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Caring about students is vital

By Tonia Black-Gold
Catawba College News Service
“Kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much you care,” Larry Bell said, “and when they know, ‘it’s on.’ ”
Bell, a national education consultant and motivational speaker, spoke to a capacity audience of prospective teachers, current teachers and area educators at Catawba College’s Tom Smith Auditorium on Dec. 3.
His message was delivered with good humor, laughter and plenty of audience participation. His visit was sponsored by Catawba’s Ritchie Academy for Teaching, Kappa Delta Pi (the education honor society) and the Rowan-Salisbury School System.Bell, a Citadel graduate and a 28-year veteran in education, spent 15 of those years as a classroom teacher. He taught at Gar-Field High School, a school with more than 3,000 students speaking 36 different languages, and was recognized for his innovative classroom strategies.
Those strategies allowed his “tough” students, as well as his gifted and talented ones, to excel. He also spent seven years as the supervisor for multicultural education for Prince William County in Virginia, providing hands-on workshops for teachers and students in 67 different schools.
Today, he is a full-time consultant who owns Multicultural America Inc.
Bell’s presentation, “The Power of a Teacher,” focused on the power of high expectations, the importance of classroom culture, strategies for motivating students and overcoming classroom barriers.
“It’s not about the color of your skin and it’s not about the money in that child’s home,” Bell admonished. “All that matters is that you really care about them (the students). You don’t get less brain cells because you’re poor.
“And you can’t motivate kids by boring them to death, although some teachers are trying.”
Every teacher has to become a teacher of reading, Bell said, stressing the importance of vocabulary and comprehension on standardized tests. He scoffed at the idea of teachers who teach a subject and who do not think that teaching reading is part of their job.
Admitting that he is less than perfect and had to develop his methods for motivating students on his own, he advocated courage and audacity for today’s classroom teachers. “Where is your sense of humor,” he asked. “How many times a day do you go out into your classroom and make connections?”
Teachers should have high expectations, Bell explained. “I don’t call kids ‘at risk,’ I call them ‘at promise,’ ” adding that “classroom culture” is the key.
“I call kids power names ó ‘wonderful,’ ‘smart’ and ‘hardworking,’ ” he said. “Every time a kid comes into your class cutting up, they’re asking you to tell them something good.” He suggested that teachers call their students what they want them to be at least seven times an hour. He said he has used the term, “wonderful one,” to a positive effect. Three times an hour, he said, teachers should brag on each of their students for the effort they make.
When a student turns in a substandard paper, he said he has found success by simply saying: “You take this paper and do it over again because you are better than this.”
As a teacher, he said, one should not “be happy for reaching just one student.” He urged his audience “to go for 100 percent.
“Go into teaching because you want to reach all of them,” he said.
Read more about Larry Bell and his strategies for achieving success in the classroom on his Web site at www.larry-bell.com.

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