Thursday, August 8, 2013

Learning is Winning




 Learning is Winning
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Andrew McCutchen #22
makes a diving catch. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
In the top of the 7th during the 8/6/2013 baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins, centerfielder Andrew McCutchen threw his whole body into an outstanding catch. As a line drive headed toward a gap in left-center field, McCutchen, after an all-out sprint, dove, levitating his body horizontally with the field. With his left arm stretched forward as far as physically possible, and his eyes never, ever leaving the ball, he turned his gloved hand outward and caught the speeding ball, stopping one, if not two runners from crossing Home Plate.  I turned to my husband and chortled, “That man is hungry for the Series!” as inwardly I winced for McCutchen. Ooh, the pain from his landing must have been intense!
As a parent and former teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder, “With one month until school begins, are students as hungry to learn as McCutchen is to win? After all, in my world and, I assume, that of parents, teachers and concerned adults country-wide, Learning is Winning.

Although our Kim and Matt are adults with school-related sugar (and a few sour) plums occasionally
 Learning is Winning
dancing in their memories, I can still remember the anxiety, the stress, the concerns surrounding their academic challenges.  Were they trying hard enough?  Did they really, really care about Train A and Train B hurtling toward each other at varied speeds, especially since early on in their educations, they  both fully realized that any form of math would never become a crucial element to their future success?  Did they understand that it was the higher level thinking skills, not those doggone trains that were important? Did they care enough to throw their whole bodies into their learning?
When I was a classroom teacher, as the dog days of summer edged toward the more temperate days of September, the same stresses began their annual build up in my brain. Although high school kids are too cool to show their love of learning too openly, this year, would the scheduling genie bless me with more inspired students who found English challenging but fun than “apathetic, entitled adolescents” as one senior drawlingly called his peers and himself?  Immediately prior to Josh’s laconic comment, exasperation and frustration had laced my Lecture #267 about the students’  all too prevalent impacted wisdom teeth behavior as I handed out job applications to fast-food franchises.

In these days of instant gratification for food, friends and financial gain, young people consider education a long-term reward, not a pleasure they can enjoy in the here and now.

To them:

Education is that P.S.A.T test in October, the S.AT  the first Saturday of most months, and that state standardized test and A.P. exam next spring, not the word music of Markus Zusak in I Am The Messenger that they are currently studying.
Education is the seven-letter word- COLLEGE-hovering over their far-off horizons, not the possibilities of space-time they are learning about in science class.
Learning is Winning

Education is the, “…job that will support you and your family,” somewhere way down that road to adulthood, not the support of your BFF after the painful break-up with your significant other.
To them, Education is Then-Not the Now.

How can we entice students and make their minds growl with the hunger pangs for Learning, NOW?
How can we lead them to the Waterfalls of Learning and make them want to leap into current instead of just dipping in their toes?

How can we show young people that Education/Learning is the spring training to their major league- a life worth living?
As teachers, parents, mentors and guides we should:
  • Relate the material under school study as well as lessons outside of the classroom to children’s lives as often as possible. Although this might be difficult on an academic level, adults can reel in young people by baiting their teachable moments with emotional and social hooks. After all, whether they are 5 or 18, who is the center of young peoples’ interest?  Themselves.
  • Offer challenges- in classes, with home chores and with community sports and activities where there are winners and competitors.  Anyone who has been around kids for any length of time knows that children fully realize and accept the fact that they will not always be winners, but neither are they always losers. Sooner or later those in the lower end of the win/loss column will want to rise higher.
A Middle School SPED/English teacher told me of a situation where he offered a Warm-Up activity every day to his students. At the start of class, he would write a few words on the board, such as Pittsburgh Steelers Rule, and challenge his students to create as many words as possible from those letters in ten minutes.  The winner received a prize- a granola bar, a piece of candy, the first in line to go to lunch, etc. After a few weeks, a young man came to him and said, “I am tired of losing! I have been practicing at home every day.”

The teacher shook the young man’s hand, handed him a snack-sized Twix, and announced to the class, “He is a winner because he cared enough to work hard to be one.”
  • Show students (don’t tell-telling turns kids off) through examples from the worlds of sports , music, entertainment, politics, medicine, finance, education, etc. how people who  understand that learning is the key to success- be it monetary or personal pride and everything in between- will push their minds farther, will try harder and will challenge themselves to overcome any hurdle to reach their goals.
  • Share a love for learning by walking the walk as well as talking the talk…every day, no matter how difficult that may be.
  • Parents need to live a love for learning and show their respect for the educational system their taxes support.  After all, as parents we are our children’s first and most important teachers. Young peoples’ attitudes toward school and learning have taken root by the time they start school.
After over 30 years as a teacher and 40 years as a parent, I can attest to the fact that positive attitudes create inquisitiveness, an eagerness to step up to the plate and accept challenges, and a “Teach me, more, please,” chorus.  Negative attitudes breed lethargic responses to learning, behavior issues and a “What’s this have to do with my life?” chorus.

Learning is the be-all end-all to a life worth living.
Learning will foster proficient (and higher…often much higher) test scores.

Learning will lead to college and post high school educational acceptances.
Learning will lead to that all-important First Job.

Learning is Winning.
What a wonderful world it would be to hear cries of, “That young person is hungry for Learning!” echoing from schools, homes and newspaper headlines.

Until the next time,
Connie