Friday, December 1
Be An Alpha Dog Company
On frequent trips from her home in Pelham, New York, to her in-laws’ home in Washington, D.C., Donna Fenn and her family make it a point to stop for lunch at Mike’s Harley Davidson dealership. “Do you know it?” she asks. “It’s just over the Delaware Bridge. It’s right off the Turnpike.” She exhorts her children to hang on as they pass fast food restaurants. If they can just wait until they get to the motorcycle dealership/restaurant, she reminds them, they will enjoy a really good lunch.
A contributing editor to INC. magazine, she had tried to think of a way to write an article on the unusual — and very successful — business, but could never think of a hook. But when she set out to write “Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack,” she thought of Mike’s Harley Davidson right away. It became one of the eight established, traditional, wildly successful companies she profiled.
Fenn speaks about “Alpha Dogs” at the New Jersey Small Business Centers’ Annual Conference, an event held in conjunction with the Friends Health Connection, on Friday, December 1, at 11:30 a.m. at the Forsgate Country Club. Call 973-353-1927 for more information.
The book was born, in a sense, from burn-out. Fenn had been deep into research for an Inc. magazine article about “a roll-up of flower shops by the Blockbuster folks,” she recounts. The roll-up of the mom-and-pop shops had been a disaster, but her article worked out well — so well, in fact, that a literary agent contacted her about turning it into a book. She declined, saying that she had had enough of the flower shop flop. But she and the agent hit it off, and began brainstorming book ideas.
A journalist since she worked at Washington Monthly while she was a student at George Washington University (Class of 1981), Fenn had specialized in writing about entrepreneurs and their ventures for more than 20 years. At just about the time that she was contacted by the agent, she had been thinking about how much she enjoyed the work of Malcolm Gladwell. The author of the popular books “Blink” and “Tipping,” Gladwell also writes in-depth articles about ordinary things. For the New Yorker, for example, he has written about ketchup, the disposable diaper, and “How Caffeine Created the Modern World.”
Fenn likes how Gladwell examines every corner of products that are so ordinary that few people give them a second look. She wanted to do the same thing with companies in workaday industries. “I really like writing about ordinary companies,” she says. “I’m not a high tech girl.”
Her agent agreed, and she set out to write about companies that have done extraordinarily well in ho-hum niches. She knew many of these companies from her work over the years, and set out to find a few more. Each company would illustrate one thing that makes for a great company — customer service, or employee relations, for example. She only considered companies that had been in business for at least five years.
“I didn’t want start-ups,” she says. “I wanted companies that had succeeded in good times and bad times. I wanted to see war wounds.” Each company is different, but the great ones have a lot in common.
No one can copy what you are. “Things turn into commodities really quickly,” says Fenn. It’s no good to create and sell the very best mouse trap or disposable diaper or silk flower, because a competitor will soon come up with one that is even better. Products will be copied — always. “But nobody can copy what you are,” she insists.
Brand yourself as a local company. It’s no good to be known as the ice cream shop with the most amazing hot fudge sauce in town, says Fenn. Because, yes, someone else will up with even more amazing hot fudge sauce. Be known for something in addition to your product. Be the ice cream shop with the huge collection of cow cartoons, or the ice cream shop that sponsors an outdoor film festival, or the ice cream shop that only uses natural ingredient from local farms.
What’s the DNA of the business? Create it, know it, build upon it, and include it in all branding. “Think differently from any other business,” says Fenn.
Seduce your customers. “You don’t want to have a transactional view,” Fenn says. “You want to have a relationship view.” The first step is to know who your customers are. “Can you name your 50 best customers?” she asks. “Can you name your 100 best customers.” Not all customers are equal, she says. Figure out just who your best customers are, and then do something special for them.
Put your employees first. Fenn found an unusual supermarket chain in Ohio. “Dorothy Lane Market says that it puts its employees ahead of its customers,” she says. Lots of people mouth pro-employee sentiments, and she was skeptical, so she took a trip to Ohio. What she found causes her to exclaim “I wish there were a Dorothy Lane near me!”
Prospective employees go through three interviews. Every employee, including grocery-bagging teen-agers, meets with the store’s owner, and is assigned a mentor. A number of employees become local celebrities. After becoming an expert in exotic cheeses, the manager of a store’s specialty cheese department gives talks on the subject, while the wine section’s manager hosts wine tastings and jazz evenings.
What employees most want now is training, she says. Alpha companies not only recognize and reward their workers, but they also give them the tools to make significant contributions and to grow their careers. This trait will only become more important as the labor shortage tightens. “Treat your employees like your life depends on them,” says Fenn, “because it does.”
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Building For The Future
‘This Way to Image Estates,” boasted the sign. Intrigued, my wife and I followed the arrows to a freshly bulldozed stand of oaks, the latest victims of suburban sprawl. Strips of sod were being draped over the dirt, and the faux Rococo single family dwellings shone like dice on a craps table. Strolling through all this extravagance forced the question: does one couple, or even one family, really require 4,000 square feet just for shelter?
To help determine what we should be building, as contrasted with what we are building, the New Jersey Department of Labor is presenting a talk by Eileen Swan, director of the state’s Office of Smart Growth, on “McMansions vs. Affordable Housing vs. Open Space,” as part of its annual construction conference on Friday, December 1, at 8:30 a.m. at the Trenton Marriott in Trenton. Cost: $105. Visit www.wnjpin.net.
Other talks include “Retail & Office Construction: Keeping up with Population Growth,” by Mark Remsa, director of the Burlington County Economic Development and Regional Planning Office; “Age Restricted Housing,” by Kenneth Daly, township manager of Franklin; and “Waterfront Development along the Delaware,” by John Matheussen, CEO, Delaware Port Authority.
Swan comes to her job as a true grassroots enthusiast. Born and raised in a rural community in western Ireland, she attended the University College of Dublin, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and social studies in l984. Three years later she settled in Lebanon, New Jersey. Soon after she was elected to her first stint as mayor. “There are so many people throughout our municipalities working at basically volunteer jobs, serving with such great belief,” she says. “This is what makes the entire system work.”
Swan felt at home with the rural settings of Hunterdon County and began fighting for open space in her area. “My move into the state level was a natural, next step,” she says.
Swan’s current monumental challenge is winning the battle of New Jersey’s fledgling development plan, one municipality at a time. Rarely does she see Smart Growth greeted with ardent opposition, but not every township is swift to refocus its entire way of growing.
“If I could I would wave my wand, I would fill New Jersey with center-based dwelling systems that protected our environment,” Swan says. But in this real — and political — world, she must forge the state plan step-by-step.
Where’s downtown? To blend in with the state’s macro design, each town is being asked to submit a micro format that includes more sustainable growth plans. Newark Mayor Sharpe James summed up this approach best by calling on all state municipalities to “put the unity back in community.”
Planning such unity demands doing away with car-dependency, and focusing on walkable, livable communities, each able to provide basic services to its residents. This housing philosophy is being applied to hamlets, suburbs, and cities, while ideally leaving a doughnut of open space around.
Diversity’s forge. There is an inherent folly in filling an entire town or large area with only housing units built for only one income level, says Swan. The Beverly Hills lunacy, in which every resident is well heeled, while all of the people who provide services must truck in from far away, is an environmental death knell.
In an ideal world, there would be relatively modest dwellings for the landscapers, teachers, and town clerks. The problem is that it is just plain easier for a large developer to build all one level of housing, using a few templates, than to provide varied residential offerings. There is also the snob appeal of living only with “one’s kind.” But in the end communities suffer for this sameness.
Those precious volunteers who fill so many vital roles come from all levels of society — and as often as not from lower income levels. This means, among other things, that it is more and more difficult for affluent communities to find volunteer firemen or EMS personnel.
Developers win. The fierce opposition to Smart Growth policies, which might have come from developers, has proved far less than expected. First, developers have become excited about the opportunities of building new town centers, such as the ones slowly emerging in Plainsboro and Robbinsville, and revitalizing old areas, such as Trenton.
Secondly, the state plan is opening up thousands of hitherto unusable acres to developers in the form of brownfields. New Jersey has identified more than 16,000 polluted sites, many of which are being cleaned up and made ready for building. For opportunities, just check the Brownfield Site Mart at www.nj.govdcaosgcommission rownfieldsindex.shtml.
More and more municipalities are seeking to transform their sprawl into communities. They are endorsing the state plan, signing off on Council for Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations, and working to make a town their residents enjoy. With a lot of hard work, Swan just might get her wand-wave wish after all.
— Bart Jackson
Monday, December 4
The Basics of Affirmative Action
Watch out, employers, because the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is on the lookout for federal contractors that do not have their houses in order in terms of affirmative action.
“If there is evidence of discrimination in selection, hiring, promotion, or termination processes, or in pay,” says Barbara Cordasco, affirmative action services specialist for the Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ), employers may have to cough up significant back pay.
To protect itself, a federal contractor or sub-contractor — and that umbrella is big enough to include nearly every company — must have all its recordkeeping in order. That means every document that tracks applications, hires, promotions, terminations, and compensation.
Cordasco gives employers, and those who work on affirmative action plans and strategies for them, a leg up in preparing this information in a workshop on “Special Affirmative Action Basics,” on Saturday, December 4, at 9 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clark. The event is sponsored by EANJ. Cost: $75. Call EANJ at 973-758-6800 or 609-393-7100.
The OFCCP goes after class action suits, where any protected group — perhaps women, minorities, people over 40, or those with handicaps — are adversely affected by an employer’s policy or practice. If a complaint involves only one or two employees, it is usually referred to the Office of Economic Opportunity.
“This year there has been a lot of activity in this region,” she says of compliance action by OFCCP. “They are boasting about having collected a lot more dollars and cents in back pay this year.”
The scheduling of compliance reviews comes out of Washington, and a contractor may get on the list for a variety reasons. The first has to do with their EEO1, a summary report required of all employers who have 100 or more employees, and of federal contractors with at least 50 employees. The Joint Reporting Committee issues the report and then shares it with the OFCCP, which may use it to select contractors whose distribution of minorities is not what it should be.
The second reason for a compliance investigation may simply be a very large dollar amount for a new contract. “Anyone in the million or above category,” says Cordasco, “is subject to a pre-audit, in which a new contractor has 120 days to put an affirmative action program in place and submit it to the OFCCP.” Under ordinary circumstances a company would have only 30 days to submit the program. Finally, a review could be triggered by a complaint from the field or by some other OFCCP analysis.
Affirmative action regulations require any business with at least 50 employees and $50,000 in contracts to have a written affirmative action plan if it does business directly with the federal government, either as a prime contractor or a subcontractor. A subcontractor, for the purposes of affirmative action statutes, is any company that does any work on an item or a service that it sells to a company that is going to pass it on to the government. If, for example, Ford is selling fleet cars to the Department of Agriculture, then the company from which it buys floor mats for these cars would be bound by affirmative action rules, even if the Ford account is only a small part of its business.
The plan must be submitted within 30 days if the OFFCP schedules a compliance review. Regulations require that an affirmative action plan contain specific sections:
Analysis of work force. The first step is to take a snapshot of employees at a particular date by specifying job title, sex, race, and salary for each person. Contractors then slot their employees into nine job groups similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity classifications: officers and managers, professionals, sales, technicians, office and clerical, craft (skilled), operatives (semiskilled), laborers (manual, unskilled), service, and protective (for example, police officers and nonprotective (janitors and hospital attendants).
Employees are assigned to a particular job group when they satisfy three criteria: similar job content and responsibilities, promotional opportunities, and wages.
This categorization according to job group documents the firm’s mix of employees, allowing both employer and the OFCCP to analyze the company’s affirmative action position. It clarifies, for example, whether minorities and women are in lower-level jobs and whether there is pay equity within a job group. An analysis of the employee mix also involves tenure, education, experience, and skills. Employers must ensure that their selection and promotion policies are equitable.
Determination of availability. A firm’s employee mix within a particular job group should be similar to that documented by the 2000 census data for the job group’s recruiting area. Typically, for lower-level jobs such as laborer or clerk, the contractor would recruit from a one or two-county area. But for higher level jobs, where people might be willing to commute farther or move for higher pay, the recruitment area might be statewide — or even nationwide.
To determine availability of minorities and women for a particular job group, contractors must compare their own numbers with the percentages of minorities and women under the same job titles in the census data. If 19 percent of all clerks in Middlesex and Mercer counties are Asian, for example, then a company should try to ensure that 19 percent of its clerks are Asian.
Sometimes it can be difficult to match census employment categories with job titles. This can be legitimate. There may be very few candidates for a highly specialized job, and mirroring the census data on the job can be impossible. But it can also be a ruse. Says Cordasco, “companies are sometimes very creative with their job titles. They may have a job title indicative of a particular job, when the content of the job has nothing to do with the title.”
Goals. According to the regulations, says Cordasco, “the employment goals must be at least equal to availability.” She adds that, when determining availability, employers must weigh internal recruitment, through promotion, as well as external recruitment.
Narrative. Here the contractor explains its recruitment, selection, and promotion processes, justifies any discrepancies between availability and actual employee mix, and specifies an action plan to address any problems.
This section asks questions like: What have you, as a contractor, been doing to reach out to minorities and women, and let them know you have employment opportunities? Or, once you recruit minorities and women, are your training, promotion, and pay practices equitable?
The contractor must justify any underutilization. Often, says Cordasco, there are legitimate business reasons, and these must be specified. Upper management may comprise long-term employees, with little turnover, or women may have little interest in a particular job. Or for jobs requiring very specific skills, “true availability” may be very limited. The contractor must also explain any pay disparities among men, women, and minorities in the same job group.
The narrative and its action plan try to get at the truth behind the numbers. Cordasco explains that the OFFCP looks more at what a contractor is doing than at the numbers or percentage in a given category. At a minimum, federal contractors are expected to recruit with the job service at their local unemployment office. Currently recruiting can be done through America’s Job Bank, www.ajb.org, but that service will dissolve in 2007.
EANJ provides employers with boilerplate narrative, which they customize to develop their own action-oriented plans to reach out and recruit minorities and women. The actions specified depend, of course, on the types of employees in the business. If, for example, a company is underutilizing women in engineering jobs, it might indicate that it is doing outreach at certain engineering schools. Or, it might have a look at local schools and colleges to see if they have internship programs.
Describing training programs is also important. “A company’s best defense in any kind of investigation,” says Cordasco, “is to show it has made a good faith effort by supplying training for employees.”
Cordasco has been with the EANJ for 21 years and has been involved in the creation of hundreds of affirmative action plans. She advises companies to have plans in place as soon as they become contractors. Otherwise they really have to scramble to produce one quickly (as does EANJ).
She believes that the plan is also a great tool for doing a self-audit. “I advise contractors to look at their selection, promotion, and termination processes at least on a quarterly basis, and to analyze that data to make sure they are on the right track,” she says. In addition, companies need to make sure that anyone involved in the process knows the company is an affirmative action employer and understands the obligation to conform with policies touted in its affirmative action policies.
Finally, the affirmative action plan, although usually written and maintained by the human resources department, must have “a buy-in from the top,” says Cordasco. “Without support, it can’t be the tool it was meant to be.”
— Michele Alperin
Think Princeton For Holiday Events
Christmas in Princeton is special, but not everyone knows about it — yet. To remedy this problem, and at the same time boost the bottom lines of area retail businesses, the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce is going all out this year to trumpet the news.
On Monday, December 4, at 2 p.m. the chamber is holding a kick-off social at the Morven Museum and Gardens on Stockton Street. Call 609-924-1776 for a reservation.
“All of the trees will be up at Morven by then,” says Karen Colimore, who took over as president of the chamber in September. She has rounded up an impressive list of sponsors to help spread the word about what the chamber is calling “Holidays in Princeton.” Among the sponsors is Amtrak, AmeriSuites, the Westminster Choir College, Borough Merchants for Princeton, Palmer Square Management, Homewood Suites, Janssen, Hopewell Valley Vineyards, the Nassau Inn, and the Terra Momo Restaurant Group.
The sponsors are helping to fund the effort to tell the world — or at least the parts of the world that are within an easy drive of Princeton — about all of the town’s holiday goings on. “We’re hanging posters in a number of places, including Penn Station in New York and 30th Street Station in Philadephia,” says Colimore. Non-commuters will get the word through postcards. The chamber is sending out 10,000 to residents of northern and western New Jersey.
The postcards will direct holiday shoppers, diners, and culture hounds to the chamber’s “Holidays in Princeton” website, at www.holidaysinprinceton.com. There they will find an exhaustive list of events, as well as links to all of the chamber’s holiday sponsors.
Colimore says that this is the second year that the chamber has taken a central role in turning the greater Princeton area into a holiday destination. She invites everyone to get the season rolling by joining the chamber’s sponsors at Morven.
Tuesday, December 5
The Seven Phases Of Non-Profits
Susan Kenny Stevens has a different way of looking at non-profit organizations. She sees them as a table with a beautiful vase of flowers on it. The vase of flowers is the services the community sees — beautiful and often showy, but if that vase of flowers is hiding a weak table, it may fall and crash.
Stevens, a consultant to non-profits for 20 years, speaks on “Becoming Who You Are: A Lifecycles Approach to Non-Profit Capacity,” at the Non-Profit Leadership Forum sponsored by Tyco International and the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday, December 5, at 1:30 p.m. at the Princeton Premiere Hotel at Route 1 and Ridge Road. For more information and registration call 609-924-1776. The event is free, and is open only to managers, directors, and CEOs of non-profit organizations.
Stevens, a native of Minneapolis, MN, leads the public service group for LarsonAllen, a professional services company, which also has offices in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and several other cities. Over the past 20 years she has worked as a consultant and advisor to local and national foundations and non-profits. She has also been a national lecturer, public speaker and trainer, and has written extensively on financial and management issues for the non-profit sector. In 2002 her book, “Non-profit Lifecycles,” received the Terry McAdam Book Award for most valuable non-profit book.
Stevens began her career as a clinical social worker and after several years in non-profit administration started her own company, the Stevens Group, to help non-profits to better deal with organizational problems and issues.
She developed her theory of non-profit life cycles when she found “there was no normative behavior for organizations.” An excellent example of the problem, she says, can be found in the work she did with two similar health care clinics.
“Each had a staff of about 20 people and a budget that was about the same. On the outside they looked similar,” she says. “But the approach of each clinic was very different.” One of the organizations “had its finances in a shoebox, and worked in a grassroots mode even though it was 20 years old.”
The other clinic had a “high powered governing board and had done a lot of strategic planning.” Both clinics provided excellent services for their communities, “but their legs were different,” said Stevens. “Their starting points were different. Their infrastructure was different.” In other words, to assist each organization as a consultant, she had to look at “where it was, not where I thought it ought to be.”
According to Stevens, there are seven stages in the non-profit life cycle. Not every non-profit goes through each of the cycles in progression, but all non-profits are in one or the other of these stages at any given moment. An organization can move back and forth through these stages more than once in its life.
The structure which holds up an organization is its four legs: management and staff, governance, financial resources, and administrative systems and devices. “It is challenging if an organization is out-of-sync,” says Stevens, if the different “legs” view the organization as being in different parts of the cycle. For example, it can be “very challenging if the board sees the organization in the “maturity,” phase while the administration sees itself in the “start-up” portion of the cycle. Often, she says, the board’s expectations are too high.”
Idea phase. The idea phase is an exciting time for a non-profit, says Stevens. “A community need has been perceived and it sparks someone’s founding vision.” There are a lot of great ideas that never go beyond this phase, however. It takes time and energy to formalize the idea into a true organization.
Start-up phase. The idea is now put into action. The tax exempt status and articles of incorporation are in place. Simple programs are now being offered to the community. At this point, the non-profit is “a labor of love,” says Stevens. “Everyone involved knows that, ‘we have something people need.’”
Growth phase. The growth of the organization has outpaced its infrastructure. “It has no legs,” says Stevens. “There aren’t enough phone lines. They’ve outgrown the church basement office. The organization is growing up.”
Maturity phase. The non-profit’s services are now solid, and the organization is providing relevant, vital services to the community. Unfortunately, at this phases some organizations can become complacent, leading to the next stage.
Decline phase. Says Stevens: The organization begins “to rest on its laurels.” But the status quo is not necessarily relevant to the current needs of the community it serves. If things don’t change, the organization heads into the terminal phase, and from there, says Stevens, there are only two ways out.
Terminal phase. The first way out of the terminal phase is for the organization to die. “Some non-profits are set up with a sunset clause. They are literally designed to work themselves out of the need to be,” says Stevens. But in many cases an organization becomes terminal because “it has lost its will or reason or energy to exist.” If the non-profit is to recover from its terminal phase, someone must wake up and begin to deal with the situation. This, she says, is the second way out of the terminal phase.
Turn-around phase. Once the non-profit has realized the problem, it can enter the turn-around phase. “Everything the organization does is examined in light of the community,” she says. During the decline phase an organization can become very focused on self-preservation. “This is what we do, rather than this is what the community needs,” she says. During turn-around the focus turns again to the needs of the community.
Stevens’ life cycles theory recognizes the fact that all non-profits are different and unique. If an organization is to develop a strategic plan for its future, she says, its board and administrators must “take the organization and work with it where it is, not where they think it ought to be.”
— Karen Hodges Miller
Wednesday, December 6
Paths To Teaching
Until recently teaching was a lifelong career commitment that began before age 23. Rules governing public schools favored those who had obtained teaching certification right along with a bachelor’s degree — often in elementary or secondary education. The individual with two decades of experience and a yen to pass on real-world lessons had a hard time landing a teaching job. The attitude was: Well, we’re sorry, Mr. Gates, but since you never did finish Harvard, we couldn’t possibly view you as qualified to teach Computers 101.
But things have changed in New Jersey. Education supervisors realize that good candidates for teaching jobs are not just people who have completed a bachelor’s degree in education. There is now a path that can lead the scientist, stockbroker, or travel writer to the front of a classroom in a matter of only months, not years.
For all of those who have ever thought of shifting gears and becoming a teacher at any level, Mercer County Community College offers “New Pathways to Teaching Information Session,” on Wednesday, December 6, at 5:30 p.m. Call 609-570-3883 for more information on this free class.
Tom Bona hosts the session. A lifelong educator, Bona has spent half of his time in the front of the classroom and the other half in the principal’s office. A native of Neptune, Bona attended the College of New Jersey, earning a bachelor’s degree in history (Class of 1968), followed by a master’s degree in the same subject. He admits that he has always wanted to be a teacher. Yet later, as a possible hedge for the future, Bona went to Rutgers University and took a Ph.D. in educational administration. His training would turn out to mirror his career.
For the first 20 years after college Bona taught history at his hometown’s junior high school, and then at the senior high school in Tuckerton. In l988 he became Tuckerton’s assistant principal, and shortly afterward became principal. He remained there for the rest of his public school career, mentoring new vice principals.
This is his fourth year instructing MCCC’s New Pathways to Teaching course.
New Jersey’s plan for bringing in experience-based teachers was born out of desperation. The dawn of the new millennium found the state short of science and mathematics teachers. Many states and cities faced the same problem. Denver schools adopted a program of recruiting professionals, and putting them in teaching jobs instantly, with classroom training provided on the side. However, as Denver middle school math teacher Joel Sano noted, “The program has been a disaster.”
These new teachers, while excellent in their subject, are getting in front of the classroom and just collapsing. New Jersey has taken a more supportive approach, with much better results.
Training a sage. As of 2001 entering teachers have been required by the state to take an exam on their subject knowledge. For career changers these exams can be used as an entrance exam into courses like Bona’s and thus a way into teaching in grades one through twelve. The New Pathways to Teaching course actually begins its first semester in June, right after school lets out. From then on, until September, students are given a crash course in teaching skills.
Then, as fall pubic school sessions begin, Bona’s students go to their previously-arranged teaching jobs, while reporting back several times a week to the MCCC class for training, and support. Bona, meanwhile, acts as a set of teacher training wheels, visiting and observing his students’ classes, making notes, and keeping an eye out for problems.
But it’s a long, long time from December to June, why worry about signing up for a June now? Because there are certain hoops to jump, including securing a full-time teaching position for the coming fall. The state doesn’t hand out these positions. If you want to make the career change, it is up to you to hustle up the new job.
Meanwhile, back in Bona’s classroom, students are learning that those who have done it all their lives, cannot necessarily teach it. As with any new trade, there are a host of new skills to learn.
Your golden words. Probably the most frequent misconception Bona sees in his students is that teaching only involves standing in front of a classroom and giving a 45-minute lecture. The job, he reminds them, is to stimulate the students, not merely to lay one’s pearls of wisdom, however precious, upon them. This is a dynamic interchange.
School children are, oddly enough, individuals. They learn by many differing methods. For some it’s listening and taking notes, for others it’s visually experiencing a model of the concept. It becomes the creative teacher’s task to develop a daily lesson plan that takes in and answers all of these students’ needs.
Teenager alert! You are age 55, you don’t even remember what the teen years were like for your own children. Now you have 25 of the lively people filling your classroom — every 45 minutes. Managing a classroom is one of the toughest and most delicate of teaching’s skills, says Bona. It requires enough implied discipline to keep focus, but not so heavy a hand as to squelch learning enthusiasm. Also, it is essential to maintain a solid group dynamic, while, at the same time, giving ample attention to individuals.
“Much of this comes with listening to the class and sensing their specific needs,” says Bona. “Too few teachers take the time to listen.” For the lucky ones, some classroom management style comes as a gift. But all teachers need to add an entire arsenal of tricks and techniques.
Mainstreaming. New Jersey mandates that its school systems place students with special needs in “the least restrictive environment possible.” That is, they are to be blended in with the standard classes for the given age group, and they are to be encouraged to participate. All this needs be achieved with as little disruption to the rest of the class as possible. Managing this feat takes a fair amount of skill — and support.
It will only take a few minutes at the MCCC December introductory course to learn that teaching is not the snap job that it may appear to anyone whose teacher friends can be seen heading for the golf course on weekday mornings in the summer. However, for a professional who has spent a decade or two out in the “real world,” there can be a lot of satisfaction in passing on skills and life lessons to the next generation. And in the process, says Bona, new teachers often find that this younger generation has a thing or two to teach the teacher.
— Bart Jackson