With the Shelter Island School closed for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, parents are trying to keep their children up to date with their schoolwork. But unfortunately, according to the New York State School Counselor Association, four out of 10 students are not doing their home instruction.
Richard O’Connell, an educator who spent many summers on the Island teaching tennis in the Heights, was inspired to write a book to help teachers and parents learn how to motivate students. His experience in counseling and helping children includes serving as district guidance coordinator, assistant principal, director of guidance and counselor in various New York and New Jersey public and private schools over a span of 40 years. For the past 11 years, he’s volunteered in a minority school assisting students in the college/career admissions process.
He’s the author of two previous books. One is for school counselors, “The Secrets To Being A Great School Counselor,” and he co-authored “In My Mind,” discussing Aspergers as it operates in the mind of a young man, Shelter Island native Alex Olinkiewicz.
Mr. O’Connell is especially concerned about students falling behind by neglecting their school work while sheltering at home. “Many of these children are poor students to begin with,” he said, “and as such, their future will not be too bright.”
His new book has a brain-teasing title: “Ad-For Every Vice-One*” Unscramble it, of course, and he’s offering advice for everyone — and right now, it will be most welcomed by parents.
“The book contains programs, reflections and anecdotes for the sole purpose of motivating students,” the author said.
The anecdotes within the book are stories, instances and advice that the reader is asked to adapt to her/his special circumstances for the purpose of getting kids involved. The programs are innovative plans of action, offered for parents or teachers to incorporate into their school or home learning setting. The reflections are personal thoughts and ruminations from his own experience.
Learning from the experience of teachers
There are more than 40 anecdotes in the book. “Some are shocking; some are funny; some are very didactic; but all relate to motivating students” he said.
Here’s one: A youngster in middle school came to school each day with a particular, unpleasant odor coming from his person. His teacher eventually called him aside. And as he came towards the teacher the odor got worse to the point where the teacher realized it was coming from his tie. In the day when students wore ties, this young man never remade the tie and just slipped it on each day.
Upon examining it, the teacher discovered a dead mouse, lodged in the webbing of the tie. If the teacher exclaimed, “Oh! My God, a mouse!” it would have been a grave embarrassment for the student and his classmates. And probably, it would have given him a nickname that would follow him for years.
The teacher discreetly invited him to step outside and requested he go to the bathroom and dispose of the tie in the garbage. While shocking, and humorous, Mr. O’Connell relates the story to always remember to safeguard the self-esteem of every student.
Focusing on how parents can help
In light of the academic challenges many parents now face teaching their children at home, he offers the following advice, to ask their children: Do you want to get higher academic grades? Do you want your teachers to like you? Do you want to do well on school exams? Do you want to prepare for college?
If so, there are two simple rules to follow
1. Do your home work very, very well every night.
2. Ask your teachers privately for information about anything in your home work you don’t understand. Mr. O’Connell pointed out that psychologically, teachers are more inclined to give higher grades to students who demonstrate greater interest in their subject.
These rules are offered to answer all the questions listed above. “And teachers will know you want to do well and reward you,” he said.
Follow both rules, he urges parents to remind their children, and it will ensure they’ll get higher grades.
Even if parents don’t follow the literal guidance above, he’s encouraging them to engage their children in a conversation about their goals and working together to overcome challenges, especially with material they find difficult.
All royalties from this book will be donated to charities. “Its price [$11.99] is inexpensive,” Mr. O’Connell said, “since its message is needed more than its price.” The book is available by going to the Archway publishing site (archwaypublishing.com) and clicking through to the bookstore. It’s fairly easy to find, since it’s near the top of their best-seller list.