In this week's Take Home Test, Isthmus asks the Madison school board candidates to talk about an influential teacher in their past. We also ask what they think about violence in Madison schools.
The Daily Page: Tell us how a teacher changed your life in a large or small way.
Wayne Tucker, my third grade teacher, changed my life in large and small ways.
I remember the impact he had on me. It had never occurred to me that a teacher could be male. It was as if something became unlocked in my mind. I think it speaks volumes to the need for diversity among the teaching staff and the importance it has on our students. Kids are unique and diverse with a whole assortment of "locks" on their minds. Education opens the world of possibilities and the door to success.
It was his enthusiasm, sense of community, and high expectations that most affected me.
Mr. Tucker fully engaged a group of rambunctious third graders with his enthusiasm for facts, music and humor. Whether it was with a discussion about the world and our larger community or discussing the importance of the students' playground behavior, the kids felt Mr. Tucker cared about them and was watching them.
Mr. Tucker's class was the first place where I had someone look me in the eyes and ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. He had high academic expectations for all of us. He opened a world of infinite possibilities to me and I am grateful for it.
Every teacher has had a teacher of her own who lit the path for her. Mine was Mary Kane, who taught English at Walton High in the Bronx. She took a particular interest in me and invited me into her home.
Mrs. Kane lived in Riverdale and it took two busses and a long walk to reach her house. There I would be greeted, taken to a chair by the fireplace, served tea, and class would begin. What did I think about world affairs, the latest novel, movie, or Broadway show? These questions had to be answered intelligently, so preparation was crucial. She encouraged me to apply to the University of Edinburgh because they had special British History classes for American students, and she even paid my tuition.
Mrs. Kane was also a speech teacher. She tried to rid me of my New York accent, and this may have been her only failure. I spent 20 years in New York and my last 35 in Madison, but as your sharp-eared columnist observed, my accent is still pretty thick.
Just after I started teaching, a large package arrived. The accompanying note read, "Every elementary school teacher should have a rocking chair in her classroom.'' Sadly, the chair arrived one week after Mrs. Kane's death. She was still looking after me.
If I became a good teacher in later life, it was because of what this great lady offered me. I followed in her footsteps and even named my daughter, Barbara Mary, for her.
Some parents feel the Madison schools are unsafe. What do you say to those parents?
My first advice would be that if you feel your school is unsafe, talk with the staff, visit the school and voice your concerns. The district has an obligation to ensure the safety of students.
It is the task of the school board to implement policy to ensure fair and equitable treatment of all students. With this comes an expectation of a code of conduct that clearly defines appropriate behavior.
Most parents would be pleased to see the work of the board on this in the district. In a recent Board workshop on this issue, Sue Abplanalp, assistant superintendent for Elementary Schools, summarized the district's continued work on school conduct and safety. She explained that the long-term goal is to align all schools with a consistent model for codes of conduct. So far, 12 elementary schools have implemented this model. Five schools are in the beginning stages and another 13 are set to participate.
This four-year process moves the district from a "discipline" model to one of "supporting positive behaviors" with school-wide strategies that include consistent language in the district, acceptable strategies, and district supported professional development for teachers.
I take particular interest in aligning systems outside the district engaging in continued consultation with parents, cultural groups and the greater community. I intend to actively work with various social services, community centers, high school education resource officers and the Madison Police Department.
Finally, it would benefit us all to take a hard look at the issue of bullying.
I share your concern. There is no doubt that Madison schools have had some troublesome incidents. I still feel, though, that our schools are basically safe, but "basically" is not really good enough.
At present, the district has instituted an "Above the Line, Below the Line" disciplinary plan for the K-8 grades. However, I believe that with increased urbanization, the school district must have a uniform K-12 behavior code, one that all students learn in kindergarten and one that is consistently, fairly and strictly enforced through graduation.
My personal belief, coming from 28 years of classroom experience, is that expulsion should be the penalty of last resort, but if it effectuates a decline in student or staff stress, as well an increase in school safety, then it is certainly a necessity. I prefer in-school suspensions where students can keep up with their studies. Both suspended and expelled students must be given the opportunity to continue their education and, at the same time, be counseled as to behavioral expectations.
The type of school violence that makes the front pages of national newspapers will not be stopped by disciplinary codes alone. That violence is usually associated with harassment or bullying, and we must have preventive measures in place to eliminate this behavior. As a teacher, I taught a successful anti-harassment program in an all-school effort to minimize aggressive behavior. There are many programs like this going on in the district now, and preventative measures are always the best.