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Virginia Journal of Education

Greek in the Aisles

by Shawn Morton

Because we all want to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences for our students, we often ask ourselves questions like, “What can I do to make this lesson more exciting and memorable?” So, when collaborating for our unit on Greece last fall, the third grade teachers at W.G. Coleman Elementary in Fauquier County thought, “What better way to make Greek history and culture come alive than to bring Greece to us?”

We had heard that some teachers from Greece were visiting to study at George Mason University, so we invited them to come share their knowledge on both ancient and modern Greece. Being teachers, they quickly accepted.

Our students had plenty of questions for them. For one, they had learned that in ancient Greece, girls and women were not considered "citizens" and did not have many rights, including the right to an education. Our students wondered how this had changed, and what their peers in Greek schools were learning. The visiting teachers answered their questions, and also spoke about Greece’s history, government, arts, mythology and language, as well as what life in Greece is like for them now.

Students enjoyed a mini-lesson on everyday Greek words and learned to write their names using Greek letters.

Splitting time between two third grade classrooms, the visiting teachers made Greece real for our students and, before they left, several Coleman staff members also had a chance to elaborate and compare notes on school experiences.

As we watched our students interact with our Greek visitors, we were able to informally assess their learning. Their conversations and questions showed a deeper understanding of what we had presented and a desire to learn even more. It was as though they were assessing themselves.

Overall, our visitors brought a new way of thinking about an ancient culture to our students, and it validated what we’d presented to students in our lessons. After the visit, students had a question: Can we take our next field trip to Greece?

Morton is a member of the Fauquier Education Association.


Looking Out For
Rookie Colleagues

Here are some ways more experienced educators can help out new teachers, from the American Psychological Association:

Listen to his or her experiences at school.
• Respond with empathy or sympathy to troubling experiences.
• Respond with enthusiasm to good news and small victories.

Initiate a conversation.
Rather than waiting for the new teacher to initiate a conversation, ask about his or her experiences. If the response is, “I don’t want to talk about it right now,” check, gently, to be sure that she just wants to forget about work-related concerns for a while. Convey that you want to hear about her concerns when she’s ready.

Resist the temptation to offer solutions right away.
In many cases, the new teacher will simply want to talk about problems and know that you understand and are concerned. Avoid saying something like, “I wonder if you could…” as soon as a problem comes out. You may be helpful in creating solutions to the problems, but this may be more productive later – after the new teacher has had a chance to talk and simply experience your support. We are all tempted to give advice or try to “fix” the problem even when we are not asked to do so.

Ask about victories and positive experiences.
During the first year or two, stresses and difficulties may overshadow the large and small victories that occur every day in the classroom. Asking about these victories can help reinforce the positive aspects of the new teacher’s day.

Focus on something other than teaching for a while.
Structure some time for you and your friend to enjoy each other’s company and do things that you enjoy. Make it a rule that school will not be discussed. Everyone needs a breather from his or her job every now and again.

Ask what you can to do be helpful.
We all have preferences for how others can be helpful and supportive. Ask what would be helpful.
Check, occasionally, to see if your support and encouragement could take other forms.

Ask how your support is working:
“I would like to help. Please tell me what would work for you.”
“Are there things I could do that would be more helpful?”
“Is there anything I’m doing that’s a problem?”
“If you would like us to talk about school, just let me know when it’s the best time for you.”

Give some space.
After being in a classroom with children or teenagers all day, new teachers may need some quiet or alone time to rest and relax. Be respectful of the fact that they may not want to discuss their day or even small talk right at the moment you ask, but may want to come back to it later.


VEA Offers Key
Training Workshops

VEA’s Office of Teaching and Learning has new training available in two key areas: English Language Learners (ELL) and special education.

 In the workshop “ELL: Culture, Equity and Language Training for Closing the Achievement Gaps,” educators will learn how to, among other things:

• Recognize and build on cultural and equity assumptions and culturally relevant instruction;

• Create classroom and school environments that facilitate language learning;

• Identify appropriate ELL instructional strategies aligned and differentiated to lessons and objectives and goals; and

• Find innovative ways to motivate ELLs to practice academic language skills that are carefully structured and require students to demonstrate growing proficiency.

In “Special Education/IDEA,” participants will gain valuable knowledge on subjects such as autism, Response to Intervention, and specific requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

For more information and to schedule a workshop in your area, go to  




In 2009, as the nation plummeted into the deepest recession in 30 years, funding for K-12 and higher education declined; however, in that same year, 33 states spent a larger proportion of their discretionary dollars on prisons than the year before.

In the 2008–2009 fiscal year, prisons’ share of the general fund grew more than any other category of state spending.

Analysis by the National Association of State Budget Officers shows that K–12 schools rely on receiving 70 percent of their state funding from the general fund, and nearly half of what colleges and universities receive from states comes from the general fund. At the same time, 9 out of 10 dollars that support prisons come from the gen¬eral fund, reducing the amount that is available for other critical public investments.

When increased prison spending means decreased spending on education, we all lose because communities cannot realize the economic and public-safety benefits that come from increased educational opportunities.

 --from the NAACP report “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate”




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