Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What seems to make a good school?

What I have read about the Finland schools has been banging around in my head for a number of days.  I also remember visiting an elementary school in Norway that seems to have been designed in the same way.  I was in Stavanger to do a workshop at an international school and was given an opportunity to visit a Norwegian elementary school for a day.  

It was situated on the side of a slight hill--daylight basement type you might say except the basement was the local medical clinic.  The school along with the medical clinic was the center point for the neighborhood.  And it certainly seemed to me highly intelligent for if a child got hurt while playing at recess, there was medical help at the ready.  

The elementary school was built shortly after World War II and was primarily wood but it appeared to me to be quite modern in appearance.  I like modern.  As the principal and I walked through the school he pointed out that the doors were larger then standard and with no sill so that wheelchairs could maneuver easily.  That made sense to me.

But as we walked down the halls and looked into different classrooms I noticed adults sitting next to certain children from first grade to fifth grade.  Some rooms had only one adult sitting next to a child while, if I remember correctly, there was one room with four adults sitting in the rows between the desks.  The principal explained to me that if a child is having trouble in a subject then the teacher tells the principal and he arranges to have an adult help that child as soon as the next day.  These adults, many retired teachers but others as well, help that student during the instruction by the teacher and to also help assist in doing the school work.  The principal explained that if a child is not understanding a subject, they begin to fall further and further behind.  This way, with extra help, they can stay up with the rest of the class.  Sometimes it takes only a few days of assistance, sometimes a few weeks but the child stays with the class.  I guess the Norwegians also believe in....."Success breeds success" as well.  

I like this system.  No one gets left behind.  Did I say that? But, as you can imagine at the end of the school year everyone is up to grade level.  It does cost, but it is an acceptable part of the educational costs for the school district.  Pretty smart in my estimation.

From a teacher's point of view it is also smart.  When I taught in the elementary school, if one of my kids did not understand a problem or how to do something, I would have to go to that child and help.  I would flit from raised hand to raised hand.  But it dawned on me that as I helped those students who were having problems, the successful student was sitting without my giving them the encouragement they needed.  In essence, bright students were being short changed.  In this Norwegian system, the teacher could continue to teach new material but wasn't bogged down helping those that were falling behind.  Nice idea, eh

At some point I was allowed to wander on my own.  Everyone was very friendly and polite and somewhere in my meanders I realized that everyone had spoken English to me, teachers and children alike.  In Norway, all children (and teachers) speak Norwegian and English and for some, a third and/or fourth language as well.  

[An editorial comment]  If we in the United States want to improve our schools I think that most teacher education graduates ought to be able to speak two languages.  This coming from a guy who has troubles with his native English.  I am embarrassed to say the least.  However, I believe that there is a connection in the brain between the two languages that enables learners to look at learning differently.  In essence, it helps kids to more effectively and efficiently learn....not just languages but other subjects as well. [End of pontificating]

The curriculum in this school, I was told, was quite standard for the country.  Languages, mathematics, culture, history, art, music, writing, reading--the whole broad spectrum of being educated.  Lots of stuff to learn but the children were happy and learning in all the classes that I saw.

At one point I peeked into a classroom that appeared to be empty but as soon I opened the door I realized there were five fifth grade girls who quit giggling as I entered the room.  They were grouped around three or four Macintosh Plus computers and obviously working on something on the computers.  I asked in English if I could watch and they immediately switched to English and told me that they were putting together a "newsletter" which when approved would be sent to Stanford, Connecticut in the United States.  When I told them I was from the United States, there was more giggling and embarrassment that only fifth grades girls the world around can produce.  

They were having a problem using PageMaker on one of the Macs.  They didn't know how to go to page 2 to continue one of their articles.  Although PageMaker was in Norwegian it was similar to our English version and I could move the mouse to the lower left hand corner and click to get to page two for the girls.  They were delighted and immediately continued composing their newsletter. I asked who their teacher was and seeing looks of concern and worry, immediately said that I wanted to tell their teacher what a good job there were doing.  With relaxed faces and smiles they told me which room there were from.  

I did go see the teacher and did comment favorable upon the girls and their project.  The teacher told me that she had made contact with a friend of hers who also taught in the Stanford school district and that they would exchange newsletters by the internet.  This was the early days of the internet and I was much impressed. I still am, as you can tell.  The teacher also said that the newsletter was also sent to several Norwegian Islands that had small schools so that they could feel connected to the entire school system.  I was and still am very impressed.  Apparently doing the newsletter was one method in which the teacher taught English and writing.  The students "owned" the learning project.  And it was fun--it had to be with all that giggling.  

I wonder why the federal government, more specifically the Department of Education cannot set up a system which might encourage classrooms to communicate with other classrooms around the world.  I suspect there are ways already in place--I just don't know about them.  Pity.

I want to thank teachers around the world who help their chargers learn.  And to those Afgan teachers who are teaching girls and are being shot at--thanks for being brave as well.  You are an inspiration.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Finland is Number One.....maybe?

[Stick with me with the fonts, size and graphics.  I've been told that the graphics are not showing up on some computer screens and on others, the graphics have changing backgrounds.  They were black lines on white background, so if you're getting something else, hang in there.  Sorry]

In recent days, indeed even in Professor Ravitch's latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School system, and in several journal and newspaper articles, The Republic of Finland (yes, that is the correct name) has been touted as having a superior educational system as compared to the United States.  Once you study the Finland educational system you will not find this hard to believe.  And, according to several international surveys or tests, the Finland boys and girls are number one in Science and Mathematics as compared to forty seven other industrialized nations.  

When I studied Finland's system of education I was pleased to see that they had a broad curriculum, as in, they taught their children science, mathematics, reading, writing, languages (supposedly two languages), art, music and theater. Another interesting part of their educational system is that they have a shorter day and a shorter school year.  Well, for heaven's sakes. But they out do the U.S..  How come?

But lets look at the basics first. The Finnish child starts public school when they are seven and normally complete this part of their education when they are sixteen.  Nine years of education....  For a number of years I have been in error in saying that when comparing our students in the U.S. to the Finnish student we are comparing high school to a university student.  Not so.  The latest comparisons by UNESCO are with essentially fifteen year olds in science and mathematics.  Finland appears to have the best educational system in the world.  What do they do?  

Let's considered some data.  First, Finland is considered one of the smaller European countries in terms of population and that population is made up of Fins, Swedish Fins (speak another language) and Samis or Laplanders of which there are only 15,000 mostly in the far north of Finland.  School starts at eight in the morning and continues to somewhere between noon and two o'clock.  A free hot lunch is provided to all children.  When school is let out, students are allowed to go out to play or attend special after school programs such as dance, art and music.  Parents normally pick up their children at four o'clock.   

So we can assume that there are not a lot of minorities and because the economic level is very high in Finland, there are little or no areas of poor as we might know it here in the United States.  In my perusal of the Finnish educational system I found out that they have modeled their teaching style on the French Educational Philosopher, Celestin Freinet (whom I've only read about and not much at that).  Freinet espoused "learn by doing" and if you've been with me in the previous blog, was a Realist.  In one school groups of children designed, write and publish a magazine under the guidance of the teacher.

Although children start public education when they are seven, there are abundant pre-schools for children to attend.  Pre-schools are taught by teachers with B.A. degrees and are part of the Finnish government.  The initial school is called a primary school and goes through approximately the ninth grade.  The next level is the secondary school and that is broken into two sections--the trade school and the academic oriented upper secondary which leads to the university or tertiary level.  

As I read about the Finnish schools I kept looking to see what was of critical importance to make them different.  I kept coming back to my bias--the teachers.  Teachers in the primary and secondary schools have masters degree. Okay, so do most of ours.  Finnish teachers who teach in the primary schools are "class" teachers and those that teach in the secondary schools are "subject" teachers.... to some degree not much different from here.

But as I read about the teachers I did detect what I think is an important difference.  Teachers in Finland are highly respected.  Many want to be a teacher but only 10 to 20 percent of those applying to the university are accepted.  Now this could be a closed loop in a way.  "You're a teacher?"  This person had to get though a lot to become one--they must be good.  Whereas in the United States there is the belief that if you can't do, teach.  And this is strange because in my university it was difficult to get to be an education major. 

There seems to be an attitude in the United States at this time to place all of the educational woes on the classroom teacher.  I'm not sure why?  "Get rid of all the poor teachers."  "Anyone can teach." (see Teach for America)  "Get rid of the teacher unions and our education will improve."  "Anyone can run a school--let business do it."  "In my day we only needed a blackboard and a book... and a wrap of the ruler over our hands when we didn't pay attention."  I've heard all of these and then some over the years.  My favorite is from a friend of mine who says repeatedly, "When you fire all the bad teachers, I'll vote for the public schools."  Sad.

Today was a brief (simplistic for my friend) review of the Finnish schools.  The have a shorter day and a shorter year and yet they out do us in educating their children.  Interesting.

And thanks to all our teachers who keep working to educate our kids.  I appreciate what you do.  You're the best!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Mid-Term Review and Anticipation

Let's leave the training of a classroom teacher for a moment.  Many things have happen in the last month in education in general.  An important step for me is that I have finished Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  I finished reading it on my Kindle.  And to celebrate my reading of Ravitch's book, I downloaded a long ago favorite, Democracy and Education by John Dewey.  I read Professor Dewey's book look ago while working on my Masters degree.  I'm looking forward to reading an old friend.  

But before I go into an analysis of Dr. Ravitch's thinking we also have to deal with the March 15th issue of Newsweek, with the cover title, "The Key to Saving American Education," by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert.  The background cover is a blackboard covered with the sentence, "we must fire bad teachers." While Mr. Thomas does teach journalism at Princeton, neither writers have ever taught in a K-12 classroom for any significant amount of time.  For those who regularly read this blog you will know that I am extremely tired of people outside the profession of education telling us how to teach and what is wrong with education.  I think this article is poor journalism and bad reporting about our public schools.  And the Newsweek editors should be made to go back to grade or high school school for at least a month.....

There was so much wrong with that edition that I wanted to scream and yell but I was told by my cardiologist to keep stress at a minimum so I read Diane Ravitch's book to help me through this crises.  I was surprised by my reaction to her latest book.  Dr. Ravitich has been my nemesis for years--I have been against mandatory testing, indeed, I dislike I.Q. testing as it is culturally biased.  And I am firmly against vouchers as it damages to a great degree the public school system which I think is essential to the greatness of this country.  Vouchers were away around the church/state issue in that families were given tax supported vouchers so their child (children) could go to any public school or...private or religious school.   

But Charter schools pretty much eliminated the voucher system by making some of the public schools separate from the system and given over to private companies to run as they saw fit provided they would increase learning.  Charter schools were run on the business model and if children did not increase in test scores, teachers could be fired. The principals and administrators had not taught--they were business professions, lawyers, or whatever, but not teachers.  But I finally realized what was troubling me about Charter schools--It was snobbish to a fault.  I can't think of another word.  Charter schools could accept who they wanted and not take those that might not succeed.  Even if they took poor risk students they were quite often sent back to the public schools for not doing well.  So we have in some communities charter schools taking the brightest and the best and kicking out the at-risk students.  The strange thing is that some research shows that the difference between public schools in the area and the charter schools show little difference in test scores by grade level.  And the graduation rate has not improved.  Yes, you can find positive research on the charter school but guess who did the research--the charter schools.  

So I was interested in Diane Ravitch's latest book when she reviews what has been happening the past three or four decades.  And it also revealed to me why I had been unhappy with Professor Ravitch all these past years.  She is an educational historian who writes about what has happened.  When I read parts of her other books, I was unhappy with what she wrote although it was in all likelihood accurate.  I just wanted to shoot the messenger.  I'm happy to clear up my thinking and to clarify this point.  Ms Ravitch is a historian and writes about what has happened.  Probably why I am looking forward to re-reading John Dewey who is a philosopher and writes about "what ought to happen."  An important difference.

Meanwhile Ravitch says that the voucher systems, the charter schools (both give parents choice) and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) of the last decade have not worked.  If one looks at the overall effect of these programs there has been a decline in the efficiency and effectiveness of the American Public Schools.  It is what I have been ranting about for the past thirty years.

The latest approach to fire all the bad teachers is not going to help as well since we can't agree on what is a poor teacher.  Ravitch says the same thing and in her last chapter (11), she makes suggestions for improving public education.

Which is why we need to review my comments about philosophies of education.  Are you with me still?  If you will forgive my forgotten use of Apple Works drawing program we can commence.

Pasted Graphic.pict

The outer circles represent our society--you and me and everyone in the neighborhood.   The letter "I" represents collectively the student or individual.  Under Idealism, society tells the individual what he/she needs to learn to be a successful member of society.  That why we need schools.  The adults know what should be learned or taught.  The Great books....or... the classics.  And don't forget the times table.  And geography.  Also great Art and music classics.  Idealism suggests that this is the culture of society.  Sit up straight, pay attention.  Don't cheat.  NCLB is a product of this philosophy but it is limited to only Reading and Mathematics.  "I'll tell you what you need to know."  

Probably the best example of Idealistic education is the Catholic schools.  It is top down.  And the classics are the curriculum.  

The second set of circles represent realism.  In this example, the individual or student selects what he want to learn and in some cases how he wants to learn.  The readiness program that we had in the lower grades in the sixties and early seventies was a spinoff of this philosophy.  Children had to be ready to learn but you could teach them at the right time.  The French school system appears to be a supporter of this philosophy although I haven't been in one of their schools for some time.  But it works--students keep being interested in the world around them.  My bean plants growing on a revolving turntable is a product of this philosophy.  "What will the beans do when they sprout?"  "Which way will they grow?"  "Will other plants do the same thing?" The world around them becomes the curriculum for the individual in this philosophy.  

There are a number of academies and private schools that favor this philosophy.  One that comes to mind is the Lakeside school in Seattle which has a number of alumni who have gone on to greater things--Bill Gates and Paul Allen among them.  "Here is an IBM 360 computer, kids."  "Figure out how it works?"

The last circle system is the representation of the pragmatic philosophy as was suggest by John Dewey in Democracy and Education.  Adults suggest to the students what to learn and students suggest to adults what they think they need to learn--two way street in communications.  Change is the big word here--no one's education is the same as the next person.  For a class to decide on what to study would be acceptable in the pragmatic philosophy of education. 

 Recently there were forty students who were acknowledged to have done very exacting and exciting science projects in their high schools.  The students did the selecting but the teachers did the assisting--what to learn, how to do it.  Although there are many pragmatic teachers teaching our students I cannot think of a school system using this approach entirely.  Pity.

Why did I make you review all of this?  Yes, I know I've been over this once or twice before but it is important in your study of education in this country.  Dr. Ravitch at one place in her chapter eleven (Lessons Learned) says, "Furthermore, I suggest a short reading list--not more than ten titles--of indispensable literary classics for each grade."  As I suspected reading her entire book that Diane Ravitch is an Idealist.  That is probably why I have had problems with her in the past--I sense the top down approach to education.  

I need to close this lecture and instead of Diane Ravitch I want to quote another American professor and author, Margaret Mead who once wrote, "We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet."

Thank you, Margaret Mead.  You were one of my favorite teachers although we never met.  Thanks to all of the teachers who have an influence on us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Continuation of Day 1 for a new classroom teacher...

What?  You thought at the end of the school day a teacher's work was done?  Heaven's, NO.  First off, getting kids on the right bus was the responsibility of the teacher.  And I was lucky, I had fifth graders.  In fact one of the few smart things I had done in the classroom just before heading to the buses was to ask who had younger siblings and to be sure to watch out for them so they too got on the right bus.  My kids really got into the swings of things and even looked out for neighborhood kids.  The kids were learning to be leaders at that school.

With the kids gone and my principal's additional chore in my head, I then walked about the school collecting the audiovisual equipment.  Actually not a hard task as we only had one 16mm film projector on a rather tall cart, one opaque projector which was already in my room, one overhead projector in another fifth grade classroom and one push-pull 35mm slide projector.  I think there was suppose to be a reel to reel tape recorder but I never saw it during the year.  It might have been in some classroom's cupboard.  I collected all the equipment and stuck in under the table...except for the 16mm projector which got put into the corner. Apparently my duties included carrying or moving any of those pieces of equipment to another room if a teacher scheduled their use.  Hardly anyone every did.

I went home for dinner and told my wife what sort of a day I had.  Although I was physically tired, I went back to school and my classroom and cut up tag board and with a felt marker made extra large name tags for each desk and student.  I had already found out that my super deluxe seating chart from some school supply house in Seattle was essentially useless--too small even though I could move names about.  I needed something that I could read from the front of the room.  I had bought special tape and every desk had a name.  An experienced teacher would have had some kids cut the tag board, another child who could print well, write the names and others to tape them on the desks.  I was to learn.

Then I sat down and took out the files of the kids that I had in class and took a look inside each one.  In the following years I would wait a week or two until I got to know the children.  But for my first year I took a gander right away.  Shock!  Twelve, I'm not kidding you, were kids who had been held back!  They were really six graders.  Twelve.  The teacher who had retained them had been let go (fired) by the district but no one had challenged her decision.  Amazing.  And why did they give them to me, essentially a new teacher?

I went home late that evening with a great deal of confusion.  I decided my policy would be to ignore the fact that a number of the kids had been retained and not mentioned it.  It appears that that was a lucky move on my part.  Every once in a while one of those students would say to me, "I was held back last year,"  and I essentially said, "I don't know why 'cause you seem pretty smart to me."  And they were.  I don't know why she held them back.  Two had reading problems but that didn't last long.  And one kid was, I swear, a math wizard.  He loved numbers....  Although the files indicated these kids were being retained it really never mention why or what they needed to improve on.

My first parent-teacher conferences later on in the year were stressful for me but the parents were really great.  Most, if not all, came to the conference happy with their child's progress and thought I was doing a good job.  I now know that I wasn't very good that first year but if I did one thing correctly it was that I encourage all the kids all the time.  Every child in my class learned.  I don't know to this day if they learned up to grade, up to speed, up to their age but WE learned.  Mostly out of the textbooks, but we learned.  Those were the greatest kids--I really enjoyed my elementary classroom years.

That first year I believe I had either 36 or 38 students.  I think the next year I had 41 for a while.  Oh, yes, I learned to be a teacher.  One thing I learned was not to erase names from my grade book.  I can remember one day a child coming up to me and saying that Friday (or whatever) would be her last day as her family was moving to Oregon.  No time to plan a party, I had the kids all write her letters saying how much they would miss her.  Some tears, lots of hugs.  And next week she was gone.

I started to blank out that line in my grade book and Jo my guardian angel said not to do it.  Don't worry that the grade book has a total of one number and my class was a different total.  Just don't do it.  Okay.  And she was right.  Maybe a month or two, here came my little gal back.  "We've moved back with grandma--Dad's job didn't work out."  I remember her jumping up and down with excitement to see us all again--she hadn't like the school in Oregon.  Welcome back, Princess.  This happened a number of times with different kids during my elementary teaching time.  Flexible class numbers.

By the end of the first week, I could do the Pledge of Allegiance (required by the local VFW), get the class started on their spelling books with some instructions by me, start the lunch count and do the attendance sheet.  By 9:30 we could move on to reading which lasted to 10:15. Then recess.  At 10:30 it was arithmetic for an hour and then about a half hour of study time to do homework (which I hardly ever sent home--more about that in a different blog) or special reading for some of the kids.  Later on in the school year it turned into project time when they worked with others on a group project.  Sometimes we'd push arithmetic back and continue reading after recess.  We were flexible.  I began to read the kids--how are they doing?  Do they seem bored?  Or tired?  Do we need a change?

As I said in yesterday's blog I had to serve out the hot lunch to those that paid for their lunch.  It was wheeled in carts to each room.  Later on in the school year the kids did much of the work.  And then there was noon recess.  Everybody out.  No one to stay in the room.  And I would head for my first break and some coffee in the teachers' room.  It was small and didn't have seats for everyone.  I'd get there late and have to stand.  But I would get my coffee.....pick up my mail--never much.  Mostly announcements from the administration building and the principal.

After lunch, the kids would come in very excited by the games and running around.  They NEEDED that time to blow off steam.  These were ten, eleven or twelve year olds who had sat for most of the morning.  They needed to run.  On days when they could not go out for noon recess it was obvious that it was a necessary activity.  They became grumpy in the afternoon.

As soon as they came in from noon recess, happy but tired, I took to reading out loud from a children's book.  I had purloined a stool and I would sit in front of the class and read.  This turned out to be one of their favorite times of the day.  I could threaten if they didn't behave I would not read after lunch!  Heavy threat.  My first book was Rufous Redtail by Helen Garrett.  It's about a redtail hawk who is impatient to grow up.  I picked it because we had redtail hawks around the school.  I just googled the name and found it still is available--I am surprised.  But my class and I enjoyed it and I learned something very important.  I would read several paragraphs and sometimes smile or laugh at the absurdity of the situation that Rufous would get into.  But the class didn't always get the scene.  So I actually had to teach them the humor of the writing.  I didn't know you had to teach humor.  I wonder if that is measure on those damn tests we now have to take.   I really enjoyed myself during these reading aloud time to my class.  And they paid attention.  I still remember one of the boys saying, "Rufous is just like us--silly."  My student was learning.... and so was I.

After reading aloud, it was social studies time.  That first year we basically read from the text about the western movement.  I desperately needed maps and none were available.  Okay new teachers, pay attention--important.  I went to an intermediate service district--sort of a audiovisual help desk in Seattle that serviced my school district.  Did they have maps I could use?  And what they did was give me an old map of the United States and showed me how to take a leather punch and punch holes all around the perimeter of the continental United States.... about an eighth inch apart.  I think we did the Mississippi river as well since that was important in our social studies lessons.  Then I would tape it up on the black board and kids would pound it with the erasers.  Take the map down and dots were left on the blackboard which I would have the kids connect.  They loved doing this.  Pounding that map raised much dust and they thought that was just perfect.  Every kid who got the job came out white!  But we would have a map on the board in which the kids could place cities, wagon trails, whatever.  I bought color chalk and we could color in different aspects of a growing nation.  Those maps probably saved my social studies lessons.  The next year I learned to make a negative overhead transparency....  It was all black expect where I wanted to let light through and so I did the United States outline and flashed on the blackboard and had the same white outline that I had the year before but without dusty kids... and we could erase without erasing the outline.  It was cool.  It was a good thing that no other teacher ever wanted the overhead--I kept it all year.

I am green with envy but now teachers in the Bellevue school district of my state have SmartBoards and can blink whatever map they want on the board.  Oh man, I wish I had had that device....

Back to my first year.  At about 3:10 I'd have the kids clean up the room and put their chairs on their desk. (see a previous blog about this activity and noise)  By 3:20 we'd head for the buses which normally left at 3:30.  After the kids were gone I'd head back to my room, sort papers to be graded, look at tomorrows lesson plans, check supplies that might be needed and sometimes grade a few papers.  But I can attest, I would be tired.   I normally was in my classroom before eight and I would head home around four-thirty.  I quite often would grade papers in the evening.

But there was much more I had to learn.  Thanks to all those colleagues who would give me a heads up or an idea on how to teach something to someone.  They saved my bacon many times.   I wish them all well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How does one become a teacher? Frantically! (Part 2)

In my last posting on this blog I said I was the worst fifth grade teacher ever.  While I am embarrassed to say so, it was true.  Perhaps not surprising though....

I had just returned from several years in the military and was looking forward to being a teacher once again.  Because I was a returning veteran the law said I could have my old job back.  But I also knew that my district was building two new elementary schools and we would have need for at least two elementary music teachers in a short while--so I suggested to my superintendent, "why not make me a classroom teacher for a year or two--it should make me a better music teacher with that experience behind me."  They were having difficulty finding elementary classroom teachers so my suggestion was quickly accepted.

I was placed in a brand new elementary school in a growing bedroom area for Renton and Issaquah (state of Washington).  New principal as well who handed me some keys to my classroom, a list of students who would be in my class, a lesson plan book, a green grade book and he wished me well.  Told me when the first teachers' meeting would be held--right after the district wide teachers meeting.

I remember walking from the office up to my classroom.  This new elementary school was built in the form of eight large circles with each circle being cut into quarters and each quarter was a full size classroom.  In administration parlance, this was a sixteen teaching station school.  No library but a multi-purpose room that served as a gym.  All the buildings (office, multi- and circles) were separate but connected by covered walkways  Playgrounds were between the buildings.

My classroom was in the back of a circle up against a hill side and there were three of us teaching fifth grades.  I remember unlocking the door and walking in for the first time.  All desks were pushed into one corner and the chairs piled high on top of the desks.  Off in another corner was a small teacher's desk and a folding table.  We had blackboards then, two of them and one wall was primarily a soft wood intending to be a floor to ceiling bulletin board.  Over the front blackboard was a clock and a speaker box of which the principal could listen in to me teaching my class.  Without me knowing!  

In the cupboards were books, reading textbooks (several levels), social studies, arithmetic, and if I remember correctly a health/science textbook.  No maps, no paper for students or me, no paper clips or staplers, no office supplies.  I quickly found out that the experiences teachers had already gone down to the storage room and had retrieved what they needed knowing that there was never enough supplies to go around.  Oh, yes, they had gotten a good share of the ditto masters.  This was part of becoming a classroom teacher.  There was no college education class that taught you this.  

Over the next few days, I put my classroom in order.  Oh, I forgot.  There was a directive from the principal--whenever we were in our classrooms we male teachers had to be in white shirt and tie. Jackets coming and going.  So there I was moving thirty some desks, chairs, a table and a teachers desk around in slacks, shirt and tie.  Then I removed the books and sorted them out on the table.  Not enough to go around if everyone on my list showed up the first day.  I asked the office for more books but the word was I had all I was going to get. I was learning to be a classroom teacher.  

I met some of my follow teachers--most of them experienced teachers.  One of them was Jo Tyliia, the ex-nun, ex-military officer, but unfortunately not an ex-alcoholic.  But at the time she hid that fact well.  And she took me under her wing; probably saving the education of a bunch of fifth graders that were under my auspices.

There was also no curriculum--a guideline for what we were to study that year.  Experience teachers had a curriculum but the district was revising them and would get one to me later on when it was completed--they didn't have any of the old ones left.  

The principal had said to me that my lesson plans were to be in the red lesson plan booklet that he had given me with an hour by hour outline of what I would be teaching my students.  And that lesson plan booklet was to be placed on the left hand corner of my desk so that he could review it.  Dear Reader--that lesson plan book was about sixteen by sixteen inches and when opened fully would show a series of boxes from 9 o'clock to about 4 o'clock...and across the top the days of the week.  I was to have my lesson plans done a week ahead of time and listed in those boxes.  If I wrote small I could put in the subject, page number and a reminder of an assignment.  That was all.  But this was required of me.  I don't think the principal ever looked at my lesson plans--ever.....

This was the environment in which I started teaching fifth grade.  I remember the kids lining up outside my door on the first day of school.  I also had a few parents show up but they left fairly quickly.  I remember opening the door and telling the kids to come in, don't hang up your coats but just find a desk and a chair and sit down.  I had more kids then were on my list.  I didn't have enough chairs and desks.  I remembering to tell some of the children to sit on the table and they promptly told me that their fourth grade teacher told them never to sit on the table.  Right!  Just do it.  It is still a blur but we finally got coats and lunch boxes into the right cupboards and everyone finally got a chair and a desk but not before I sent a note to the office DEMANDING more desks and chairs.  

I also remember one little girl who asked, "would you like to me take lunch count and money?"  Oh lordy I had forgotten all about that.  Yes, please.  That was also sent to the office.  We spent the day getting the right sized desk to right sized child, books checked out, paper and a pencil to each child.  Names collected of those that were not on my list.  The kids knew where they should be but the office must have lost their names over the summer.  Before I knew it I had to serve lunch to those that had order it.  I didn't know I had to serve lunch too.  I know that I was not a happy camper by the end of the day.  I knew I had not done well in organizing but I hadn't know what to organize.  My students were very forgiving and in many cases knew more about what should be done then I did.  I remember saying something about the rest rooms, which ones were for the girls and which ones were for the boys and someone saying, "we know all that, Mr. Blackwell.  We're fifth graders."  Right!  

At the end of the day I was in a black frame of mind.  Very unhappy with myself but also put out with the school.  Why couldn't there have been enough desks at the beginning?  Why was I missing textbooks?  I was not in a good mood and when I came back from taking my kids to the school busses at the end of the day, the principal called me aside.  His words:  "I forgot to tell you that all male teachers at this school do something extra in their assignment.  Would you like to be school boy patrol advisor..or the Audio-visual man?"  I remember thinking that the school boy advisor probably had to come in early to check if the boys with the flags were at the crosswalks and so I said, "I'll take the audiovisual position."  "Good," he responded.  "Would you collect all the equipment from all the rooms and store it in your classroom before you go home tonight?"  

This was my first day as a classroom teacher.  I was ready to go back to music in a heartbeat.

Thanks to all those teachers who help the new ones in the building.  Without you us beginners would never make it I'm sure.  Thank you.