Category Archives: Teaching/School

An Open Letter To My Students

Dear Students,

Ten years ago I stumbled into a classroom with a textbook in one hand and a hastily written syllabus in the other. I had no idea what I was doing or the adventure I was about to embark upon. Most surprisingly I could not have foreseen how you would change me.

It is now time for me to end that adventure. I am walking away from the podium, turning off the lights, picking up my books and moving on.  It is bitter sweet to say the least.  However, I cannot leave without taking a moment to acknowledge the many lessons you taught me.

1.) To be strong in the face of adversity

I met so many students who were facing challenges and obstacles that I could not even begin to imagine. Things that neither child nor adult should face.

The woman who raised two sets of triplets while her husband was deployed with the Air Force, and then discovered she had a brain tumor. After surgery she could no longer work as a math teacher. She decided to return to school and retrain her brain in a different field.

The sixteen year old girl whose mother was diagnosed with stage 4 Ovarian cancer and had to drive her to chemo everyday and then come to class. The same girl who developed Swine Flu that semester and refused my offer of an incomplete and instead soldiered on and got a B+ in my class.

All the soldiers who wandered into my classroom after being deployed in a war zone. Many of whom  were lost, scared and unsure of how to relate in a place that didn’t warrant lightening fast reflexes.

The young lady whose parents had moved away when she was 14 and left her in charge of her two younger siblings. They visited periodically, provided financial support but emotionally she was the parent.

The list goes on and on but each of these very real students, with very real circumstances showed me what real bravery and courage looks like.

2.) Don’t listen to what people say you can’t do

I met so many, many young single mothers. I give each of you a standing ovation. I looked into your eyes and saw fear and doubt, but I also saw bravery, determination, courage and the tightly set jaw of a person who was going to accomplish their goals at all costs.  A person who ignored the “couldn’t” and “shouldn’t” and “can’t”s that were constantly being thrown your way. I watched you waddle into classrooms, run out of them throwing up, and then crawl back in after birth.  You amaze me and inspire me to never given up.

3.) Believe in the future

To all the cock-eyed optimists – which is all of you.  You see careers in front of you filled with success and money and prestige. The world is an oyster and you are thrilled to be a part of it. You are excited and eager to start work, to contribute, to achieve.  You reminded me that there is joy to be found in the future if you just keep looking for it. That the future should always be something welcomed with excitement.

4.) Recognize your accomplishments

I have never considered myself neither smart nor wise. Yet you generously proffered that compliment on me again and again. Until I realized that my years of living – just by having experienced them – gave me wisdom.  I did nothing special to achieve this wisdom, I just lived, but in living I accomplished and that is not something to be dismissed. So thank you for showing me that age is to be celebrated and not denigrated.

I will miss you – my students – very, very much. I wish I could hug each of you, and give you a chocolate chip cookie.

YOU are amazing and I have been blessed that for one fleeting moment I got to be a part of your life journey.

Thank You,

Professor Beth Morley

I Love Teachers

There is a general assumption that if you homeschool you hate the public school system. Although this might be true for some it is NOT true for this homeschooling mom.


I mean that.

All of them.

I have so many friends and relatives who work in the public school system and they are amazing. These are smart, well-educated, passionate, caring people who adore children and the act of teaching. I’m rather fond of teachers and the administrators who support them. These are people who get up and fight a battle that is ALWAYS stacked against them. And no amount of jars of candy and gift cards will ease that difficulty.

No, what I hate is the public school SYSTEM.  The system which everybody agrees is broken.

A system where kindergarten teachers are so busy testing and assessing their students that the children have no time to play.

A system where 50% of new teachers will quit after the first five years of teaching

A system where a teaching salary is so meager that men are incapable of becoming teachers because they cannot support a family of four on that salary, which leads to our young boys being constantly surrounded by female teachers.

A system where teachers are told what to teach, when to teach it and how to teach it.

A system where teacher salaries are not based on work ethic, or innovation or time in the classroom but instead on whether or not all of their students test at the same level.

A system where a teacher must be equally afraid of being shot or wrongfully accused by a parent.

A system where one ISD can build a multi-million dollar football stadium, while an ISD the next town over doesn’t have enough money to build classrooms, or provide practice space for their students.

Nobody wishes this system worked more than me – I want the system to work because I want a country that is filled with educated, and critical thinking citizens. I want an environment where children are exposed to a variety of ideas, where their differences are celebrated, where students are not forced into homogeny.

And there are as many ideas regarding how to fix it as there are people with opinions in Washington but what nobody has stopped to do is to ASK A TEACHER. Teachers get it — they get it in a real way. They get the fact that it has little to do with fancy buildings or fancy technology and has more to do with the space and freedom to teach the children in front of them not the “standard” child which fits nobody. They understand that it is about allowing one child the space to learn slower and the freedom to let the other to bolt ahead. They understand that it isn’t about test scores but about inspiring a desire in a person to NEVER stop learning. It is about books and art and questions and sometimes not knowing the answers. It is about experimenting and play and mistakes and do-overs.

It is NOT about high-stakes test scores which tell us nothing about anybody.

Twelve Educational iPad Apps

When David and I decided to homeschool neither of us knew what that meant. However, David knew there were a ton of educational apps available on the iPad and so he gave me a blank check and said “buy what you need”.  We’ve done a lot of technology experimentation and so I’d like to provide you with a list of our favorite apps.


letter school1.) Letter School

Hands down the most used app of the school year. Max attended The Handwriting Clinic this year and the occupational therapists recommended this app.  It is a very simple idea – kids must trace letters with their fingers. The difference is that they have to draw the letters IN A VERY SPECIFIC SEQUENCE and completely on the lines or they get it wrong.  It teaches the kids the proper sequencing of handwriting and provides positive reinforcement with a video.  This app is really targeted towards grades Pre-k through first grade but Max enjoyed using it as well (second grade).

stack the states2.) Stack The States

This was another very popular app in my family.  This is a combination of state recognition and Tetris. The idea is that the kids are asked a multiple choice question regarding the states. If they get the question right they get to “stack” the state and they keep stacking until they’ve reached a goal. Lucy (age 10) has LOVED this game. I will catch her playing it in bed before she goes to sleep at night.

hopscotch3.) Hopscotch

This app teaches kids basic object-oriented programming by creating little programs for a team of adorably cute monsters. David and the kids have loved this app. The kids have learned to debug and think sequentially. They simply “drag and drop” boxes of code which tells the monsters to do certain things on the screen.  However, if the kids don’t load the boxes of code in the proper sequence nothing happens or it happens in the wrong order.

human body icon4.) Human Body

Have I mentioned how much the human body grosses me out? Well it does. It is pretty gross with all of its fluids and parts and nastiness.  However, this app makes it seem like this super cool machine that does all kinds of super cool things. Kids get to explore the body through different tasks — like feeding it.  Once you’ve given your person food you get to see an inside look as to what the body does with the food — but it’s all animated and cute and not gross like in real life.

math ninja5, 6 & 7.) Marble Math, Ninja Math, and Fraction Squeebles

Okay, so this is a three in one.  These are three separate apps but they are all math oriented and all about math facts. Lucy loves Fraction Squeebles and Marble Math, Max likes Math Ninja. These are all good and basically offer different sorts of games to teach Math facts.  If you want something a bit more advanced or that will teach actual math concepts you might want to visit Khan Academy but for basic math fact drills these are all good.

telling time8.) Telling Time

I’ve been told that most kids don’t really master telling time until 5th grade.  This game allows you to control difficulty level which is nice if you have multiple players at varying ages.  Younger kids can start with simple O’clock and half past times and work their way all the way up to calculating future time.  This has been great for both Max and Lucy and both have been able to tweak it to meet their ability.

monkey word9 & 10) Word Bingo and Monkey Word

Harper especially loves Monkey Word but both of these apps are good at teaching sight words.  Word Bingo is really targeted more towards 1st grade and older and can be adjusted for difficulty. Monkey Word is for the K-1st grade crowd but who doesn’t love the Monkey? He gives you stickers and makes funny noises.

seven little words11) Seven Little Words for Kids

This is not meant to be “educational” but I find it to be a great vocabulary builder for the 4th-6th grade crowd.  It’s a simple game of synonyms.  You are given a clue, similar to a crossword puzzle, but are provided with word fragments that must be unscrambled to determine the word that fits the clue.  I have the adult version of this game on my phone and sometimes Lucy and I can sit and play together

planet discovery12.) Planet Discovery

A full disclaimer that this app isn’t cheap and requires in-app purchases so be warned.  However, it is a very robust app that has provided Lucy quite a bit of information. This app was designed by the Discovery Channel and allows kids to travel the world watching videos and reading information about countries and regions.  Lucy’s favorite part is the ability to dress a virtual doll in traditional clothing from these countries.


The Reading Ranch

In January when I realized Max was falling behind in school and still couldn’t read the most basic of words I started making phone calls.  I talked with everybody ranging from Max’s teacher to an academic diagnostician (yeah, I didn’t know they existed either).  I called literacy clinics and psychologists and It was during one of these conversations that I was referred to “The Reading Ranch”.

“The Reading Ranch” is tucked up in a small building next to a home security office.  Max and I walked in and found a very small waiting room with a brown leather loveseat on one wall and two chairs on the other.  The walls were decorated with the appropriate western signs and art. After all, it is the Reading RANCH. Max and I barely had time to relax on the tiny couch when Ms. Kim burst into the room.  Her blond hair towered over her small frame, she wore jeans with a western belt buckle and the southern accent to go along with it.  She gently guided Max into a tiny classroom that was just big enough for him and Ms. Kim.  Thirty minutes later Max emerged with a Popsicle and a smile. Ms. Kim invited me into a private room and gave me her assessment. With grand gestures, and a sweet twang in her voice she explained, “WELL, he’s VERY smart.  He just needs some extra time with his basic phonemes.  Don’t know about dyslexia but I would like to meet with him privately for the first couple of months so we can get him caught up with school.”  Max and I established a date and time and left the Ranch.

I would find out later that Ms. Kim is no ordinary reading tutor.  She has extensive experience in education and is in the process of completing her PhD dissertation in phonics. She believes in small classrooms with two students and one teacher.  All of her students receive a lot of individual attention.

Every Tuesday Max would leave school early and we would make our weekly pilgrimage to the Reading Ranch.  I would sit quietly in the waiting room while Max spent an hour, alone, with Ms. Kim.  She would emerge and reassure me that Max was doing great and making progress.  Max, being a boy, would say nothing.


And then last week as I was tucking Max into bed he asked if he could read a book to me.  I complied and handed him the National Geographic book on sharks that he had picked out.  He opened the book and with ease and speed he read straight through the book stopping only to point out interesting facts.  I tried not to cry.  He read it AND he understood it.

This woman, married to a bull rider and sportin’ cowboy boots has in less than 20 sessions  turned my son into a reader.  This woman has moved mountains.  How do you thank somebody who sees your child not as a number but as a person? How do you show gratitude to somebody who every week told your child “he can” when he thought he couldn’t?

Max will continue at the Reading Ranch, at least for the foreseeable future.  He has now moved on to advanced phonics and handwriting.  However, it is his confidence and belief in himself that has made it all worthwhile.

This Ain’t Your Mama’s Report Card

I do not long for the good ole days.  I find that the days of yore are not good, and in many regards bad. I mean, do we really want to return to racism, sexism and illiteracy? Yeah, I will pass. Thanks.  Recently I have been wishing for the return of one thing from the past — good old fashion report cards.  You know, the ones that had either an A, B, C, D or F.  I received Max’s end of year report card and it was four pages long and required a person with a degree in education to explain it to me. I present exhibit A:


When I handed this to my sister-in-law she simply said, “I would need the key to understand this” — Oy, a key would be nice, too bad they didn’t send one along.  Even a sheet with directions would be nice. Better yet, one would think an end of year parent/teacher conference might be in order, but alas none of that came along with this report.

Emerging, Developing and Still Emerging — what the hell do these terms really mean? I think my favorite part is where the report indicates that he got 29 questions right, but doesn’t tell me out of how many.  Did he get 29 right out of 30? Or 29 right out of 300?  Because that would really skew my attitude about the scores.  And what is a “DRA Report”? I can think of lots of words that start with “DRA”.  Is it the “Dirty Reading Allowance”? or perhaps “Dual Redundant Apple”?  Same goes for the “TPRI” report.  What does “TPRI” stand for exactly? “Technical Personal Racial Indignation”.

As a parent, how am I supposed to be supporting the school and my child appropriately when I can’t even figure out how he is doing.  I consider myself a rather smart person who can handle complex ideas, but this report card has me scratching my head.  And listen, if I am unsure what to make of it, what about the parents for whom English is a second language? Or what about the parents who only have a high school education? And we wonder why we are perpetuating the cycle of ignorance and poverty.

I recognize that I teach business communication and perhaps that makes me sensitive when it comes to these sorts of communication issues, but really?  Come on people, it shouldn’t require a degree in education to figure out your child’s report card.  The need to protect our children’s precious self esteem by doing away with the pass/fail system of grades is not helping anybody — especially the very people that are supposed to be helping these children succeed, their parents.

Yippee For Public Schools!

The public school system is an easy and oft criticized entity.  As a matter of fact I think most politicians and individuals take quite a bit of joy out of criticizing our public school system and everybody has an answer on how to fix them.

My children attend public school. And I am happy with them.

That is right, soak that in, I like my public school.

Oh sure I have days when the teacher does something that I shake my head about or some sort of federal regulation requires something I think is stupid, but as a whole my kids have great teachers, with involved parents.  Here is a brief description of what I think our public school system does right:

1.) Families:  Lucy attended private school for a year and I found the parents I met to be pretentious, exclusionary and snobs.

The first time Lucy came home from kindergarten telling me that “Anna Claire has six American Girl Dolls and I ONLY have one” I knew we weren’t going to be at that school for long. In addition, her private school was homogeneous – all rich and all white.

The families I have met at our public school are wonderful.  Because it is a public school and because most parents realize that the success of the school relies on them (and not the thousands of dollars they donate) they are heavily involved.  As a matter of fact they place a maximum on the number of parent volunteers that can attend class parties, or field trips.

Lucy has made wonderful friends and the parents of these children have become friends to David and I.  These parents are actively engaged, grounded and frankly “more like us”.

2.) Diversity:  In case anybody has noticed the white population is shrinking which means children need to learn to manage in a world where not everybody is white, not everybody is rich and not everybody is Christian.  The kid’s school hosts a “World Culture Day” every year where families from the school are invited to come and educate the students about their culture.  This year alone the kids got to “visit”; China, India, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and Pakistan.  Lucy and Max have friends from a diversity of cultures and religion and when Lucy came home explaining that “Adrian doesn’t celebrate Christmas because she’s Hindu. So, I told her that I would give her one of my Christmas presents” – well, I was proud.  Instead of judging Adrian, or thinking she was a horrible outside person that we should fear Lucy chose to share her “Christian” culture. This is more in line with what I want to teach my children – the respect and tolerance of other cultures and religions – not to fear and judge them.

3.) Teachers:  The kids have had GREAT educators.  I’ve had some small issues here and there with their teachers, but overall the kids have had strong teachers.   I don’t see ignorant, lazy teachers who are “teaching to the test” but a group of educated and professional men and women working hard to accomplish a daunting task in an impossible situation.  Max’s kindergarten teacher was gentle, kind and supportive. Lucy adored her first grade teacher and although her second grade teacher was tough she kept the kids on task.

Lucy is reading at a fifth grade level, and Max is right on schedule for his grade level.  They are learning about the founding fathers, the election process, science, art, and music.  They go to a nature center about four times a year. And the teachers accomplish all of this while still trying to deal with students with a variety of issues from behavioral problems to academic challenges.

We are all quick to point out the faults and errors of the public school system but there are a lot of successes too.  I graduated from public schools and continued my education through public institutions.  Most of my friends, co workers and peers all were the product of a public school education and most of them I would consider to be successful and morally upright people.

The key to a moral and well-rounded education has always had more to do with parents then with the school.  Perhaps the parents from the kid’s school are not from a homogeneous background but in the end we all want the same thing for our children – a good, safe, well rounded education.  And for our family the public school system fits us just fine.

Private vs. Public vs. Home

As a college professor I frequently get asked if I can tell the difference between public school, private school and home school children.  The short answer is “yes” but the real answer is far more complex.  I teach freshman composition and this gives me a view of students fresh from the arms of their high school or home.

Private School

Of the three groups these students are by far the most consistently prepared and advanced as incoming freshmen.  They all have experience writing a research paper, are well disciplined and don’t flinch at the prospect of the work load assigned to them.  They are less likely to be “whiners” and to provide hundreds of excuses as to why they didn’t get their work done.   Most find freshmen composition easy and breeze through it.

However, I also teach a junior level communications course and I can assure you that any difference between private and public school children by the time they reach that level has evaporated.  Private school might provide students with an edge the first year of college but by their sophomore or junior year that advantage has disappeared.

Public School

My public school students are a mixed bag and I find that their level of preparedness for college can be equally contributed to their school district and their family.  Some students come from excellent schools but without a home environment that encourages reading, education and proper study skills this student will arrive ill-prepared.  Some of my public school students function at the same level as my private school students.  My public school students that struggle the most are usually those that come from a lower socioeconomic background with a family who themselves did not achieve education past high school.

Home School

This is the most surprising section of students and the one people are most eager to hear about.  My home school students are also a mixed bag and perform equal to my public school students.  This also falls on the family.  Some people do an excellent job home schooling and others, well, not so much.   Some home school kids arrive in my class with oodles of self-discipline and excellent study skills.  These students also perform equal to my private school students and my excellent public school students.  HOWEVER, there is an equal number of home school kids who have never written a research paper, lack all signs of self-discipline, and have big gaps in their education.

Many times the story I hear is that “Mommy” never pushed them, did the work for them, let them not do the parts that were hard or didn’t feel that part was “important”.  These kids arrive in class asking for assistance on EVERYTHING.  They give up at the slightest sign of difficulty and don’t understand why I’m not willing to hold their hand the entire way through class.

So again, it comes down to family environment.  What is being encouraged and supported within the family unit.


If you want the school to insure that your child is prepared for college without you putting any effort into it then I suggest you place them in private schools.  If you live in an area that has a good public school and you don’t mind putting in a little extra effort at home, keeping your kids on task and staying on top of their education then public schools are just fine.  And finally, if you enjoy home schooling by all means pursue it but learn to separate the “teacher” from the “parent”.  Hold your kid to tough standards, let them fail and learn, and teach them to face their challenges. The bottom line is that education starts and ends at home.  A school environment can help but it is never the total solution.

Age Of Accountability

Recently the New York Times ran an article describing an incident where two young children ran into an 80+ year old woman on their bicycles.  The children were 4 and 5 years old and are being sued.  These toddlers on training wheels are being held accountable for their reckless actions.  I think we can all agree that a 4 & 5 year old should not be sued – possibly their parents, but that is another story.  What is the age for accountability and why are we as a society so inconsistent?

Why are we quick to hold a 4 year old responsible for running into an old woman on her bike, but scared of holding a 14 year old responsible for doing his homework? We hide behind this notion that if we fail a 14 year old he/she will feel “discouraged” and will quit trying.  You know, that might be true.  Life is hard.  And if this 14 year old doesn’t have the internal spirit to overcome failing out of 9th grade and still succeeding in life than I doubt he will magically gain it by the time he is 18 and in my classroom.