Sunday, December 31, 2006

Whaddya Wanna Bet?

Whaddya wanna bet that...

In 2007, more political officials, like the Mayor of Los Angeles, will try and take over major school districts that are "failing?"
Despite the political capital these officials have to gain, the success of our students has everything to lose?
A teacher could never get away with leading a class in prayer, and few would defend them if they did; but a teacher who openly discusses his or her sexuality, that will be defended.
This very fact will continue to separate and divide us?
You will make plenty of resolutions this New Year's Eve, but keep very few!
I already bent the rules on one of my resolutions?
We will continue to invest billions of dollars in reshaping Iraq, but we won't invest half of what we invest on war as we waste on education?
Your students will continue to confound you, astound you, entertain you, and drain you--all in the same period?
Even though I want to take a baseball bat to every cell phone I see being used in class, I will refrain?
Students will still fail to see why cell phones are annoying?
When Red Sox baseball begins in April, I will be more concerned about Dice-K than grading essays?
If I ever become famous for this "Whaddya Wanna Bet?" concept, Randy Smith, the guy I stole it from, will probably sue me?
When I retire from teaching, new teachers will be complaining about all of the hoops they had to jump through to become a teacher?
Those hoops will be just as silly as the ones we've encoutered?
If education reform remains a hot item of discussion on Capitol Hill, it will eventually become what Social Security reform is today--great in theory, but no one will want to really touch it?
2007 will be full of happiness, sadness, hope, fear, and all of the other paradoxes of life, both personal and professional?
In the midst of all of that, what will make us truly human is our compassion and honesty?

Happy New Year, educators!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thomas Paine Was No Blogger

George F. Will's op-ed piece, "Thomas Paine Was No Blogger", calls into question the importance of what many bloggers write. Pamela Shorey's response in the "Letters to the Editor" section of today's Hartford Courant, expresses very simply the reason why I include blogs in the classroom.
She states "that the ease of writing a blog has led thousands of people to do what teachers were previously unable to do: get people to write." Truthfully, not all of what my students write is worth reading, especially if you are looking for great insight or fluent prose. But, they are writing every week--and getting immediate feedback from their peers through comments.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas in Connecticut

If you've never seen the movie, know that it isn't that good. However, I will be celebrating Christmas in Connecticut. My wife and I leave early Friday morning from the wet and windy Pacific Northwest headed south to Dallas and then up north to Connecticut. For baby-Tate, this will be her very first airplane ride, very first visit to Connecticut, and her very first meeting with her cousins, aunts, uncles, and great grandparents from my side of the family. My parents visited after she was born.
I can't promise any new material while I am away--for two reasons. One, I want to enjoy the brief vacation without thinking at all about education, and two, I think my parents still have dial -up service!
So, enjoy your break, read a good book, check out my archives, and wait anxiously for my return.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Go to the Carnival

Monday, December 18, 2006

Best Education Blog

I'm a bit miffed at the recent vote for Best Education Blog, and not because my own blog wasn't listed. I'm baffled by how voters defined two of the three words--best and education.
Michael Berube's blog has spent the last three weeks pleading for votes and rambling about stuff. Not that I matter much, but I hadn't even read his blog before the 2006 Award Nominees were announced.
SpunkyHomeSchool, who landed in second place, is much more deserving as an education blog, but I am biased against home schooling because of the two home schooled kids I grew up next to. They really were odd. I feel that Spunky, though insightful, doesn't branch out enough to speak for the entirety of the education world.
IvyGate is another blog whose content doesn't seem to fit the world of education. I mean, no offense to the Ivy League, but I don't care about the happenings of the Ivy League unless I happen to have a wager on their submission to the NCAA Tournament in March.
Risking being left out of The Education Wonks Carnival of Education, I'll let you all know that my vote went to A Shrewdness of Apes. Ms. Cornelius keeps it focused on the world of education while infusing a bit of humanity into her blog. She is insightful and relevant to the Edusphere. Plus, the title of her blog is fantastic.
I like Joanne Jacobs, but I consider her someone who writes about education from the perspective of what she is, a journalist. She does a great job of presenting the world of education to her readership, but again, her blog is about education not birthed from education.
Eduwonk is another fine blog about education. He has the right connections and the right approach. But again, despite what is described as a brief history as a teacher, I still find a bit of a disconnect as he writes from what many consider to be "outside the trenches."
In terms of academic study of faith, Faith and Theology seems to do a fine job, though I'd never read his blog either (though I may begin to!). But seeing as the ACLU doesn't like to even mention Faith in public education, I don't think I can support Faith and Theology as an education blog.
The Education Policy Blog is yet another that just doesn't fit into my readership rotation. Too stuffy. Sure, edcuation policy is important for us to follow--it does affect us--but more often than not, I can hear about education policy by simply reading the blogs of those in the trenches.
Over at History is Elementary, we finally get a better picture of reality. This is a fine site, and certainly worthy of being included in the Best Education Blog race.
I am most surprised that The Education Wonks received so few votes. I mean, really, he is the founder of the now legendary Carnival of Eduaction--a place we all gather to and place that has increased my readership in the last two years.

So, because I feel like the Best Education Blog Awards were crap, here is my 8 (like in no particular order:
Bud the Teacher
Today's Homework
What It's Like on the Inside
From the Trenches of Public Ed.
Scheiss Weekly
The Education Wonks
A Shrewdness of Apes
A Passion for Teaching and Opinions

Go ahead, leave a comment with a vote. It will by The Daily Grind's Daily Grinder Award for best (actual) education blog. Sorry, no fancy voter stuff to calculate totals.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Ten Favorite Students

We have favorites. You can deny it, question the definition of "favorites" a la Bill Clinton, or you can simply admit to it. However, having favorites does not mean that we play favorites--a necessary distinction we must make to protect ourselves from a liberal media bias. The obvious bias of the East Coast media in sports coverage has long frustrated those on the West Coast, just as Dick Vitale's love affair with Duke Univeristy of any team from the Atlantic Coast Conference irritates everyone.
Here they are, Mr. McNamar's Ten Favorite Students--and yes, I can provide an actual student to fit each of these descriptions, both past and present, but will refrain for the sake of my career.

10. The Mother Hen
"Class, I need your attention," you politely request. Your soft teacher voice goes unheard forcing you to run through your Classroom Management notes from college. You move towards the group of students making the most noise, asking again, with hand raised, "Class, I need your attention." Nothing. Maybe a few kids look up, but quickly return to their discussion as if you are the annoying beep from a McDonald's fry vat timer. So you stand, silent and motionless. Your expression is finally caught by the Mother Hen. She barks, "HEY, EVERYONE BE QUIET. MR. MAC IS TRYING TO TALK!"
Silence. Immediate silence. She's in charge, completely in control like the recess lady at your elementary school. Go ahead, raise a toast to the Mother Hen; buy her a Mother's Day Card this year.

9. The Secret Agent
This kid knows everything before everyone else. "Mr. Mac, Ron got suspended for two days. He was caught skipping." How does The Secret Agent know this? You won't get an e-mail from the Discipline Secretary until after Ron returns, but The Secret Agent, who isn't even friends with, or in the same period as Ron, does know.
It turns out that The Secret Agent is right, and the next time you need some inside scoop, even though you know you shouldn't ask, out it comes; "Hey Secret Agent man, do you know...?" Whatever it is you want to know, he has it. You can find out which colleagues do a good job, or are more liked than you. The Secret Agent knows all--and you indulge in his knowledge

8. The Isolationist
Your second period class is obnoxious and immature. They've been friends for the last four years and can do nothing, include think, without the approval of the others. You've banged your head against the wall trying to figure out how to get something that resembles critical thinking from them when you notice her sitting in the back of the room, an exacerbated expression tensing her face. She is the United States before Pearl Harbor--unwanting to get involved in this mess for fear of ruining herself.
But, like the United States pre-WWII, she has so much potential to offer. She's quick, bright, friendly, but most of all, she's not them. When she finally steps out of her Isolationist foreign policy, you glow with appreciation as the class grows jealous and petty. But what she has to offer in way of insight, is worth the listening to.

7. The Last Comic Standing
No one likes the Class Clown. He's not really that funny, but it is all he has--so people laugh. It is a form of charity, in an odd and depressing way. But The Last Comic Standing, he's funny. His timing is impeccable, his delivery smooth. He can point out the obvious humor or the subtle humor of daily classroom existence.
I once had a student who fit this mold perfectly. He was mildly Autistic and could absolutely nail a joke. When I asked him what he thought of Saddam Hussein, a once powerful dictator who lived in palaces, being captured in a hole, he responded, "It's better than getting caught in pink panties." So true; so funny.

6. Skippi Longstocking
As you scroll through your attendance records, you begin to realize a pattern. Skippi is absent a lot. But, she's often seen later in the day. When she does attend, she's always up to date in her reading, always turns her essays in on time, and always makes the discussion better.
Her regular absences confound you, but her free-spirited nature mixed with astonishing maturity astounds you. It is obvious that, for as irresponsible as she is with her attendance, she will survive just fine, if not better than most, in the crazy world of adulthood. Bravo, Skippi, Bravo!

5. The Contender
"Mr. McNamar, I contend that Iago is the main character of Othello." The Contender doesn't ask questions, he professes truths. Absolute truths. Right or wrong, The Contender believes in himself and is willing to assert those beliefs. It is the sign of confidence, a trait that more students need. But what makes The Contender so great is that he will certainly draw people into a discussion because he never makes a down the middle statement; it is always devisive--a great discussion generator.

4. Miss Congeniality
Okay, this is going to come across mean, so I'll warn you now. If you don't want to be offended, skip the next few sentences. At the university I attended, which happens to be a Christian liberal arts school, there was a subtle backhanded way to express that a girl or guy was not all that attractive. It might happen like this: an acquaintance wants to set you up with a friend of theirs. You ask what he or she looks like. They respond with, "She loves Jesus." That is code for "Not real pretty."
Miss Congeniality is similar. She might not be the best student around. In fact, she is mediocre on her best days. But she is the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate student in the school. She talks to the kids who no one will talk to. She will sit next the teenage boy who hasn't learned the value of regular showering. She asks how you are doing, not in the casual, I really don't care way. She wants to know if your husband or wife is doing well and if your children had a fun time at the zoo. She is the good part of humanity.

3. The High Wire Performer
The High Wire Performer is a risk taker who must balance all of his commitments outside of academics and his education. He manages to do so with an incredible ease that is worthy of envy. As you struggle to teach to separate subjects, to raise a family, and to survive your own busy life, The High Wire Performer has a job, sports, community service, education, and socializing. He manages to pull it all off at the age of 17, when many students can barely set their own alarm clock.

2. The Surrogate Child
Who knows, maybe The Surrogate Child has a mom and a dad that loves her dearly. But, for one reason or another, she views you as a parental figure; in fact, it seems like she needs your praise, your support, and your wisdom. She is open to all of it. It makes you feel good, like you thought teaching would be when you applied to the Education program at your university. She provides you the chance to both and educate and influence. At the end of the day, you feel good about what you've done.

1. The Poser
I've never been a skateboarder. The one time I really tried to figure it out, I landed on my funny bone, which turned out to be not so funny. I neither dressed the part, nor wished to. However, all across the campus students who didn't skateboard, donned the appropriate attire because it was popular. We called them posers.
And though I made fun of posers in while in high school, I like The Posers I have in class. Not the ones who dress a certain way just to fit in, but the ones who try to convince their peers that they are tough guys who aren't really smart. They openly challenge you. They are rude to others. And yet, when they do their work, they demonstrate wonderful thinking and creativity. You tell them this, but they blow you off.
In the end, they are often the ones who will remember you forever. They will hollah, "Hey, Mr. Mac," in front of their tough guy friends, surprising you with their open affinity for you. Soon, you are a oddly accepted by a population of students who have never accepted a teacher, ever.
Once you've figure out The Poser, your world changes--and so does theirs.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wicked Weather

I've refrenced my self-diagnosed Adult A.D.D. in previous posts. With this in mind, I enter the Break with as much anticipation as dread. My 8 month old will ensure that I don't get the pleasure of sleeping in, which means I'll be up at around the same time as normal. But, I won't have anything to do. Well, at least not anything that I want to do.

I required an essay due the day before the break--which started early because of the wind storm that swept through the Pacific Northwest, knocking out power at a couple of the schools in the district and forcing us all to have yet another day off. That makes four make-up days in June. The current last day is now June 27th. I've never been in school that late, and I grew up in New England Nor'easters. Those essays will be what keep me from a panic attack on the flight from Seattle to Hartford--hopefully.

My house still doesn't have power, so we've relocated to a friend's house. It sure is nice to be warm again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It makes it all worth it...

On days when you walk into your classroom meditating on how obnoxious teenagers can be, come back to my archive page and look at these pictures. What you will see is the collective effort of a student body to feed 150 needy families, some who are a part our school family, by breaking last year's record of just over 50,000 food items with just over 60,000 food items this year.
Then, after three weeks of standing out in the cold seeking donations at the local grocery stores, these same students will spend their afternoon and evening shopping through our makeshift grocery store that they are responsible for stocking.
This will be followed on the next day with a contigency of students who will drive these items to the necessary families. There is no standardized test that will measure the heart and compassion that continues to thrive in the youth of our country.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Mired in a challenging basketball season, quickly slipping behind in both planning and scoring assingments, I haven't felt like the greatest teacher around. I haven't been able to teach my C-Team players how to shoot a basketball well while being defended; my Read 180 students who have been in the program for two years now, haven't quite figured out the daily routine--I must not have taught it to them in September of 2005; my seniors haven't demonstrated the level of writing on our class blog that satisfies our goals--another example of how I must be struggling as a conveyor of information and expectations.
Today, I tried to convince my seniors how an essay due before the Winter break and one due after the break is necessary for the goals of my Pre-College English class, the only responses I could get were ones of irritation and "I don't get this; both essays are the same." But had the students listened to my words, they would have understood the extreme difference between a 2-3 page character analysis on any character from Othello, and a 3-5 page reader response essay in which the writer explains how Othello fits the AP description of a superior work of literature: one that creates a healthy confusion between pleasure and disquietude.
One student wanted more information; she seemed irritated at my explanation in class. I patiently showed the differences between the two as another student, her friend, waited to leave. When I finished, the patiently waiting student looked up from whatever it was that she was filing away and said, "Mr. McNamar, you're a good teacher."
At my wedding, I had a prayer read that is found in Frederick Buechner's book The Hungering Dark. It begins, "LORD, Catch us off guard today. Surprise us with some moment of beauty or pain so that for at least a moment we may be startled into seeing that you are with us here inall your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life we breath." Today, I was caught off guard by a moment of beauty. Timing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


As I write this, my high school yearbook sits open, allowing me to thumb through the photos of people who certainly have changed in the ten years since I left. We weren't a diverse group of students. In the 130 students that are pictured, the demographics are as follows:
Girls--70 Boys--60
Caucasian--122 African America--5 Asian--1 Hispanic--1 Pakistanian--1

The Hispanic student and the Asian student were both Exchange Students, and they only attended my senior year.

I give the framework of my history as evidence that, other than a fervant belief in the equality of humanity, I don't have a great deal of credibility in discussing race in education. Which is why I found the New York Times' coverage of race as a deciding factor for school attendance an interesting read. And, as serendipity might have it, I found the article while in the middle of Senator Obama's chapter on race in his recent book The Audacity of Hope--this being the second plug for his book!
The New York Times implies there is a bit of Conservative vs. Liberal agenda coming from the two court cases being discussed. That any attempt to stop race as a determining factor for school admittance must be a strictly right wing idea. And, that affirmative action policies are only supported by those affiliated with the left. This implication reduces a complex issue to something that it is not, and has never been--simple.
Bathed in my whiteness, I cannot sympathize with the inner city Black student who lives a much different, and yet so similar, existence as I had. That student, like me, is concerned with family, friends, and getting through school. But we would be ignorant to deny the different educational experience that suburbia offers.
And so, while some might try to convince you that using race as a determining factor for school assignment is wrong because race is the determining factor, one might also ask, "so what?" Almost certainly, if the reverse were true, and race was being used to impede minority students from the placement they desire, charges of discrimination would abound--and perpaps rightly so.
We must struggle with whether or not this supposed reverse discrimination is all that bad. Because, though in pricinple quite accurate, the doors that are opened to minority students who take ownership of their education may be more important. If we are ultimately honest with ourselves, we must admit to the obvious failure of our public schools to equally provide for our students. The suburbian, the inner-city, and the rural school student do not experience the same education. We are still separate. We are still not equal.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Supermarket

This is not education related.

As a former employee of the fine establishment that the movie The Supermarket is documenting, I wanted to do my part to support it.
I started as a bagger, became a checker, moved into the Customer Service office, and then the Accounting office. When I returned from my first year of college, I worked in the Deli, the Seafood Department, the Dairy Department, the Stock room.
The ownership always treated us well, like family. And the truth is, as I prepare to return to town for Christmas, it has changed; only time will tell if for the better.


Some theorists believe that students perform better when their teachers are readily accessible. The KIPP schools encourage a high level of interaction between student and teacher, so much so that teachers are available to students well after the school day has ended.
Since joining the teaching force, I have practiced my belief that students perform better when they have a degree of "buy in," or connection with their teachers. For me, this has meant chaperoning dances, attending extra-curricular events, and taking an interest beyond academic success. But for me, there is also a limit that I feel I need to set with my students. I need time away from the classroom, when I can be Mr. McNamar the husband, the father, the buddy, and all of the other essential aspects of my humanness.
One such area of my life that I've always wished to maintain as my own is my faith. My place of worship is seventeen miles away from the school. When I saw a student at my place of worship, I grew uneasy. As if my private place, my solitude, had been invaded. My wife says I am being selfish; perhaps that is true, but I am already as accessible to my students as I want to be. Can't I get one place for myself.
I live in the community where I teach. As a result, I often see students while I am shopping for my groceries, my clothing, or whatever else I might want or need. Again, this is an important part of teaching to me, to invest in the community where I work. Yet, even in those moments when I happen across a student at the mall, I've always felt out of place.
Teaching requires a persona, not a change in who we are at the core, but to some extent we must act like we are on stage. I have a reptuation among my students; that reputation is why some students sign up for my class and some don't. But I don't always want to be on stage. Sometimes, I just want to be reserved and not outgoing; humble and not brazen.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Give me liberty, or give me death.

Patrick Henry made this statement early in 1775. These words may be used today to describe the feeling some have about education. As a person devoted to public education, I often struggle with the need to defend what we do, and the realization that sometimes it fails. For, certainly, it is responible to admit that not everything in the world of public education makes sense or works.
Even as I read "The Education Revolution America Needs," the dichotomy within me began to do battle. Competition makes sense to me. Why shouldn't families have the right to choose where their children go to school? But when Hickok asks, "Why should we feel comfortable with the government making such a fundamentally important decision?," I thought, well why shouldn't they? Aren't they the ones funding education?
It shouldn't be so complicated, this matter of educating students. Does it go back to Animal Farm's notion that power corrupts and absolut power corrupts absolutely? The truth is we've all made a mess of the process. Parents who view it as daycare. Students who view it as hell. Teachers who view it as a stand and deliver job. Administrators who become office fixtures. Districts who flutter off after every fad. Politicians who haven't spent time in a classroom for fifty years. It really is a shame.
Maybe it is time for a revolution--a revolt of like minded people.


The recent Pacific Northwest snow birthed many stories for the news to cover, some valid, some not. I laughed while watching one interview with a native New Englander who rightly pointed out that had this storm happened in Connecticut, there would have been school all week. But when she complained about school being cancelled because of the inconvenience to her, I was annoyed.
The attitude still persists among many parents that schools are nothing more than a glorified day care. I wish we could find a way to get past that. I don't think many will go for my proposal, but here it is.
As long as parents and society continue to view schools as a holding place for their children, I propose we give them what they want. Forget the idea of compulsory education completely paid for by the government.
First, the government will now only have to front the money for operational costs. Administrators, janitors, district personell, transportation and building maintenance will all be provided for through the governmental funds. I would also put in that category the curriculum and supplies.
Second, the parents would then be responsibile for paying an hourly wage to the teachers. Let's set that at the current minimum wage, 5.15 an hour.
At the high school level, we have hour long class periods--approximately. In my first period Pre-College English class, I have 31 students--all for an hour. That translates into $159.65 for first period. Unfortunately, periods 2,3,5 are courses for accelerating student learning, so I have a grand total of 33 students between the three; that puts my earnings for those periods at $169.95. My sixth period class has 30 students, giving me an additional $154.50. That would be $484.10 if my math is correct. If we went to school for 182 days, that would mean a total of $88,106. 20. Over twice my current going rate.
If this were the case, I would really push for that increase to $7.25 an hour. That would mean $124,033 a year. Maybe I will vote for a Democrat in 2008!