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