L E T T E R S   F R O M   J O A N


A reading of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel had us then listening to Humperdink’s opera. A group of K’s and 1st graders decided to put on a play. Here, with Mrs. Larimore’s help and the assistance of older students, the group practices their choral piece.

The writing bug bites Keri and she wrote and illustrated a story about a well-dressed lion. (Independent work)

Because of intense interest in classical music generated by hearing Humperdink, a local music teacher offered to come in and introduce the children to the instruments of the orchestra.

These two 2nd graders wanted to know more about ASL (American Sign Language), so a community lady and her deaf son taught a week of ASL. The two boys gave several lessons to all the students.



August 3, 2010

Dear Mac,

My reading in your second book [Vol II of “Plainston Chronicles”] has just begun and already I’m deeply immersed in what is happening. Feelings that I had buried (I thought) came rushing back as your characters have discussed the unwillingness of a community to embrace anything new where education is concerned. Do you know what hit me like a ton of bricks? The thought that if there are teachers reading the books who have tried anything along the lines of MI, they are going to come out of the woodwork and stand up to be counted.

The more I read into “Conversion,” the more I strongly believe that as adults we do not trust children enough. We think, in our wisdom, that we must “lead” them when, in reality, we need to partner with them in the learning process. It is absolutely essential that as teachers we set aside our egos and be willing to turn the reins over to children when they demonstrate the ability to do for themselves. That was an essential part of my learning curve when I plunged into this whole thing. As I told you, it was self-preservation that led me to attempt my own modified version of MI. Year after year of large classrooms of children (never less than 36!), receiving all the ADD and ADH children, non-English speakers, and so-called problem students, I awoke one night at 1:45 a.m. and said to myself, “I hate teaching! I’ve got to get out!” But knowing that I truly love children and working with them, I analyzed it piece by piece and recognized that what I really hated was not having time for students on an individualized basis. Hence, a refocus of my priorities and energies. What could change? The amount of teacher generated “stuff” and more put into what the children themselves could do.

Was it easy? No way, Jose! That old teacher ego got in my way more than just a few times. Wasn’t I The Teacher? Wasn’t it I who was supposed to lead the class and make the decisions? A few examples of children making better decisions than I did was all it took to put my ego in cold storage and jump in with both feet. Did I make mistakes? You bet, but interestingly enough, those mistakes were always on the side of not trusting the children enough! When I did trust them, they never failed me.

You should have seen the looks on the faces of parents when they came in for conferencing and their child led the discussion! One father exclaimed, “He’s only a kid! I want to hear about him from you!" at which point I said, “Listen closely to what your son is telling you. You are hearing it from me, only far better! Do you understand that your son is fully aware of his capabilities and where he intends to improve?” Now I ask you, what more could a parent want? By the end of the year, I feel that most of the parents, especially those who really cared about their children, were converts. Another father commented at Back To School Night, “I don’t fully understand what you are doing, but keep doing it!”

The hidden treasure in all this? Children who refused to go out to recess because they were involved in something so deeply they couldn’t stop; children who refused to stay home when they were ill because they were afraid they would miss something; children who actually loved school; and children who walked out the door on the last day of the year with a true sense of self-worth--not manufactured by the teacher but earned through hard work.

And my beginning reading into “Conversion” reminded me that I quickly learned to stop sharing the class successes with some of the staff, that I ceased bragging (aloud) about how much my babies were learning, that I never, never mentioned, when other teachers complained about misbehaving students, that I had no students who were not totally into their work and had no time to misbehave. I myself had not realized that we never had to stop for misbehaving and acting out by any student. One day it dawned on me that I NEVER had to pull any child aside and discuss classroom behavior standards. The children set the standards, adhered to them, and dealt with any child who stepped outside the bounds.

Another fascinating side effect of all this was that, as the teacher, I never felt that I needed recess or lunchtime away from the children. When you don’t have to be a disciplinarian, the day is a thousand times brighter and easier. Would you believe that two teachers actually complained to the principal that I was never in the teacher’s lounge? Talk about a reverse compliment!

Another side effect? Far, far less prep time for each day as the children corrected their own work and critiqued it, I had time to meet each day with every single child, evaluate with them what and how they were doing, check their individual folders with them, and solve any educational problems. Consequently, each day began with every child knowing exactly what they were doing that day! Now is that heaven on earth for a teacher?!

I started this in my 26th year of teaching, and as I continued to learn from the students, each year my skills improved! At the end of 30 years I actually felt that I was, indeed, a master educator. I progressed from being a teacher to being an educator. Think about the difference!

You know, Mac, the more I think about it, the more I am becoming convinced that it may well be teachers who have used MI, or their own versions of it, who will make the breakthrough! How many teachers do you see actually smiling at the end of the day? In my school, I was about the only one who wasn’t complaining about full-fledged fatigue.

Love, Joan

Joan Larimore Letters:

June 6, 2010   /  July 25, 2010   /  August 3, 2010   /  August 7, 2010



Copyright © 2010 by E.M Swengel