Friday, September 29, 2000

Better Teachers = Better Schools

It is politics as usual. The cry has gone out across the nation once again
that we need better teachers. With better teachers we get better education.
Of course our schools are in bad shape, but not all of them. And of course
there exists bad teachers, but again, not all of them. The cry up and carried
is the same whether it is this administration or that one. "We need to better
educate our teachers!" Well, excuse me, but I'm a pretty educated fella.
The problem isn't in "better educating" our teachers -- but rather in retaining
those great teachers we have.

I remember in another life when I was the executive chef at a resort in Northern
Wisconsin. It was my first gig as an "executive Chef" and I thought I was
way in over my head. As it turned out it was the easiest and simplest job
I have ever had. And for you critics out there "thank you" for we received
many great reviews. Unfortunately, somewhere in the deep recesses of "politics"
the resort was forced to close down. The new owners mad a lot of "hoopla"
about their reopening and how they even "replaced the chef" intimating that
I was not good at what I had done. This really hurt (obviously since I'm
writing about nearly 20 years later), because they were replacing a problem
of upper administrative politics and placing the blame elsewhere.

See the correlation? People are up in arms about the problems within our
schools, governing our schools, and what our schools are supposed to be doing.
Everyone has a definition of education or education reform. And everyone
points to the teacher -- "the teacher is no good, the teacher is lazy, the
teacher is teaching outdated lessons, the teacher cannot relate to the students"
and so on and so forth and break the damn record already.

I agree there are a lot of bad teachers out there. I have a teacher who "team"
teaches with me by sleeping in the soft comfy chairs donated by Title 1.
(These are meant for the kids to sit in when they are not feeling good or
to just to read a story). I also have 25 other teachers who are very active
in our children's education. Does this mean I should get rid of the chairs?
Throw out all of the teachers? Shut down the schools? Or worse and even more
ridiculous -- reeducate all new teachers.

Teachers feel the need to justify their roles in the school system -- they
 accept the low pay, the stressful conditions, the abuse both from students
 and from administrators, and work in conditions other than …  
   because  they want to. This does not mean that teachers
are any better than the next  profession -- but teachers tend stay with
their work because of desire. Let  us be honest. There are better paying
jobs, even within the education system,  that we can take with less
grief, stress, and abuse. But teachers tough it  out until they burn-out.
And therein lies the problem. When a teacher burns-out  they do one
of two things: they keep their job marking time, "Only 5 more  years
until I retire…" or they move on to more lucrative career, like  "real

We need to keep our teachers from burning-out, from quitting, from moving
on, from becoming "bad" teachers. This isn't done through reform of the teacher
education programs, this is done from telling teachers that they are doing
a good job, by compensating teachers who are proactive, who teach well, who
demonstrate the power of education, who light up in the morning because they
cannot wait until they get to school to begin teaching.

And how do we know who these teachers are? Is there a test we can give, a
benchmark to see how Mr. Smith contrasts/compares with Mrs. Jones?

Teaching is a subjective profession. You want to see how well we are doing?
Judge us through our kids. Are our students learning? And I don't mean a
standardized multiple choice fill in the circles measurement… but through

I wish that for a day all professions would be judged in the manner that
teachers are judged. Think about it: doctors barely can write out a legible
prescription much less a lesson plan or a letter home. Would you trust your
life to a heart specialist who could ace a standardized test on the names
and dates of when and how the heart is developed? Or would you want to use
subjective observation? Ask others for a referral, "see" if this doc has
had any practical experience.

What about a mechanic? What if we told our mechanics that they had to memorize
all of the facts about every single car make and model and then "diagnose"
and "fix" a car without the assistance of an "open book" exam? We expect
this from our students and we expect this from our teachers.

I am reminded of Capt. William Kidd: he was a great British seaman and gentleman
as they say, well as gentlemanly as he could get since he was not of the
proper breeding nor wealth. But William Kidd was a fine sailor and someday
it was mused he may even be a captain of a British government vessel. A smallish
one perhaps, something representative of his station in life. Kidd was a
great sailor but he worked within a system that would not allow him to excel
for one political movement over another. Kidd finally took things into his
own hands, quite literally, and we remember him today as being one of the
bravest and fiercest Pirates to sail the seas.

I guess the question then is what do we want our teachers to teach?

Friday, September 15, 2000


Let us begin with apathy, since apathy is often the beginning and end of
good and honorable ideas. My personal goal this week was to get my desk organized -- this of course was a failure since "goals" must be attainable.
Perhaps it is apathy which keeps my room in disarray although I do like to pretend it has more to do with entropy. But this focus is supposed to be on apathy: which according to "The American Heritage Dictionary" is 1. Lack of emotion or feeling; 2. Indifference. And apathy seems to be the end product of entropy -- especially with teachers.

A school is likened to a ship. All hands onboard need to work together as one continuos machine. What is that saying: "you are only as strong as your weakest link"? These machinations often break down as staff members, long time friends and acquaintances move on to different avenues within their lives. And more often than not: principals and other administrators change. This leaves that bond of the educational family to slip into an exponential entropy effect And with entropy comes apathy.

A statement was posed to me by a peer: "Why is it everyone thinks
that they can be a teacher? We are the most watched, regulated profession
out there and everyone thinks they can walk in and do what we do!" Perhaps
this is what is wrong with our profession: we are too regulated -- we are
no longer teachers. This past week in defiance to the apathy about
me I have chosen not to be regulated, certified, stamped, quantified, numbered
-- (my inner child recalls "The Prisoner" number 6 yelling out "I am not
a number -- I am a man!"). Regardless of the stoic presence within the typical
classroom atmosphere. This week we had fun not as teacher and student but
as learners, explorers, experimenters.

Often our apathetic attitudes reflect in our daily teaching and behavior.
We as educators need to model the behaviors we want from our students.
And if our students see indifference, or lack of emotion then they will model
this behavior in our classroom. Yes, this opens up the argument then that
teachers need to be model citizens! (And we all thought that anyone could
grow up to be a teacher!) Not only do we have to be model citizens, who are
always happy and shining but we need to teach others how to be their
own advocates against a system that disrespects us because of our profession.
More simply put: we need to educate those people who on any given day would
rather stone us.

I am enraged when I hear educators complaining -- well that is another rant
in itself --but what is ironic is how teachers, especially Special Ed teachers,
fall into apathy when it concerns the advocacy of students and parents. Often
we become sheep or worse lemmings and follow the directions given to us by
our system instead of doing what is right. But then it is difficult to do
what is right. My father used to say: "Doing the right thing is never an
easy choice." And this is the choice that we as educators face morally on
a daily basis. Do we stand up for what believe in knowing that we may lose
everything that we have struggled for? Or, do we stand for the status quo
and forget everything we struggled for?

This week we took a trip to a "Buckskinner Encampment". What was different
about this trip as opposed to other years was that one of our classrooms
put together a scavenger hunt for all of the other students that went with
us. While scavenger hunts on field trips is not new it was rather refreshing
to see students scrambling to find out information posed to them by their
peers. This then was not a "school assignment" but rather a problem solving
session, a competition of one's self against one's self and for one's self.
This year I also purchased my skunk pelt. This is an item I have wanted for
years but I always talked myself out of it then later regretted my decision.
I now have my skunk. It's sitting on my desk. Which, of course, needs more
tidying up this week than last.

It is with "knowing" our own limitations that we begin to know ourselves.

Tuesday, September 05, 2000

School Has Begun

School has begun. Put on the brakes. Watch for children. The other day I
drove out near Sugar Island to watch the Walleye's in the shallows and saw
a unique sign "Beware of the Children." I am unsure of what they had meant
to say is what indeed they had said. Language is peculiar that way. What
I meant to say is not necessarily what you interpret my words to mean. And
of course, what words mean to me: language that is: my language vis a vis
your language may have completely different reference points.

This leads me to censorship. Already in the first weeks of school the red
flags of media are flying high warning us of the dangerous world that the
internet is. "Red Sky in the Morning / Sailor takes Warning." Once again
we are inundated with the hype of how dangerous the internet is, the metaphors
that lurk around every IP, the graf/x, filez, warez, virii, and other "content"
-- the "raping" of Napster, the MP3 revolution… it gets really exasperating
after awhile doesn't it? This procurement of dangers that are just waiting
to suck in our children while dressed as some innocuous grandmother…

And of course it is our boys who are the danger. Girls need to fear the internet
because of those dangerous boys who pretend that they are something more
than curious boys hanging out in a chat room sharing their views on sex drugs
and rock and roll. It's disgusting isn't it? I think about how it used to
be back in the day as it were, the "old school" you know what I mean sitting
around the malt shop with Betty and Veronica, Archie, Jughead and the gang
talking about serious things like dating, drinking, and. Music. Or perhaps
that generation of Americans who changed the American social landscape: "sitting
in" on the mall in a timely and often heated discussion on getting laid,
imbibing in herb, and the philosophical meandering of Jim Morrison vis a
vis Jimi Hendrix.

"Here I Come to save the day ...

was a boy inside a dream just the other day

his mind fell out of his face and the wind blew it away

a hand came out from heaven and pinned a badge on his chest

said get out there man and do your best"

And throughout all of this we told Betty to stay away from "those boys",
we warned "Melody" of "those kind of boys" we cautioned Melba to dance with
her friends and not "those boys", and because we perceived girls as empowered
we suggested that Belinda be selective about "those boys."

"Those Boys" I guess are really the topic of this rant and will probably
surface a lot as it does throughout my day. Because what is happening is
more than a censorship  what we we have is an undeclared war -- a war
on boys: for being boys. OK yeah all right I have heard these arguments against
this but boys seem to be the focus of all that is wrong with the internet.
Boys create "boys only clubs" in chat rooms, or by combining their knowledge
on warez sites, sharing their favorite tastes in music through MP3's (the
reel-to-reel, cassette, 8-track of today.) And of course talking about those
all important things like revolution and girls. What we really have is a
generation gap that confuses it's own importance by declaring war on boys.

Let me leave you with this: why is it an affront to feminism for a boy to
put up pictures of a scantily clad woman (yes to ogle, google, and other
deep unmentionables) but it is perfectly acceptable for a young girl to plaster
her walls with Leonardo or the Backstreet Boys?