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Voices from the BAM Radio Community sharing their thoughts, insights and teaching strategies.

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Mrs. O’Reilly opened her teacher manual to the next lesson in the approved sequence. It was time to confront multiplication of proper fractions.  Before the kids left for home the day before, she had informed them that they would each need to bring an apple to class. “Hands-on, real-life application of mathematical processes,” she announced, reading precisely from her script.

Her overzealous fifth graders and their parents now arrived in their family sports cars and luxury sedans. Mothers and fathers walked their progeny to the classroom and offered to stay to help with the class project. Each student clung to his or her own magnificent beribboned basket filled with a dozen large red apples each. Clearly students and parents had communicated through social media the night before and had attempted to outdo their peers in presentation. Mrs. O’Reilly beamed and provided abundant effective praise. They sliced and diced fruit all morning and, before the end of the day, whipped up enough apple muffins for every child and his parent to eat on the way to the parking lot.

A mile away, Mrs. Jones opened her own teacher manual to the same lesson. After all, it was the fourth Tuesday in January, and she had to adhere to the pacing calendar, just like every other fifth grade teacher in the state. Wearily, she welcomed her fifth graders to class as well.   Half of the children arrived late with excuses from their parents: “It’s all my fault…” “We couldn’t decide how to do Amelia’s hair today…” “I was watching Fox News and just lost track of the time…” One-fourth of the children brought other excuses: “My child really doesn’t like apples…” “Please excuse my son from math – we don’t believe in playing with food…” “I forgot what you wanted – will oranges work?”

It was a good thing that Mrs. Jones was a proactive teacher and planned ahead. She had visited the neighborhood grocery store the night before and spent twelve dollars of her own money on thirty-four apples. These were stacked in an empty cardboard box that the bagger had pulled from the back of the store. To be politically correct, she had used a piece of duct tape to cover the word “Budweiser” on the side of the box. The apples were chopped and otherwise manipulated during the morning lesson. Most of the class met the standard for the day and were awarded with their very own paper cup filled with juicy slices of the fruit to eat during snack time. Most of these were dumped into the garbage can at the back of the room as the kids opted instead for their Hot Cheetos and Oreos.

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Posted by on in General


"Mr. President, the pilot has announced he will be landing the plane in Dallas in ten minutes."

"You know, I don't have a good feeling about this. Tell the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to Washington. Okay?"

Such was a typical exchange between me and Luke, an eighth-grade special needs student. He usually provided the set up leaving me to improvise some witty response. Genuinely entertained and fully understanding my comeback, he did what any junior high student would do: he grinned, he groaned and he walked back to his seat.

Luke was a member of the developmental education class which consisted of several wonderful teenagers with intellectual disabilities. He was autistic and academically delayed, and his inability to fully socialize with others had greatly interfered with his learning over the years. He was intensely aware of his personal space and was fairly choosy as to who could be in it.

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This is one of those things that I learned through failure.

Several years ago, I went through a very dark period in my life. A period during which I was under a lot of stress. Some of it was self-induced and some of it was caused by outside forces. I lost twenty pounds. I began taking medication for anxiety. I fought like Hell to put on a happy face when I was out in public. But by the time I got home I was tired. And I am quite certain that my wife and kids saw a side of me that others did not. I wasn’t mean. I simply was grumpier than I should have been. They deserved better than what they got. I can’t go back and redo those days. I wish I could, but I can’t. But I have today. And right now, that is enough.

One person that helped me tremendously during that time and whenever I have needed him, is Ben Gilpin. I can’t begin to imagine how many voxes Ben must have listened to during those days. Many of them I’m sure were not pleasant. But, he was always there. He was like the wise tree in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree[1]. Always able to give me what I needed at the right time. When I needed advice. He gave it to me. And when I just needed an ear to listen. He was that ear. And like the tree in the book, Ben gave much more than he received. That is just the type of person that Ben is.

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Tagged in: Mistakes My Bad mybad16

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Some children simply don’t know how to play. Let me be more specific. There are some children that we know have a very difficult time playing properly and safely with their peers. I know who they are and oftentimes when I am called to the playground I know it is them that I am coming to remove.

I'll never forget the day I was called to the kindergarten playground because a young man had pushed and hit two girls. They had done nothing to deserve being hit or pushed. And though neither child was injured, I was still upset. Upset because this same young man continues to make bad choices despite the consequence he receives and/or the counseling that I provide. I truly believe that the way he plays at school is the way he plays at home and he doesn’t know any better.

Once I was able to get him to my office, I tried to talk to him about what he had done and why it wasn’t acceptable. No response. It is always frustrating when a child ignores you, but I have gotten used to it and I know not to take it personally. I was at the point where I had to decide what to do next. Do I give him a consequence or do I simply counsel him? Maybe I do both.

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I will continue to make that mistake.

Only a fool would make such a statement! Right? Honestly, I am wondering if I should leave that first sentence as is or if I should massage it just a bit. You see Frank Stepnowski is a large man who could crush me like a grapefruit if he wanted. Lucky for me Frank is also a kind and forgiving man with a great sense of humor

This was apparent when Frank and I recorded an episode for My Bad. For reasons beyond our control, the interview had to be pushed back about an hour. Since I hadn’t connected with Frank before, I decided to call him at our original time in an attempt to build some repertoire. We ended up talking for almost an hour, as if we were old friends catching up on lost time.

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