Thursday, August 10, 2017

“Oh No! You have Todd in Your Homeroom!?”

It was during the inservice days before school began that several 7th grade teachers discovered Todd was in my 8th grade homeroom class.  This was the kid from hell, or so it seemed, if you listened to what they said about him.  From day one and for several weeks, I must admit that I always had my eye on Todd, just waiting for his bad behavior to explode in my classroom.  In spite of this negative attitude toward Todd on my part, I took a few positive steps on how I would approach Todd.  The positive outcomes of these steps were more luck from a novice teacher than any display of wisdom on my part. 

This was the early 1970s, and divorce was growing at an alarming rate.  Todd’s father had left the family, and he had very limited contact with Todd.  Consequently, Todd was an angry young man.  His family situation explained some of his negative behavior.  

As a male middle school teacher, I was the very first male teacher many of my students had experienced.  Due to the increasing number of students living in single parent homes (and that single parent was often female), I was often the only positive male role model in the lives of many of my students.  This was a heavy burden to place on a young teacher’s shoulders.   

Looking back on this experience, I believe the most important step I took was to connect with Todd outside the academic coursework in my class.  During the early 1970s, Cedar Bluff Middle School had 900/1000 students in grades 6-8.  Many of our buses ran three loads in the afternoons.  Instead of sending the second and third load riders to the gym, they were sent to different classrooms identified as bus rooms.  Todd was assigned to my classroom as his bus room.   

Since I was sponsor of the Chess Club at Cedar Bluff, there were several chessboards on the shelves in my room.  Todd informed me that he liked to play chess, so I asked him if he would like to play against me during the wait for his bus.  He immediately set up a chessboard to play against me.  This connection was all it took.  From that point on, Todd would set up the chessboard each afternoon to play against me while he waited for his bus number to be called.  Yes, there were numerous times I really did not want to play chess with Todd, but I seldom turned him down.  This relationship outside of academics made all the difference.   

Do you have Todd in your class this year?  Let me offer a few suggestions:  

  1. Ignore teacher gossip about how bad your student’s behavior was last year.  Give the student a new beginning. 
  2. Students change and often mature from one year to the next.  Give this maturity a chance to work.  
  3. Find out about the economic and social conditions of the student’s home life.  It may give you insight concerning the unacceptable behaviors of the student.  
  4. Get to know your student and make a connection outside the academic content of your course.  This often takes time, but the result can make a profound difference in the behavior of the student in your classroom. 

Bless you my children, 

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Call to All Social Studies and History Teachers: Your Country Needs You—Step Up to the Plate

During the mid to late twentieth century, our country has found itself in critical situations, and it often asked that the nation’s schools and teachers play a central role in the solution.  On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite.  It was in an elliptical low orbit with four external radio antennas.  It was visible all around the earth, and its radio pulses were detectable.  I was 8 years-old and I remember how scared the people in our community were.  In fact, the entire nation seemed to be gripped in fear.

Consequently, one of the first institutions our nation looked to for a response was our educational system.  In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (You didn’t know Congress could respond so quickly, did you?).  Millions of dollars were directed toward math and science, and many of the grants awarded for more than 40 years were referred to as “Eisenhower Grants”.  

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was a cornerstone of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”.  Title I, a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is a program created by the United States Department of Education to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families.  Title I was designed to close the skill gap in reading, writing, and mathematics between children from low-income households who attend urban or rural school systems and children from the middle-class who attend suburban school systems.  We still trying to close that gap.

In 2001, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under President George W. Bush was known as the No Child Left Behind Act.  The goal was to assure that all schools and all students made Adequate Yearly Progress. 

Our nation is looking our way again.  It desperately needs its schools to lead our people out of civil disintegration and back into a state of civil discourse, which is "a conversation intended to enhance understanding".  This task falls squarely in the lap of social studies and history teachers.  I am an “old” middle school social studies and high school/community college history teacher.  Too often I felt that the social studies and history curricula were the unwanted stepchildren of the total school curriculum.   The emphasis was always on math, science, and elementary reading.  They have STEM instruction now... they can keep building their robots, while we take on the serious task of healing the nation’s wounds.     

I would like to suggest four essential objectives we must meet.  First, we must provide opportunities for students to reflect about the formation of their own ideas and values.  Second, we must establish a safe space for students to discuss diverse and sensitive viewpoints.  Third, as teachers we must model not passive listening but engaged listening for our students.  Fourth, teachers must model how to engage in civil discourse with someone who holds opinions and values different from those of the teacher.  I do not have the right to level personal attacks against that person on unrelated issues or demonize that person.  Don’t worry about the standards.  My objectives can find a home under multiple social studies and history standards.

To my fellow social studies and history teachers:  This is your hour!  We must act faster than Congress in 1958.  Step up to the plate.  Let’s prepare a new generation to heal the divisive wounds inflicted on our people.

Bless You My Children, 
Terry L. Simpson

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 17, 2017

From the desk of Dr. Terry L. Simpson...

          Since you have now completed your final exam at Maryville College, may you have a wonderful celebration with those who care deeply about you and your future.  We have worked hard together to make you the best teacher that you can possibly be, but it is now squarely on your shoulders.  We have equipped you to be a leader and not a follower.
          When you finally receive your official Maryville College degree, please remember that no one owes you anything.  Rather, you are obligated.  You are one of the 10% of the world’s population with a college degree.  You are obligated to make a positive difference in the world around you.  You are obligated to be unconditionally dedicated to our children.  A wise teacher once said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
          When you begin teaching in the fall, just remember, we will be teaching with you.  When you are faced with one of those overwhelming situations, pause and reflect on what we taught you.  A few years ago, one of our graduates, during her first year of teaching, sent me the following text message, “Dr. Simpson, remind me why I wanted to be a teacher.”  We are only a text message or email away.
          When you are named “Teacher of the Year,” you must call Dr. Orren, Dr. Lucas, Dr. Mertz or me before you call your mother.
Finally, for the last time, and this one is good for a lifetime, “Bless you my children.”

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pulling the Federal Government out of K-12 Education

On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to start pulling the Federal Government out of K-12 education.  This action has been expected, especially after he nominated Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  The executive order has moved the emphasis of the Federal government from ensuring educational equality to promoting educational choice.

This executive order has a foundational basis in the United States Constitution, which does not mention education at all.  Therefore, based on the 10th Amendment, the governance of education is left to the states.  For strict constructionists, this move by President Trump is constitutional and welcomed.

However, the broad constructionists point to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, which states that Congress shall provide for the “general welfare of the United States.”  The general welfare has been interpreted to include quality education for all children.  This has resulted in the Federal government being involved in K-12 education, especially in recent years.

The executive order signed by President Trump is, at the least, short-sighted in the present and devastating for the long run.  One only has to go back to the 1950s to find critical interventions by the Federal government in K-12 education in the United States. 

In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court ruling, the Supreme Court finally overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling which had made Separate but Equal facilities constitutional in the United States.  In education, separate but equal resulted in unequal education.

On September 2, 1958, the National Defense Education Act was quickly passed as a reaction to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957.  This act provided additional funds to states and local school districts to enhance curriculum and instruction in science and math courses.  Many of these grants became known as the Eisenhower Grants. 

Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson declared his Great Society campaign, which included his War on Poverty.  Begun in 1965, Head Start, which is still with us today, was an essential part of this program. 

The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

In 1965, Title I, as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provided additional financial assistance to local school districts with a high percentage of poor children.

Title IX in 1972: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.  When I began teaching in Knox County Schools in 1973, the high schools did not have any athletic teams for girls.  Girls’ basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball all came about as a result of Title IX.

Two recent programs instituted by the Federal government which have become politically controversial are No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Standards.  Not all of No Child Left Behind can be considered a failure. It did hold schools more accountable for what students were learning.  Some of the accountability pieces of the legislation are still with us. 

It should be remembered that the Common Core Standards originated with the states and not the federal government.  The United States Department of Education simply adopted these standards, especially in math, as requirements to receive Race to the Top funds.  Many of the criticisms of the standards in math were unfounded and some criticisms about other disciplines, which do not have common core standards, were basically false.  If students in the United States are to make gains in mathematics when compared with students in other advanced countries, common core standards must be implemented by the state governments.

All of the programs and rulings listed above came from the Federal government. 
Many of those who advocate returning education to the states and excluding the role of the Federal government in especially K-12 education, make the following claim, “Local school boards know what’s best for the children in their communities.”  But is this correct?  The economic competition and technological threats faced by our children today are international.  Many local school boards and/or individual school board members are so provincial in their outlook that they do not comprehend the global competition we face.

I have been an educator for 43 years in two different states, and I have seen individuals run for a seat on the local school board specifically in order to fire the football coach, fire the superintendent or director of schools, force changes in the curriculum, or they have some other “axe to grind” with the school system.  One of my students came to class a few days ago very upset.  The local school board in her home town canceled the band program and fired the band director in order to balance the budget.  Don’t misunderstand my point.  Most school board members are local folks who want to have the best schools possible for their children.  Serving on a local school board is a difficult and thankless job, and it is difficult to get good people to run.  But, too often, I have seen the criticisms above play out in the states and/or communities where I have lived.  The issues and competition we face today are too serious for these scenarios to continue.

Removing the influence of the Federal government from K-12 education is a step back in time, and it will be a disaster for improving public education in the United States.   

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