Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Day of Thanksgiving for Teachers and Teacher Educators

Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving and praise in 1863 by order of Abraham Lincoln. It was proclaimed during the midst of the American Civil War which would eventually claim 620,000 American lives. I have often wondered how anyone could be thankful during such a divisive and brutal war, but somehow as Americans we seem to find the attitude of thanksgiving deep within our souls even in the darkest of times.

Like most of you, I am first and foremost thankful for my family and especially my wife, Deborah, who has been more than patient as we worked to build the reputation of our teacher licensure program. At times I have spent too many hours at work. We are especially thankful for our children and grandchildren. My daughter is Jennifer, and Deborah’s daughters are Anna, Meg and Trisha. The fathers of our grandchildren are Jeffery Mowdy and David Weaver, and our grandchildren are Savannah, Daniel, Isabella, and Victoria. Each of our grandchildren is unique in his/her own special way. We are blessed.

I am thankful we live in a country where we are not afraid to send our daughters and granddaughters to school simply because they are girls. We are not concerned that a radical religious fundamentalist will drive by on a motorbike and throw acid in their faces. Neither are we fearful that their teachers will be murdered during the night as they sleep in their homes. Our girls can dream of being a doctor, engineer, scientist, or president… just like the boys.

I am thankful that the administrators and teachers in our public schools do not have the authority to indoctrinate our children in religious dogma to which parents do not adhere. A few words taken from the Abington School District v. Schempp Supreme Court ruling in 1963 have a powerful meaning,

The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind….

In relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.  Consequently, we are not ruled by those who want to impose their intolerant religious dogma on everyone in our society.

I am thankful for our teachers who, in the midst of No Child Left Behind, Common Core and the political vicissitudes surrounding educational policy, have maintained their focus on the essential needs of their students. They have had the foresight to take beneficial elements from each new program and strategy that comes down from on high.

I am thankful for the young men and women who serve in the armed forces and defend this liberal democracy and our belief in freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and all the other freedoms we often take for granted. They defend our country and our values where pluralism is a virtue and strength.

I am thankful for the alumni of the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program who enter their classrooms or administrative offices each day with a fresh commitment to meeting the needs of our children. They deserve all the credit for building the reputation of Maryville College and this Teacher Licensure Program.

I am thankful that I can go to work every day. I live in a state of perpetual grace.

Finally, I am thankful for Dr. Alesia Orren, Dr. Rebecca Lucas, Dr. Jill Mertz, and Ms. Bonnie West. They do all the work; I just get the credit.

Bless You My Children,
Terry L. Simpson

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Do Our Children Learn While Playing Sports?

It is the video that challenged everything we believe our children learn while playing on a sports team. Over six million viewers watched as two San Antonio Jay High School football players waylaid a referee during the fourth quarter of a game. The students claimed that the referee made bad calls and used racial slurs during the game. Furthermore, the students claimed an assistant coach told them to do what they did.

The Washington Post published an article by Kevin Blackistone entitled Sports Don’t Build Character so Much as They Expose It in which he argued that sports don’t build character so much as they expose it. He went on to write that the “character-building mantra about sports has always been more of a lofty goal than a reality.” Much of what we believe participation in sports teaches our children is “mere romanticism.”

I have thought about these issues for many years. I played basketball from the 5th grade through high school. I also refereed high school basketball in two different states (TN and Texas). I vividly remember one of my high school coaches stating during half time, “Sportsmanship trophies are a dime a dozen, and we don’t want one.” I was playing in a high school game when an adult came out of the stands and hit one of our players on the court during the game. I’ve been escorted to the dressing room by police escorts on numerous occasions after refereeing a basketball game. I finally got to the point that I never wanted my daughter to play sports unless I could choose the coach. I was thankful that her extracurricular life centered around choral music and playing in the band.

After watching this event on the football field and examining my attitude about coaches, I realized that I remembered no more than five coaches who were in my opinion unethical. I have been a teacher educator at Maryville College for more than 25 years. I have lost count of the teachers and coaches who have graduated from our teacher licensure program. Most of these men and women have impeccable character, and I would trust my children and grandchildren to their influence. 

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. To blame the lack of sportsmanship solely on coaches is a cheap shot. Schools, except in a few cases, usually do not impose values on society; rather, schools reflect the values of the society in which they are located. Most coaches in the major team sports know that at the end of the day sportsmanship and academic achievement will not save your job if you are not winning. You will be fired or forced out.

It starts with the values of the community. The members of the community elect members of the school board who reflect the same values. The school board hires the administrators who hire the coaches. The community usually gets coaches with the same values. If the values being instilled in our children are unethical and sportsmanship is sacrificed for winning, then the community needs to rise up and press the school board for a change.

I will concede the point that in most cases winning trumps character building and sportsmanship. However, I believe that being on a sports team does build one character trait that is essential for success in most professions as well as in life—teamwork. Team members learn how to sacrifice individual goals for team goals. They learn how to support and encourage rather than criticize each other. Finally, effective coaches use the teamwork motif as a critical factor in motivation. Math, English, history, and science teachers should take note.

As I look back on my experiences in school, many of my most vivid memories come from playing on the basketball team. For others those memories may be playing in the band, singing in the chorus, acting in a play, displaying work in an art gallery, or participating in other extracurricular activities. These activities are worth our support. 

Bless You My Children,
Terry L. Simpson

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Islam and the Tennessee Social Studies Standards

Over the past two weeks an issue developed in one of our local middle schools over the study of World History and specifically the inclusion of Islam in our Tennessee Social Studies Standards (TN Department of Education, n.d.).  Parents are upset over the position of the school officials, and ministers and members of the Tennessee state legislature have become involved.  Most of the statements I have read from these sources are not borne out by the facts.

First, I have heard the claim that the Tennessee Social Studies Standards are Common Core Standards.  Not really, we only have Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).  You may want to look up my previous blog that discussed the Common Core Standards (Simpson, T. 2015).

Second, I’ve read numerous claims that the Tennessee Social Studies Standards favor Islam over Christianity.  Representative Andy Holt, R-Dresden said, “After Reviewing the standards set by the Tennessee Department of Education, it has become abundantly clear that a strong bias in favor of Islam over all other religions is being taught to our children in public schools” (Stewart, 2015, p. A1).  Really?  I’m not sure which standards he read because this statement in not true for the Tennessee Standards.

The topic for 7th Grade Social Studies in TN (TN Department of Education, n.d.) is World History and Geography:  The Middle Ages to the Exploration of the Americas.  Teachers are given 75 standards to cover, and only 10 of these standards deal with Islam.  Only one of the 10 standards addresses the Qur’an as the primary source of Islamic beliefs and practices, and only one of the 10 standards addresses the Sunni and Shi’ite sects. 
Under the study of the Middle Ages in Western Europe 5 different standards address Christianity during this time period.  One standard addresses the Crusades and the military struggle between Christians and Muslims over control of the Holy Land. The spread of Christianity through the exploration of the Americas is also addressed.

Under the study of the Renaissance and Reformation, 9 standards deal with Christianity.  In this topic Standard 7.55 is interesting. 

Outline the reasons for the growing discontent with the Catholic Church, including the main ideas of Martin Luther (salvation by faith), John Calvin (predestination), Desiderius Erasmus(free will), William Tyndale (translating the Bible into English), and their attempts to reconcile what they viewed as God’s Word with Church action.

None of the standards addressing other religions go into as much detail about specific beliefs as this standard.  One could argue that the standards for 7th Grade Social Studies are biased toward Protestant Christianity.

Furthermore, an examination of the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards (TN Department of Education, n.d.) sheds additional light on our topic.  The topic is World History and Geography:  Early Civilizations through the Decline of the Roman Empire (5th Century C.E.).  The students study ancient Africa, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, Ancient China, Ancient Israel, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome.  Seven standards address Ancient Israel, and specifically Standard 6.41 is applicable to our discussion.
Describe the monotheistic religion of the Israelites, including:
·       the belief in one God (monotheism)
·       the Ten Commandments
·       the emphasis on individual worth and personal responsibility
·       the belief that all people must adhere to the same moral obligations, whether ruler or ruled
·       the Torah and the Hebrew Bible as part of the history of early Israel.

Under Ancient Rome, several standards address the rise of Christianity, and Standard 6.68 is significant.       
Describe the origins and central features of Christianity:
·       monotheism
·       the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God’s Son
·       the concept of resurrection
·       the concept of salvation
·       belief in the Old and New Testaments
·       the lives, teachings and contributions of Jesus and Paul
·       the relationship of early Christians to officials of the Roman Empire.

The 6th Grade Social Studies Standards place more emphasis on the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity than any of the other religions addressed in the same Standards.  If the Standards are biased, they are biased toward Judaism and Christianity.

Growing up in a rural part of East Tennessee during the 1950s and 60s was both a positive and negative experience.  I came to understand the positive influence of family and community and the importance of the concept of place.  However, there was a negative side.  I met my first Roman Catholic when I went to high school, and I remember she had to eat fish on Fridays.  I remember many sermons in our rural Baptist church condemning all Roman Catholics to hell.  I only knew one African American until our high school integrated in 1964-65; then I knew 10!  When I went to college in Nashville, for the first time in my life I had contact with Jews, Asians and Hispanics.  I became fascinated by diversity in race and religion. 

Teaching has given me the opportunity to travel to China, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, England, France, Switzerland, Germany (East and West), the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Estonia, and Saudi Arabia.  I have attended conferences, taught or given presentations in 6 of those countries.  The differences between those I have met in other countries, cultures, and religions are striking; however, the similarities are dominant.  Most of us want the very same things for our children and grandchildren—love, health, safety, opportunities.  As a grandfather, I cannot protect my grandchildren from diversity; nor should I want to.  I want to prepare them to live in a diverse world, not the world of the 1950s and 60s in rural East Tennessee.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mortimer Adler, “One should never say ‘I disagree’ until one can say ‘I understand’”.  My dear friend, we cannot hide or protect our children from Islam. We must equip them to live in a world more diverse than we could ever imagine. 
Bless you my children, 

Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Director of Teacher Education

Useful teaching resources


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: Authors.

TN Department of Education (n.d.). 6th Grade Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from

TN Department of Education (n.d.). 7th Grade Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from

TN Department of Education (n.d.). Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from

Simpson, T. (2015, August 28). Why Are We Afraid of National Educational Standards? Retrieved from

Stewart, M. (2015, September 13). Carpenters Middle volunteer dismissed due to conversation about Islam. The Daily Times, p. A1. Retrieved from

Stewart, M. (2015, September 13). Social studies standards divide Blount, state. The Daily Times, p. A1. Retrieved from

Friday, August 28, 2015

Why Are We Afraid of National Educational Standards?

You no doubt think I have lost my mind by considering this topic in my blog.  I want to assure you that my mother did not raise a fool!  Most answers to this question are filled with emotion and political exaggerations with very little honest analysis.  I want to remind you that “Simpson” is Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish, take your pick), and my sub-conscious mind is filled with distrust of any national government.  This attitude was born and nurtured in the treatment of the Scots-Irish by the British in Europe and Colonial America.  It was the population in the back country dominated by the Scots-Irish that led revolts against the British power structure located in the coastal plain because of the way the colonial governments neglected and used them as a buffer against the Indians.  In Virginia this grievance led to Bacon’s Rebellion and the Parson’s Cause, and in North Carolina it ignited the Regulator Movement.  In our day this distrust is often expressed in the battle over who controls education:  “Just leave us alone; we know what’s best for our children.”

We have this political conflict because of the Constitution of the United States.  Education is not mentioned in the Constitution, and for this reason, the Reserved Powers Clause of the 10th Amendment applies.  Any powers not given to the Federal Government in the Constitution are reserved for the people and the states.  For strict constructionists this means that the Federal Government has no business being involved in the governance of education.  This does not mean that the Founding Fathers were not concerned about education in this new Republic; in fact, many were very concerned, including Thomas Jefferson.

On the other side, broad constructionists will take the General Welfare Clause, Congress shall have the power to provide for the general welfare (Article I Section 8), and argue that having an educated population promotes the general welfare of the country, and the federal government must be involved.


Historically, we have looked to other countries and envied their educational systems.  In the 1800s we were envious of the educational system in Prussia, which by 1871 was the leading state in the imperial German Reich.  Before World War II and the self-destruction of Germany by the Nazis, German education was the envy of the world.  In the more recent decades of the 1970s and 1980s, our envy was Japan and later Singapore, or any other nation in Asia whose students scored much higher in math and science than our students.  Most recently our envy has been directed toward Finland.  What is most interesting to note is that most of these countries had or have well defined national educational standards.    


In the current political climate, we hear politicians proclaim, “The Federal government has no business running education; leave it to the states.”  Let the states govern education, establish assessment policies, and set proficiency levels on state exams, not national exams.  This all sounds good except for one reality: states have a tendency to cheat, including Tennessee.  Just a few years back, Tennessee had set the scores for demonstrating proficiency in the academic fields so low that 70% and 80% of our students were classified as proficient in the core academic subjects.  Everyone knew it was a lie.  But most of the other states were doing the same, so we jumped on the same band wagon. 

However, we were exposed!  We do have national tests:  the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests are administered by the Federal government to samples of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.  Instead of having proficiency rates of 70% and 80%, our proficiency rates were 20% and 30%.  A few months back I was in a meeting with our Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen.  She had met recently with a group of corporate leaders, and they were discussing the level of education needed for their future workforce.  They informed our Commissioner that they looked only at NAEP scores to determine the educational level of the population because they could not trust the proficiency levels determined by state exams.  This is a sad state of affairs.
How often have I heard, “Washington should not tell us how to run our schools; we know what’s best for our children!”  Do we?   I have devoted my entire adult life to education.  Since 1973, I have observed, worked with, or worked against state departments of education and local school boards in two different states.  I have known some of the most remarkable officials in state departments of education and on local school boards.  They have worked selflessly to improve our schools.  But on the other side, I have witnessed some of the most educationally unsound policies imaginable come from state departments of education and local school boards.  These policies usually originate from individuals so limited in their life experiences that they have no idea what is going on around the world.  I have to conclude that local people do not always know what is best for their children.  Our competition is not with the local community a few miles down the road or even with the schools in another state.  The competition is global, and the losers will be left in the wake of the educational systems in countries whose students perform at the highest levels.  Too few of our students perform at the highest levels.  We are not number one, two, or three. 


I don’t ask you to agree with everything I have said in this blog, but I do ask you to consider the points I have made.      

Bless you my children, 

Dr. Terry L. Simpson

Director of Teacher Education
Maryville College

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why Are You Here?

I began my teaching career in the fall of 1973 at Cedar Bluff Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Many of my views about teaching and learning were influenced by my colleagues and administrators at Cedar Bluff, which included Brenda Yarnell, Jean Wolfe, Catherine Gettys, Barbara Kelly, Linda Pinkstaff, Fred Neidiffer, and George Perry.  I have worked in teacher education since 1986 in Texas and Tennessee.  On several occasions I have been confronted by a similar question: "How can you with a clear conscience encourage students to become teachers?  These students could make much more money in another profession, they will not have any respect in the community, and some fool may come into their classroom and kill every student and teacher in the room."

Every teacher reading this blog has faced similar questions.  When I get up in the morning and look into the mirror, and begin my day as a teacher educator, do I have a clear conscience?  Yes! I believe teaching is a noble and rewarding profession as well as essential for the progress of our nation.  But first, let me deal with violence.  I believe we can agree that we are not safe anywhere, including restaurants, shopping centers, military bases, movie theatres, and church.  As long as a critical and vocal group in this country believes that the country must be awash in guns in order to be safe, this is not going to change.  Our country is the most Christian and the most violent country in the western world.  What a paradox! Regardless, research is clear on the topic of children and violence.  The most dangerous place for a child to be is in the home, and the safest place for a child to be is at school. As you began another school year, renew your commitment to make your classroom a safe place for all children.

I clearly understand the financial limits placed upon your future (based on your decision to be a teacher).  I worked extra jobs during many summers to pay the bills.  I have had students in our teacher licensure program come to my office and withdraw from the program because they do not want to spend the rest of their lives living on the limited teacher’s salary.  I have had former students find me at Homecoming (and in Cracker Barrel) and apologize as they tell me they are leaving the teaching profession in order to make more money in another profession.  During a Meet Maryville on a Saturday a mother asked me, “Why should my daughter pay the tuition at Maryville College and work on a teacher’s salary for the rest of her life?”  These and other questions do not have one simple answer, and each individual teacher must arrive at his/her own answer.

The answer starts with a very important question.  Why are you here?  What is your purpose on this planet?  You could take the existentialist approach to this question and argue that our universe is filled with chaos, and we do not have a master plan or a God who is in control.  We are thrust into this chaos, and each individual must make his/her own order and/or meaning in our existence.      

Of course, one could also take the opposite approach and argue that a sovereign God is in complete control of the events on this planet.  He reveals a plan for each individual who believes. Several years ago I was studying the philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, and I ran across the following quote, “History is God thinking.”   

Regardless, of your approach, I have found that teachers who remain effective in our profession year after year have a powerful sense that teaching is my niche in life, teaching is my calling from God, or teaching is how I make sense of the chaos around me.  In my personal library I have a book entitled The First Principles: A Scientist’s Guide to the Spiritual by John J. Petrovic, retired Fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory.  In this book he quotes William James, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”  As a teacher pouring your soul into the lives of your students, which includes your passion for learning, your ethic of fairness and justice, and the essential value of hard work, this means these values will be passed down from generation to generation. In this sense your impact is eternal**.

For all teachers who read this blog, as you prepare for a new year, may this be the most rewarding year in your professional career.  Our children need you.

Bless You My Children,
Dr. Terry L. Simpson

**Last spring, one of our math licensure students was asked to calculate the number of K-12 students impacted by Dr. Simpson's 25 years as an educator. It was determined that ~750 MC graduates in the last 25 years directly impacted over 552,000 K-12 students. Eternal impact? You better believe it! 552,000 K-12 students touched by the ideals and philosophies of 1 man. Why are you here?

Monday, July 13, 2015


July 13, 2015 / Simpson's Summer Blog Series

Life is tough.  Any vocation or profession which requires interacting with people for hours each day often brings folks to the point of throwing up their hands and screaming, “I quit!”  Individuals in most professions at some point find a need to express a recommitment to the goals of their profession.  The citizens of a nation at some point in their history realize they need to experience a rebirth in the founding principles of their nation.  Athletes, during a long season, may have to schedule a team meeting to restore the importance of the team rather than placing the emphasis on a few individuals.  Religious folks find the need of revival on a regular basis. 

Being a teacher in K-12 education is a daily emotional, intellectual, and physical drain.  A few years ago, one of our graduates and a first-year teacher emailed me right after school one day with the following message: “Dr. Simpson, remind me why I wanted to be a teacher.”  The following spring when one of her classes filled with low level students made the most academic growth in several years, I received a very different email.  She remembered why she became a teacher.  However, be it the first semester of the first year, the third year, the fifth year, or the twentieth year, most teachers hit a point in which they are in desperate need of renewal

If you are at a low point in your professional career as a teacher, the first step you must first take is to realize you are in need of renewal and you are not alone.  Take a critical look at your diet, regular exercise routine, and rest.  Eating an entire family bag of Hersey Chocolate Nuggets may not be the best approach, but I have tried it once or twice.  I addressed “rest” several weeks back, and you may want to find that blog. 

However, in my 42+ years as a teacher, one significant factor stands out in my observations of other teachers and my self-analysis of the ups and downs of my own professional career.  Teachers who attend conferences, especially conferences in their academic disciplines, tend to experience less burn-out than other teachers.  From 2008 through 2012, I had the privilege of being the Director of the Maryville College East Tennessee Math/Science Partnership.  The impact of this experience on many middle school and high school teachers was profound.   

I emphasize your academic discipline, because outside a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, your love of the content in your academic discipline played a significant role in your decision to be a teacher.  Gaining new information and a deeper understanding of your academic discipline is a powerful motivational factor.  You may want to start by joining the Tennessee association of your academic discipline and attending their yearly conference.  

The list below may help you get started: 
I am well aware that many school districts will not reimburse you for your membership fee or for the expenses of attending a conference.  However, I think this personal investment in your own professional development and renewal is well worth the personal cost. 

Bless you my children, Terry L. Simpson

(Image by B. Lucas)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thoughts After the Tragic Event in Charleston

June 24, 2015 / Simpson's Summer Blog Series
If the murders had taken place in Iraq with a radical Sunni Muslim walking into a Mosque filled with Shi’a Muslims praying and the radical Sunni shot to death nine Shi’a while they were praying, we would dismiss the murders with a thoughtless comment, “They have been killing each other for hundreds of years.”  But it wasn’t in Iraq.  It was another country, another religion.  It is our country, it is Christianity, but with the same hatred, bigotry and pure evil.  How long have we been stereotyping and killing others who are racially and religiously different from us?      
Another question about this event troubles me greatly.  How does a person build up so much hatred toward another race of people in just 21 years?  Hate is learned, so who was his teacher?  Although racist sites on the internet give bigots a free public platform and place, all of them in the same room so they can feed off each other’s hate, the total blame cannot not be placed on these sites.  When did Dylann Roof develop the predisposition to go to these sites and start to believe their hate-filled lies?  Did a teacher somewhere miss an opportunity to point this young man in a different direction? 
I must be honest.  Since last Thursday the faces of children who once sat in my classes, but in later years committed serious crimes, have been passing through my mind.  I have often wondered if I could have done more to touch their young and impressionable souls and point them in a different direction.   
Teachers today are under constant pressure, I believe too much pressure, to solve all the academic, economic, social, and negative family issues that face our children. This pressure has caused many of our best and most creative teachers to throw up their hands and leave teaching because we are too often asking the impossible.   
However, over the past 43 years I have come to hold several beliefs about the role of teachers in our public schools, and the tragedy in Charleston has intensified my commitment to those beliefs.   First, you may have a license to teach math, biology, history or English, but first and foremost you teach children.  There may be days when something other than the planned math lesson takes priority. 
Second, we neglect addressing the great moral issues of life in our democratic society to our own detriment.  In the early twentieth century, progressive educators viewed the school as a place where students practiced living in a democracy by addressing the responsibilities as well as the freedoms of living in that democracy.    
Third, we are witnessing the largest migration of people to different countries and regions in recorded history in order to escape famine, poverty, wars, and genocide.  Consequently, I believe the most important moral value that must be taught to all our children is a sincere respect for all people who inhabit our planet.  Furthermore, one of the most effective forms of teaching and learning is when the teacher models the learning.  Modeling is especially powerful when teaching moral values.  We must recommit to teaching and modeling respect for all, including my people and especially those people.  This moral value is more important than STEM, Common Core, IPads, and standardized tests.  Do my views constitute heresy?  I am beginning my 43rd year as a teacher; I have been around the block more than once.  I have no apology for this view.   
When I was a child attending a little rural church across the country road from my home, I was taught a song the words of which I will never forget.  These words, referring to children, are, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  As a teacher, I want to ask you a very important question.  When you stop and consider the students who will be in your classes in just over a month from now, will all those students be precious in your sight?  You do not have to say to your students, “You are precious.”  They will know by your actions.  Model the learning. 
Bless you my children, Terry L. Simpson

Thursday, June 11, 2015


June 11, 2015 / Simpson's Summer Blog Series

In my opinion, one of the most important activities for teachers is the deliberate effort to take a break from school and your students over the weekend.  I am not saying an effective teacher never brings school work home.  Teachers always have to grade those essays or exams over the weekend, but this does not happen every weekend.  Use the weekend to pursue activities you enjoy that will take your mind off issues with your students at school. 
The weekend is the time to focus on your family.  My precious daughter, Jennifer, was born on November 5, 1972, and I completed student teaching during the 1973 spring semester. I was hired to teach in the same school the next fall.  I remember bringing school work home too often.  One evening I was at the kitchen table in our apartment, and Jennifer, as a toddler, made her way to the table.  Her little fingers barely reached the table, and her eyes were just over the edge of the table.  I looked up, and she was desperately trying to make eye contact with me.  I never felt so guilty in all my life.  I realized at that point I cannot neglect my own child for my students at school.  However, I have constantly fought this battle.  I can remember coming home after dealing with 130 eighth graders all day, and Jennifer would meet me at the door ready to spend time with me.  I would have to take 30 minutes or so to unwind from school before I could give her all my attention.  
Many of our graduates at Maryville College are very involved in their respective faith communities.  If you teach eighth grade at the middle school, why not teach eighth graders in Sunday School (beloved church leaders might ask)?  No! No! No!  Several years ago I shared this warning with our student teachers.  Two of those student teachers, who would be married after graduation, planned to teach high school and work with the youth in their church.  They were shocked that I warned them not to work with youth in their church if they taught teens in school.  I think it was two years after their graduation that they found me at Homecoming.  Their first statement was, “You were right!”  Instead of working with the youth in church, one was working in the nursery and the other was teaching a Sunday School class for the oldest men in the church.  
Being a teacher, especially an effective teacher, is intense and stressful.  If you cannot walk away from your school and students to find much needed rest, you are setting yourself up for becoming a burned-out teacher.  We need you in the classroom, and your students need you at your best every day. 
As I write this blog, I am well aware that I have trouble practicing what I have just encouraged you to do.  A few years ago, Maryville College started administering a series of tests to incoming first year students to help them clearly understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to plan and prepare for their futures.  They invited faculty to drop by the Learning Center and take the same tests.  I said to myself, “Why not?”  I was classified as an introverted workaholic.  I go home and tell my wife, “Baby, I just finished a series of tests at the College, and I now know who I am.  I am an introverted workaholic!”  She glared at me with fire in her eyes and responded, “You didn’t have to take a damn test for me to know that!”  She was right and she usually is.
Bless you my children, 
Terry L. Simpson

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Keeping a Positive Attitude as a Teacher in the Midst of the Negative Attitude toward Schools and Teachers

MAY 28, 2015 / Simpson's Summer Blog Series

Keeping a Positive Attitude as a Teacher in the Midst of the Negative Attitude toward Schools and Teachers
Usually at the midpoint in the student teaching semester, one or more of our student teachers will ask, “How do I keep from becoming a burned-out teacher like so many of the teachers in my school?”  Furthermore, over the past few years I have received numerous emails or phone calls from graduates who were exhausted as teachers.  After a few minutes of encouragement, they have often responded, “Dr. Simpson, thank you for reminding me why I wanted to be a teacher.” 
This summer I want to address this topic.  Some of my suggestions come from others and my observations of teachers in general. Other suggestions come from those periods of darkness during my 43 years of teaching at various levels, and the actions that helped pull me out of those times.   
My first suggestion is to maintain a positive attitude.  In order to remain effective as a teacher, one must keep a positive attitude toward students, parents, and the political realities of education.  You must separate your students from the politics surrounding teaching.  The County Commission may have voted down a budget increase, which means another year without a pay increase for teachers.  Please don’t resort to what I have heard many times, “Since the County Commission refuses to pay me what I am worth, I will work less as a teacher.” I understand this reaction.  Just remember that when a new governor and/or new Commissioner of Education take office, they will make changes that will revolutionize education.   
I also understand the necessity of working another job in the summer to supplement your salary as a teacher.  Over different summers, I worked at Elm Hill, waited tables in a family owned drive-in restaurant, and baled hay on a farm.  For a number of years, I officiated high school basketball mainly for extra income.   
Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying.  Stay involved in the demand for higher salaries and better benefits for teachers, but do not bring those battles into the classroom with your students. When you step into the classroom with those 32 students (I had 42 eighth-graders in my class one year), give those students your best effort each day.  I want to encourage you to take an hour or two this summer and make a list of the positive accomplishments that took place in your classroom this year.  I think you will be very surprised.

Bless you my children, 
Terry L. Simpson

Friday, April 10, 2015

Challenge to the 2015 Initiates into Kappa Delta Pi


April 9, 2015 / Kappa Delta Pi Initiation

Kappa Delta Pi – International Honor Society in Education

Kappa Delta Pi is committed to the pursuit of excellence in education—gathering elite educators and providing them with innovative resources to help them make a difference in the world.  Members commit to four ideals—Fidelity to Humanity, Science, Service and Toil.

Kappa Delta Pi was founded March 8, 1911, at the University of Illinois.  The Chi Iota Chapter at Ma was incorporated by Dr. Bernard Buell on April 20, 1996.

Members must have a 3.3 GPA and be nominated by a professor in the Maryville College Teacher Education Program.

 Watch the video or read Dr. Simpson's remarks to the 2015 initiates.

Dr. Simpson’s Challenge to the 2015 Initiates into Kappa Delta Pi

I want you to look closely at this group of students—top academic performers in majors across the various academic divisions on this campus with an average GPA of 3.64.  You have the potential to be successful in the profession of your choosing.  As highly motivated students, you have freely chosen to dedicate your professional lives to the education of our children.

The political pundits claim that our brightest students do not become teachers.  I don’t think so!  Maybe they should visit our campus and talk to our teacher licensure students.

The naysayers argue that today’s students are self-centered and concerned only with the material things they will acquire in life.  I don’t think so!  They should ask these students about their values and goals.

The doomsday prophets lament about the failure of our schools, especially our public schools.  I don’t think so!  These men and women will be successful wherever they teach, and their students will be successful.

A few months back we reached a number in this country that should have caused alarm, but it did not.  For the first time in our nation, the majority of American children live in poverty.  But we must remember, your role as a teacher is even more critical.  Research has consistently demonstrated that children from poor families must have effective and creative teachers or they will fail.

Yet, we know that our schools lose a significant number of our brightest and most creative teachers within the first three years of their teaching experience.  Don’t forget that our schools desperately need you.  They need your knowledge, your creativity, and most of all your idealism. 

However, I must remind you that many schools have a very powerful, self- appointed committee—the Water Bucket Brigade.  It is the task of this brigade, much like pouring water on a campfire, to stamp out the fires of enthusiasm in new teachers.  They want to destroy your idealism in the name of their real life “realism” and “I don’t care anymore” attitudes. However, they understand neither idealism nor realism. 

Don’t let anyone, including burned out teachers and principals, destroy your idealism.  Stay out of the teachers’ lounge! Without high ideals and the struggle for perfection, a society is doomed to failure.  I am here to reaffirm your idealism.  You must never quit. You will earn the respect of those in you community; you will make a difference in the lives of children; you will have a positive and lasting influence on American society. And, when you are named teacher of the year, you must call us before you call your mother.

Several months ago, I viewed an interview with a former Tennessee Commissioner of Education.  She spoke of a meeting that she had with a group of very successful entrepreneurs each of whom had risen from poverty to success.  She said that each of the entrepreneurs could immediately tell you the teacher that made the difference in his or her life.

I am finishing my 25th year at Maryville College and 42nd year as a teacher, and at this point in my life, I often reflect on my success and failure.  I am old enough to have that privilege and you have to listen.

Although I have no idea how it will happen, in my faith community we believe that we will give a final account of how we lived during this brief time on earth.  The Holy Scripture that I read has a letter from the Apostle Paul to Christians at Thessalonica.  Paul had taught and poured his soul into these individuals.  He wrote “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?  For you are my glory and joy.”

Just thinking about giving a final account of my life gives me great pause.  When I contemplate on my many failures, I can only appeal for mercy and forgiveness.  This is the very reason I refrain from judging others.  This may seem selfish, but I am too concerned about my own accountability to worry about others.
 However, when I think of you and the time we have spent pouring our souls into your development as teachers of our children, with boldness and confidence on that day of final accounting I will present you to our Lord.  For you are my hope, my joy and my crown of exultation. 

In this my 25th year at Maryville College, I never cease to be amazed at the quality of students who enter our teacher education program.  I surely have the best job on this planet.  I consider it an honor and privilege to work with you.  You make us very proud.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Theories, Innovation and Experience in the Classroom

Have you ever heard of Edwards Deming?  He is remembered in his role as adviser, consultant, author, and teacher to some of the most influential businessmen, corporations, and scientific pioneers of quality control. He is the most widely known proponent of statistical quality control. 

In 1942, while at the Bureau of the Census, Deming was retained as a consultant to the Secretary of War and was asked by W. Allen Wallis, a statistician at Stanford University, for ideas on ways to aid the war effort.  Deming suggested a short course in Shewhart methods to teach the basics of applied statistics to engineers and others.  The idea was adopted, and the first course was held in the summer of 1942.  The courses were repeated many times with Deming as the instructor.  The influences of these courses on the individuals who formed the core of the statistical quality control are well known.

Because of his work at the USDA and his experience in statistics, Deming was sent to Japan in 1946 by the Economic and Scientific Section of the War Department to study agricultural production and related problems in the war-damaged nation.  He returned to Japan in 1948 to conduct more studies for the occupational forces. 

Deming convinced Kenichi Koyanagi, one of the founding members of the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), of the potential of statistical methods in the rebuilding of Japanese industry.  Koyanagi, in turn, suggested the idea to JUSE, which invited Deming to teach courses in statistical methods to Japanese industry.  Under the auspices of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, Deming arrived in Japan to teach in June 1950.  He returned five times as teacher and consultant to Japanese industry.

Deming gave his Japanese students not only statistical theory, but also confidence.  “I told [Japanese industrialists] Japanese quality could be the best in the world, instead of the worst,” he said.  Still, many were skeptical.  “I was the only man in Japan who believed that Japanese industry could do that.”  Deming made a prophetic statement that the Japanese could capture world markets within five years if they followed his advice.  “They beat my prediction.  I had said it would take five years.  It took four.” 

During the period of his activities in Japan, Deming pursued a similar mission in the United States.  However, it has taken the United States much longer to pay attention to his teachings.  As I became aware of the economic competition between American and Japanese industries during the 1970s/80s, it seemed as if the Japanese always won the competition.  Everyone was taking about the Japanese management style, which was actually the teaching of Deming.  Japanese corporate leaders bought into his theory, but American corporate leaders did not.  You know the result.  (ASQ)

Around the time of Deming’s death in 1993, I watched an extended interview with him on TV.  The topic of “new theories” came up during the interview.  He said that “experience is the best teacher” is an interesting concept; however, if experience is the only teacher, society is in trouble because nothing will change.  Society must have the constant infusion of new theories; some will be rejected while others will become a significant part of the economic/social structure.   
This very issue of how a profession or society reacts to new theories is at the heart of the educational battle in the United States.  Teachers often respond to new theories by saying, “Oh, that’s a theory you learned at the college/university; it will never work in the classroom” (I have been known to make that statement myself).  However, not having the development of new theories in teaching and learning would be like not having new theories in the treatment of disease in medical science.  Yes, it is essential that all new medical theories be tested, and some will be effective while others will not.  Yet, if new theories are not introduced into a profession, field of science/technology, or society, that entity or organization is in a state of dying. 

One of the significant barriers to change in education is that teachers have the tendency to teach the way they were taught.  In other words, we use those teaching methods/strategies that match our learning preferences.   I have a series of questions that must be asked:  Are the students in my eight-grade class just like me when I was in the eighth grade?  Has the field of neurological research given us new understandings about the function of the brain which impacts how we learn?

Where do we find the source of new theories in teaching and learning?  Often an innovative school system led by a dynamic director of schools (superintendent) may develop and test new theories.  These school systems often attract creative and dynamic teachers. 

I have seen occasions where classroom teachers are the source of new theories.  However, in the United States this is rare because teachers are responsible for numerous other tasks other than teaching.  Teachers in other countries are given more time to plan and develop new strategies than are teachers in the United States.

Finally, colleges/universities are often the source of new theories in teaching and learning.  The very structure and reward system in higher education lends itself to developing and testing new theories.  However, there are those who want to remove the preparation of new teachers from higher education and place it in the school district and classroom because they feel that instructors in education courses are out of touch with the K-12 classroom. I find it amazing that we expect institutions of higher education to develop and test new theories in all academic fields except in teacher education.  If these critics get their way, an essential source for new theories in teaching and learning will be silenced, and the real losers will be our children.

As Director of Teacher Education at Maryville College, I cannot guarantee that each new theory in teaching and learning that we share with our students will be effective with every child in every classroom, but neither can the medical scientist guarantee that each new drug developed from research will be effective in the war against cancer.  But medical scientists keep developing new theories and testing those theories just as educational researchers should keep developing and testing new theories in teaching and learning.  The status quo in the war against cancer is not acceptable; neither should the status quo in teaching and learning be acceptable.

“No one has to change.  Survival is optional.”  Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Bless you my children,
Terry Simpson