Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I respect intelligent people. And yet, I often find myself reading the ideas of intellectuals with a tainted perspective, as if I don't quite believe that they know what they're talking about. You see, as a teacher, I am not that intelligent, according to the great philosopher, Arthur Levine.

In a recent essay for the Boston Globe, Levine reminds the public that "At one state university we visited, most prospective teachers were underprepared students from poorly performing local schools, admitted under low admissions standards, taking easier versions of traditional liberal arts classes." I'll give Levine the benefit of the doubt that he is truly trying to improve the education system by improving the state of teacher training. But I deem his subtly subversive comments as offensive.
Sure, I'll admit it, he's smarter than me. That's why he is president emeritus of Teacher's College, Columbia University. And good for him. He certainly has some valid points about the quality of teacher education programs. I agree with the notion that prospective teachers "should complete a traditional arts and sciences bachelor's degree in a content area such as math, history or English, and then undertake a year of graduate study to learn how to communicate their subject in ways that promote student learning." Having completed a degree of Bachelor's Arts prior to entering the teacher certification program, I believe I benefited my chosen career.
And yet, Levine implies that teachers are underachieving slackers who can barely read or write. His Columbia University elitism won't gain him many allies among the blue collar rowdies of today's high schools. What Levine fails to realize is that, simply because not every teacher is trained by "distinguished" faculty, most teachers have the tools to be effective. And while I agree with Levine that teaching is a profession, and one worthy of more pay, as he also notes, there is an element of craft that must be learned "on the job;" further, there is also an element of vocation--a word derived from the latin vocare, or to call. For as intelligent as someone like Levine might be, or as skillfuly trained as someone might be if they were to graduate from Columbia, if he has no interest in the living, breathing students walking through his door, he will fail.
Levine is correct to challenge our schools of education to improve; he is correct to see us as professionals, worthy of much more than we make; however, he is wrong to assume that the only way to improve teaching is through researched practices. As I've stated many times, my research happens not only during the fifty minutes I have with each student during the day, but also at the sporting events, plays, concerts, and other activities after school.
This latent elitism of the education researchers does more harm to American public education than it helps, and therefore, not worth much more than the time it takes to finish reading it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Loss of the Irish

The Boston Celtics of my youth spoiled me into thinking that my team would always win. Bird, McHale, Parish, and Ainge inspired a new generation of Celtic fans. This weekend, we lost an enormous contributor to the magic that is Celtic basketball.
On ESPN's Cold Pizza, sports writer Bob Ryan and Paul Silas shared their memories of Red Auerbach. I will always remember believing that the leprechaun in the Celtic's logo was Red Auerbach.
For better tributes to Red, go here, here, here, here, or here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Here is the third installment of What Would Spellings Do? I'll pose a situation, you decide how to respond--keeping in mind WWSD?

In the middle of your lesson (oh, by the way, you are student teaching--and you are being observed by the professor) a student slumps down out of his chair, as if she's been struck with the "holy ghost." She proceeds to crawl down the aisle, until she gets to you. She then stands up tenatively, think Scarecrowesque, with her shoulders slumped, eyes barely open. Her first words, "It's really hot in here."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Case for the Classics

I hated to read. My older brother began reading at four years of age. It took me until I was six. My brother wanted to read The Chronicles of Narnia by the time he entered second grade. I wanted to read Clifford Goes to Hollywood for a sixth grade book report. I fake read a lot. I listened carefully to what the teacher told us about the book and then bull----, I mean wrote wonderful analysis on the test. And on it went until the summer reading assignment of The Great Gatsby. Huh? Of all the books that a junior in high school might read, The Great Gatsby is the one that turned me into a reader.
Today, I teach English and Reading to high school students. I've questioned the need for reading many of the classics we teach--see this post/article from the Education Wonks. I've tried to balance my belief that certain texts are valuable because of their impact on society at the time of writing and my belief that many of those texts send my students into a coma.
The author Frederick Buechner says that words, whether they are written today or five hundred years ago have the power, if we allow, to change us. And that is the beginning point for how I teach the classics. It is not so much that Beowulf must be read because it is the only text to convey the heroic code, honor, loyalty, and bravery. It is, however, that Beowulf's language, if we step through it carefully, is poetic and different.
Currently, we are reading The Canterbury Tales--in a fine translation. I am reading it to them, modeling reading fluency and diction. My student have enjoyed what we've read. No, we don't read all of them, just the ones I think they'll cry or laugh at. The Miller's Tale comes to mind. It is full of depravity and tawdry humor, but still ever focused on pointing out the flaws of upperclass society and nobility.
While the truth remains that many English teachers kill great literature with stuffy criticism and neo post modernistic feminism, I believe that sometimes it is best to let the students be selfish in their reading. Forget what some professor has to say about Othello, and hear it for the passion and the truth that unfolds from characters who portray people like you and me.
You see, that is how we can make the classics less classical and more modern. Let your students hear the story; stop drowning them out with terminology and study questions. Just read it. Just react to it. Just listen to the words.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm Metronatural!

I am gaining all types of new nicknames lately. The strange thing is, I had to read about my newest moniker via some guy in an "undisclosed location" and "undisclosed state." Some good that $200,000 did!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm an educrat

Last week I submitted an opinion essay to Edspresso.com's Featured Commentary section. In the essay I discussed my feeling that despite NCLB's well intended goals of bettering the education system, there exists a flawed approach to implementation. The purpose of the essay was not to detail every little flaw in NCLB, but instead, to simply call for a change in execution, to hope that NCLB's one size fits all approach would be recognized for the ultimate failure it will be. Rightwingprof, from Right Wing Nation, felt that I was too vague, that my thinking was fuzzy, and that my anectdote was irrelevant. He also called me an educrat--see definition here.

What this self-proclaimed "grumpy old coot" said about me really upset me. He can dislike my anectdote--though I think it works well to lead into the topic without giving too much away too soon--and he can fail to recognize that the purpose of the essay was not to pick apart NCLB--but he cannot get away with calling me an educrat, a word that has "An officer, administrator or other bureaucrat in a school district" as a definition.
Believe me, I am far from the bureaucracy. The definition goes on to describe the educrat as, "pinheads who are so process-oriented that they are more excited in the process of learning than the myriad wonders that can be learned." Again, this does not describe me very well. I am results based, something that a NCLB advocate should pee his pants in excitement over.
But the statement that prompted an entire post for a response is this one: "And we have to clean up your mess when your students who know next to nothing and think their "feelings" are as valid as real-world data get into our classes" (rightwingprof).
I had been giving rightwingprof the benefit of the doubt in terms of his own credibility. Before I began teaching the Pre-College English class for 12th graders interested in college, I attended a local community college's English Dept. meeting to ask for their expectations of incoming freshmen--so I am confident that I am less concerned with their "feelings" and more focused on their "real world data."
Now, what I want you the reader to understand from this post is that while many critics of public education will regularly claim that we, the teachers, are more concerned about warm fuzzies and blaming other people, it is those same critics who fail to live, breath, and have their being in the classroom. Whenever a critic tosses around rhetoric, and fails to discuss the entire issue, whether that critic be a right-winged whacko or left-leaning loon, we ought to have the courage to provide the truth.
So, for the rightwingprof, here is one example of a flaw in NCLB. Let's say that a school makes gains in the area of Language Arts. The school's overall passing rate for Reading rises from 77% to 81%. And, let's say that the ethnic groups' scores rise, the limited English proficiency scores go up, and the special needs students' scores go up. But, the sub-group of students from low income homes scores stay static. This one sub-group's lack of test score gains can put a school's Adequate Yearly Progress in jeopardy. This is a flaw.
A second flaw of NCLB is that it does not take into consideration a statistical cohort group. Progress must be made every year until 100% of students by 2014 are proficient. Which is a third flaw. Now, I run the risk of being misquoted or taken out of context, but I am willing to take the risk.
The notion that NCLB, a law that is intended as comprehensive school reform, fails to acknowledge that parents and students are also culpable in the improvement of education, is the single greates flaw. If parents don't value education and subsequently the student doesn't value education, there is little I can do to help that student succeed. This does not mean that teachers do not still have an obligation to use effective methods and maintain high standards. But truthfully, and from experience in the classroom, sometimes the best we can do with certain kids is to get them to class more often than not.
And if someone outside of the classroom, whose only data comes from government reports or other fishbowl observations, wants to challenge the effectiveness of a school or teacher, I dare them to put down their research journals, enroll in their Education School of choice, and do a better job.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

School Violence

Since the series of shootings at public schools a few weeks ago, the topic of safety at school has surged to the front of many politicians' talking points. But I wonder what goes through the mind of a person who would add to his platform the idea of having thick textbooks placed under desks to serve as shields.
I wish there was a permanent solution to this unfortunate problem. Unfortunately, I don't think one exists. There are certainly measures schools can take to protect their students, but unless schools run students through the screening process of T.S.A., it is unlikely we fully protect our students.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Curses Be Damned!

Here's a baseball post. If you don't want to read, go ahead and move on. But as a Red Sox fan, I was happy that the 2004 Sox put to rest all of this talk of being cursed by Babe Ruth. I am a superstitious guy, but the whole curse thing never made a lick of difference. That is until I read this ESPN.com Page Two article.
A Red Sox player wearing a Cubs batting glove--in the field! As Halloween approaches, and curses and jinxes abound, maybe, just maybe....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oh Happy day!

For the last five weeks I've felt like school had yet to start. Sure, students filed in and filed out; we read much of Beowulf; but we couldn't blog. The class blog has been my baby for the past two years. When my Central Office dropped the hammer on Blogger.com, I had to fight for incorporating blogging into the curriculum. Then, I had to figure out how to use Edublogs.org.

I am not all that savvy, so it took me a while to learn. But finally, after five weeks of waiting, my students will begin posting. Their assignments are due on Wednesdays. This deviates from my previous method of Friday due dates. One of the advisements offered by last year's students was that I should allow the blog posts to generate discussion in class. I had simply been allowing the discussion in class to generate the posts. That is one way the blog has developed over the last three years.
Blogging in the classroom continues to demonstrate why it has merit. And so long as it continues to do so, I will continue to utilize it. In fact, it strikes me as unfortunate that so few teachers are using this medium. When one c0nsiders how connected our world is, especially in terms of the business world, it seems obvious that teaching the craft of blogging would follow. If more teachers had students blog about, say, Beowulf, then our students could interact on a global scale. How impressive would that be? Mrs. So and So in Connecticut has her students share their thoughts about Othello. Meanwhile, my students are also sharing their thoughts about Othello. Both sets of students, with different teachers offering guidance and support, help each other get through the play.
Anyway, here are the sites, but wait until afte 2:oo p.m. on Wednesday to check it out:
Just Waking Up
Is the Day Almost Over

I am actually more excited about this than I get over my own birthday. Hooray Blogging!

Friday, October 13, 2006

From Bonds to Landis to high schoolers

When I accepted the job that payed for my college education, I had to head over to the doctor's office and provide a sample to show that I did not use drugs. It made sense at the time, considering that my future employer wanted responsible employees who would provide dependable and efficient service to guests.
As the professional sports world continues to struggle with the issue of drugs, high schools across our country also face similar issues. The question is, do high school's have the right to randomly test students for drug use?
This question confuses me for two reasons. Do we view schools more as providing a service to customers, in our case students, or do we view schools as an employer and employee relationship? The difficulty is, we really are a mix of both.
While we are responsible as schools to provide a service, education, to our students, we are also working together with our students to provide a service, responsible citizenship, to our community.
If we view our schools in the former, then I don't believe we have a right to test our students for drug use. Target wouldn't consider testing its customers for drug use because there is a good chance they'd lose a few customers. But, if we view our schools in the latter, then we certainly have a right to test students for drug use because we have a responsibility to our community.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Something to Smile About

I saw a recent commercial that portrayed a distraught college age girl depressed that the Red Sox were not in the playoffs. The great Tommy Lasorda makes the remark that at least she can root against the Yankees.
I've got one better, now she can laugh at the Yankees, and revel in the turmoil that has ensued.

What a tool.
Hee Hee.
I'm in tears.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nothing like it.

There you are, minding your own business when one of those moments happens upon you. You have a mere second to think, to choose what you will do.
My favorite author, Frederick Buechner, says to listen to your life, to hear it for the fathomless mystery that it is. As a profession, teaching often offers me that chance.
I had just such an occurrance this weekend. For whatever reason, a student who had been elected to homecoming court didn't have family attending the game. So as other students' familes joined them at the half-time ceremonies, this student had two friends. It's not that walking out there with two friends is a bad thing-- I found myself well pleased that these two friends joined the student on the field. But, when those in charge asked if I, along with another teacher, would join the student, it was an easy choice.
Believe me, there is nothing like showing a student that we care about them, and having them understand and accept it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WWSD? 2nd edition

You are four weeks into the school year and it is obvious you have one of those classes. The ones when the students feel free to share their inner thoughts about how fantastic you are as a teacher. They've not had a great deal of success over the last two years, and this is just one more year they'll find a way to botch.
A student wants to use the bathroom, but the last two times you've allowed him to, he apparantly gets constipated as he tries to finish the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. This time, you are determined to teach him that using the bathroom is a privilege. So, you don't let him go.
He then stands in front of you waving his planner/hall pass while you try to teach the last ten minutes of your class. I'm not sure what Spellings would do, but I'd love to hear what you would do?

*Disclaimer: The WWSD? editions may or may not reflect real events; and the ones that are real, may or may not come from my classroom experience.

Blogger.com Vs. Edublogs.org

Blogger.com has been banned from my school district. I first asked for help here. I still have not been able to solve my problem. So, if you can help, please do. I am not going to win the blogger.com argument with my tech people because of that whole log in page access to "questionable" sites.
The problem is edublogs.org, the site allowed by the district. I am not technicologically smart. And I can't figure out how to add users. For example:

User A creates a blog. "A" is the teacher. "A" wants to add multiple users who can author posts for his central class blog. So, User A has a student sign up with edublogs.org.

The student creates an account, which also creates a new individual blog, under the User B name and password.

User A then logs in to his blog and adds a User B as an author. "A" then asks "B" to log in and publish a post.

User B, goes to edublogs.org and logs in with her password. "B" then types a post and hits publish. The post publishes on User B's blog and not on User A's centrally located blog.

Does anyone know how to get User B to publish on User A's blog without User A giving User B his log in information?

And, it really shouldn't be this difficult. I should be able to use blogger.com like I have for the past two years.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Tradition has its place inside the halls of high school. Year after year, events like Senior Ball, Junior Prom, and Homecoming send the interested girls into the dress shops and hair salons, while the boys drop off at the flower shop and the tuxedo shop.
In the case of Homecoming, students vote on a number of potential Kings, Queens, and honorary court members. These students give speeches designed to encourage the student body to see them for who they are--NHS members, cheerleader, ASB President. But does the entire student body need to be summoned to the gymansium on two separate days?
It's not that these students being honored haven't offered something to the student body by way of, hopefully, positive contributions. It's not that those same students shouldn't be honored for what they have accomplished in their four years. It is, however, sad that so many students must be reminded of how they aren't the pretty ones, or the popular ones.
Every year this tradition continues, worthy candidates who offer much more to a campus than some who are elected, get forgotten. Yet, their contributions mean so much more than the Varsity athlete or NHS member. I also wonder about the number of students who would give anything to be a part of ASB or other influential student body groups but must head home to pick up their sibling from school so mom or dad can go to work. What about them?
Don't get me wrong, I believe that tradition is important. But we must at least admit that, in light of high school culture, it can sometimes be painful.