Each month I honor an individual, team, program, school, or piece of legislation that is helping to promote a quality education for kids. I welcome your nomination for this honor, and I will consider thoughtfully any name(s) you recommend. You can use the "Contact " link to make a nomination. Please explain why you think your nominee should be honored, and let me know how I can contact you for verification. And if you're one of a group that has gone the extra mile, tell me about it. It doesn't hurt to blow your own horn once in awhile. And besides, nobody will ever accuse you of bragging because I don't ever reveal the nominator's name.
Most educators get a tad defensive when parents question their motives, decisions or techniques. As teachers we know our hearts are in the right place, and we tend to think we know more than parents do about how to educate kids. Of course we pretend to listen to parental suggestions, but do we attach much weight to their words? If I was a typical teacher (and I think I was), the answer is "No."
This month's Gold Star goes to an atypical teacher, Ilana Garon. Ilana listened to a parent's inquiry, reevaluated her vocabulary building technique, and made a change that will undoubtedly benefit hundreds (maybe thousands) of students in the years ahead. I learned about Ilana's experience through her October 9, 2012 blog which was reprinted on Education Week Teacher (edWeek.org). This is her story.
Last fall "Joe's" parents made a spontaneous after-school visit to Ilana's classroom. Joe's parents were polite, but concerned. It seems Joe, who happens to be a very good student, did not understand the book they were reading — The Lord of the Flies.
Ilana told Joe's dad that it was a challenging book and a lot of the kids were struggling with it. She went on to say that she had been going over important parts of the story in class, even reading sections aloud in order to check for comprehension.
"No," Joe's father said. "It's not the story. He doesn't understand the words in the book. I want you to check every day to make sure he knows the words."
I probably would have had my hackles up at that point, but not Ilana. She felt GUILTY. Since the beginning of the year she'd been meaning to institute a daily vocabulary exercise, but she had gotten so caught up with establishing other routines — specific teams for group and pair-work, creation of portfolios, peer-revision practices that she hadn't done as much concrete vocabulary study as she had planned to do. So, Ilana ate crow.
"I hear what you're saying," she told Joe's dad. "I'll be instituting vocabulary study every day from now on." And she has. The next day, after visiting with her colleague-friend Danny, Ilana spent the better part of 10 minutes having the kids correctly pronounce the words "vicissitudes" and "declivities" and discussing how they'd be used in conversation. Danny had told her kids liked that type of simple vocabulary lesson, and he was right. Now Ilana does vocabulary building EVERY DAY, and her students reap the benefits.
I am awarding Ilana the Gold Star because after hearing the parent's concern (complaint?), she did not get angry. She got busy.
Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com