Monday, October 8, 2012

The Time has come..... say good-by.  I have been on vacation for the past six weeks in a small town in the middle of the San Juan Islands (WA).  I watched the local school district start the school year, noted as one teacher I had met retire, at the moment happy to not have to go back to the classroom.  She said it was getting tiring and the paper work was increasing.  She missed the "..old days."  Perhaps that is the way of teachers getting older--we know when it is time to quit as I am doing now.

Many of you over the past years have written about your experiences, your hurts, your joys in the classroom.  You've thanked me for thanking you for your services.  Indeed, one of the great faults of this society is that we don't thank our teachers enough.  Someday, someone will find a spot, a gene in our brain that when hearing a "thank you" will activate and push the body into doing more then we have done in the past.  Sort of a verbal energy boost. 

There are many reasons that have prompted me to  bring this blog to a conclusion, although I doubt seriously if the subject of teaching and teachers will ever be exhausted.   I find in the past year that my memory is slowly failing--things about teaching that I knew so well some years back have eluded me, enough so that I have had to look some items up in old textbooks or in the ways of the young, google the phrase.  It is extremely frustrating to know what it is you want to say but can't think of the word or concept that you once knew so well.  I sit here in front of my computer with closed eyes as if lowered eye lids will assist the brain in retrieving the word that I'm looking for, thinking of, or desperately wanting.  That act itself makes me feel old.....and I don't want to feel old.  I thought about perhaps going back to school to take a class  (they have classes for seniors) like a dear friend of mine is doing but I'm scared that I will not remember essential items in the learning process.  I know about teachers and teaching but I worry about learning.  Ironic, isn't it.  One good thing about taking a class for seniors is that I could get an Apple Education Discount on my next computer--except I don't need one at the moment.  

While the past is slow in recovery I am also concerned about my brain activity for the future.  Six months ago I bought for my wife and me iPhones and iPads so that we might coordinate our calendars, use the note taking app as well as the reminder apps.....this latter one I thought would be crucial.  It would be if I could remember to look at it.  However a disturbing fact is that it takes brain activity to actually use these devices.  While Apple (and Microsoft) say their software programs are intuitive I am given to believe that the 'intuition' is age related.  "WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO BACK BUTTON?"  And it is demeaning to have a young stranger look over your shoulder and say "just press the menu bar at the left.  Damn, I feel old.

But slower and reluctant brain power isn't the only characteristics that have prompted me to hang up my bloggers hat, it is the general level of society's view of teachers and teaching that is bothering me.  I am despondent beyond belief on how many people are criticizing teachers for doing a poor job.  A child misbehaves and a note is sent home to the parents to inform and the parent(s) come and criticize the teacher for his/her behavior.  "If you did you job right my kid would not misbehave--it's your fault."  Perhaps we teachers ought to start saying, "if you did your job correctly as parents we could do a better job as teachers."  No, that's not the way to go.  Still the parent/teacher relationship has deteriorated much over the past few years.  I wonder why?  

I have an acquaintance who delights in telling me that if we would just get rid of the bad teachers, education would improve immensely.  And I keep asking him to describe what is a 'bad' teacher.  His answer generally revolves around the point that if I have to ask then i don't belong in education.   I still don't know what a poor or 'bad' teacher is.

I remember doing student teaching supervision at an elementary school that I liked very much however, it did have one teacher that i though was not up to par with the rest of the staff.  A male teacher in the fourth grade that was pedantic, dictatorial , and in my estimation, boring. But the principal and I went over the test scores and his class scored equally as well as the other two fourth grades and in some cases scored a bit higher.  The principal was teaching me something important--that this teacher provided certain kids with "doing it over and over until you get it right" methodology which these kids needed.  Once they got it right they could go on--success breeds success.  That success was what motivated those children, not exciting teaching.  So what is a poor teacher--what do they look like?  

Which brings me to another point.  In this state we are going to vote on whether this state should allow charter schools.  In the past I've always decided on educational issues by asking myself, will this help kids?  Will it hurt them?  For a while I felt that that charter schools was a moot issue--it didn't hurt and could actually help some kids.  But recently Stanford University did a study where they found that there is little or no difference by and large between regular public schools and the charter schools....except that the charter schools had more parent involvement.  But the study also pointed out one other difference--that in many cases of charter schools it limited the students who could be enrolled.  Charter schools appear to favor the more upper class or richer student.  Poorer students got left out.  I can hear John Dewey tossing in his grave right now.  So I am against charter schools.  

I suspect if i were to start a charter school in Bellevue (WA) I would have overwhelming success for that city has an abundance of motivated students and parents.  It is the only city in this state that has a number of its high schools listed in the top 100 high schools in the United States.  

Get rid of poor kids, hungry kids, dirty kids, scared kids, tired kids who don't know what possibility is possible and I would suspect that teaching students is fairly easy--just get out of their way.  What I am reading (in blogs, educational journals, op-ed pieces) is that the rich folk are sending their kids to private schools at an increasing rate in spite of the increasing costs.  Want your kids to do well--send them to a private school.  Want your kid in an Ivy league school? Send them to Lakeside School in Seattle (Paul Allen and Bill Gates are alumni).  

I am reading a book (on my Kindle and iPad) titled, "Some of My Best Friends are Black.  The Strange Story of Integration in America.  By Tanner Colby.  It is a disturbing book about how integration has been difficult in the schools even after the civil rights act of congress.  Developers design developments that the whites can afford and have white schools.  They move school and district boundaries so that in essence we have a private school.  A sad story.

But my point is that public schools are at a crossroad in our society.  Historically public schools have been for every child, every young adult.  I wonder if this will continue to be.  "Cut taxes, get rid of the teacher unions, and in a few cases, eliminate certified teachers.  Anyone who has had children can teach!"   

So this is what I see in the future.  More private schools.  City schools having problems with costs of books, buses, heating and maintenance.  Strangely enough I see rural schools perhaps doing a better job of teaching our young.  One local suburban/rural school district has decreed that there will be no textbooks in the future except on iPads (forget brand for the moment) which will be required of every student.  I will enjoy watching this development.

But one thing that I see is the continuation that teachers will continue to teach. There is a study out that I haven't see, only read about it, that suggest that our political bent is determined by our genes, i.e., you will be a conservative or a progressive because of your genes.  Interesting thought.  Based loosely on that, I suggest that there will be teachers teaching because they have to teach.  This has been one of my tenets from the beginning of this blog and over the years.  There are teachers in the schools who are there because they have to teach.  That is what they want to do with their lives.  Whether they teach in a public school, a private school, in industry or the military, they will go into teaching like salmon heading up their own river and stream.  They have to do it.  

The moral of teachers if I sense the mood correctly, is low.  What turns them on is the success of their students.  But they are the ones who are defining "Susan read her first story today", or "The kids are beginning to listen--the band played in tune today."  What teachers don't want is more paper work and more testing.  Waste of time.

While I said that the public school is at a crossroad the epic point of that crossroads has to the curriculum.  What to teach?  What to teach?  We have too many older citizens who say we have to teach patriotism.  "In my day...."  Others are demanding more math and science.  But which math and science?  How do we teach literature to kids who do not speak the language?  And how or should we teach other languages?  My biases says we need more music and art--it helps the brain.  Should our schools have libraries?  My iPad holds over a thousand books.  The curriculum is a major problem facing the schools.  Which knowledge is of most worth?

Some philosopher (I can't remember which one) once said that we need to live in the question, not the answer.  What questions do we need to ask about our teachers and teaching?   How should we train (educate?) teachers?  But there are millions of questions that need to asked.  I've only written about the few....

To the teachers who have read this blog from time to time and have commented with criticism and/or praise, I thank you for your services.  You have taught me well.  To those who are just interested in our teachers and have commented about what they have done for you, thanks for being active in understanding the problems of education.  You are important to the success of our society.  

To all of you, I wish you well, health and happiness--along with success!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How I Judge Some School Districts

At one time I was a school board member of an Intermediate School District.  In the state of Washington ISDs provide services to the surrounding public school districts, assist them in understanding state requirements and then act as a repository for data that is requested by the state.  They also provide in-service training for teachers on new methods of teaching and curriculum understanding.  Particularly when I was on the board we had much to do in providing 'learning resources' such as films, pictures, prints, slides and transparencies which were delivered to the appropriate school.  In todays world, much of that is now provided on CDs for an entire class.  I suspect this area of resources has been greatly diminished as individual school districts took on the digital world of the classroom.

However, budget supervision I suspect is still a high priority for the ISDs.  It was the duty of the board to read, review and either accept or reject each school district's budget and then sign off on them.  If any budgetary high jinks were discovered at a later date, board members could be libel.  I find this interesting as most of my fellow board members were not cognizant of budgetary methods or procedures.  One was a business man, two others were in sales, one was retired, one was a parochial school district superintendent, me, a college professor, and I can't remember the last person--we had to have seven on the board.  Only the school superintendent and I had ever seen school budgets and my source of knowledge was one course in my masters curriculum degree.  A bit of the blind leading the blind here.

Still, we did discover discrepancies.  Actually it was something that had been going on for several years.  Two neighboring school districts employed and shared a psychologist to work with troubled kids.  Since neither district had enough kids that needed counseling they shared this person half time.  On a gentleman's agreement between the two superintendents, one district would pay the salary of this FTE (Full Time Equivalent, the term for one position on the staff) one year and the other district would pay the salary the next year-each district alternating the cost of the psychologist.  Nothing illegal with this procedure under state accounting practices.

What we discovered was that BOTH districts had monies in their budgets for this  FTE EACH year.  Upon subsequent investigations we found that both 
superintents were using the monies on the year they weren't to pay for the FTE (about fifty thousand at that time) for the football stadium, uniforms and pads, etc. in their district.   It was the 'etc' that got to me as none of it went to the instructional part of the budget.  

I talked informally with each superintendent and they were frank with me.  Keeping the community happy with their football team was essential if they were to have to pass increases in school taxes or bonds.   As one superintendent said to me, "Good seats mean good votes."  And football provided income so that the other sports could survive.  Having good sports teams was essential to a happy community with their schools.  Having a good school band or orchestra, a wining debate team, or a successful theater program was less essential then the football team.

It is a fact of life, at least in this country and it was during my reign as a school board member that sports teams have high priority.  If what they were doing with the budget for this particular FTE was illegal what were we, the supervising board to do.  Actually, we worked with both districts and found another way to hide the funds that was legal.  I don't think it was ethical but it was legal.  But it has bothered me for many years and it was one reason I decided not to run again for the board position.  Plus it was a time consuming position.  I stand in awe of those people who are school board members for many years.   They give up much to make the schools what they are.

But we as a nation hold our sports on a high pedestal.  A very high one and in these Olympics times, our heart beats fast for those going for the gold.  But I wonder about our collective goals for our schools and our kids.  Once again I note that rick folks send their kids to private schools, most which do not have a sports team.  Yes, they have physical education but not intramural sports.  

I comment about all this as I ponder a suburb of Dallas as they have finally finished their 60 million dollar football stadium which has private boxes, a workout room for the team, a press room, and seating for 18 thousand fans.  The article says they will fill the stands at every game.  Sixty million dollars for a stadium.  That is higher then some of the school budgets that I approved.  None of this was tax monies either.  Donations entirely.  However, to be fair, the people of this area did raise their taxes .013 percent for school operations.  

I wonder how much they pay their coaches and how much they pay their teachers.  I wonder.....  The article commented that this school is a perennial top ten high school in football in the United States.  

I wonder if we could have a perennial top ten school district in academic learning?  I suspect we have several however, I'll make a bet they are private schools.  John Dewey, I think we're on a losing quest for the transfer of knowledge to our young.

Hey, teachers, hang in there.  I think you're doing a great job.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back To The Future

I know, that title has been used before--in movies and in other blogs as well.  But it came to mind when the White House announced in the last week or two that that President Obama will request one billion dollars for improving science and mathematics education in the United States.  My aging brain sent me a red flag--we did this once before.  I was there when it happened.  In a grade school classroom..... and my kids and I had several discussions on how we could make math and science bette in our classroom.  

I had just returned that year (1958) from serving in the U.S. Army in the Korean war (25th Inf Div) and because I was by law allowed my old job back (elementary music teacher) the school district would have to fire my replacement.  However, I knew that the district was building new elementary schools (2) and we would need several elementary music teachers in the near future and didn't want him fired therefore I had asked to be a elementary classroom teacher for the short term.  The district was in need of elementary teachers at the time and they quickly agreed to my request and made me a fifth grade teacher.

I was assigned thirty six students....  I remembered I didn't have enough textbooks to go around at first some of the kids had to share books.  I had enough paper and pencils to go around, two blackboards and one gigantic bulletin board that the principal wanted covered.  We had no other supplies and we didn't have a library for the school.  About thirty grade level 'library books' were put into each classroom and we were asked to exchange them after several months with another classroom.  

I remember we ran out of ditto's around April so that eliminated handouts and work sheets.  A month later we ran out of paper for the ditto machines.  I bought ditto paper from Sears--they had the best price.  There were no science supplies whatsoever.  Most of my science instruction came out of the science textbook assigned to my classroom.  The class would read a section and we would talk about it.  Sometimes I would have kids bring stuff from home to do little experiments like batteries, wire, and such.  

And then it all, not the fan but SPACE!  The Soviet's Sputnik was shot into space in 1957 and this provided the necessary motivation to congress to authorized funding for the National Defense Education Act  or as it was commonly called the NDEA (became law in 1958).  It provided about a quarter of a million dollars in several programs.  I don't remember them all but one was to assist undergraduates in mathematic and science education.  But these students didn't have to go into teaching, they could get jobs in industry if they so chose.  However it also provided monies for foreign language  and engineering undergraduates.  That was the defense part of the act.  The only thing that trickled down to my classroom was a science cart.  The kids and I really liked it.  It was on wheels (very small wheels so that pushing it on the cement walkways outside my classroom was not feasible so in essence it stayed in my classroom although it was suppose to be for all the intermediate classes.  

The science cart had a sink at one end with a hand pump lever and faucet into the sink.  Inside the cart was a plastic jug for water and another plastic jug for whatever ran out of the sink.  The counter top was especially made out of some sort of plastic that would resist chemical spills.  The kids and i never did find out if it did this as we never had any chemicals to play....which was probably a smart move on somebody's part.  The cart has some drawers at the other end of the cart--aways from the sink and jugs below which turned out to be handy for scissors, rulers and several other items for which we had no storage in the classroom.  But we loved out cart, the kids and me.  We could roll it down the aisles and stack textbooks on it, stand on it to clean the top of the blackboards and also to put stuff on our large bulletin board (the wheels locked).  We never used it for science or mathematics.  I heard later on the company that made the cart made millions off the NDEA act.  Maybe that was the purpose of the act to begin with.

So as I mentioned earlier on, the White House announced recently a request for a billion dollars for science and mathematics.  I've also read someplace that the president wants monies for engineer students as well.  My oh my I wonder if I will get a tee shirt this time around.  

One of my concerns is that if we want more science, math, okay, let's throw in engineering for the fun of it, we need to start in the elementary schools with basic science and math.  The engineering can come out of the math--OR--we can teach engineering and have the math come out of it.   But I have my doubts and I suspect we will see a new type of science cart that will be made available for elementary schools once more.  Hello Future, good to see you again.

I did learn to teach science and I was successful in my endeavors.  For several years the Washington State Dairy Council supplied me with four tiny laboratory white rats.  The class (and I) learned to mix dry food products by the gram and volume, to weigh the rats and keep charts and to observe skin and tail conditions depending upon the food eaten.  Two rats would get a good food supply (with dry milk) and two would get a poor food supply (of course without milk) and after a time, the rats were reversed in their eating habits.  It was all simple science methods and the kids loved it.  One of my students came to me while she was in high school and wanted to do a similar experiment for her high school biology class and wanted to know where I had gotten the white rats.  So I guess some of the scientific learning paid off.

I tried to teach science.   I suspect with a minimum of equipment, storage areas for supplies, and enough stuff for the kids we would have done rather well.  At that time I would have liked to have taken a basic science course during the summer school for teachers but I don't remember any being available.  I wonder what the NDEA monies were used for.

I still contend that if we want to improve science and mathematics we need to start in the elementary school curriculum.  And we'll need teachers.  Not larger classes, not state ordered curriculums, and not tests.  Just people who want to be teachers

I don't think we'll get them.  Perhaps some science carts, but not teachers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How We Learn....and how we teach

I just lost another colleague they other day--we're of the age where this will happen.  He was a professor of Geology and was instrumental in designing courses for science teachers in both the public and parochial schools....   But he also taught in his church, a community arts center, the Boy Scouts, and in his community neighbors association.  An all around teacher.  I could always count on him in the early fall workshops for the professors to have a broad smile and a warm greeting, "One more year, eh, Les"  We'd sit through these workshops and hope that we would remain awake until lunch.  Well, that was my modus operandi.  I can't remember how many years Bob and I listened to someone lectures us on how we should change our teaching which would allow students to be more involved.  And we'd sit there and listen quietly.  Oh my.  How many years.  

I will miss Bob.  But as I reflected on his work and friendship I also thought of all the different ways he taught, one on one, in small groups and in large classes of Geology students.  But he also taught over coffee, in his home and in an art center that he and his son developed.  

So I pondered how we learn.  Two things happened this week (so far) that adds emphasis to this story.  One reason the blogs have been spaced out (you may take that in several ways) is that I am writing a first attempt.  I've gotten a bit more then five chapters done so far and two of my friends have read sections and say to keep going.  Improvements need to be made, certainly, but I'm enjoying the creativity of the task.  Writing a novel is harder then i thought it would be.  Lots of details that I have to account for that you won't find in the book, like ages of the characters so that there discussions will make sense.  Were they in the Army at the same time?  If so, how old are they?  Things like that.  If a woman has a daughter in high school and her husband was killed in a war, what songs should she know from that time?  Fun stuff.  Do I write in the first person?  And how are narratives written.

So I downloaded a book on how to write novels from the internet--multiple authors, supposedly all famous who give advice on how to write a novel.  I can attest that an old dog can learn new tricks.  At least this old dog.  I'm learning a lot.  What I am worried about at this moment is that my first chapters will have been much more stilted and that I am finally getting into the swing of things in the latter chapters.  I'll probably have to go back and re-write the earlier chapters--no big deal, however.   My point is that I'm learning something new...from a book on an iPad.

An aside:  I am also reading on my iPad the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Fascinating reading--changing my thoughts about Apple.  But what really caught my attention is when Jobs is negotiating a salary for himself as he returns to the Apple company, a sum of 22 thousand shares of stock which they give him as CEO of Apple.  That turns out to be $300 thousand dollars.  For a years work.  At the same time my local state university (12,000 students) published the salaries of the faculty--a full professor makes on the average, $80,000 a year.  Wait, wait.  That person does get a medical perk of which He/she has to pay half.  And we ask what is wrong with our education system.  

But I digress.  I am learning how to write a novel--whether it will be good or not I can't say.  But the task is entertaining and I like doing it even though I am in the September of my life.  

The second thing that has captured my attention is that a colleague on the other side of the country has written me to ask about distance learning.  How do you go about getting a course on a distant learning site.  And I got pondering (god, I love that word 'ponder'.  It is less then thinking but above day dreaming) about how we deliver messages (that which we want to teach) to our students but how they intake that message.  We've learned long ago that we can do it by the book (sorry about that), by lecture (I wonder what the efficiency of learning is for that method), by demonstration, by pain (paddling), by insight, by mistake.  I suspect the list could go on forever in ways of learning.  With the advent of the computer (as well as the smart phone and the pad) we now have unique ways of delivering our instruction.  So the delivery methods are expanding.  

But as I wrote to my colleague, we need to take into account what the motivation is of the student for that course.   Are they really wanting his knowledge?  Or do they just want the credit. they have to take the course as a prerequisite for something else.  How learning becomes so involved.

And in this day and age, not all students can make an eight o'clock class or a four o'clock class on the same day.  They work, have families, need to take public transportation, so many things that complicate how one gets an education.  So I am in favor of distance learning except I just don't know all the methods that are available.  And as I said to him in my e-mail, how to we account (or accredit) someone who has taken the course.

I keep coming back to "what makes an educated person?"  What courses, what knowledge, what feelings and attitudes do you need after you've learned something?  It is very complicated.  

Along with this person's comments about getting into distance learning he wrote that teaching in the high school has become more difficult as the school districts rely on more testing methods for evaluation.  It limits the creativity in the teaching.  Steve Jobs would have taken note--he valued creativity as one of the highest attributes of an individual.  He'd put up with a lot of you were creative. But I've also heard from two other teachers saying they are thinking of retiring early as the teaching has become so structured.  Interesting word.

So I wonder if maybe one possibility in education will be distance learning.  Courses that are designed to the test.  Get so many of these type of courses out of the way and they (whoever is in charge) will allow you to take the more creative courses.  Maybe with a live teacher.

I still feel teachers are the salt of the earth.  Society will not prosper without teachers.  The collective learning of society will not be transferred to the young without good teachers.  Yes, we need the medical profession but without teachers who teach medicine it will not survive.  Nor will we.  Yes, we need both fire and police departments but with education I think we could change their objectives to helping not controlling.  But it will be teachers who will teach both the fire and police personnel.  The methodology on how to deliver this learning will continue to grow...and I believe distance education will be in the forefront.  

My thanks to all teachers who help people to learn.  You are necessary no 
matter what society says at the moment.  You are important to us.

Three hundred thousand dollars for year's work.  My oh my.

This just in!

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Remember.........Nora Ephron

Like many I'm sure, I was devastated to hear of Nora Ephron's passing--she was younger then me and far more perceptive of the world around her.   I will miss her greatly.  She was an astute observer of life around her and particularly so of herself.  Several of her books and especially her last one, I Remember Nothing are filled with observations of her world.  I am rereading I Remember Northing on my Kindle and iPad (depends upon which I have with me at the moment) and I once again laugh and cry at her comments.

I list Nora and what was the name of that famous woman anthropologist that i like as well.....hold on let me google it.....yes, Margaret Mead.  You see I am in Nora's camp--I forget names.  I always have.  And I laughed when I read that Nora had a secret code with her husband when she didn't remember the name and would pinch him on the upper arm, meaning 'get this person's name for me,' except sometimes he wouldn't know how or who the person was.  Ah, yes, my wife and I have that same signal--for me to say to her, who is that?   And up to a few years ago this worked well--she would tell me and I could go up to the person, extend my hand and say, "Hello (place appropriate name here), it's good to see you again."  Unfortunately my wife's memory of names is fading and we look at each other in dismay.  Was this person in one of our classes?  Or the yacht club?  We struggle on in conversation with people we can't remember. At least we haven't yet reached Nora's stage where she once did not recognize her sister in a mall.  But we're getting there.

Strange there are many things I'm forgetting.  Thank heaven's for smart phones (I have an iPhone) where one can put in combinations, gate codes, and for some of us oldsters, our social security number.  Who knew it would be this important when we first got them so many years ago.

But it is strange the things I do remember.  I can remember about this time of the year in 1953 getting on a school bus and going with a group to the Bronx Zoo as a volunteer and was given the charge of taking care of ten little boys, no make that ten little excited boys.  We looked at the animals, bought hot dogs and along the way, collected two more boys who had become lost from their assigned groups.  I can remember placing a couple of the youngest kids on my shoulders, one at a time, as they were getting very tired.  I remember telling them to keep a good watch out for our group--and they did.  "Saul is over by the bear cage" and we'd yell and get Saul back."  Why do I remember this?  Because I spent the day calling him Paul--poor guy.  I wasn't in tune with my kids.  It was a fun but tiring day for me and when we returned to the buses I had the two missing kids.  Everyone was relieved and the next day I was asked if I would like to become a playground supervisor for the summer.  If so, be at the training class the next three mornings and be sure to sign in with the main office so I could be paid.  A paying summer job.  I remember.  

I learned to call Paul, Saul, and the other kids by the right name.  I learned that you can't play softball in high heat and humidity, that lying under the oak tree and telling stories was a far better summer past time.  I remember with vivid detail.  Strange....

That summer and the next were like basic training for me on how to handle kids, disasters, change of plans, the unexpected and how to like kids.  Some kids I could hug, others needed directions.  I began to look at kids differently--they were all different.  And I made mistakes.  Oh boy did I make mistakes.  I remember the mistakes.  I had the girls play games with the boys.  Someone had not told me this wasn't done in 1953.  Well..... on my playground the girls got equal time at bat, or whatever the game was.  It just seemed right.  Title Nine was a long time in the future but my playground was on the right track--yes, I remember.

There is a lot that I remember.  Most of it is narrative, not facts.  I couldn't tell you any of the scores of those games we played--I don't think we kept score.  My memory for facts is devastatingly poor, always has been.  Which is why I've been on this theme for so long.  

I'm ahead of Nora--I wish she was here to tell us how dying is like.  But she did tell me how not remembering works.  I agree with her.  I chuckled when she spoke of her memory as a hard drive and finally decided that it wasn't all filled up, that being the reason for her poor memory, but that it was erased, empty. I've ponder that in my mind as well--is it because my memory bank is filled up or because i've erased much of it.  I think the latter.  If I am only a 64K memory bank then why not only remember the good stuff and throw out the embarrassments, the damn fool things I've done, along with all the stupid things I've manage to do.  Keep the good and throw out the bad.  Right.

But this raises an interesting question in my mind.  What stuff should I remember?  Time tables?  Okay. Cool.  The dates of all the wars that the United States has been in?  Whoa, I'm not so sure.  I can ask Siri that question.  Or Google it.  Which information should I memorize and which information can I let fly by.  I do remember that I taught a lot of information in my intermediate grade classes stuff for them to memorize which today is not important.  I do have some guilty feelings about that.  So what should our curriculum be--which knowledge is of most important.  My oh my what an assignment for a graduate class in education, list those categories that we should remember, put in our memory bank.  

Thanks, Nora.  You were (and still am) a good teacher.  What really bothers me is that I'll never know why you wrote "Sleepless in Seattle," when you always loved New York City.   I'll always remember you--I hope.  God Bless.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Rant, A Rave and a Wave

A Rant.

This is a difficult time for me.  In most states there is a law that says by a certain date in the spring that all teachers not being retained for the next coming year must be given lay-off notices.  It is a hard time in the teachers room as those that have received a "pink slip" tell there follow colleagues.  Those that didn't get them feel guilty as well as deep sigh of relief.  "I can teach another year."  

In my state, the state of Washington, there are those that are gearing up to support a change in the laws to allow charter schools.  Even though much of the research about charter schools seems to show that there is little difference between regular schools and the charter schools, this state will debate the problem once more and I suspect the charter school advocates will be successful.  My major problem with charter schools is that they basically get to pick and choose their students.  I think this does make a difference in the outcome of the learning in a school.  

One of the underlying philosophies of charter schools is to get rid of those that are a problem to the school.  Get rid of those who have learning problems, get rid of those that come to school hungry, get rid of those that have a poor learning record.  You've sweeten the pot and hopefully more learning can take place.  Charter schools are trying to overcome societal problems.  

I remember quite clearly an older and wiser teacher in the school where I was first teaching fifth grade tell me not to erase a student's name in my grade book because they were moving--they could possibly return.  In my idealistic mind at that time though why would they return, they were going to Oregon to live with the grandparents or to Alabama to look for a new job.  But my mentor was correct, a number of those students leaving would return to the classroom and I would have the chore of trying to bring them up to date.  Some who had left had not been enrolled in another school, some had but the change in schools had slowed them down.  

Schools cannot solve the woes of society.  If we have families moving here and there we can only teach the child or the young adult when they are in our classrooms.  But perhaps there is a new dawn coming.  I'm beginning to day dream about the time that some students will stay connected through the use of technology.  Wouldn't that be something?  

But back to the beginning of this blog--I'm sad that so many teachers are getting released, fired from their position.  In one article that I read recently, it said that some teachers are still teaching for free even though they were released.  I'm not surprised.  Teachers have to teach.  But I don't think a lot of them will be doing it.

My other part of this rant is how many people are telling teachers how they are to teach who have never been in the classroom.  This galls me.  A number of articles in this state have been written about the "new" teacher evaluation forms and methods.  I can only hope that these new methods of evaluation do not include many tests for students.  If so, we will be back teaching to the test and not teaching.  

However, I DO believe that parents though the use of school boards OUGHT to set the curriculum.   What is to be learned ought to be the provision of the parents.  But how to teach should be the teacher's domain.  

I still remember one of the great assistant superintendents in Seattle who told me a wise thing.  "A disadvantaged child is ANY child that is taught something in the schools that is not reinforced at home and is taught something at home that is not reinforced at school."  So true.  Keep this in mind while you read in the coming weeks of articles telling you how the new charter schools are going to be and how more effective teachers will be with the new evaluation procedures.  I wonder if those teachers who are teaching for free are going to be evaluated.  I wonder....

A Rave

I had intended to title this blog, "Teaching an old dog new tricks," but it was limiting.  Let me start at the beginning which is complex.  When I retired some years ago as was my style I read books and research reports about those that retire.  Who retires and dies shortly afterwards, who retires and enjoys the golden age of their lives, who retires and continues to make a contribution to society.  Fascinating questions of philosophy arose that i got to study and think about.  What is a good quality of life at this stage?  What is a "good" September of our lives?

Now most retirements are broken down into three parts, simplified they are the Go-Go stage, the Slow-Go State and the No-Go stage.  In other words, the first part of retirement is doing, going on a cruise, visiting family and friends, much activity.  The second stage is the Slow-go stage where a couple stays more at home except during holidays and summers and finally the no-go stage where you reside in a facility that takes care of you to different degrees.  If you have good advice you plan you resources such as money to go along with these three stages.  

But as I read the books there was something else I noticed.  Although all the books encouraged exercise in retirement, a few suggested mental activities as well using the travel as a mental exercise.  However, I noted that those that seemed to have a quality retirement as well as an extended life seem to me to be those that used their brains.  Writers, artist, musicians, and thinkers in general seem to have the golden years in their grasp.  Those that worked on assembly lines and then retired seem to leave this world more earlier then others.  So i took note.

This blog was one way I could continue my philosophical thoughts about teaching and about teachers I have known.  I have enjoyed for the most part my blogging about education and the classroom.  Unfortunately during the past decade this nation for the most part has turned on its teachers.  "Get rid of the bad teachers" has become a rallying cry.  To this day, I doubt if I would ever recognize a "bad" teacher.  Misplaced ones, ones overworked, ones without the resources but no just "bad" ones.  I have stated in the past that most people who are poor teachers do not stay in the profession.  A person doesn't want to do something that is unpleasant--so they leave to do other work.  

So I have resolved to stay positive about this profession.  It is difficult at times but every so often a gem comes along.  Did you read recently about the young high school student that was put into jail for twenty-four hours as punishment for missing school.....ALTHOUGH, she was an "A" student, taking college level courses in high school and working TWO jobs to support herself and two siblings.  She would fall asleep because she was so tired and miss school.  Actually what would really happen is that they take attendance in the morning first period and she would come to school after attendance was taken.  She was considered absent even though she was in school.  And the judge threw her into jail.  Thanks to modern technology and the web in all its faces, the young girl's record has been cleared and a large amount of money has been donated for her use.  

I remember a case like this right here in Bellingham (WA).  I was observing a student teacher and had wandered into the library--I liked the librarian who I thought was an excellent teacher.  She was strict but really had the kids learning at heart.   However, one day I noticed that she had a young high school girl sleeping, head down on the table in the workroom (window into the library).  So I inquired about this.  This was not usual behavior allowed in the library.  My librarian teacher told me that this girl had a job, rented an apartment, paid all her own bills because her parents fought all the time and abused the two kids.  So she left.  But my librarian friend had noted all this and had taken her under her wing so to speak.  I found out from others that the librarian also gave her money so she could get new clothes and still have a life in the school like dances and plays.  Someone in Huston should have done that for the girl thrown into jail.  We have a sappy society at times, don't we.

I guess my point for the rave is that there are teachers and teachers who are still going on teaching students.  Regardless of what is happening in our society there will be always teachers who want kids to learn.  They will be grading papers on Sunday getting them ready to turn back to the students on Monday.  I can't think of a bunch of professionals who give their all all of the time like teachers.  A wave of my hand as the school year ends and they get to sleep in once again.  I hope those that got a pink slip will be rehired in the fall.  Many will.  Thanks all, for a great year.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's the Merry Month of May

My apologies to all the readers.   I have had difficulties in accessing my own blog to publish new material.  It seems with the addition of the new iPad and trying to connect my iPhone, iPad and computer so they would talk to each other I had to change account names and passwords.  I've gotten so frustrated that on several occasions I have shut down the system to try again another day.  Today I won.

Now to the merry month of May.  If you have never taught in the public and I suspect private schools (K-12) you will understand that beginning in May the students start looking forward to summer vacation, the end of school, summer camp, seeing grandma, no homework and a vast amount of other thoughts.  The old saying, "No more school.  No more books.  No more teacher's dirty looks," is very apt.

I remember although it was many years ago Jo Tyllia telling me to teach everything by Thanksgiving and then review.  I thought she was crazy and didn't pay much attention.  But she was correct--you teach how to learn, how to write your papers, how to turn in assignments, and all the details of "doing" learning and then as the year progressive as a teacher you just plug in the subjects.  It is more difficult then it sounds.  But by May the students know you well and have learned how to "press your buttons" as well and discipline in the classroom breaks down.  

I doubt if any one class could take honors in "loosing their cool."  Even the bands and choral groups, once they had given their spring concert found it hard to look at new music and preparing for the next year was impossible.  It was time to pass out music that was fun and different.  If I were teaching music now, today, I would have pass out some R & R stuff--easy stuff but which they could play LOUD.  For the choral groups, some music from GLEE.  Maybe I could bring in a parent who could teach the choral groups some new dance steps.  Yeah!

But still my point is that May and June, until the end of school, is a difficult time to teach.  Saying, "take out your social studies text" or "who has their assignment ready for the class," doesn't excite the learning nerves.  They are jaded at this point.

I know of one high school civic teacher who every year brings in guest speakers such as the mayor, a city council person, someone from each of the political parties.  She says that just having a different face up in front of the room helps keeps their attention.  And indeed some learning is accomplished.  Another high school teacher of English does improvisations of plots they have study during the year.  The kids really enjoy this part and I have heard a few high school students say they try to take Ms. Smith in the spring just for this part of her class.  

Grade school teachers as well have to come up with new ideas to keep their student's attention.  I wonder what some of my old colleagues are doing now with the advent of computers in the classroom.  I know I would be having some "search" questions for my students to do....'when you are done with your assignments'.  You can't stop teaching to the curriculum and standards have to be met but there are various ways to motivate students.

But I have another point to make today.  I see evidence of this problem in the local and national news, that of school administrators who are also getting tired and looking forward to not having students around for a while.  Case in point, a middle school administrator called one parent and said, "please come and pick up your daughter--she is not dress appropriately for school."  Oh, dear!  Two weeks to go and the daughter is sitting in the principal's office.  The picture of the girl was posted in another blog by the mother (who happens to be a journalist) and I could find nothing inappropriate.  But to be fair perhaps the school had a school uniform, I don't know.

The there was the young boy who had his haircut designed with the face of his favorite sport figure on the back of his head.  He was expelled from school and I suppose he might be allowed back if he shaved his head.  This case baffles me.  I've seen many students in school with....shall we say....interesting hairdos?  I for one as a teacher is not going call a parent and say their student needs a better haircut.  'Tis a puzzlement.

This is my opinion but it seems to me that we are having more and more black and white decisions in the schools.  A child does something and they are expelled.  They say something and they are expelled.  They wear something and they are expelled.  In some cases a teacher has said something and she/he is put on administrative leave.  There are no hearings that make the paper or the news, just the end result of expulsion or administrative leave.  Perhaps the administration needs a break as well from the stress of teaching and learning....and administrating.   It's the merry month of May.

Hang in there, teachers.  Thanks for making it this far.  Only a few weeks to go.  Suck it in and give it your all.  And..again, Thanks for this year.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Ways of Teaching

I opened my iPad the other day intent upon learning or relearning some mathematics.  I was in one of those moods where if I learned something new I would feel better about myself.  I had just finished Anna Quindlen's  Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,  a book about life after fifty, perhaps, even about growing older.  Having just had a birthday (79) I was feeling a bit down in the dumps about my self and Quindlen's last chapter didn't help me much.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  So I decided I would learn something that I had forgotten or perhaps learn something new.

In a different tack entirely, a friend of mine, Kaitlyn Cole,  sent me a web site (blog) that was reviewing twelve schools that were using the Khan Academy learning materials with what seems like some success.  Here, you can read it too.  Take a moment to visit some of these school(s) and districts.  You have to be impressed.  One of the things that struck me from this blog was the fact that someone in each of these schools or districts has a good sense of the use of technology overall.  Their web sites are well done, inviting parents to participate and the sites are easily traveled.  In most of them I found references to Google apps and videos to help students complete their work and assignments.  How cool is that?  In any of these twelve schools, if a parent wanted to get involved with their children's education all they had to do was get on-line and check in.  

Most of the schools seemed affluent or they were at least in communities that were supportive of the instruction.  One school had forty percent of its population getting free lunch but was still showing increases in test scores.  Pardon me while I ramble a bit--isn't it interesting that we now classify a school or a district by how many kids they have to feed, with the higher number indicating a poorer school while in Finland, ALL students get a hot meal at noon and their schools seem to be doing a better job of preparing kids for life in the real world.  

Still having enough computers or pads (regardless of the brand) for the students to use has to be an expense for the school district.  Can the kids take the iPads home?  Insurance?  To my friend, Ms Cole, we need a blog on how one district is using the Khan Academy and how much do the parents get involved.  Interviews with teachers, parents and students would be helpful.  And here is a tough question, what are the objectives?  Where do they want to go?

However, the twelve schools mentioned seem to be on the right track and making positive use of the internet with material from the Khan Academy.  Which brings me to my experiences of wanting to learn or re-learn something to make me feel better. Now remember, I wasn't feeling very positive about myself at this time.  As a teacher I knew that I should do something that had a high success rate.  Success breeds success--you have heard that from me over many blogs.

So I elected to tap the Show Me Interactive Whiteboard by Easel app.  It came up quickly on my iPad but only in the landscape position.  If you hold your iPad in the upright position we call this the portrait position as appose to the landscape position.  Just want to be sure all of you are with me on this.  Show Me comes up in landscape and gave me a selection of general subject areas starting with Math, science, languages, English, Social Studies and General.  Within these general areas are further categories for you to choose.  I chose Algebra.

Now why did I do that?  I haven't used algebra in years--my last use was in navigational plotting of a sailboat going past a point of land to determine how far off we stood.  By the time I calculated the distance we were long past that point of land.  But that was a time before GPS.  Today I measure the same distance in a moment on my chart screen and think nothing of it.  I have to admit I haven't used what knowledge I gained about algebra in years.  In this instance I was not smart.  But ever onward and upward they say.  I picked a lesson in the pre-algebra category entitled "Roots you need to know."  It's a quick summary of certain roots one should know before starting into algebra....except I didn't even know my roots either genetically or mathematically.  The young voice spoke to me like I knew what she was saying, saying essentially "..there were some roots that I was just going to have to know."  And then she went on with the assumption that what she was saying made sense.  

I found it interesting after a while to realize my old phobias of arithmetic and mathematics could still take a strong hold on me even at my advanced age.  They were familiar tightening of the chest, worried feelings and some sweating of the palms.  Didn't know that could still happen.  And yet, I was in charge.  I could turn off the iPad or better yet, switch to a book that I was enjoying.  But let's reflect for the moment.  What I needed was a good teacher at that moment.  Someone with mathematical knowledge to know where I should start....and it wasn't in "roots you need to know".  Somewhere further back, Roman numerals perhaps.  In stone.

For kicks I decided to see what advance algebra would look like--maybe roots would look easier.  I picked Factorization of Polynomials.  The person explaining how to do this algebraic function didn't mention roots at all.  Maybe i could skip them if they weren't going to be used in the factorization of whatever.

My point, gentle reader, is that I still need an arithmetic teacher to guide me upon this new learning curve.  Where should I start.  I scanned the arithmetic page and found a featured teaching lesson on Imaginary numbers.  Yes, this might be the right place.  Imaginary numbers...

There are several teachers who sometimes follow this thread that are math teachers and I hope they will not feel disrespected in any way.  What I am trying to get is that having the Khan Academy or Show Me apps on your ipad or your computer is not the end all in learning.  We still need teachers who understand where imaginary numbers or specific roots fit into the landscape of learning.  

Good teaching starts with a description of where the learner is to go, what is to be achieved, what the end result will be.  For most of us teachers it is called the objective.  Perhaps this objective can be divided into tasks that once we mastered those tasks we will have achieve our objective.  But good teaching has a third component--an acknowledgement of achievement.  A pat on the back.

Look at it this way.  (1) Here is what I am going to teach you.  (2) Now I am teaching you.  (3) This is what you have learned.  In the medical profession there is a saying in learning to do an operation that goes like this:   See one, do one, teach one.  A little scary but perhaps it fits.

If I had a summary point to all what I have just written it would be that we need to know "What Knowledge is of most Worth."  What should we teach our children?  What do they need to know.  

I think we are approaching a significant crossroads in education.  There is so much to learn, maybe even too much.  Anna Quinden says that so much of what she learned is not true or it is obsolete now.  As we approach the end of our lives some of us oldsters are saying, "Now hold on.  Is this important to a quality of life?"  I think it might behove the Gates Foundation to maybe explore some possible curriculums which might include some of the Khan material.  At least it would give school districts some 'objectives' to shoot for.  But it will have to be, in the final way, what parents want for their children.  We need to pass on the knowledge that is of most importance so they may do more then we did.  

It appears this is already happening--there is this kid out there on the internet that know more about 'roots' then I do.

My thanks to my mathematics teachers who must have had their hands full with me.  However, I seem to have survived and have used math to solve my problems.  Thanks all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Need a New Curriculum

I have been reading a lot these past few weeks, both on my Kindle (2) and my iPad (2).  Both devices have their advantageous.  I like the feel of the Kindle however, I have a very nice leather cover for it, so that could bias my thoughts,  although the Kindle battery lasts much longer.  Of course the Kindle does not have color so that is probably why it lasts longer.

But then the iPad is easy to read in low light conditions because of the back lighting--which of course, means that the battery lasts for about ten hours at best. It's okay as long as I remember to plug it in in the evening to be ready the next day.  The advantage seems to go to the iPad in that it can do more then be a reading device.  But reading is what I do most of the time.

Before I share what I am reading on the devices, you might be interested in knowing that I still buy books, paperbacks and hardcopies.  I just bought a book of poetry by Joseph Green, entitled, That Thread Still Connecting Us.  Joe is an old friend and a much deeper thinker and observer of life then I am.  While I am not a great reader of poetry I do find Joe's poetry thought provoking.  He makes me think.

And then I bought a paperback copy of Betty Friedan's The Fountain of Age. The interesting part of this book is that it is signed by the author, Betty, herself.  Well, that's not the only interesting thing about this copy--I bought it for one cent.  Brand new for one penny.  With postage I paid under four bucks.  The internet is a fascinating place.  Some bookstore wanted to clear some shelves and sold me a book for one cent.  I had a hardcopy of this book once upon a time but I must have lent it out to someone.  For those who are contemplating retirement, this is a must read.  For those having sleeping problems it probably also could be helpful.  It's mostly about research and those that prosper in retirement.  I couldn't get either of those books on e-books.

But then I was given the book, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson.  I have a fondness for Apple products so I am looking forward to discovering much information about Mr. Jobs. I may report back to you on this reading.

The Steve Jobs book was given to me for a recent birthday--I'm approaching my eighties in age so I went out to learn about growing older by buying the book by Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.  It is some reflections about growing older and feeling comfortable about oneself.  I could use some advice in this area.  

Along with these books I am still reading The Dyslexic Advantage and finding it uplifting, valuable and comforting.  You mean there are others like me with the same problems?  I do wish I had read this book many years ago except it was only recently written.  We know so much more about people and kids who have this learning difference.  A couple of years ago I would have written, learning problems.  Perhaps it is not a learning problem but a teaching problem.  How should we teach kids who have dyslexia?  

I have given up on several books--I use to think it a sin not to finish a book but in recent years I don't have the time to struggle through and I am feeling better with putting some books aside.  The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  I suspect that I am not a good enough philosopher to follow Mr. Taleb's thoughts and have gotten lost too many times even with re-reading of sections so I have put this book aside. 

Another book I have decided to forego for the moment is Sherry Turkle's Alone Together.  Why we expect more from Technology and Less from Each Other.  It is a wonderful book and Ms. Turkle is one of my favorite sociologist but unfortunately for both of us I think the world is changing the goal posts too fast.  Her definition of robots may be a bit old and a new definition may be needed.  My iPad is a robot of sorts.  It does things for me, reminds me of what I need to do each day, keeps track of information that I will need and a host of other things that could be considered robotique behavior.  So I have reluctantly put her book down.....well, actually I have swiped it into my iCloud.  Isn't that a kick?  I now can keep things in a cloud somewhere.  To retrieve at a moment's notice, a finger tip retrieval.  It just boggles my mind.

Which is why I have titled this blog, We Need A New Curriculum.  What we are teaching in the schools in many places is old fashion, knowledge of little worth.  I have thought at different times about what I have learned that I don't use anymore or that that knowledge has become archaic.  I know how to clean and use Rapidograph pens for graphic work but for my needs present day drawing apps do the job as well.....and I don't have to clean those pen points.  I'm a happy man but it is a skill that I have no need for.

I won't bore you with other examples of knowledge that have become obsolete in my mind but I do wonder about the residue of such knowledge--does it change my mind?  What happens to all that knowledge that i don't use?  Is its only result is to make me feel old?  Perhaps.  How do we decide what is important to our society and what should we be teaching our kids?  I think John Dewey is right--that we have to impart our learnings to the young so that they can continue moving on.  But perhaps that is why the young sometimes think that we seniors don't know anything.  Anna Quindlen writes about what she wants to impart to her children who already have different values and needs.  So... does needs predict the curriculum?  

I am raising these questions in my mind just for me but I am asking you for assistance.  As I plug along with my ipad I wonder what the kids are using them for.  I would like to have some iPads rewired (reprogramed?) so that I could keep track of some young students as to what they use the iPads for, where do they go on the web, how are they using the information instead of learning it?  

In a way I have a humorous vision in my head as I remember teaching geography to my fifth grade many years ago.  But imagine if you will that my students had the latest iPhone 4S in their pockets at that time.  I stand in the front of the room in front of a flip chart map of the United States and I ask the students in my class, "Point out Washington, DC, the other Washington."  I can visualize  half the class pulling out their phones and saying, "Siri, Where is Washington DC?" and Siri responds by saying, "Here is Washington DC" and a map appears with a pin point sticking out of a map. The fast kids in class will swoosh smaller the map and raise their hand knowing that it is on the east coast.  My kids would have done that--it was not cheating, it was knowing how learn something.

So should that be our curriculum?  Learning how to Learn?  We learn what we need to learn?  I can see the American Legion getting upset if we don't learn all the wars?  As a teacher can I have the kids Google each war?  Or do they have to read about it in the textbook?  

As a senior, an elder, I am learning much on my idevisces. I have a new way to check my navigation on my small sailboat.  But I can also swipe that chart on my iPad and see things that were not on my paper charts.  It's a new day.   Some schools are already using the Khan Academy material in their classrooms instead of a textbook.  I wish I were teaching again just to try this procedure in my classroom.  I bet some kids are moving right alone and having fun at the same time.  I can see myself being a learning coach, not a sage on the stage as some see us.  

I can imagine a private school where the middle school students all have iPads and the teacher is saying, "Take out your iPads and find the intersection that has the most accidents in our city.  Then tweet to your learning partner and discuss how you would improve that intersection to make it safer.  When you are happy with your answer, e-mail me your answer with supporting data.  Tweet me if you have a problem.  Understood?  Good."  

Oh my, I would love to be in that classroom.  I think John Dewey would like it as well.

And thanks to those teachers graduating with teaching certificates that know how to use all the new technology in the classroom.  We need you!  And thanks for being a teacher.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ready for the downbeat?

As is happening all around this county teachers are being laid off because of budget restraints.  The classes keep getting larger and larger.  In one city the entire high school faculty were let go for not having improved student scores.  It turned out that this high school had only eighty-six students--but it was an alternative school for kids who couldn't exist in a regular high school.  "Okay, send in the next squad of teachers."  Sad.

However, there was a local story in the news of a teacher who alleged choked a student and hit him in the face.  Please note the word "alleged" in that previous sentence.  But I found it interesting that all the news outlets had headlines saying 'teacher chokes student'.  However, when reading further into the some find that the students who observed this altercation didn't see it as a choking, rather a pushing to get two students apart that had been disrupting the class.  And once again, this happening happened in an alternative high school for students who have difficulty working in our society.  Interesting story--I wonder how it will come out and exactly what is the real story here.

So while I mused (I like the word, 'muse'.  It has a nice sound and covers a lot of ground like thinking, contemplating, meditating and reflecting--if you go back to the old English definitions it also includes 'time wasting.'  Yes, I like muse and I did a lot of musing about this story.  I thought about students who disrupt class and care not a wig for the rest of the people in the class.  I've had some of these types of students both in the grade school and in college.  And then a thought stuck me--I've never had a disruptive student in band or choir.  Interesting.

Okay, some philosophic garble for a moment.  One of the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself in philosophy is......Are we an individual or are we a member of a group, society?  Can individuals get along by themselves or do we have to work with others to succeed?  This question of individual or group is basic to how we think.  It directs our basic behavior and thought.   So what do you believe?  Are we individuals or are we a social animal?

I struggled with this question for many years looking for evidence on both sides of the question.  However, I finally came to the conclusion which is satisfactory for me only that we are a social animal.  We need each other to survive. But once again I caution you--this is my answer, not yours.

You can see the struggle in our society almost every day.  At the moment it is clear to see republicans are in the individual camp while democrats are in the sociality camp.  While I taught grade school it was interesting to see how my parents responded to comments about their child.  I had some parents who liked what I was doing and would reinforce the same values at home as I was doing in the classroom.  We (the parents and I) worked more like a team to help the kids.  But there were other parents who thought otherwise about working as a team.  I know I wrote already about the father who came to pick up his son (one of my students) to go get a haircut in the middle of the day.  Different set of values.

So I suspect you will not be at all surprised that I have been musing about people in our society that shoot other people, who are mad because someone cut them off on the freeway, who refuse to pay taxes for various reasons and some in my own neighborhood that post 'no trespassing' signs.  

Now as a teacher I have to respect those that see themselves as individuals.  But I also have to teach them how to get along with others so they can be themselves.  Does this make sense?  Regardless of what we think we have to get along.  I have to stop at a stop light, pull over for emergency vehicles, and park between the white lines even if I feel that I am unique and am not dependent upon others.  So as a teacher I still have to teach cooperation.

And this is the root of my thinking today.  Because of the major emphasis on No Child Left Behind, we (us teachers) have been working hard to improve kids scores on these tests.  Not a major problem in the rich and successful communities but a major problem in the low rent districts.  But this type of teaching is a bit of a problem.  I have to get my kids to learn this material and EACH kid has to know it to score higher on the test.  And... the kids can't work together to learn this material because they will be tested individually.  Where or what can I teach that will promote working together even for those in the individual camp?  And it struck me--this is why we have to teach music in the schools.  

When I was teaching Band, I never had a discipline problem.  It is rather hard to talk to your neighbor (which was happening that got the teacher accused of choking a student), pass a note, make faces when you are blowing a trumpet..or a clarinet.  If the kids that day were being disruptive in band, all I had to do was say, "Okay now, upper left, ready for the downbeat?" and then I'd wave my arms and they would all start playing.  Each student is playing his/her part in the music but also listening to the others as to speed, volume, attack (on the notes).  

"French Horns, you need to play that part together, same volume with the bells up, you need for your horns to sing.  You've got the most beautiful melody at this point--let me hear you sing!"   

"Okay, band, once again from the top and listen for the horns." I remember something like this last go around once with a beginners band and to have the kids play the selection properly was not only fun but to listen to the kids when THEY knew they had done it right.  The horn players were delighted with themselves but the whole band was happy to have put together something that sounded good.  It was a group effort but it took individuals to do it.  Music is one subject that we can teach in our schools that provides much more then just learning notes and sounds.  

There will be those that say that the same thing can be said about sports.  Everyone has to work together to form a team.  Yes, I can agree but the problem with sports is that it is competitive. The end result is wining.  Work together to win.  And I may be rather biased at this point but not all students like to compete.  I see too many girls sitting watching the game.  

Whereas in bands, choirs, glee clubs students are learning a subject (music) while  also learning to work together as a unit.  It is a value that is valuable in our society whether you be in the individual camp or the social animal camp.

I'm also delighted to see two shows on television that are honoring music--Glee and Smash.  I haven't seen this in a long while--most have been action shows or mystery shows.  Nice to see Glee and Smash being popular.  

So that is my point--we need to teach music, both instrumental and choral in our schools.  Perhaps if we did there would be less violence, less disruptive behavior and more cooperation and understanding of the 'other' whoever they may be.  

This is my idea, my theory.  Someone needs to do some research and see if those schools who teach music have less negative problems in the schools.  Too many other factors that might influence the results but it would be a start.

And to all those music teachers who are still teaching in special school districts, my thanks.  You do an amazing job getting beautiful music from kids and teaching them something also valuable.  Getting along.