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"The reality is that our students do not feel a sense of urgency to participate meaningfully in class or to perform on tests. We as a society give them none.  Nothing is riding on what they do.  They will be bumped along from one grade to the next, regardless of what they do."
                                                              -   Wendy Taylor
  • Wendy Taylor

Updated: Mar 20

Not long ago, a 6th grade student was reading a book

in class whenever he had the opportunity (or could steal one!).  

Periodically, he would bring the book over to my desk and ask me to read a passage.  He was reading an expose about the fast food industry, and my interest was piqued.  I told him I'd like to read the book, too, and he said he'd give it to me when he was finished.    

      A few days later, as he handed me the book, he declared, "I'm never eating fast food again!"  Now I was really intrigued.    I sat down that weekend to read, and truly could not put the book down, all the while feeling the disgust and loathing for this industry building inside me.

Initially, as I read, I was fascinated by the history of fast food in America, from its humble beginnings of 15-year-old Hamburger Charlie trying to find a way to sell his meatballs at the fair without  needing to provide utensils and a plate with them.  (He squashed them between two slices of bread so that people could walk and eat.)   Unfortunately for Charlie, his idea did not immediately take off in other venues, because it was discovered that murderers were using hamburger as a way to hide poison to feed to their victims.  From this less-than-promising beginning eventually rose the hamburger fast-food industry that was, as you might have guessed, begun by the McDonald brothers in California in the 1930's.     ​       

A lover of history, I read and read, late  into the night, discovering every little nuance to the advent of restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's, and KFC.  Then, my disgust meter began to rise, along with my indignation.       I discovered why fast food is so addicting, a sentence I had heard for years but had rarely put any merit in, figuring that, of course it's addicting. Eating is addicting, if you consider that we feel we must do it at regular intervals in order to live.   But then, I realized the difference between addiction and merely eating, and that the fast food industry regularly injects flavorings that are designed to appeal to the part of the brain that says "Must Have More".  These flavorings are manufactured in New Jersey, using techniques that McDonald's and other restaurant chains have spent billions perfecting.  This fueled my indignation.  But what fueled my disgust was something else.        

 I had read The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, in high school, but had long since set aside the appalling reality of the meat-slaughtering industry in the early 1900's.  This book brought that back in sinister seriosity.  (Yes, I like coining words,)          

We know that the cattle slaughterhouses leave much to be desired in how they humanely address the notion of leading cattle to their deaths, but I hadn't even considered how chicken slaughterhouses might work.  (It's horrendous, by the way.) Or the act of raising the chickens to an adult-enough age to even be slaughtered.  (It's about 18 days right now.)      

My daughter had given me some information about the prevalence of growth hormones in the food-growing industry, but I hadn't thought much about the significance of that until I read in this book about the hormone given to chickens that makes their breasts grow at a dangerous and ridiculous rate, ensuring that each bird will produce a huge amount of meat for processing.  Many birds drop dead of a heart attack due to the fat that clogs their arteries.   Such birds are prey to cannibalism in the chicken houses, as the chickens are crammed so tightly together that many cannot reach the food trays that are provided in their indoor, airless environment.          

All this does not even address the lack of fair-trade practices involved in raising these birds, most of which happens in the rural south, where trade unions are largely impotent, if they exist at all.          

Finally, the concept of what all this fast food does to the American public, particularly teenagers and children, is appalling.  Obesity is not just on the rise in this demographic, it has overtaken it with a vengeance that leaves its victims wondering why their world is a nightmare cycle of eating something that makes them feel good and then hating themselves for it afterward, only to be back in line for more tomorrow.  As a teacher, I address the idea of unsavory persuasion tactics in the world of advertising.  I can see that redoubling my efforts would not be out of place here.        

If you'd like to know what's really going on in our food industry (and it is apparent that the practices do not stop at the door of the fast food restaurant), Chew on This is a must-read.           Prepare to be revolted.

  • Wendy Taylor

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

Implementing collaborative work groups in the classroom. That's all the rage right now in our schools. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Put kids together; give them a problem to solve or a challenge to tackle; just a little adult guidance; and then watch them go!

According to educational instruction videos on best practices, like the one above, your students will automatically engage in the focus of the lesson/project. If you took the time to prepare ahead of class and set everything up for kids the way you should, you'll have no trouble getting your students to learn. They'll be begging you for more opportunities like this.

But what happens if they don't? Watch the sample video, and while you do, conduct a head count. How many students do you see in this "classroom", which is really not a classroom at all, but a controlled, laboratory setting. And even if it were a classroom, what kind of behavior problems do you expect to find in a roomful of kids who know they are being filmed?

Your average classroom has 30 kids in it. What if they're all talking? At the same time. Trying to be heard above the other voices around them. And now, what if some of those kids are not engaged in the lesson, but instead, looking for ways to entertain themselves or cause trouble? That's the reality of an actual classroom.

School principals don't want to hear about this contradictory idea. My own routinely makes the following speech: "When I was in the classroom, management wasn't a problem. You set your expectations and don't settle for anything less. You just DO it."

Mm-hmm. Sounds like someone who's been criticizing from the sidelines for too long. How about getting your hands dirty, Mr. Principal, and show me how you "just do it" when my hands are tied regarding those kids who just don't want to learn?

I'm expected to work one-on-one and discuss ideas with individual groups as my kids are collaboratively learning. How does this work in a 55-minute social studies class with 9 or 10 groups, all talking and wanting my attention at once?

In the past 30 years, many things have changed about what's considered appropriate for Best Practices in education: student-centered learning rather than adult-centered direct instruction, for one thing. Great. Sounds good for the kids.

Now give me only 15 of them, and I can achieve something close to what you see in that video.

  • Wendy Taylor

Updated: Mar 20

What is it with students and their parents these days? I just can't figure out how parents can be so blinded to the realities of what it's like to be a kid.

Here's the thing: Several times lately, I've been contacted by a parent who says they've been checking their kid's grades online and they're not happy with the fact that the kid is earning 2's across the board. (Yes, you read that right. Children in grades K through 6 earn proficiency marks instead of letter grades.) The parent informs me that he or she has talked to the student, and the story is either that

1) I have lost numerous assignments and therefore, the grade is lower than it should be;

or 2) the student doesn't understand things in class and is too afraid to ask for help.

Of course, I have to respond in a positive, friendly, and professional manner, (when what I really want to say is, 'You have got to be kidding me. HOW is it possible that I have "lost" 8 assignments for just ONE kid?').

The other aspect at play here is that the parent doesn't know what goes on in class. He doesn't see his kid passing notes during instruction, playing with slime (the new fidget toy at our school) in his desk, and refusing to take notes or participate in discussions during instruction. He also doesn't realize that his child routinely comes to class without his textbook or even a pencil, and then laughs playfully when he tries to "borrow" from classmates. Of course the kid doesn't know what's going on in class! He's too busy entertaining himself with things that are way more fun than the rigor required to become a critical thinker.

This idea that children never lie to their parents is one of the biggest hurdles to effective learning today. Children ROUTINELY lie if they figure out it will get them out of a bind. And when a parent is sternly asking what's going on at school to result in all these 2's....well, that's definitely a bind that the kid has to get out of. It's human nature to blame things on others. Most of us only learn not to do that when it doesn't work. When parents give credence to lame arguments like "I don't understand what's going on" and "I don't feel comfortable asking questions", children will continue to make those excuses and then dream up even more.

Here's a quick guide to Parenting 101 (for a training a successful student):When you notice your child not performing up to your standards, ask the following questions -

1) What do you take to class with you every day?

2) Where do you keep your graded papers? And where do you keep your unfinished work that you know you need to still be working on?

3) When was the last time you raised your hand to ask a question or offer a thought in class?

4) How often do you check your own grades (and missing assignments) in the online prading program?

5) And when was the last time you asked your teacher about a discrepancy in the grading system?

If the conversation between parent and child ends when the child offers the excuse that he doesn't understand what's going on in class, there's something wrong with where the parent is placing the responsibility for learning.

Then again, the parent is only following the example set by the principal of the school in the first place. Students have been off the hook for their own learning and achievement for at least a decade in American public schools. Just another example of 'unintended consequences' at work. When we made our schools a more 'comfortable' place to learn, we removed all incentives to succeed. Think: accommodations rather than achievement.