Monday, August 23, 2010

School Climate

I'm interrupting my profiles in greatness series to ask a question. What does your school or organization do to promote and maintain a healthy climate among the faculty/staff? Currently, we have three Staff vs. Senior events but we would like to add more opportunities for bringing our faculty together in small groups and large groups.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 7

Today I will transition from my public eduction into my well-paid for education. At Northwest University, and no I won't correct you if you mishear me say Northwestern University, I was blessed with some of the best instructors as well as some of the greatest human beings. But I will focus on the great instructors and mention just one great human being, the late Dr. Dan Pecota. He was a man of great purity of mind and soul. An academic who worshipped his God in body, mind, and soul. I shall never forget his great influence on our campus, especially each time I hear the great hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Thank you Dr. Pecota for your great example.

Professor Elms (Sociology/Doctrine)

There are two moments in specific that have stayed with me for nearly 15 years. The first happened in our Sociology course. Professor Elms, as did many at that Christian liberal arts school, began class with a prayer. He began "Let us pray." Then he didn't seem to pray. He remained quiet. As the early seconds passed, suspect glances came over many of our faces. But as the silence continued, many began to realize the sanctity of that moment. In our collective silence we were connected.
What does a moment of prayer have to do with teaching? In that simple event Professor Elms demonstrated how teaching is an art and that sometimes art is spontaneous. We come to our lessons with scripts or outlines, but we must be willing to allow for those moments of spontaneity. Perhaps it doesn't have to be standing on desks to inspire or standing on our heads. Perhaps it must simply be a collective deep breath, a recognizition that our students are stressed, hurting, or simply tired.
The second experience with Professor Elms came in a doctrine class. He taught us the doctrine that the school's particular denomination held. He presented what other doctrines subscribe to. And because we respected him, we asked what he believed. He never told us. We would try to trap him, trick him; but he never gave it up.
Professor Elms taught me to guard my opinions and ask questions instead. In teaching literature, it is sometimes easy to forget to ask questions when a student ask "What does this quote mean?" The easy route is to tell, and I have often given in to their traps and tricks. But when I am at my best, I remember to turn their questions back to them. I remember to probe and explore their thinking. Dr. Elms started that process in me before I had even considered becoming a teacher.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 6

We like to stratify, don't we. We have great, but who is the greatest? Today's profile in greatness will discuss the greatest teacher of my pre-college years. And there isn't a doubt that she is on par with my three greatest college professors.

Mrs. Traut (Grade 11 English)

When I turned in the essay for our summer readings of The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men, there was no doubt in my mind I had done well. When hadn't I earned an A or B on an English essay.
When I received the essay back from Ms. Traut, there was little doubt in my mind that she had not been fair with the assigned grade--D. Big and red, that letter nearly shattered my confidence. At the time, and perhaps they still do, the high school tracked students by academic levels. I had begun my high school career in Level 2 English, only to be moved up to Level 1 for sophomore year. It came easy. But I always wondered whether I belonged there.
Ms. Traut sat patiently with me as I asked questions. She took the time, endless in my mind, to explore my writing and where the breakdown of my logic happened and where my writing structure also broke down. Instead of leaving that room shattered, Ms. Traut gave me hope that I would find success in her class.
Anyone who took Ms. Traut's class will remember her as precise, dryly witty, and always in control. Whether she was running the Bergen Evans Vocabulary filmstrip, or allowing us to explore ways to market the transcendentalist beliefs of Thoreau, Ms. Traut had us in her sights. She encouraged risk. She rewarded excellence. And she loved language and literature.
Only Ms. Traut could have made sentence diagramming enjoyable. Because she loved precision in language, she convinced us to buy into seeing how words connected, worked together, to create meaning. Two years later, as a college freshmen enrolled in the honors English program, those lessons, that passion, propelled me to find that same precision. Ms. Traut had prepared me for college success--the end result of a proper secondary education.
Ms. Traut also fostered my love of literature. Her ability to bring me into the fantasy of Gatsby, the shame of Prynne, the capriciousness of Thoreau showed me that reading, more than anything else, has the power to show us something of who we all are.
If I am ever half the teacher that Ms. Traut was, I believe students will remember as great. Thank you, Ms. Traut for your precision, your wit, and your passion. You were the greatest teacher of my public school career.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 5

Not long ago a student told me I should be a math teacher because I was able to walk her through a problem in a logical sequential manner. That might have been the funniest moment of my teaching career; anyone who knows me understands my math deficiency. But it made me think about why I was able to explain the very simple problem to her.

Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk (Algebra 1 and Algebra 2)
These are two of the smartest teachers I can recall. Perhaps it was their math prowess which overwhelmed me and thus proved their intelligence as superior to all, but I knew that they knew what they were doing. I did not know what I was doing.
Math requires attention to detail, a focus on the process. This doesn't mesh well with either my big picture mentality or my undiagnosed ADD. I remember a sense of regularly messing up with details, especially in math class. I wanted to solve the problem without putting in the effort.
Both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk effectively taught the concepts of math and the details of math. They both were capable of patiently walking me through a formula or equation. Though I feared math in general, I rarely feared it in their class. Making mistakes were part of the learning process, and I made plenty of them.
A testament to their effectiveness is the still strange fact that my SAT Math score was slightly higher than my SAT Verbal score. Sure, I bailed on math during my senior year, opting for a much easier course than Calculus--it was clear in the first two weeks I wasn't willing to push myself to get it.
However, that experience with that student reminded me of the patience needed in order to teach any concept. And upon reflection, I know that both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk were both long ago influencers in my development as a teacher--though I am not nearly as patient as I remember them being.
For teaching me the importance of teaching in sequence, of instructing with patience, and of communicating through knowledge, thank you.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 4

At least my older brother is reading my list. I know this because he texted me today urging me to hurry up with the next episode.
As I mentioned earlier, there isn't much from middle school that I remember. However, one event, which is tied to my high school career, replays itself anytime someone asks how I came to grasp the Spanish language so well.
A Spanish teacher had come to our middle school Spanish class to encourage us to continue with the language in high school. In my ignorance, I expressed my desire to take Spanish from Senor Capobianco who had taught my brother during his freshmen and sophomore year.
Months later, that day long forgotten, I waited for Senora Mosely to call my name. "Andrew McNamar?" she asked before looking up.
"Well, Senor McNamar, it looks like you didn't get your wish," she replied dryly. I shrunk in my chair as it dawned on me who that visitor was moths ago.
Senora Mosely was never my favorite teacher, never even in the conversation. Yet, here I am teaching in a district with a vast number of Spanish speaking students and able to communicate with them or at least not butcher names like Yaritza or Dionisio. Senora Mosely taught much more than language, she taught culture and its significance. I can recall her genuine interest in my high school missions trip to Spain--making me present to the class my experiences there.
Senora Mosely taught language as it should be, through experiencing the language not as ink on paper to be memorized, but as a living and breathing entity with nuance. She demanded precision, and I rose to every challenge. In that way, she knew how to motivate me.
I couldn't lose to her. On that first day, she threw down the challenge. Would I shrink or rise? I rose. Right up until it came time to sign up for the next year. I begged my counselor to move me into Senor Capobianco's class because Ms. Mosely had it out for me. I am convinced that during the summers before my sophomore year, and againg before junior and senior year, she forced him to change me back into her class. Each year became a duel in my mind.
I complained bitterly each year. She was demanding, almost cruel to me in the way she wouldn't let me off easily or forced me to help the less proficient. But now I recognize what was really happening. Senor Mosely, knowingly or not, was making me better, more precise in my own understanding. I know now that only those who truly understand a concept can teach it. She was making me do that on a regular basis.
Y por eso, Senora Mosely, gracias. Muchos de mi estudiantes aprecian los resultados de su instruccion. (And 15 years later I only had to look up "appreciate" in the Spanish dictionary!)

Proof that Teachers are too Old

Milwaukee teachers are primed to raise test scores. According to public releations groups, this fight to keep Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs included in their health coverage amounts to only small and embarrassing boner for the union.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 3

Unfortunately, my middle school years were lackluster. In large part, I suspect, my own ghost-like existence during those typically strange years resulted in never really attaching to much of anything. I recall some names of teacher, but not that many. Funny how I can name every elementary school teacher, and most of my high school teachers; but middle school remains a mystery.

Mr. Connolly (1oth Grade American Government, 12th Grade European History)
TC was flat out smart. A little odd in some ways, but smart. Reading and lecture typified his teaching style--something that today gets bagged on by progressives. But the results can't be argured with. I know my government and I know my Europeon history. I've become a much better Jeopardy contestant because of TC.
While some students enjoyed roasting Mr. Connolly, or trying to infuriate him into turning beet red, I tended to soak up his knowledge. Sure, I had my moments of giving in to the mob mentality, but ultimately his instruction kept me interested.
He had graduated from the high school, and he lived in town. I believe that his committment to his subject matter was equalled by his committment to our school. These qualities made him great. When teachers combine a love for their subject and love for the school, students succeed.
So, thank you, Mr. Connolly, for teaching me the importance of being an expert in my subject matter, for teaching me the importance of loving my subject matter, and for teaching me the importance dedication to my school.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 2

It should be mentioned that I greatly appreciate the vast majority of those who taught me throughout my formal education. And while I am honoring those whom I perceive as great, there is no ill-intent towards any of the others.

Ms. Salva and Mr. Wood (4th Grade)

The "quad," or at least the half of the quad which housed fourth grade operated with the efficiency of a Superbowl winning football team. The head coach, clearly Ms. Salva, didn't miss a single screw-up. And just when I might begin to feel that haunting sense of failure, the assistant coach, Mr. Wood, stepped in to lighten the mood.

To be honest, I can't recall which one taught what subject. No matter, really. The end result was success. I feared letting them down, not because I was prone to people pleasing as some are, but because I could sense their investment in me, in all of us. The two of them loved us dearly. If there is a smile to be forgotten, it won't be Ms. Salva's beaming one. Each time I good-naturedly tease a student, Mr. Wood comes to mind. He had a way of making the classroom feel like family; and in families, teasing shows love. But he wasn't just a clown. He was smart--smart enough to know that Ms. Salva was in charge!

Ms. Salva and Mr. Wood taught me to love my students, to treat them like family. Sometimes that means a session in the "Pow and Wow" room for a stern reprimand. Other times it means messing up a kid's hair to remind them that they do, in fact, exist. So thank you, Ms. Salva and Mr. Wood, for making school a place I wanted to be. And thanks for reading A Bridge to Terabithia--I cried then and last year when I read it again.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 1

When the curtain closes on my teaching career, I only hope that more students than not will remember me as effective in teaching my content and treating them respectfully. Who can say whether anyone of any intelligence will consider me great or that I was any better than average. Realizing today that the year begins in less than a month had me thinking about teachers and the how many of mine are worth remembering at all. I assume that I've had roughly 100 teachers or professors in my education career; the following series of posts will honor the ones that mattered.

Ms. Stack (First Grade)
If literature is meant to affect the reader on a deeply personal level as I hope to convince my English classes each year, then Ms. Stack was the one who set me down that path. My greatest fear that year was my certainity that Ms. Stack would turn into Ms. Viola Swamp at any moment. That fictional substitute teacher had a knack for instilling discipline and learning into the classroom. Ms. Stack could have put Ms. Viola Swamp to shame.
I've never quite mastered the self-control that Ms. Stack demanded of me. In the age before ADHD, when little boys had to learn to control themselves or else, Ms. Stack guided me gently towards maintaining focus. She demanded excellence but never belittled when I didn't reach it. She had a motherly nature which was never allowed to take complete control. She understood that too much self-esteem building, which she did plenty of, should never over-shadow a committment to greatness.
When I tried to escape my work by feigning illness, Ms. Stack never bit. I still recall the time she projected down the hallway, "Andy McNamar, you are not sick. Get back into this classroom." I had nearly made my escape with my mother, a softy who was also our school's "recess lady."
In the 26 years since I finished first grade, I have dedicated myself to always being at school or work. At one point, I went six school years in which I missed just one day of school--my great-grandfather's funeral.
Thank you Ms. Stack, for teaching me to demand excellence from my own students. Thank you for instilling a sense of confidence without blinding me from my weaknesses. For that, you are a great teacher.