Sometimes the road to teaching is a winding one. For Virginia Barbarin G’09, a fifth grade teacher at East Fallowfield Elementary school in the Coatesville Area School District in Chester County, the journey to the classroom included a stint as a news journalist, work at an investment firm, full-time mom, then classroom volunteer. Once she got her feet wet substitute teaching, the classroom called to her as a student, and she pursued a Master of Education degree and teacher certification.
“I was encouraged by teachers who observed me teaching to pursue my certification,” she says. “One teacher in particular, Joan Waddell, spoke to me privately about what an asset I could be and she volunteered to help me in any way she could.”
Going back to school did give her pause. “I was apprehensive about the prospect of becoming a student again,” she says. But her sense of urgency to make a difference in the lives of young people through education overrode that apprehension.
“Because I was going into teaching as a second career, I knew how desperately the workforce needs qualified applicants and what areas of need there are,” she says. “Our further success as a country depends upon well-educated individuals and I felt compelled to make a difference.”
Pursuing a Master of Education at Cabrini was the right choice for Barbarin, who appreciated the professors and staff who are skilled at working with professional adults.
“I believe Cabrini molded me into the type of teacher who can make a positive difference in my current environment. They brought out my best and were challenging at the same time. I came to believe that I could ‘do something extraordinary,’” she says.
Prior to graduation, Barbarin student taught with her mentor, Waddell, in a first grade classroom at Friendship Elementary School in the Coatesville Area School District. She opted for a second student teaching assignment with district veteran Fran Rodkey in his sixth grade class at Scott Middle School. “Student teaching was a great opportunity for me and for my students because I was actively engaged in the learning experience myself. Kids need to see that example,” she says.
Now in her first full year of teaching, Barbarin has come full circle in her goal to impact the world.
“My school district is one of the most diverse districts and it mirrors the world in which I live. My current class is an interesting mix of personalities and abilities, and that allows me to have an inherent connection with each student.”
Barbarin uses her talent and experience as a writer to flavor her approach to educating her students.
“My personal goal is to have my students write every day,” she says. “I believe that literacy is at the cornerstone of a child’s ability to learn, and I am focused on making sure that children can read and interpret, so that they can excel in all academic areas.”
For those adults considering a second career in the classroom, Barbarin has this advice: “Get into it as soon as possible. You can make a difference to students, and it will be the hardest job you will ever love!”
Students who are chronically anxious before tests generally perform below their classmates. A new study indicates that a 10-minute intervention can ease anxiety and improve scores.
Research published in the Jan. 14 issue of the journal Science found that students who spent 10 minutes writing about their test anxiety and fears just before the test improved their scores. The biggest improvements were in students who were most anxious.
Educators and parents have long known that a student’s performance on a test does not necessarily indicate that they know the material. Anxiety can be a primary reason for poor grades; worrying can compromise important thinking and reasoning skills. By getting the worry out on paper before a test, the student’s mind is free to pull knowledge from memory during the test, researchers explain.
During the study, control group participants who wrote about their anxiety before a test demonstrated a 10 percent accuracy increase over those who did not write about their anxiety.
An abstract of the research is available online at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6014/211.abstract?sid=481a44c2-efbb-49e0-9e9c-d80ed00e529e.
It’s time to wrap up the school year. If you are finding it difficult to keep your students focused on learning, you are not alone. Try some of these tips and techniques from veteran teachers and administrators:
Establish purpose – As the school year runs downhill, it’s tempting to rush to try to get everything we want or are required to teach in by the last day. Instead, take a class period to discuss how much the class has learned already and how far they have come. Then, inject purpose into the last six weeks or so of class by sharing specific goals with them: chapters to be read, workbook pages to be completed, skills to be mastered.
Refresh yourself – Every veteran teacher will agree that students pick up quickly on the teacher’s mood. It’s just as difficult for you to stay focused at this time of year as it is for your students. Take time to energize yourself outside the classroom so you show a good example of focus inside the classroom. Get outside and enjoy some fresh air regularly after school. Do something creative at home that kick-starts your personal creative energy and take time to read for pleasure.
Take time to reflect – All too often, teachers put more time into reflecting with their students than they do for themselves. It is important to review the accomplishments you made professionally teaching your students this year, and to think about the personal goals you achieved. Make one goal to work on over the summer and devise a plan now to accomplish it.
Sources: “A Focused Finish,” (April 2009). Responsive Classroom Newsletter. Northwest Foundation for Children, Inc.
ADHD is diagnosed two-to-four times more frequently in boys as it is in girls. Yet research indicates that girls are just as likely to have ADHD. Why are fewer girls diagnosed? Socialized to please their teachers and parents, girls may be very good at compensating for ADHD, making it much harder for teachers to spot. And if teachers do see manifestations of ADHD in girls, the symptoms can be misunderstood as immaturity or lack of academic ability rather than ADHD.
Because you are on the front lines and often most able to spot a child’s potential learning disability first, it is important to understand the way ADHD presents in girls.
Here are three of the signs you can look for:
Restlessness: While boys with ADHD may express their restlessness by leaving their seats continually, girls express their restlessness verbally. If you have a girl in your class who is always talking with her friends, who impulsively interrupts and accidently talks after being asked to be silent, she may have ADHD.
Social struggles: Because boys play differently – they are more physical – boys with ADHD are less likely to feel social rejection. But girls with ADHD struggle to fit in. Girls with ADHD find it difficult to pick up on social cues, causing them frustration in making friends. This frustration can manifest in aggressiveness – they barge into a social group or interrupt verbally in an attempt to join in – making them seem bossy. If you have a girl in your classroom who seems socially marginalized, she may be struggling with ADHD.
Unfinished work: Girls will be able to mask their learning disorder by appearing shy and studious in the classroom, thereby not calling attention to themselves. What they are really not calling attention to is their inability to focus and thereby finish assignments. Consider the possibility that a girl in your classroom who consistently fails to finish assignments or tests, yet seems to know the material, may have ADHD.
Sources: Singh, I (December 2008). "Beyond polemics: science and ethics of ADHD". Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 9 (12): 957–64. Adams, Caralee. “Girls and ADHD.” Administrative Magazine. Available online. http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=11532
Rachel Kanter ’03, an English teacher at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., helped organize a College Spirit Day for ninth and tenth grade students in January.
Wanda Gans G’10, a teacher at William H. Harrison Elementary School in Philadelphia, died Jan. 29.