Mrs. Hartman's Discovery

Tracey Hartman always wanted to be a teacher. She had been one of those students who actually enjoyed school, and after 8 years of grade school, 4 years of high school, and 4 years of college, she had looked forward to having a classroom of her own.

As life goes, she couldn't find a teaching job in the suburban neighborhood where she grew up, but instead found herself teaching a third grade class at Washington Public School, which was in a poor, inner-city neighborhood. It was quite a shock for her. This was not like Sprucewood Elementary, where Tracey went to school years ago.

These kids just could not sit still. They were always screaming and fighting! It was a day's work just to get them all seated and quiet, not to mention to teach them anything.

The other teachers had all become accustomed to this behavior, so they weren't much help. Mrs. Rice, the other third grade teacher, said that half of the kids had drug and alcohol problems even at a young age, and they all came from families on welfare. Some of them were physically abused by their parents.

Well, Mrs. Hartman decided to do the best with what she had. She was appalled that the average score on the State Standardized Test for Washington Public School was only 31%, while her own suburban Sprucewood Elementary scored 88%.

Mrs. Hartman started talking to her kids personally. Her first thought was to find out which ones were being abused, and find help for them. She even tried to contact the parents, although most of them weren't interested in talking.

It took Mrs. Hartman 8 whole weeks to realize that she was heading in the wrong direction. None of the kids were physically abused by their parents. None of the kids themselves had any alcohol or drug problems, although some of the parents drank heavily. And even though they came from poorer families, the kids seemed every bit as bright as those in Sprucewood Elementary, but they just couldn't pay attention.

Did you ever hear the expression, "I couldn't see the forest because of the trees?" Well, that's how Tracey Hartman felt when she discovered the problem. You see, these kids lived in small aparments. They didn't have bicycles, or footballs, or skates, or any of the other toys that the suburban kids take for granted. But each family had a television set - some of them had two or three - and they were turned on all the time.

Now everyone has heard a lecture about television violence, but that is only part of the problem. It is not just the content of television that leads to such behavior. It's the amount of television. These kids were watching 40 hours a week!

So, Mrs. Hartman goal became to get these kids to do something better with their time.

She started a game of old fashioned show and tell. The other teachers criticized her for this, saying that show and tell was for kindergartners, but she did it anyway. She made a game out of it. One day she asked the children to catch some bugs; one day she asked them to bring in leaves from different kinds of trees. One of the most interesting days was when she made a contest to see who could talk to the oldest living person, and the winner found a man that was 103 years old. The teacher spent some of her own money to buy cheap used toys from the goodwill store, like footballs and roller skates, to give away as prizes.

. By her own estimation, Mrs. Hartman's students spent 15 hours a week on these activities, reducing the amount of time in front of the screen by the same amount.

After several weeks, the kids started to show some improvement. They were not as aggressive, and could sit still a little longer, and paid more attention. They spent less time fighting and more time learning.

When the results of the State Standardized Test came in, Mrs. Hartman's class scored 51%, a new school record! Even though it was still poor compared to the suburban schools, it was a big move in the right direction. Meanwhile, Mrs. Rice's class still scored 33%.

The principal of Sprucewood Elementary found out about this, and dug up Tracy Hartman's old job application from a year ago, and tried to hire her. At last, She could teach in a nice suburban school, with quality students! But guess what? Tracey wasn't didn't want to teach at Sprucewood anymore! Sprucewood was already scoring 88%, so there just wasn't as much room for improvement. It was a lot more rewarding to take these 30% kids and turn them into 50% kids - and the secret was so simple - start by getting the kids away from television!

Consider this:

The average American child watches 3 to 5 hours of television every day. That's 21 to 35 hours a week. By high school graduation most children have spent more time in front of the screen than in the classroom. In fact, television viewing accounts for more of a child's time than any other activity except sleeping!

So parents, please, be kind to your kids, and turn off the T.V. once in a while!