Jennifer Anne Clark, M.Ed.

Educational Consultant and Advocate, p3 Productions, LLC

Blog? Why not?!

Insights and Attitudes on special education, leadership, management, and parenting. 

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To teach is to learn...

Posted by Jennie Clark, M.A.Ed, P.D.S, Professional Learning Consultant on February 17, 2013 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

To teach is to learn...

 

I find myself having to explain the concept of homework to my kids a lot lately. My first approach is to explain that there are twenty-plus kids in the class and the teacher needs to get an idea of who understands and who doesn’t. If everyone does their homework and turns it in then the teacher can see how each person processed the lesson. “But why do we have to do it at home? Why can’t we just turn in our work at school?” So I go on to explain that it’s easy to do the work while you are still there, with the teacher nearby and the notes still scribbled on the board, but when you get home and you’ve had a few hours to not think about it, what do you remember? Homework makes you think about the lesson again. Sometimes, it’s easy and we get it, and other times we end up having to figure it out all over again. Either way, the thought process that surrounds homework helps embed the information and knowledge further into your brain, helping you learn and remember.

 

My kids are still not impressed. “Fine,” I say. “Just think of it this way: the teacher giving you homework only leads to the teacher having homework because they have to grade what you produce. So if you are mad at the teacher for giving you homework - write a lot so they have to read more and it will take them longer.” They just roll their eyes - not buying it, I guess.

 

I know that they know the value of practice and homework, but they still dread it just the same, hence the litany that gets repeated in our dining room at least once a week. The funny thing is, that in my years of teaching and all the classes I took to become an educator, we never really discussed homework, or at least there were no meaningful, memorable conversations on pros vs. cons of assigning homework or what kind of things to assign or anything like that. I’ve read articles throughout my career, but it’s only in recent years when I’ve had to teach my kids about the value of homework did I really have to discover it for myself. So in enlightening them, I learned and gained a better understanding.

 

I’ve seen this play out more and more - all those lectures and statements and the answers to ‘why do I need to know this?’ playing out in daily life (or at the very least in my kids’ homework.) The most obvious example is math. I hate math. I majored in English, I cried in Math. Math was the enemy until my Sophomore year in college, when I took a math course that was more about logic and theory and the history of certain math applications. For the first time, someone was giving me a ‘why’ and something to think about and a new way to approach math. It was actually fun. Only decent math class - ever. In 17 years of schooling. That’s sad.

 

I have spent a lot of time in the past 10 years tutoring individuals who hate math, like me. I should call it “Math for Haters”, but basically it’s the basics. It all comes back to the basics, always. If you don’t have good foundations, you can’t build. So what did I learn? To some extent, the nuns had something right. Memorizing the times tables might have been a Godsend. It has served me well to know that 8x7 is 56 - to just know that. Being able to recall those numbers quickly has been helpful in surviving the rest of the math world. Unfortunately, that is the end of the positives in my math experience.

In second grade, we learned to divide. Well, the rest of my class was taught the process and picked it up. I didn’t. I cried because I needed to understand why we were dividing. What was I supposed to do with this calculation? No one could explain it to me. I think that if someone had found the right words, the right way to say that ‘there are thirty cookies and fifteen children and we need to share evenly, so how many would they each get?’ or spent some time with me to just let the light bulb come on, instead of putting numbers on paper and expecting me to just ‘get it’ I wouldn’t hate math so much. But, instead there was a lot of yelling (mom), and I think my dad tried to teach me Chemistry in the process because whatever he did to help just confused me more. They didn’t know how I learned. They didn’t understand, the teachers didn’t understand.

 

I have spent many years researching learning styles and methods of teaching that reach each person in a way that really speaks to their needs. Additionally, I develop practice to continue the lesson in a way that actually means something to that person. And the funny thing is, I actually enjoy teaching math. I will only teach it to individuals, or small groups if I have to, but I make sure that I am able to apply the concepts in a way that is really going to make sense to that individual. The funny thing is, all this time spent finding different resources and studying the math and practicing so I could explain it better, I have actually gotten better at math. I find that I can group numbers and process them faster. I have a better understanding because of my teaching. I’m no math whiz, but I feel more confident in my skills, and definitely in the basics.

 

I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t want to be the sage on the stage, I’d rather be the guide on the side, helping people ask the right questions and find their own answers. That’s what I’ve learned about myself - what do you want to learn today?

Always Keep Learning

Posted by Jennie Clark, M.A.Ed, P.D.S, Professional Learning Consultant on February 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

 

When I was in middle school, our youth group held an 'Up All Night' retreat. The purpose was for us kids to get a glimpse at different career opportunities and see what goes on in the world while we are asleep. We started at the supermarket and saw groceries on pallets whizzing on conveyors, and then went to the post office and police station (and got fingerprinted and sat in a jail cell for a while...). Then we went to the fire department and by around 3am we were sitting in the emergency room waiting area (which was as far as they would let us enter). This part of the evening was extremely boring until a multiple knife wound victim and a whole bunch of police officers showed up. I've never seen our leaders move so quickly to get us out of there. We continued to the bakery where they were just getting everything started for the morning and after a nice visit there we left with fresh pastries in hand to return to the meeting hall for breakfast and then to be picked up and brought home to finally SLEEP!

This was a memorable experience for me, not only because it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, but because I was raised in the 70s when Sesame Street characters were singing to me about equality and about how women can be anything they want to be. My mother had done a good job of pointing out every job option she observed, and I know that I have tried to do the same with my kids (although many times the message is, 'do you see that? That guy has to clean port-a-johns! If you don't want that job, do your homework and get an education!") The point is that I have had my eyes open and have been paying attention to the limitless options people have to earn a living.

In my own career I have been fortunate to have the freedom and flexibility (and love and support of an understanding husband) to explore. Some jobs I fell into through timing or necessity, often through a temp agency. From these experiences I have learned to keep up with the latest technology (if big companies can afford temps, they usually can afford the newest technology, and I have learned to use so many machines and programs because of that), and I have had an insider’s view to many corporate systems such as Lysol, Home Depot, and our local hospital. These insights have taught me a lot about how companies do business as I had to learn their policies and experienced the corporate practices first hand as an outsider (temp), which gave me a lot of time to ask questions about how the staff felt about working at each company and how things benefit them or hinder them.

Usually temping was a way to make ends meet between career paths. In high school and college I started as a florist (well, an assistant, but I eventually worked my way up to flower arranging and care, plants, gift baskets, and silk flower arranging). This has served me well as I have earned extra income making bridal bouquets for brides I knew who wanted to save a few dollars, and I have been able to create beautiful parties and decorations and saved a lot of money not having to hire out to have beautiful decorations and gifts.

When I graduated, I was hoping to be a teacher, but there were not many jobs (I had friends interviewing with 400 other candidates) so I played it safe and used my English degree to work with a marketing firm. I did a lot of writing and proofreading, and soon learned the business of advertising including print layout, ad placement, event planning, script writing, and so much more. It was great because I worked with a small firm, so we all worked hard and I learned a lot on the fly from the owners who had international marketing experience working for one of the largest firms before opening their own shop.

Eventually, the time came when I could finally try to be a teacher, and I earned my certification and put in time as a substitute and an aide, then a teacher for middle school chorus and a coach for marching band color guards in three schools. But I wasn't finding the full-time classroom I had originally thought I wanted, partly because I was realizing that as a mom, teaching is not always the best option. Sure, you have summers off, but you don't have the freedom to visit your child's school for a concert or poetry reading or class party because you have to run your class. But this discovery came to me just as an opportunity to work with the Girl Scouts appeared. I was hired as the Director of Volunteers and Training, and soon found that I had a talent for identifying volunteers' skills and helping them find a place in the organization, and for teaching adults. I developed training courses, created online learning opportunities, and regional events for our state and with the national organization. It was an excellent blend of everything I had done so far, and it educated me in non-profit management and grants and fund development and provided me with such an excellent learning experience in management from watching our Executive Director in action and seeing the successful results our council exemplified.

I also have lived the 'what not to do in corporate America' side of employment. I watched as the Girl Scout councils began to merge and people came to work every day fearful that their position would be eliminated before the closing bell. I witnessed the tension and micro-management and have seen a council that was ranking first in the nation now ranking in the 75th percentile. When I saw my mentor and CEO would not be staying with the Girl Scout council, I knew it was time for me to move on. I witnessed more corporate failure with a temp agency that I became a manager for. My thought was that I believe in temping, and I felt that I could manage a temp office. Unfortunately, my regional manager was a micro-manager as well, and I was not given the training or support I needed to succeed. Communication was miserable and weak, and the more I questioned and tried to improve, the more I was shot down. Moving on, I decided to fulfill a longtime dream of running a child care center - combining my love of school with my management style. I believe that I did an excellent job, increasing enrollment from 45 students to 104 in the first year. Unfortunately, the owner decided he didn't want to be a part of the school any longer, and stopped paying the bills. Corporate stepped in and instead of training us how to manage financials, they started cutting hours for key teachers, shuffling children from class to class so they could send higher paid teachers home and leave kids with less experienced, lower wage staff. Parents were unhappy, teachers were unhappy, enrollment and morale dropped completely. In order to provide better care, I was filling in in classrooms, and then having to stay late to work on management data and reports. Suddenly I was working 16 hour days and my salary hadn't gone up in the entire time I had worked there, and my husband pointed out to me that my salary at a 16-hour day came out to less than minimum wage, I was done.

Fortunately, leaving that job was like hitting the pause button. I was able to look at my career, pull out what things have been beneficial and what didn't work (for me and for the corporate offices I spent time in). My next step was putting myself out there and meeting people and letting this new phase develop. I had taken the time to earn my Masters in Adult Education when I left the Girl Scouts, because I knew that I enjoyed teaching adults and I could see the potential in having that degree. So now I set out to teach adults. I started with a local tutoring company helping students improve their writing skills. I also joined another tutoring company that works with adults with special needs. I help these students with life skills and interviewing practice and job skills, and so much more. Craigslist has connected me with adults in need of training through partner companies and local community colleges, and I have also been able to approach many small business owners and ask them if they would like to do things more efficiently and if they could do anything better what would it be (or if there was one job they wished they didn't have to do, what would it be and why?) and I am able to help them get to that level through training and education.

I look at every opportunity as a chance to learn. Even the places where at first it seemed I failed, when given a second look, I was able to find the education in the experience. Some of the biggest things I have learned are:

- You don't have to know everything - you have to know the right questions and the right place to look for answers

- Fear not and you will find a way to accomplish great things

- Saying no is a luxury that most of us should not take advantage of until at least age 40. Never be afraid to put in a little extra because in the end it comes back to you.

- ALWAYS keep learning. You are not dead until you stop growing.

 

 



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