Dr. Taber has been twice nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Among other numerous awards and honors, Dr. Taber is the recipient of a SAIC Science Teaching Tools Award, has been a TASE Teacher of the Year, and a Sigma XI Science Teacher of the Year. Dr. Taber received a Master of Arts in Education at Virginia Polytechnic and State University and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Jones International University.
Dr. Taber developed and wrote the curriculum for NAS 215: Man and His Environment, Oceanography, Ecology: From the River to the Bay, and has presented at local, state and national conferences. Her dissertation was titled Teacher Attitudes Toward Use of Problem-based Learning in Science Courses with State-mandated, End of Course Testing.
Dr. Taber has been a member of many teaching associations and honor societies as well as being a former member of the Kempsville Volunteer Rescue Squad and a Life Member of Bennett's Creek Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Nansemond Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad. She served as a volunteer Nationally Registered Paramedic and EMT instructor for 30 years and a Firefighter Level II for 15 years. Currently, Dr. Taber serves as a Lead Evaluator and/or Team Member for AdvancED Virginia. Recently she added AdvancED STEM/STEAM Lead Evaluator and/or Team Member to her resume. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving, fishing, reading, art, and jogging 5K in the local YMCA pool.enthusiasm into their lessons.
In 2018, Barbara Taber shared her her "Three Rules for Educational Excellence" with the promise of a full-fledged interview just around the corner. Recently, TSR News Group sat down with Dr. Taber, the subject of this first headlining story of 2019. The conversation was riveting, and Dr. Taber delved into a number of interesting areas.
Let's delve into your three rules for educational excellence, as detailed in your previous article. Rule #1 states: When you enter your classroom, take care to remember that everyone in your room comes to you with baggage: hunger, homelessness, poverty, loss of parents or siblings, poor family environment, lack of parental support, and more. Greet them with the knowledge that you may have to overlook questionable behavior and seek a better solution to that child's problems. At what point does a child's questionable behavior cross the line into unacceptability? (ie. Disruptive classroom habits) Is there a threshold set by the school and/or educator, or is more of a judgement call? When this does happen, what are the appropriate actions taken?
Every good classroom teacher knows that they must set the limits of acceptable behavior. They must also set the consequences for when a child steps over the boundaries of acceptable behavior. These limits must be set, in writing, during the first few days of the semester. Since I worked in a four- by- four schedule, I did this twice a year. Students will always push the limits just to see how far a teacher will bend before they break.
Swearing, bullying, and violence are never acceptable. These must be dealt with immediately. In my class, that meant I pulled the student into the hall and had a word of prayer, isolated them from their victims, and contacted the parents. In the case of violence, no teacher has a choice... security must be called, and the student dealt with by an administrator. In many instances, if I felt that neither the student nor I would get parental support, I would have security remove the student to the guidance office. Usually, these students had already displayed characteristics that would lead me to a pre "blowup" visit with their counselor. When I saw that an identified student was "having a bad day", I would quietly pull them aside and have a chat. This allowed me to gauge their volatility so that I could accommodate them with seating and assignments.
In general, other infractions such as sleeping in class, not having materials, tardiness, talking at inappropriate times, improper use of technology.... Well, a good teacher must know that things like proximity, redirection, and verbal/non-verbal cues will often work. However, the sleeping and failure to complete work or homework... the "small things" ... warrant a chat, a home contact, and/or an investigation by the teacher. These steps are how I discovered that some of my students were homeless, living on their own in an apartment, or staying with neighbors. Armed with that knowledge, I was able to work with guidance and the student to accommodate their issues. A student who gets up at 3:30 am to take four different busses and then walks another four miles to get to a 7:20 am class should not be punished for being late, not having materials, or sleeping in class. A student who was thrown out of their house, for what ever reason, and now lives on their own, working a fulltime job, closing at 1:00 am, trying to do their homework and not getting but two hours of sleep can hardly be penalized for sleeping in class.
The key to these situations is keeping open lines of communication between the teacher, student, parent (if there is one), guidance, and the administration. Many schools have moved toward a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Support) model for student behavior. This model stemmed from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997. Ideally this model is instituted on a school wide basis. The flaw in the model is that every classroom teacher and every administrator must consistently follow all strategies and consequences.
What do you find to be the most effective disciplinary measure for use with youngsters?
As I have stated previously, the key to effective discipline is consistency, fairness, and keeping open lines of communication between the teacher, student, parent (if there is one), guidance, and the administration.
Clearly, there has been a change in today's youth if only due to the technological revolution of the last decade or so. Do you believe devices such as the smart phone and the tablet play a positive role in classroom education? Are these devices strictly a distraction from the lesson at hand, or is there a creative way to use these devices as learning tools within the classroom?
Electronics can be a distraction in the classroom. However, they can be used to supplement and enhance education. First, teachers must set ground rules for the use of electronics and stick to those rules. If students know what is expected, then they are more likely to follow the rules. Second, when electronics are being used, teachers must circulate through the class and monitor how the students are using the electronics. If they see a student off task, then they need to redirect that student. Finally, using electronics should never be the entire lesson. All lessons should be "chunked" so that students don't have a chance to get bored. In a 4 x 4 block, there should be at least three changes in the activities. The exception would be in a science lab where a lesson is introduced and then the students complete the lab activities.
I have utilized electronics in my classroom to supplement for the lack of equipment. Yes, I used a smart board for interactive lessons, but I also let the students use phones for stopwatches and calculators. The laptop computers can be effectively used as meters, graphic analyzers, and research tools. However, that cannot be your only lesson... you must vary instruction over a class period. A good teacher also must know when to pull the plug.
A recent report suggests that the aforementioned tech devices might be physically altering kids' minds. Based on what you've observed personally, do you think there could be any truth to this?
I believe that a steady diet of electronic use can and will cause shorter attention spans. Limiting screen time goes a long way to addressing that issue. If a teacher varies their lessons, and does not rely solely on electronics, students will be better able to focus and complete assignments. The job market calls for team work, computer skills, and creative thinking. If those things are not encouraged in the classroom, students will be at a disadvantage in the job market.
Your second rule states: Students not having paper and pencil/pen is never a reason to put them out of your room. Be the grown-up and keep a stash just for those children. You may never know why they lack supplies. Much like Rule #1, this paints the picture of a skilled, patient and well-composed education professional. How important is it to serve as a positive role model for students? What practices do you employ in order to maintain a positive influence on your classroom students?
If a teacher is not a positive role model, then they should probably seek a different employment path. "Do as I say, not as I do" just isn't professional. Teachers must show up on time, have their lessons prepared, greet the students at the door, and be ready to start teaching when the bell rings. Bad first impressions are hard to overcome.
For myself, even when my department members failed to follow the professional guidelines set by the administration, I tried to put a smile on my face and greet my students each day. My personal rapport with my students came from not raising my voice and forcing issues. It came from treating the students as if they were the only people who mattered. Talking to them about their work, praising their accomplishments both in and out of the class, and listening more that talking.
The third and final rule suggests: Seek to understand the reasons a child may have problems as much as you seek to assist them to learn. Those students will remember you for the rest of their lives! Did you encounter many troubled youths during your career? How do you deal with such challenges?
I have taught students who ran the gamut from Eagle Scouts to drug dealers/ gang leaders. While I could do nothing about the dealers, I did let them know that they would not ply their trade in my classroom. One of those folks told me he didn't need my class because he made more money in a day than I made in a year. My reply was that I didn't have to worry about who was behind me and I would be free to come and go as I pleased. Needless to say, he and several other of my former students are still serving time in the penal system. Most of my students have gone on to serve in the military, work in various professional careers, or follow other career paths. When I retired, within my school district, there were at least 30 of my former students teaching Art, English, and Science.
You are emerging from retirement in order to return to teaching. Tell us about your plans for the future, and how long you are going to devote to it. Will you utilize your tried-and-true methods this time around, or will you make adjustments based on the age we live in; the things which may have changed in the country/ world since you were last teaching.
The real reason that I returned to teaching goes back to question 4. The administration and department chair of my former school basically blew up my cell phone begging me to come teach an ecology class where no instruction was taking place. The teacher would just not show up, left no lesson plans, and when present had no lessons prepared. My personal opinion is that the teacher needs to retire or quit. Once that teacher heard that I was coming to take her place, she decided to come to school. So rather than long-term substituting, I am picking up a few substitute teaching jobs and I do still use my "bag of tricks" when I substitute. As to adjustments, that is what every good teacher does.... Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome!
Dr. Barbara Taber's life and career will be continue to be covered thoroughly in this legacy series of articles where ideas, quotes, interviews and advice will be presented quarterly.
"I do still use my 'bag of tricks' when I substitute. As to adjustments, that is what every good teacher does.... Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome!"