the early 1900s, Pancho Villa was much like a “Robin Hood” to the poor in northern Mexico. Second, telling this story would simply crush the spirit of Maria, a precious young lady in my 9th grade class who only knew that her grandfather rode with Pancho Villa, an important person mentioned in history books.
I am not talking about being “politically correct” when deciding the stories to tell from American history. This story should not be told even in high school without providing students an understanding of the history of Mexico, which includes the Mexican Civil War, the poverty of the mainly native American citizens of northern Mexico, and the role of a very popular Pancho Villa, who was later assassinated. Furthermore, the President ordered the invasion of Mexico by the United States military under the command of John J. Pershing in an unsuccessful campaign against Pancho Villa. This single story of the attack by Pancho Villa on Columbus, New Mexico is too complex to drop in the lap of 9th graders without putting it in a historical context.
As a teacher may I never use my knowledge, power, or authority to crush the spirit of my students.
Bless you my children,
Terry L. Simpson

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How to Begin the New School Year with a Positive Atmosphere: A Suggestion

Several years ago, I taught in a Texas high school that had the most negative and destructive atmosphere I have ever experienced. The year before I began teaching in the school, a black/white race fight had erupted over an interracial couple. The result was police in the hallways for several months. As I began teaching in this troubled school, I found that the only contact I had with parents was when their children faced severe discipline issues. Furthermore, regularly scheduled open houses were attended by only a handful of parents in a high school of over 1600 students.

My goal became to find a way to talk with parents when their children were successful rather than when they faced serious discipline issues. My first objective was to make certain my instructional strategies engaged the students. One thing I had learned about classroom management was to avoid dead time. I started class on the first day of school with or without textbooks. My first five days of class included high-interest topics in American History. At the end of the first five days, I gave a test, and many of the students did very well.

This background leads to the focus of my story—Tressa. A paper trail of discipline referral forms followed Tressa. Any rule that could be broken, she broke it. For example, over the public address intercom the principal told students they could not walk around the school barefoot. They must put on their shoes. So, what does Tressa do? She comes down the hall barefoot with her shoes over her shoulder.

However, after her first five days in my class, she made 100 on the test. I never told the students that I would call their parents if they had a high score on the first test—not cool with many high school students. I called Tressa’s mother and when she answered the phone, I said, “I am Mr. Simpson, your daughter’s teacher in American History. I just gave my first test, and Tressa scored 100. You have a very smart daughter. You push at home and I will pull at school, and she will have a good year in American History.”

There was dead silence on the other end of the phone line. I did not know if Tressa’s mother had passed out, died, or had a stroke! After a few moments she said, “You are the first teacher to ever call me and tell me anything my daughter has done that is right.” Do you want to know how many discipline issues I had with Tressa during that term in my class? Zero!

What can you have students do in your classroom that will give you the opportunity to call, email, or send a positive note to the parents of your students? Take a little time at the beginning of the school year to make these positive contacts with the parents, and I believe you will see a positive difference in your students’ attitude toward classroom assignments and their classroom behavior.

Bless you my children,
Terry L. Simpson