Sunday, April 29, 2007


I have had my thumb on my seniors all year. If you were to ask any of them to describe me as a teacher, you would here, among other things, that I am a bit of a control freak. I don't deny the charges. I like to be in control. It is why I don't like flying but love driving. It is why when I ask my wife where she would like to go to dinner, it has to be on my list of places I will eat at. Some day, I will seek counseling, but not today.
We are at the time in the year when my seniors begin to get restless. They sense the end is near. Some teachers believe that this time of the year requires them to maintain that control. I do not. At this time every year, I have embarked on literature circles--or at least my version--in my Pre-College English classes. I do this for two reasons. The first: I'm tired of listening to myself lead discussions, make observations, and do all the thinking for them. The second: our school has a Senior Seminar class that teaches self-directed learning; these circles require the students to be self-directed.
But, it is always at this time of the year that I feel like the worst teacher around. I walk through the classroom listening to their discussions. I stop to sit with groups and talk with them. Inevitably, I find that most of the students either don't do the reading or do a cursory read. This leads to a discussion about the recall questions like "Where did Kumalo go in this chapter?" Very rarely does a group get to the deeper levels of the text despite our focus on those questions throughout the year.
So, once again this year, I am reminded that I am really good at telling kids how to do things, that I am really good at modelling those habits for them, but I am not really good at teaching it to them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

High School Sports Response

A commentor over at the Education Wonks, left the following comment regarding Edwonk's link to my post on doing away with high school sports because they don't meet the central mission of educating students:
"If that is the case, then what skills should children leave schools with?Is being able to work together to achieve a goal a skill children should leave schools with?Is getting up after being knocked down a skill children should leave schools with?Is perseverance a skill children should leave school leave schools with?Is a healthy lifestyle a skill children to should leave school with?Is goal setting a skill children should leave school with?If so, can we keep team sports?"

I am a coach--maybe not a very good one, but I am a coach. So here is my response as a participant in today's high school sports world:

1. Is being able to work together to achieve a goal a skill children should leave school with?
A: Yes. Young adults need to learn how to work together. Unfortunately, too many of today's athletes, and certainly athletes from previous times, believe that they are above working with inferior teammates. Select teams like AAU do not need to follow the "everyone plays" mantra of public schools. Because parents or students are not shelling out cash to play high school sports (in most cases) these individuals feel it is their right by virtue of paying taxes to dictate who plays and who gets treated well.
And, when things go poorly--meaning teams don't win--the only working together that actually happens is bitching and moaning by "star" athletes and their helicopter parents.

2. Is getting up after being knocked down a skill children should leave schools with?
A: Absolutely. But let's remember that getting up after getting knocked down requires the individual to want to do such a thing. It also requires that the individual accept that getting knocked down is part of the sport--of course this is both actual and metaphorical. Too many athletes don't value hard work and determination, both necessary for getting back up. It is much easier to, when the team goes 5-15 on a season, blame the coach and get her run out of town. School district's don't want bad P.R. so this is the easiest method.

3. Is perseverance a skill children should leave school leave schools with?
A: Cal Ripken Jr. is my idol--so, yes. But perseverance, again, is a personality trait that most teenage athletes are unwilling to obtain. Finishing a dunk through traffic is easy on the video game, therefore it should be easy on the real court. But it isn't. I've watched to many of my own athletes quit, both literally and mentally, when perseverance is required.

4. Is a healthy lifestyle a skill children to should leave school with?
A: Sure, but P.E. and Health classes cover this.

5. Is goal setting a skill children should leave school with?
A: Absolutely, but again, schools do this in the classroom.

6. If so, can we keep team sports?"
A: I don't see them going anywhere. And it isn't that I truly believe that they should. Ultimately though, we must look at sports and evaluate our (school district's) commitment to those athletes AND coaches.
The Seattle Times had a recent article about an inept principal who erroneaously fired the football coach--among other things. That is the reality of today's high school athletic world. Coaching is no longer about teaching all of those important skills; it has become a win or be gone world where parents and politics have more influence than the coach with the knowledge. When school districts begin to demonstrate that they will support their coaches, even while parents bitch and moan, I will be willing to keep high school athletics. When the power is returned to those who deserve it, I will be willing to keep high school athletics. Until then, I'd rather see them go away.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I have idolized Cal Ripken Jr. since I was eight year old. I discovered Ripken as my favorite player through typical childhood whimsy. As my older brother, Keith, and I sorted our baseball cards, I found that I had three 1983 Topps cards of Cal. He must have be good was the thought. I mean, I have three of his cards.

So, from that day on Cal Ripken Jr. symbolized my love for baseball. He carried himself with dignity and class. He showed up everyday--2,632 consecutive days. In the past 22 years, I have come close to meeting him. The closest came during his farewell tour five years ago.

As I waited near the dugout at Safeco Field, I knew my time had come. A seven year old boy was the only one in front of me. But as the crowd swelled behind me, I began to crush the poor boy. So, as Ripken came near, I picked the boy up and put him on the field. Ripken, noticing this, and seeing the boy crying, picked him up and carried him further down the stands to continue signing. I thought my chance would never come.

But thankfully that was not true. I've never put a picture of myself up on this site, but because Cal Ripken Jr. is shaking my hand in the photo, I have to put up. Sorry to disappoint all of my anonymous adimerers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Time to End High School Sports?

The central mission of public education is to teach the skills necessary to contribute to the global society. Then how do high school athletics fit in?

Here are four reasons why high school athletics may not fit into the mission of public education.

Reason 1: Across the country, school districts face a money shortage. Athletics, for all the good that can come from them, add to the financial burden. For instance, a school that has Football, Soccer (boys' and girls'), Volleyball, Tennis (boys' and girls'), Cross-Country, Basketball (boys' and girls'), Swim (boys' and girls'), Bowling, Wrestling, Baseball, Softball, Track (boys' and girls'), and Golf (boys's and girls') has 19 Varsity head coaches. On average, let's assume a salary of 3,000 per coach. That is $57,000. Then, add in the cost of Junior Varsity coaches for each of those sports. At a salary of a modest 1,500, that would be $28,500. But, some of these programs have a third or even fourth coach for Freshman/C-Team participants. I'll estimate five such coaches at the J.V. salary for an additional $7,500. The total output: $93,000.
But that number fails to account for insurance, maintenance, equipment, transportation, supervision, janitorial, referees, Athletic Directors (a plush position at both the school and Central Office--leading to secretarial needs, etc.)
Athletics cost money. Too much money, perhaps.

Reason 2: Climate. No, not the one that Al Gore is worried about. As select--and I use that word somewhat facetiously--teams for every sport have risen in popularity, student athletes have grown accustomed to climate of select sports. The truth is that if you have some skill, and pay a good amount of money, those coaches will remind you often how good you really are. Those heavy doses of praise--without regard to accuracy--cause student athletes to expect the same treatment from high school coaches. So, when a high school coach doesn't see that players terrific swing or killer cross-over, that coach is labled as ignorant.

Reason 3: Accountability. Ultimately, as Central Offices hoard power and control, they look to hold others accountable for perceived failures. So, when a parent complains to the Athletic Director about her son's playing time, or how the coach yelled at her son, Central Offices feel the need to hold someone accountable. Well, it certainly isn't the parent--who failed to follow communication protocol, or the student-athlete who slacks off during drills. No, because parents have loud voices, and time to kill, they are the ones who get heard. Therefore, Central Offices are quick to get rid of coaches--or good coaches decide the money isn't good enough.

Reason 4: Entitlement. Today's student athletes feel entitled. They are part of the "self-esteem" generation where everyone plays and everyone wins. Working hard to improve--sure, if it's a video game. Accepting a coach's decision--yeah, if they're in the game.
The story's been told, but I'll mention it again here. Michael Jordan, yes, that Jordan, was cut from his basketball team as a sophomore. That seemed to work out okay for him, because his sense of entitlement came from an understanding that to be the best, one must earn it.

Four reasons. Maybe they aren't the strongest, but they are the ones I thought of. Two weeks from now, maybe I'll change my mind about high school athletics.
Reason 5: One word: Parents.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Whaddya Wanna Bet...

Here we go, another round of "Whaddya wanna bet...?"

...That 3% of the vote in the Best of Blogs Education category did little to improve my self-esteem.
...That even though my self-esteem took a hit, it could be worse.
...That if President Bush and other NCLB supporters had a clue how to help failing schools, they would both understand that NCLB does punish schools that don't succeed.
...That when Central Offices become too centralized, they lose touch with the reality that exists in the schools.
...That when a Central Office looses touch with the reality that exists in the schools, it ultimately loses touch with its teachers.
...That when a Central Office looses touch with its teachers, it ultimately forgets the human element.
...That I can think of at least 5 individuals from my Central Office that have lost touch with common sense.
...That had I had the option of never writing in cursive, my quality of life in third grade would have rose exponentially.
...That Ms. Mudgett's "N" for "needs improvement" on virtually every report card that year still haunts my dreams.
...That had she not forced me to persevere that thorn in my side, I would be exactly like all of the pampered, self-absorbed students I find annoying.
...That a good debate about Whole Language and Hooked on Phonics took place over at
...That Dennis Fermoyle has caused me to lock my daughter in a room until she's thirty.
...That you should head over to A Shrewdness of Apes--I promise a better read than whatever it is I have been writing so far.
...That when a student surprises you with some moment of grace or beauty, it is often a student you would never expect.
...That those moments keep every teacher sane until June.
...That teaching absitinence at school is a failure, thus proving that anything moral ought to be left out of schools because it is not our place to try and help students socially or emotionally--those concepts are not on the test.
...That most people don't care that we spend all those hours beyond our contract to help their children; at least they don't have to watch them.
...That I have struggled with the disparity between where my Pre-College seniors are, and where they need to be, all year.
...That I can't wait until the Spring sports season is over so that I can actually spend quality time with my daughter instead of watching my players try to steal third without receiving the steal sign.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

No Dating Until You're 21

Good ole' Dennis at From the Trenches... recently posted about girls who seem to have everything going for them dating boys who seem to be a general waste of space. As the kind of guy who in high school had many girl friends, but never a girlfriend, I understood his observation.

Since I started teaching, all of those cry on my shoulder conversations from high school have helped me counsel many teenage girls whose boyfriends seem to be a general waste of space. Sometimes I think I ought to charge a small fee for the counseling sessions--at least to the repeat offenders.

Today, as my daughter--who will turn one next week--sleeps in the room next to my office (well, my office/guest room for my mother-in-law), I regularly fret over the possibility that I will have to counsel my own daughter away from boys who are a waste of space.

Me and Sanjaya

Last night on American Idol, Haley Scarnato went bye-bye. Luckily for me, the lowest vote getter doesn't get voted out of the blogosphere--although that would be kind of fun. But, if you haven't voted for Best Education Blog, and you feel like giving me the Sanjaya, keep him around because it's funny to mess with people, vote--GO HERE TO VOTE.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Script for High Schoolers

D-Ed Reckoning often praises the Direct Instruction program. I have come to the conclusion that a scripted program could work at the elementary level. Today, I found a link, through Kitchen Table Math, that provides an example of a script for the high school level--assuming a literature class. Hey, I teach literature. Maybe I should give it a try:

1. Some people are smart. Smart is how they are the same.
The sameness is a concept.
Again, the sameness is a concept.
Sameness is a what?...a concept.
So, if some things have a smart sameness, what is the conept?

2. Some students work hard. Work hard is the sameness.
Work hard is a concept. Work hard is what?...a concept.

3. Some things are easy. Easy is the sameness.
What is the concept?...easy.

4. Look around the room. Find a way that things are the same...
What is one sameness?...the students are sleeping.
So, what is the concept?...sleeping.

Another Moron Takes a Shot at Teachers

In his most recent column (are's Page 2 writers really columnists?), David Schoenfield--one of the worst writers around--lists his all overpaid team in Major League Baseball. It is not the list that I took offense to.
Schoenfield takes an unecessary shot at me--well, you and me. Referencing USA Today's listing of baseball players' salaries, he states: "The average major leaguer may earn 75 times the average teacher's salary, but that isn't as sad as the fact that more Americans know who Sanjaya is than who is running for president. Clearly, teachers aren't earning their salaries." Sure, he is trying to make cute references to pop culture, much like the way his Page 2 counterpart Bill Simmons does. The difference, Bill Simmons is entertaining.
So, David Schoenfield, if you are going to call out my profession for failure to teach our students, let me, then, call you out for poor writing. Your ideas are trite; your references to pop culture are feeble--basically, you don't belong writing for the World Wide Leader of Sports.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fight Club

An argument between two students turns violent. One shoves the other; that student returns the agression; then, one student throws a punch. What do you do? You are the teacher; it is in your room.
A substitute teacher in Florida found himself with that decision--do I intervene, or do I call for help? The teacher called for an administrator. Now, at least one parent is angry that he did not stop the fight.
The teacher followed school policy for handling the fight. The video shows the two students in full fight mode, but we don't get to see the lead. Perhaps the substitute could have prevented the fight, but perhaps he couldn't have. The fight happened, he followed protocol, now the parent villifies him? Hmmm......
I have never witnessed a full out fight on my campus, though there have been many. I don't know what I would do. Our administrators asked us to say, "Student A (assuming we know the student's name), this is Mr. McNamar; stop fighting." Or something along those lines. Again, hmmm....
Breaking up a fight can be hazardous to a teacher's health, but not breaking up the fight can be hazardous to the student's health. As for the article's report that the teacher said, "Let them fight," we cannot assume this statement as support for the fight. He most likely meant that the non-offending students should stay away and, well, let the two involved be the only two involved.
The point, however, is not to defend or villify the teacher. My question is first, how can a mother whose daughter involved herself in a fight, attack the teacher's decision to call an administrator? The second question is, how does this story constitute news? Even Fox News' Hannity and Colmes interviewed one of the students and her mother.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Like many teachers, I substituted before getting hired as a full-time teacher. I hated it--not becuase of the unruly students, I handled them well, but because I couldn't get to know the students. One day I went to a middle school in a district, the next day I went to a high school in a different district. Plus, I just djidn't have enough appropriate stories to keep students' attention when the lesson plans lacked substance for a fifty minute period.
The New York Times has an article about an 81 year old substitute who does have enough stories to tell. This substitute reminds me of one in the district I teach at.
Isn't it wonderful when the patriarchs and matriarchs of our profession still have something offer the students of today? But even more wonderful is that these men and women still have the desire to influence students--who many in society couldn't care less about.

Don't forget to go vote for Best Blog of the Year: I'm nominated along with many other spectacular blogs--Check them all out so you can make an informed vote!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

You're the best...around.

Go here to vote for Best Education Blog--I'm on the list. I won't lie, I think it has something to do with this post. Anyway, I am honored to recieve a nomination--and I want to win so that all of my colleagues who make fun of me can shove it up their...!

Strong Girls

In just over two weeks, my daughter, Tate, will turn one year old. I have enjoyed fatherhood and fretted about the future. I walk through the halls of my school and observe young men and young women who have ventured through their life with varying degrees of success. I want Tate to expereince greatness.
As happenstance would have it, I discovered The New York Time's article "For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too." Before Tate arrived, the notion of raising a strong daughter had not occured to me. And, honestly, the notion of raising a strong son had not occured to me either. But now that Tate has blessed my life, I am drawn to the importance of raising strong, confident girls who remain strong, confident women.
Sara Rimes, the author of the piece, reveals, "To spend several months in a pressure cooker like Newton North is to see what a girl can be — what any young person can be — when encouraged by committed teachers and by engaged parents who can give them wide-ranging opportunities." Nothing astoundingly insightful here, but an important reminder for parents and teachers, both of whom have an important effect.
Yet, I found myself thinking beyond my daughter as I read this article. I thought of the forty or so young women in my two Pre-College classes--young ladies on the verge of college. Have I been that committed teacher? Have those girls had engaged parents?
A second issue arose as I plodded through the article. Money. The article points out, and not for the first time, the effect that wealth has on education. The community that I teach in, doesn't come close to the median house price of $730,000. In fact, the median house price is just about $200,000. I have officially turned green with envy.
Not of their money--though I wouldn't turn it down. No, as an English teacher who loves good writing, great discussion, and students who get beyond the basics, I envy the teachers who get to experience students who want, and I mean want, to do well. Of course, I don't know if I have the qualifications to "hang" with these students. Most of their teachers "have degrees from the Ivy League and other elite schools." Poor me; I have one from the less prestigious Northwest University.
I don't want to come across as naive. Yes, every school will have pitfalls. Wealthy parents tend to belive that their wealth and education give them the right to tell teachers what to do, as demonstrated by one student's mother: "'As I’m sitting here saying I don’t care what kind of grades she gets, I’m thinking, she comes home with a B, and I say: ‘What’d you get a B for? Who gave you a B? I’m going to talk to them.’" But who am I kidding? Parents from all background do this.
However, I want to come back to the idea of strong girls, and specifically, I'd like to leave Tate a note:
Dear Tate,
The world is viscious. It will teach you that your appearance has more importance than your compassion; it will show you that cattiness trumps logic. The opportunities that you have resulted from the independent drumming of countless women who envisioned a society that values the feminine mystique for its strength and wisdom. Choose your path with the strength and wisdom those women have left you. Never let a boy or a man dictate your self-worth--not even me.
Some will tell you, "If you believe you can do it, you can do it." Don't believe them. You can only do it if you put the effort into learning what is needed, and then perform it at the acceptable level. But if you never master Chopin on the piano or the Diana Taurasi jumper on the court, understand that you are still important and valuable. Be compassionate, and you will be respected.

Your Dad.