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Seeking a firsthand look at how state-mandated education reforms are affecting students and teachers in Arkansas, the state's new schools chief, Ruth Steele, has returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher.

Ms. Steele, a former English teacher who became director of the education department in July, spent two class periods last month instructing students at the Lonoke Middle School in the use of prepositional phrases. She plans to visit a variety of other schools as well this year.

The schools chief took the assignment, a spokesman said, to see how well 8th graders are being prepared for state tests they must pass next spring to be promoted, and to investigate teacher complaints about increased paperwork resulting from new education standards.

The spokesman said Ms. Steele had not reached any conclusions yet, but added that since her last experience in the classroom was 17 years ago, she has learned that the job has not gotten any easier.

An elementary-school teacher in Rockledge, Fla., met with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter last month to discuss children and peanuts.

Beth Davis, who teaches pupils who6have completed kindergarten but are too young for 1st grade, was mulling over two problems this past summer when she came up with the idea of enlisting Mrs. Carter's help.

The first was posed by a workshop she attended on how to get "positive" publicity for schools. The second was what to do as the year's science project. Growing worms was the previous year's assignment, and growing peanuts had not been very successful when tried a few years before because of the poor quality of the dirt the teacher used.

"I thought, 'Well, shoot, the Carters don't live far from here,"' said Ms. Davis. And a visit with Mrs. Carter, she reasoned, would provide both good dirt and good newspaper copy.

After making an appointment by phone, Ms. Davis took the six-hour drive to Plains, Ga.

Her visit at the Carter farm was "super nice," Ms. Davis said, and yielded both a plastic bag full of "good old red Georgia clay" and some of the Carters' peanut plants.

While pulling up the plants in the field, Mrs. Carter questioned Ms. Davis about her teaching methods, which involve "hands-on" learning projects from which the children write about their experiences.

The best part about taking home the authentic Georgia clay, the teacher said, was that "now the kids can associate it with" the former President and "do a lot of writing."

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