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Cliches of Teaching by Elsie Warnock


Cliches of Teaching by Elsie Warnock

While visiting with my mother the other day, I thought of this little book she wrote for me when I started my internship. It was typed on an electric typewriter and put together by hand. She can no longer see the text, but the book is a treasure to me. Below is an excerpt that influenced my thinking about education and the importance of reading.  

CLICHE #4: Every Teacher is a Teacher of Reading. 

Reading is not just a list of lessons for grades one through three. Reading is a skill and skills must be practiced forever. The teacher who teaches his subject by teaching the vocabulary of that field, by teaching how to use textbooks or other tools…is a teacher of reading. And that teacher can be in English, history, science, math, shop, speech…..or band.  Excerpt by Elsie Warnock, from the first, and only edition of Cliches of Teaching

Follow this link to open next week’s calendar and a few photos:  Copy of Calendar 101419

Copy of Calendar 101419-1

Copy of Calendar 101419-2

Lessons From the Lawnmower Shop

Mower shop

Myers Mower and Tiller in Fort Smith, Arkansas

A familiar pungent vapor suddenly burned my nostrils. I stopped and raised the hood to see gasoline spattering onto the motor of my riding lawnmower. I quickly shut off the engine and stepped a few feet away to fill my lungs with fresh air, thankful that there was no fire.

I stood motionless, staring at the hot gasoline-covered engine crackling in the sun, waiting for it to cool. When would I find the time to make two trips hauling that mower to and from the repair shop as my grass continued to grow?

Then, I thought about Saturdays from my childhood while watching my dad repair our old riding mower I’d nicknamed “Death-Trap” because of the way its single steel blade threw rocks and limbs from underneath the deck. It’s a wonder I still have all my toes.  

Maybe I should at least make an attempt at repairing this much newer machine. I decided to remove the offending parts, one of which I couldn’t identify.

When I got to the mower shop, I presented the parts to Rick, the expert behind the counter. “I need a fuel filter and this other thing,” I said, thumping my finger against the black plastic casing. He raised his eyebrows at my little display. He was crisp and clean in his dark green company overalls, but it was early in the day.

“Oh, you need a fuel pump.”

“I thought a fuel pump would be bigger.”

Rick bent the connecting hoses to reveal small cracks and said, “I’ll throw in a piece of new hose, too.” He stepped quickly away to retrieve the parts and returned in less than a minute.

I moved to the cash register and said, “My dad could fix anything, but I didn’t get that trait. Do you charge double for repairs gone wrong?”

Rick laughed and said, “My whole family sings beautifully, but I can’t carry a tune. When I was 12 years old, our preacher said something about the joys of singing and my mother elbowed me and said, ‘Not you. You can’t sing.’ She wasn’t trying to be mean, but I got the message.”

I tilted my head, frowned, and said, “You should go ahead and sing anyway.” I didn’t mention to him that I was a musician.

He smiled and said, “Hope the mower repair works. If you get into a bind, just bring it in, and we’ll take care of it.”

While getting in my truck to leave, I felt a tinge of sadness at Rick’s comments about singing. I thought about how different my life might have been if my parents had pointed out things I couldn’t do. Daddy never said I couldn’t fix things or that everything I touched ended up broken even though I showed little evidence of being handy with tools and was sometimes accident prone.

When I got back home, the engine was cool to the touch. After installing the fuel filter and pump and making the hoses match the picture I took with my phone before removing them, I cranked up the mower. I watched the golden gasoline begin flowing through the clear fuel filter housing. Nothing was spewing from that little black fuel pump, and the motor was running normally. I smiled, thinking of how proud Daddy would be.

As I began cutting our tall grass, I thought about how I dreaded those childhood mowing days with my father. Back then, what should have been a two-hour job often took most of the day, because old “Death-Trap” often broke down. Now, I’m thankful for those Saturdays spent watching Daddy repair that riding mower. Both of us were unaware of the lessons being taught. I wonder if he knew how those lessons would be remembered years later at a lawn mower shop, by a much older son who is still in awe of the man whose example he still tries to follow.


ACT Aspire Video Message

Please view the following information from counselors, students, teachers, and principals. Thank you to the AHS Videographers for assistance with the recording and editing of this 4-minute video.

Senate Bill 349 Provides Punishment Rather than Support and Oversight

I don’t normally get political but reading State Senator Alan Clark’s Senate Bill 349 demanded a response, so I wrote the following to two members of the Arkansas Senate Education Committee.

We’ve had a problem in this country with reading for much of my life. “Reading wars” have been fought for years. Finally, we seem to be at a point that there is a good understanding and evidence for what works best in reading instruction. As a state, we’re early in the training and implementation of required “Science of Reading” programs. Alma School District acted early and made significant investments to implement Connections, one of the top science-based reading programs, so my concern here is not so much for Alma as it is for the rest of the state where resources might be lacking. 

Children who happen to be born into poverty have inadequate health care, poor nutrition, and limited exposure to learning experiences when their minds are at crucial developmental stages. Often these children have traumatic experiences and cope with toxic stress that interferes with their ability to receive and process new learning. Children in poverty have much less exposure to conversation, text and learning opportunities than their middle and upper-income peers.

When these Arkansas children of poverty enter our schools, thankfully, they begin to receive state-mandated evidence-based instruction in reading (Science of Reading) that is still early in implementation at this point. Ideally, this instruction will be led by highly trained teachers who receive continued professional development in the Science of Reading.

Republican State Senator Alan Clark of Lonsdale proposes in SB349 that if these children of poverty don’t respond to this good reading instruction in a timely manner, their schools should be penalized by reducing the money available for teacher training and additional personnel. I guess hitting people with a stick when they’re down is a simple solution but it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for a rational or humane response to a complex problem.

I’m not sure if the reason for Alan Clark’s proposed bill is lack of understanding or meanness. A rational response would be to provide adequate oversight and strong intervention if districts refuse to implement Science of Reading programs, but that would be a complex response to a complex problem, not a popular approach these days.

Jim Warnock, Principal, Alma Intermediate School

February 22 update: After reading Alan Clark’s response to criticisms of his bill and rereading the bill itself, I still agree with everything I wrote above about this bill.

After looking at last year’s ACT Aspire scores for many schools in the state, most schools in poverty have less than 70% of their students scoring Ready or Exceeding in reading. Aspire is beneficial for monitoring the progress of student, but to make a school’s funding dependent on one single assessment is not a sound practice. Taking funding intended to improve teachers away from schools with large numbers of students living in poverty still seems simple-minded and/or mean to me. It’s an example of throwing a simple (and unjust) solution at a complex problem.

Learning From the Children

Scout cymbal011319r

Sometimes teachers come from unlikely places. Sometimes they’re much younger…and smaller!

A good teacher brings new ways of looking at a task. Such is the case with one of my teachers, Scout. In the last couple of years, I’ve learned lessons from this young drummer each Sunday morning before the worship service begins.

I’ve learned from Scout that there is great joy in playing music, regardless of where you are in your development. Scout plays with total abandon! He explores the sounds of drums and cymbals with an enthusiasm that has impacted my playing. Tapping along with Scout on the drums makes me want to play better and continue learning and listening. More important, his playing helps me understand what a wonderful gift it is to create sounds that blend with others…to make music.

When I found this 12-inch splash cymbal at a local pawn shop, I knew it had to be in Scout’s set. I was excited to present this little cymbal to my favorite young drummer.

I’m looking forward to watching the continued growth of this talented young fella and appreciate what he has taught me about playing the drums.

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