By Jessica Kelmon
A few months ago, Trish Tingler and her teenage daughter Kelsey found a note from her middle school days in a box of keepsakes. The note, Trish recalls, meant a lot to her at the time. “As for what it meant to Kelsey," she writes, "all I can tell you is she immediately took the note and placed it front and center on our refrigerator.”
Under the heading “Caught Being Good,” the note lauds Kelsey for her hard work and determination. It came from Mark Schumacker, a teacher who regularly sends notes home when he sees students being kind or working hard in class. With its dorky font and homemade look, it's the last thing you'd expect a middle schooler to respond to — especially since it came from her seventh grade math teacher.
Teaching an oft-reviled subject to the most ugh-inducing of stages, Schumacker has a job with notoriously high turnover. His students are at an age when parents endure a spike in eye-rolling and a reticence to engage in almost everything. Some parents exhaust themselves trying to break through the hormone-induced self-absorption. Others simply give up, concluding that middle schoolers just can’t be reached. Yet this buttoned-up math teacher, who looks more like a tech exec, has discovered how to do the near miraculous — help his middle school students learn and even enjoy math while teaching them how to be kind, hardworking kids.
“Believe it or not,” he says, chuckling, “seventh graders once told me in a class meeting that I didn’t give enough homework.”
Schumacker, who teaches at Herman K. Ankeney Middle School in Beavercreek, OH (GreatSchools Rating 9), has success as the result of a unique teaching approach that combines math curricula with what's known as character education, which teaches kids important qualities like honesty, empathy, and determination. The ultimate goal is to inspire them to excel in school and in life.
Character education has been gaining attention and momentum both within the U.S. and abroad as studies find that social-emotional learning (SEL, also often called EQ) goes hand in hand with higher test scores, increased attendance and graduation rates, more engaged students and staff, and better behavior. According to a 2008 Casel (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) report on three scientific reviews,“SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress.”
Incorporating character education into curriculum isn't easy, but it pays off. Data from the Character Education Partnership’s 2011 National Schools of Character showed all reporting schools have increased their state reading and math scores and/or earned passing rates above 90 percent.
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