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Lauzen: What I did this summer

The following is a news release issued by State Sen. Chris Lauzen:

I would like to share with you a wonderful experience I had this summer. While I stayed up on phone calls and correspondence with more than 250,000 constituents and hopefully made a little progress on a political campaign, I accepted a six-week assignment to teach math five classes a day to middle school students.

What a blast. ... I learned a lot! This experience reminded me how impressionable students are between sixth and ninth grade. It was also a very brief opportunity to see what teachers see in the classroom.

What struck me the most was how sensitive these adolescents are to our opinions ... how children’s fear of rejection makes it hard for them to even make eye contact with adults. Or, when a teacher-student connection has been made with a couple of kids, how quickly they clam up and the masks are raised when other students enter the room. I know this observation is nothing new, but peer pressure is stifling.

As lovely as students are at this age, they require and drain a lot of energy from the adults staying up with them. Six weeks was a short assignment ... I can only imagine how long two semesters feels. So, if you ever see a teacher sitting in his/her car before or after the school day getting psyched up, give some words of encouragement.

There is strength in numbers. Teachers plus parents are tag-team combinations to stay ahead of our kids. Reach out now to get to know your children’s teachers and open the e-mail and phone lines of communication. No parent, teacher, manager, etc. wants to meet a fellow human being for the first time when there’s a problem. Also, we must be extremely careful as parents and teachers that we only say positive, constructive things about our teaching partners – no kinks in our armor, especially in front of such impressionable youth.

If you would enjoy a moment of inspiration, google Khan Academy’s Salman Khan’s M.I.T. Commencement Address. He has been lauded by Bill Gates and a host of innovators. Toward the end of his 18-minute motivational speech on life and education, he shares five or six tips for all of us that are priceless! (Without going into the long story, after watching the speech, one of my sixth-grade students leaned over to his mom, who was visiting class the day I showed this, and whispered, “I love you.”)

If only we could hear ourselves when we fall victim to complaining about everything and criticizing everyone. In contrast, I was amazed by the power of our smiles on our students’ dispositions. They are like flowers and our smiles and encouragement are like sunshine ... they open up and grow.

When children and parents recognize teachers outside of the classroom and away from school, it makes teachers feel good and important parts of those families’ lives. We need to remind and encourage our children to be “coachable” and flexible to criticism. When I corrected one of my students on the way he was using a formula, he replied, “Oh, I don’t do it that way.” I just laughed out loud and reminded him, “Yeah and that’s why your answer didn’t come out correctly.” Then, on a little darker edge, he doubled down the stakes and whispered, “The last time a teacher made me do it a different way, I ran out of the classroom yelling.” Coachability and teacher appreciation are really keys to success for our children.

A teacher who takes a personal interest in the current performance and future potential of a student has a profound impact on that child’s life. To this day, I am deeply grateful to a lady who is now in her 90s (Mrs. Toni Fox) who made me feel in fourth grade like she had singled me out to shower her personal attention on me, despite my less-than-average performance in previous grades. There was family trouble for me at home during that time, and school became a sanctuary. I worked hard to please Mrs. Fox because I could feel how she saw more in me than I could see and expected more than I had expected out of myself. There was never a problem in school after that year.

One final thought, read to your children at night, e.g. Winnie the Pooh, Mark Twain, King Arthur, etc. It will relax you, calm your kids for a good night's sleep, and establish the firm connection among reading, learning, peace and happiness.

This is a new year. We get a fresh start for our children with their teachers. Let’s work together to make this school year our best ever!

Senator Chris Lauzen

25th District

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