Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Do Teachers Think?

It is not hard to find articles in newspapers or weekly magazines, or to hear segments of so called television news programs all complaining about teachers in the public schools.  "They don't work hard,"  They get paid to have three months off,"  "My kid is smarter then his teacher,"  and so it goes.  In the past year the teacher unions and associations have also come under fire along with the universal complaint "....that if we could get rid of the BAD teachers things would get better."  I have asked people time after time, "What is a bad teacher?"  but no one has given me a clear answer.

Throughout the past couple of years I find it fascinating that you haven't much from the teachers themselves.  I've talked to only a few local teachers but their answers seemed typical--"if they want to get somebody else to teach this class, fine."  I suspect they know that most people wouldn't want the job.  It takes dedication.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Corrine Smith from, a fellow blogger wrote me about an article titled:  "10 Most Common Complaints Among Today’s Teachers" recently printed in her blog.  You can read it at: (  I don't know if Corrine wrote this but I'm glad to see that someone is listening to teachers finally.

Let's review what teachers are saying and thinking.  Number one on Corrine list is Overworked.  I'm not surprised.  I've heard this same anguish since 1968 when I started working as a volunteer for the Washington Education Association.  But I heard it in my own teachers' room as well.  Teaching is a hard job.  You're on your feet most of the day, you have to think, the pressure doesn't let up.....  I don't care what grade level be it high school, middle school or elementary, it is hard work.  In some of the better school districts in this state there are teacher assistants or aids but there are not as many as teachers would like and as one of my teacher friends said, you can't delegate thinking--lesson plans, student evaluations and the like.  Do I think teacher overloads are going to change?  Not by a long will probably get worse with bigger classes and less teaching materials.  

Numer two goes hand in glove with number one.  Most teachers feel underapprediated.  In fact, there is research to support this complaint.  Most teachers do their job without supervision.  Sometimes a principal will come into the classroom but that is not a daily happening and it may not be for teaching reviews.  Other research says that most principals dislike doing teacher reviews most of all and then not to do it.  So the teacher is in his/her classroom 180 days (or more) getting kids to learn.  `

Here is a kicker--at the end of the year most teachers don't even get a letter saying thank you--see you next year.  And for many, no pay raises to indicate a good job done. 

I watched the other night where a major television station gave praise to a local teacher who had been nominated by her class for being good.  The teacher got a fifty dollar check to be used for materials in her classroom.  Not for herself but for her classroom.  She seemed very pleased.  The whole episode on the TV schedule must have taken two minutes.  Right after that segment the following bit of news was about major executives of large companies in the United State whose companies did not pay any national tax.....and these executives were getting bonuses this year in excess of two million dollars each.  Two Million!  You see why teachers feel under appreciated.  Oh well, let them eat cake.

Third on Corrine's list was being under paid.  And it going to get worse I suppose given the tax climate.  Some years ago when I was still teaching in the public schools, the WEA did some research.  The hired some secretaries to sit in different classrooms and take notes of what teachers did.  Yes, we had a standardized list of categories, teaching, responding to student, writing on the board, etc.  Then the WEA took those forms, added what the teachers said they did in the evening and then totaled the hours, divided by what an hourly pay would be for the teacher and oh my!  It was below minimum pay.  Yes, you're correct--there were flaws in the research--we didn't account for summer nor did we add it the health benefits.  But by and large because it is a tax supported function, public education does not get a lot of money.  Never will happen.

By the way, for your edification, it takes about twelve to fifteen years before the "Is This All There Is?" syndrome hits many teachers.  Think about it--you've taught for ten or twelve years and have received a few pay raises but no promotion.  There aren't any promotions in teaching.....except to go into administration. It is at this point we begin to loose some of our more experienced teachers as they find different jobs.   If we look at Boeings, you get a pay raise at six months and your job title changes.  You feel like you're getting ahead--you're doing good work.  No one tells that to a teacher.  Teachers have to feel their own satisfaction--pat themselves on the back.

The next gripe is large class sizes.  I do hear this from elementary and middle school teachers a lot--more then high school teachers.  I can see the reasoning for primary teachers to have smaller classes but the research on class size does not show confidence in smaller classes for increased learning.  But I sense that teachers want to do a good job teaching all their kids and smaller classes give them this chance to do just that.  I understand their fervor.  Understand I could have a bias on this complaint--I did teach band and choir and in those classes it was normal to have fifty to sixty kids.

Corrine Smith's number five complaint from teachers is Student Disengagement.  It is my feelings that this complaint depends upon the school districts.  One of the teacher's main tasks is to engage the student and I suspect depending upon the support from the district's parents would be how difficult it might be to "bring the students along."  I have not heard this complaint too often in recent years but perhaps I've been in the wrong districts talking to the wrong teachers.  

Number six is a difficult problem to solve--that of Lack of Parental Involvement.  I've always have said that the parents are in charge.  We teachers and parents have to work together to education the children.  But it is difficult if the parent(s) has two jobs or works the night shift.  In recent years I have heard teachers who report that they have parents that do not encourage their children to go to school.  Migratory kids are difficult to teach when they come weeks late to school and leave in a middle of a semester.  One of the first things an older teacher taught me when I started teaching fifth grade was NOT to erase a kids name from my grade book if they moved away.  They might move back and some did.  Parental involvement is a difficult problem.

Number seven is a problem that won't go away--Lack of Funding.  And I don't think it will ever go away.  It is my thought that money does improve education but sometimes it doesn't get down to the teachers.  Teachers do and probably will continue to buy supplies for their classrooms.  I remember finding a ditto machine that was not being used at the district office and bringing it back to my classroom only to be told that I couldn't use the paper in our school office.  I had to buy ditto paper from Sears for my classroom.  [if any of you write me and ask what dittos or ditto paper is you will be banned from reading any further] Still, some classrooms NEED supplies.  The sciences at the high school are always in need of material.  How can you teach chemistry without chemicals?  How can you have a band without music?  Todays teachers have their problems in funding.  

Number nine is a biggie, dealing with Layoffs.  It use to be a standard rule that the last hired was the first to be laid off.  Not anymore.  New York City Public Schools want to be able to lay off ANY teacher at any time.  I am certain that many teachers with higher salaries will be among the first to go when they cut back the schools.  I also have talked to teachers who quite frankly do not trust the principal to make good decisions.  One teacher frankly told me that she would be the first to go because she has irritated the principal too much during the past few years in getting new books, supplies, etc.  She and He don't get along and she is sure she will be among the first to be released.  

I also know of a superintendent who for a number of years would release teachers at the end of their third year for various reasons--this was the way he kept his budget down--no expensive teacher salaries to maintain.  While the court put a stop to that administrative policy I know that we will start to see such policies once again.  I feel for the teachers--all of them.

I have to say I think Corrine's tenth complaint does not belong in this list of gripes from teachers only because this one is a constant, that of School Schedules/breaks.  Teachers have been griping over playground duty, the Holiday Break, length of periods in the high school, parent/teacher conference days, the list goes on. I have heard more excitement over SNOW make up days then probably any other subject. Some teachers want schools to start earlier while others want schools to start later in the day and go longer.  A bus schedule  can drive a teacher berserk.  This complaint will never go away.

We haven't talked about the curriculum.  But it is a subject that teachers like to talk about.  "When should we teach this subject?  Should it be reviewed in the middle school and again in the high school?  How can we teach it so that the kids LIKE it"  I wish many parents could be flies on the wall when teachers start discussing how they want the kids to learn and what they want the kids to learn. I think all parents would be impressed.

Thanks to Corrine Smith for alerting us to this list of teacher complaints.  Well done.  I am looking forward to hearing from more teachers about their tasks and responsibilities. 

And to all teachers, thank you.  I think you're doing a great job.  Have you thanked a teacher today? 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"What do you wear under your skirt?"

"Go down that hall and turn right.  It will be the first door on your right."

I did just that and found the correct door or at least I thought I had.  Printed on the door was the words, "Restroom.  Teachers Only."   I opened the door into a dark room and walked in only to be hit on the face by damp pantyhose.  Groping I found the light switch, switch it on and was totally confounded by pantyhose and nylons hanging to dry in this tiny restroom.  Someone had tied string from one side of the room to the other several times and apparently had washed a month's use of pantyhose and nylons and then some.  There wasn't an inch of space to move about in that room without entangling oneself is a damp leg or panty in the face.  

You see, I was out in the county at a small country school built a long time ago and remodeled many times since.  In the many remodelings that had taken place over the years, no one thought to put in a decent sized restroom for the teachers.  "They should be in front of the classroom anyway!"  But then again, I don't think nylons and pantyhose had been invented when the first rebuilding of the school had taken place.  Who knows?

I was at the school to do a storytelling session for the upper grades; fourth and fifth grade.  There was a kindergarten and one grade each of first through fifth.  All women teachers from young to old and a part time woman principal.  It was a long time beloved elementary school for a small community out in the country.

Some of you will remember that I started doing story telling way back when I was a playground supervisor in Rye, New York.  On hot muggy summer days when it was too hot to play ball or run around the playground, the kids and I would sit under the big, big maple tree near the school and I would tell them "Indian Why Stories".  Why are there so many snakes in the world or why do the male ducks have bright colors and the female ducks look so drab?  Whether they were authentic or not, a good story could last the afternoon--besides the kids loved them.

But today among all the nylons I was at this school to do a storytelling session dealing with Scottish folk tales and culture.  I need to point out that I TOLD stories, I didn't read them from books.   Normally, I would come into a classroom dressed in my kilt, knee high woven socks, my skean dhu (black knife in my right sock), my sporran (pouch for car keys, etc.) and a jacket with silver diamond shaped buttons and my pipes, large and small.  

Generally, my attire generally dazzled the kids and they were all on top alert for what might happen.  My usual schedule was to tell them I was a storyteller and I was invited by their teacher to tell Scottish stories.  "Does anyone know where Scotland is?"  Being that my county borders Canada and the Vancouver area I could count on some of the children knowing more about Scotland then I did.

However, I could normally keep things in control by starting to blow up the bagpipes and playing a short tune.  Then I would start by telling the story of "Wee Gillis" by Munro Leaf (he also wrote "Make Way for Ducklings" and "Ferdinand") about a small boy who learns to play the largest bagpipe.  Another good and funny story was Gerry and George Armstrong's "The Magic Bagpipe" about another small boy who couldn't play the pipes worth a damn.  Somewhere in my presentation I would explain what I was wearing, what the black knife was for (eating plus fingers), and why the sporran since there were no pockets in the kilt.

When I did this presentation for second graders I generally could count on one little girl standing up and saying she was wearing a skirt and there were no pockets either.  A shinning smiling face would indicate I had made a friend.

Today at my nylon and pantyhose school I was to do a presentation for the fourth and fifth grades but I got sandbagged when they said I was going to have the second and third grade children as well.  All four grades in the gym.

I normally don't wear the kilt while driving to a school.  Thoughts of a flat tire always danced through my head so I would carry my "outfit" and pipe cases in with me to the front office.  After pleasantries with the school secretary I'd ask where there was a rest room I could use to change into my "kilt and gear?"  Most schools had a men's rest room as well as women's rest room.  But not today.

There I was amid the forest of damp nylon legs.  So I took off my slacks, folded them on the floor, change out of my shoes to put on the woven socks, shoes back on, then the kilt wrapped around me and secured with the tabs.  Finally the sporran and the knife.  Had to have the knife.  When most boys saw me in the kilt, some were just not sure but when they saw the knife, "yeah, man.  He's okay."   

Once dressed I left the nylon room and went back to the office to get my pipes and then down to the gym.   I'd stand there near the center of the room with Mrs. McDonald, who had invited me and would make a brief introduction.  Sometimes I'd ask to leave the introduction off--I would do it myself.  But I knew Jean and she knew the children.  When all four classes had entered the gym and found seats on the bleachers it was "showtime."  

Let me interject some thoughts at this point.  When you can keep four grades of noise makers, wiggle worms, skeptics, hyper-excited, "my mother has that skirt", kids quiet and entertained you KNOW you are a teacher.  When all the kids can hear you without a mic, you KNOW you are a teacher.  When you can ask questions about the story and get good answers based on happenings in the story, you KNOW you are a teacher.  You've got say, eighty kids paying attention, raising their hands, applauding and asking good questions, you KNOW you are a good teacher.  Damn those teacher evaluation tests, I KNOW.

My session with these kids went about an hour and forty minutes--a bit long for the two primary grades but the little ones did well.  I had planned my storytelling for the older kids but made adjustments with some of the stories.  The older kids and I had a question and answer session as the little ones went back to their classrooms.  It was good.  One tall boy raised his hand and I called on him.  He was very unsure of his question, started, stopped, then blurted, "Do you wear a slip?"  I thought the teachers would come unglued with laughter.  It appeared that he was the macho boy of the school.

I normally would prompt a teacher to ask me "What is worn under the kilt?"  The women loved to ask this question and I always answered, "To the best of my knowledge everything is in perfect working order."  I could count on a blush or two from the ladies but the kids never understood.

Then back to the land of nylons, change back into slacks and sport coat, hang kilt and gear in my traveling bag and head to the office.  Sometimes a cup of the most terrible coffee (why do teacher rooms have the worst coffee?) but sometimes after leaving a school I'd find a cafe and grab a cup there and think about what had just happened.  Good review time.  Which story hadn't gone smoothly? What parts had the kids especially liked?  Where could I have improved?  Satisfied time.

Some say that college of education professors have never been in a classroom.  totally untrue.  I knew several of my colleagues who were out in the schools teaching science or poetry or reading. My favorite colleague did math workshops. I did storytelling.  Although hard work and it took discipline (memorizing stories is hard for me) I found it fun and satisfying.  I like kids.

No, I never found out what was going on with all those nylons and pantyhose.  So I can't tell you.  None of those teachers at this little country school ever mentioned it to me either.  Strange.

For those who want to learn how to be a storyteller, try to find a old copy of "Storyteller" by Ramon Ross.  It is quite complete.  But old.  Another possibility is Roger Sale's "Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White."  It's a Harvard book so I'm sure you can find it.  Both are excellent.

Do women teachers wear nylons in class today?  I don't think so.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Day of Spring

Forgive me if I reminisce on this first day of spring. It was actually in the middle of winter many years ago that my department chair and advisor asked me into his office.  He then proceeded to say that I would be teaching spring quarter a section of Educ 455, more commonly known as Introduction to Audio-Visual or at that time a more modern version called Introduction to Media Communications.  Today it would be a basic course in Instructional Technology.  But back then media was still a road bump in learning and teaching.  

He also informed me that the section that I would be teaching would have three different groups of students--about fifteen undergraduate students from the Forestry department.  They were there to learn how to communicate with the public in parks.  

Then there would be about twenty or so, perhaps a few more, of nursing students working on their masters degree.  They would have had a basic course in education (how to teach) and this one as their only courses in becoming teachers of nurses to be.  

The rest of my section would be education majors, mostly seniors and maybe several with masters returning to get certification.  He wasn't sure how many students in this pile, maybe eighteen.  This group would have had the necessary prerequisites for the course. 

"So fifty to sixty students who would meet on Thursdays at four in the afternoon to seven at night.  Let me know how it turns out."  

To somewhat complicate all this, I had only taught this course maybe three times in my life--I was a graduate assistant in my throes of learning how to teach technology to adults .  Not only was I not sure of how to teach adults but I was unsure of the different technologies as well.  I was to cover the use of.... 16 mm motion film, 35 mm slides, overhead projections and transparencies, the ubiquitous  opaque projector and some television production--the latter being that the department had just received our first mobile television camera and recorder.  Mobile was NOT the operational word here as it took four of us guys to move it from room to room.  But this course was BC--before computers! 

The room was an assigned room for the Media Communications department in the College of Education, therefore we could set it up anyway we wanted.  It was a long room with desk chairs on both side of the room with a center isle.  A small platform or stage was in the front along to one side a large oak podium with cigarette burns along both sides.  One could smoke in class during those times.  Behind the stage was a screen almost always in the down position and behind it a large blackboard.  If the equipment wasn't already in the room it would be in a storage room not far away.  The room could sit seventy students.

My first task was to inform the department's self-instruction media lab where students went to learn how to operate all this equipment.  There were slide presentations at each station showing how to load, thread, turn on, focus, etc., each device that I would be showing in class.  The media center had a test at the end that students had to take to be cleared on this assignment.  The student had to learn this equipment on their own.  Research had shown that those students who learned this way were essentially considered better teachers after being on the job for five years.  The thinking at that time was that we (the department) taught the student how to learn and when they were teaching and new equipment came on line they learned it as well.  At least that is what we thought.

My next task was to design the course.  I would start in backwards--first finding how many Thursdays I would have to teach (no holidays, thank heavens), finding out when finals were being given and what day would I have my test on...  With those essentials out of the way, I would list my objectives broadly (film, television, overhead, etc.), decide on how much time to allocate to each objective and plan the quarter.  Much of the psycho-motor skills would be taken care of my the media lab but I had not only knowledge to present but the affective domain as well--get the students to appreciate and be willing to use in their classrooms the technology that I was teaching.

So now my work consisted of literally writing lesson plans.  I would do this and that and the students would take notes or respond to questions or work in groups.  For example, I decided to show "Greenhouse," a movie about a kid throwing rocks into a greenhouse.  I planned to stop the movie at one point and tell the students they had so much time to write me an ending to the movie.  Then I would show the rest of the movie after they had written theirs.  But I also planned to show "Hemo, the Magnificent," a Walt Disney production about blood.  I thought this might be good for the nurses--who later said it was a nice review--thank you.  I did design some overhead transparencies about the human body as well as did several color lifts on the same subject.  I also did some transparencies on charts and trees for the forestry students.   I used some of my older transparencies that I knew the education majors would pick up on.

After my course design was finished I had to order some of the films and as I just said, make some of the transparencies.  Things were taking shape.  Then it was time to write the final exam.  I always did this early before the class even started so that I could see if my questions would reflect on the different objectives that I was about to cover.  Making sure my questions would reflect what I would do in class teaching...  With me so far?  I could later edit the test if I left something out or added some objective.  

Now it was time to write a handout about the course.  Overview, office hours, telephone numbers, class requirements like the media lab, being in the class, and the course paper.....most of the time I wanted something that reflected their thinking of how to use technology in THEIR classroom (or park).  Then you need to assign points to each activity that the student will do--how many points for the paper, how many for the final, how many for participating in the class, how many for the lab completion, etc.  At that time I didn't assign a number that would equate for an "A" grade, another number for a "B" grade and so on. I told them I marked on a curve.  I'm glad I did as you will see.

The entire course was put in a binder and submitted to my boss for his approval.  He liked what he saw and wished me well.

On the first Thursday of spring quarter I checked to see if I had a roster of student names (I would always get a few who hadn't signed up but wanted to see what the course was about), if I had enough of the class handouts prepared and so on.  Although the class went from 4 to 7 I was normally getting the classroom ready by three.  During the quarter this also gave a chance to those early students who had questions about something in the course that might not come in during office hours.  

It was an interesting class.  The nurses pretty much sat as a group about midway back in the room.  They were older and appeared quite serious.   The education major having been in classes together were friends and somewhat boisterous, a few having already student taught were confident and eager.  The forestry students looked like they were lost all the time.  They were out of their comfort zone but they were going to give it a good try.  They eventually sat together and shared notes.

I would stay after seven and put the equipment back into the storage room.  After the first class I quite often had some of the forestry and education students who remained behind to help out.  Lots of questions then, not so much during class.

By and large the class went well--much as I had predicted.  The movies excited them, the overheads wowed most of them.  Many of the class did not like the media lab where they had to learn on their own.  "Why can't someone just show me how to thread the projector"....or...."it took me an hour to find the on/off switch!"  No happy campers here.  It turns out it was mostly the nurses who did not like the self-instructional media lab--the other students were cool with it.

But I was overwhelmed with the course papers.  Most of the nurses wrote excellent papers that were 60 to 75 pages in length--I'm not kidding you.  Small dissertations.  My education majors pretty much did what I though they would do with papers from 20 to 30 pages targeting in on how to use the technology in their hope to be classrooms.  But my poor forestry student--they had papers of about 10 to 15 pages, not necessarily well written and not focused in most cases.  

So why the difference and how should I have interpreted it all.  I spent much my time during finals week reading the papers and after that, grading the finals.  Actually the forestry majors did fairly well on the final, the nurses pretty much cooling it.  The education majors were a bell graph from top to bottom.  

I've thought long about this episode in my teaching over the years.  I think I did right and I know where I went wrong.  Let's start with the wrong--I never told the class how many pages I expected, the education students did what they did in their last classes, the forestry students didn't do term papers so should have had more guidance from me.  The nurses needed a maximum to focus their papers.   

However on the test the forestry students could see the problem and knew how to handle it--they liked the technology.  Their concern was would they have electricity in the park?  The education majors were basically happy, the question for them was would the schools have this new equipment?  Like the television?  The nurses were pretty much accepting of the course but not that happy with it. They were trained nurses who for most of their learning careers were told how to do something.  Expository was the method preferred by them.  They hated the self-instructional lab.  I didn't explain the concept behind self-learning very well to them.  

I don't think the nurses would have gone out to teach and ever used technology in their presentations.  The affective domain bombed with them.  I really think the medical rule of "Watch One, Do One, Teach One."  was more their style.

Sometime later I dropped the requirement of a term paper in favor of a term project, i.e., make a television presentation, a slide show, a series of transparencies, and yes, even a flannel board....for sailing!  I think under these circumstances, the forestry students would have lapped the class.  They were use to projects.

I'm still pondering what I could do for the nurses.  They learned but not what i wanted.  What to do, what to do.  In retrospect I think next time I would put them into groups (they were all women) and have them produce a project to use in their teaching and then make copies for the rest of their group.  IF you're going to give it to someone else, you've got to look good, eh?  This way I would have involved more of the affective domain......I think.

It was hard work teaching this class.  I was also taking classes as well.  I could have put in a thirty hour week on this class alone....but had other responsibilities.  

There was a time when an acquaintance told me teaching was easy, just stand them and talk about the subject.  He wasn't a teacher so I didn't say much to him.  But I did remember this time in my history of teaching instructional technology to three different groups in one class.  It was hard work.

Thanks to all those teachers who go to great length to make sure their students get to learn.  You're a great bunch of people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'll get you if you don't read this! Bullying.

Everyone seems to be writing about bullying in the public schools and what we should do to get rid of this behavior.  As an academic, I need to start with a definition so that you and I can discuss this phenomenon with some degree of civility.  We haven't heard that word in a long time have we-civility.  

According to one dictionary on this computer a Bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.  The verb definition is using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Why does my mind want to go back in my thinking of Wisconsin?  

We probably have always had bullying and bullies since the early mankind.  "If you have the power, flaunt it!"  And I'm sure we have all been a party to bullying be we the bullyees or the bullyors.

I still remember being bullied at choir practice at the Episcopal Cathedral in Utica, New York.  I was probably five or six years old and one of the smallest in the choir.  As such I and another small kid were always first in line to lead the choir in and out of the services.  Practice was on Saturday and was, I think if memory serves me correctly, about two hours long.  I quickly learned NOT to go to the rest room because that was were the big kids were during the break in practice.  I don't remember any adults ever coming in to see what was going on.  You didn't even walk near the rest room because those bigger kids might grab you and drag you in.  

Isn't it interesting that after six decades I still remember that time.  When practice was over I'd run out of the church and head two blocks to the bus stop where the bigger kids never went.  No, I didn't tell my folks.  You're the first.  I don't remember what I thought then--probably self survival.  

But it wasn't my last episode with bullying.  There was seventh grade where a bigger kid took my new notebook for my school work.  I told the teacher but she couldn't find it so I told my parents.  Wrong.  Dad went to the school principal and demanded the notebook (it had hinged covers).  That only increased the bullying from those that had taken the notebook in the first place.  Never did get the notebook back although I saw it once or twice during the year.  We had big kids in my seventh and eighth grades and I wasn't one of them.  Many were from families that were in construction work and they were use to getting it from their Dad at home.  So I know now that it was a natural progression of behavior.  Dad beats on his kid and the kid beats up on his little sister and when he gets beat up for that he takes it out in the smaller kids on the playground.

Let's face it, wherever there are people with power there will be bullying.  I found the Army before it was an all volunteer organization had much bullying.  The more stripes on your sleeve or bars on the collar gave you the right to bully.  It was a way of life.  In civilian life I find at times there are groups that enjoy power (police, construction permits, road crews, etc) that bully those they come in contact with--but I also have found some of these same groups polite and friendly to a fault.  Why the difference?

If there is any point to be made here is that there are places where bullying can be found in our society.  It IS in our classrooms and we need to address this problem constantly.  

I have had kids in my classroom bully or pick on another member of the class.  At one time I had one black-American boy in a fourth grade of all white kids.  Tom (not a Tommy) was an exceptional student and really one of the nicest kids in class so I was taken back when I watch some of his classmates push him aside or not pass papers or books to him. 

Well, now! This was not to be.  So I arranged to have Tom help the principal straighten the storeroom one afternoon and I proceeded to "bully" the class.  Do you remember my advising on this blog to learn how to get angry before you get angry.  A teacher needs to role play that anger.  I did just that.  I stomped up and down in the front of the class and demanded to know "why are you picking on my friend, Tom?"  "Why would you do this?"  I must have gone on for several minutes before finally saying what were we going to do when Tom comes back from helping the principal.  I gave them some direction in acceptable behavior and proceeded as well to tell the class there were NOT to talk to Tom about this.  "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"    In retrospect, I bullied the class.  I had the power and I told them what I wanted.  

Fourth graders are easy to convince and they followed my instructions and then some.  I had no more problems concerning Tom and, indeed, he became a leader in the class.  His mother when she came for a parent/teacher conference told me Tom was quite happy in my class and she was quite happy with his progress.  It turned out that she was a teacher in another nearby school district so we enjoy a good relationship from that time.  

We teachers need to be ever vigilant as to the possibilities of bullying in the school and we need to take action immediately to put a stop to it.  From an academic viewpoint I wonder if bullying is more prominent in the city schools then in country schools?   Does Germany have more bullying then Norway?  Is my bias showing here?  

Diane Ravitch, where are you when we need you?  What are other cultures doing about bullying, do they have it and how do they handle it?  Is there bullying in private schools?  That would be interesting to know, wouldn't it.

Bullying is a problem that will never go away--we have to deal with it.  Teaching kids proper behavior and, in my opinion, getting kids to recognize bullying behavior in themselves is important piece of the solution.  Leslie Briggs would probably support this contention--learning about self is an important part of our educational process.  

Did you have a teacher intervene when some kids were bullying you?  Then go thank that teacher.  Do it now.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake.

Last evening my wife and I watched the 25th anniversary performance of "Les Miserables," on a PBS television station.  Very emotional and moving performance by wonderful singers, a great orchestra and a very large choir (you hardly hear choirs anymore except in church).  While the plot of "Les Miserables" is very complex in its most simplistic form it is a story of a peasant who steals some bread for his family, goes to prison, is finally released but is once again followed by the local police.  His good deeds and good disposition eventually save him from going back to prison.  As I said, this is a very simplistic version of Victor Hugo's famous novel.  

Hugo wrote the story about the differences between the poor and the rich in France in the sixteenth century.  There were tough times and people did what they could to survive.  

As the show came to an end last evening, I saw a correlation between "Les Miserables"  and what is taking place presently in Wisconsin.  Rich and controlling people are taking away rights of the individuals to keep control.  My sadness evolves in several ways.  First I worry about the children of Wisconsin--what sort of public education will there be for the children when this battle is over?  The rich will send their kids to private schools but the middle class will have to contend with the denigration of the present public school system.  

But I also feel for the teachers at all grade levels.  I'm sure they are wondering if they will have a job when this is all over, who will be released (fired), how large will their classes be, and where do we go from here?  Will there be a retirement for teachers when this is all finished?  The future is very foggy at this point.

I also worry about the people of Wisconsin.  This has to be pitting neighbor against neighbor.....not a good climate for growth.  Certainly there is not an environment for talking to each other and looking for common ground.  It is a sad time.  Perhaps the governor of Wisconsin is saying, "Let them eat cake."  Am I the only one that sees the resemblance between Les Miserables and the present?

My perspective seems cloudy--how should we thank the teachers in Wisconsin for helping all those children and young adults?  A thank you seems insufficient at the moment.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Special Moment and a negative which equals "A puzzlement."

Many things have been whirling around in my head this past week concerning education in general.  It has been hard for me to ignore or even put behind me the many happenings in education from the teacher union fight going on in Wisconsin as well as the number of school districts giving out pink slips to teachers all over this country to Bill Gates saying we need merit pay for those teachers who are outstanding.  The icing on the cake so to speak in my emotional turmoil was the person who criticized the PS 22 sixth graders from Staten Island who sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," at the Oscars.  He said it was terrible.  I really don't know what to say.  It was a special moment for me to listen to those children.  IF you didn't hear them, go to YouTube and search for PS 22 Staten Island Choir.  They were great!  And it was a significant ending to a good show.

Later on in the week on a television news hour a segment showed Bill Gates speaking about education, saying that we need good teachers and that good teachers need to be paid more than the other teachers.  I'm glad to see that Bill and I are on the same page--that good teachers need to be paid more.  We just happen to think differently as to how we should operationally define "good."  He and I also agree on something else that he said, that there is no research that suggests that larger classes inhibits learning.  Where we differ is that he is generalizing this finding to all kids and all classes.  Mr. Gates.  Did you have large classes at Lakeside School in Seattle?"  I don't think so.

Then, add to this milieu a large number of people, some politicians, who have NEVER taught in the public schools that want to denigrate public school teachers by lowering their pay and taking away some of their retirement funds.  My heart aches for the teaching profession.

I really would like to have an academic discussion with Mr. Gates about class sizes, student learning, teacher characteristics and the rest of the foggy side of teaching.  Since it will never happen, let me once again present my side of my learning about teachers and teaching.  Let me start with the song from the Sound of Music (those kids from PS 22 inspired me), you know the song, the Do Re Mi Lyrics--"Let's Start From the Very Beginning..."

Let's start with the environment.  ALL teaching is done in either a large group, a small group or individually.  My definition of a large group is where a student can hide in plain sight.  Not raising their hand, sitting in the back of the room, not sitting tall, head down, no eye contact, being quiet and not participating in discussions, etc.  That's hiding.  And to some degree it depends upon the teacher's skill in handling a class.  I know of one professor who within the first hour would know the first name of every student in the class even though in might be a class of sixty or more students.  I couldn't do that.  Beyond my capabilities.

A sidebar story:  One year I taught forty-two and for a short time, forty-three fifth graders.  It was crowded in my classroom, there was even a kid sitting at my desk.  Although I taped the kid's names on the front of their desks to help me remember, I just couldn't keep everyone straight.  So by accident I started giving them nick-names like, princess, six-gun, admiral, hot-rod, movie star and so on.  I just made them up as I went along.  "Hey, quarterback, can you erase the board for me?"  The kids really enjoyed their different names.  "What did Mr. Blackwell call you today?"   I found out later that some even went home and told their family they wanted to be called by their nickname.  One little guy didn't like what I called him one day and had me pick another name.  He was cool with that.  It was fun for the kids and for me.  We had a good time and it didn't get in the way of learning--perhaps it might have even facilitated it.  

But my point is that the environment is important in the teaching/learning process.  How one learns in a small group is quite different from private lessons or tutoring.  You with me, Cupcake?

In a recent blog I wrote about the learning objective--the Cognitive, the Affective and the Psycho-motor domains.  Cognitive, that's the knowledge stuff that we teachers are pretty good at teaching--numbers, reading, geography, spelling, sentence structure, etc.  It's the Affective Domain that worries me--the feelings, the liking to learn, the interest in, curiosity, creativity, etc.  At this time in our society, I see the affective domain getting short shrift.  Who cares if they dislike math, just get the right numbers down on the test.  To be truthful with you, it may be that the affective domain is the most important of all the factors involved in teaching.  I still remember Jo Tyllia's comments to me many years ago.  "Get them (the students) to like learning and then get out of the way."  So true, Jo.  

The last three teaching/learning functions are fanatically complex.  There are only three ways to teach and to learn.  Not necessarily in order of importance, these three functions are:  expository, investigative and performance.  Expository is writing, talking, reading, explaining to another.  I can write a book about teaching--that's expository function.  A student explains a project to me--that's expository.  Kids read from their textbook--that's the expository function.  

Investigative is trying something out--trial and error.  A lot of play is investigative in nature.  We learn a lot through investigative process in life.  How fast is too fast in driving which results in a speeding ticket--that's investigative learning.

And finally, performance.  Standing in front of a class reading or speaking is a learning experience.  Those kids from PS 22 Staten Island learned much, I am sure, at the Oscars performing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  We perform for ourselves and for others--and learn from that experience.  Teaching is performing at times.  We teachers learn all the time thanks for our students.  Maybe that is why we are addicted to teaching.  Perhaps.  

Nine factors in the teaching/learning arena.  And you mix them up with kids and hope you can find some learning at the other end.  It's a little bit like teaching a kid to ride a bike; first psycho-mortor skills to balance, steer and pedal.  Then cognition to know where to ride and how to stay safe.  Finally, the affective part in allowing a kid to enjoy riding a bike and wanting to do it some more even after falling down.  

Somewhere over that rainbow there are teachers using these teaching/learning functions and getting kids to learn.  Some are getting fired.  Some are getting pay cuts.  Some will leave teaching in the next year.  But they are good people. Teachers are people too.

Thanks to all the teachers in our society.  My very best to you all.