Wednesday, October 31, 2001

A Few Links

Reinventing the World

Habits of Mind

Social Science Information Gateway

Welcome to the Social Sciences pages of Intute. We are a free online service providing you with access to the very best Web resources for education and research, evaluated and selected by a network of subject specialists.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

New Dimension to Poetry

You've got to look at this one by one of the students in my graduate class at the University of Baltimore. It opens up new dimensions in poetry!

Zahra Safavian

Friday, October 5, 2001

You're Boring Me!

For the first time in my life, my students are boring me so I know it's time to quit. Things have become so bad that I'm merely grading them on following directions. That's my goal this year. If I can get them to put their names on every paper and to follow directions for format, I will have taught them something.

And the parents are becoming crazier than ever. I called a mother today to talk about her son's poor behavior on Wednesday (I wasn't in school on Thursday) and her response was that I need to call the same day and she will not punish her son for something he did two days ago. I was silent, mostly because I was surprised and didn't know how to respond, and she thought we had lost connection.

Does this mean that if your child steals but isn't caught until a week later, s/he should not be punished? Does this mean that if you are raped and the rapist is caught next week, that he shouldn't be punished?

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Children Do Think

Today David, now in the 8th grade, came to talk with me after school. He's quite brilliant, stands out from the rest of the students, and reads and speaks on an adult level. He said that at first, with the topsy-turvy state of the world (ala September 11), he thought it would be interesting to tell his grandchildren about the interesting times he lived through at this period in history. But then, after thinking more, he's not sure he will live to have any grandchildren. Then he wanted to know if I believe in God and he expressed his uncertainties about his own belief.

All this a reminder that life happens on so many different levels--and it is all important, depending on who you are.

Monday, June 25, 2001

NYC School Censors

John Elfrank-Dana wrote:

I hope everyone is having a good time at NECC.

The new BOE policy for publishing web pages here in NYC is the following.

1. All schools (1100 of them) are supposed to submit their web sites (even those of us who have been hosting independently for years), and their teachers’ sites to the Board of Ed. server.

2. A district censor is supposed to review all the material of each site and have it moved to the public viewing area, assuming it’s in compliance with the new acceptable use policy, which includes no links to sites that have a commercial advertisement. The censors will move the content along at “their earliest possible convenience.”

3. No chats or asynchronous bulletin boards allowed!

Anyone who has ever web mastered an active school or class web site that functions as a real communications hub for timely information and class dialogue should be equally dismayed as me.
The policy will go in force Sept. 1. They won’t even tell us how much disk space we will have. They also refuse to support FrontPage extensions (many of us use them to create active pages and discussions forums for our classes).

One practical outcome of this policy: The

Board’s AUP is in Adobe Acrobat, but I can’t link for our visitors to download the Acrobat Reader because Adobe has ads on its site!! 2. Our e-books collection, which VATEA funded for thousands of dollars, won’t work because it requires a web server on location.

3. No discussion boards for class discussions (protected or not).

This policy was conceived by Board of Ed. lawyers and techs who are not now nor have been educators. It’s another slap in the face to teachers as professionals. It’s like the doctors under managed care who have lost control of their practice. For teachers who use the Internet as an instructional tool, this is very heavy-handed policy.

Are other districts implementing similar policies? If so, how has it been going? What organizations, if any, have an interest in this kind of policy? What rights, if any, do teachers have to control the content of their instruction? Is this an intrusion into teacher practice?


John Elfrank-Dana

Web Master/ Social Studies Teacher

Murry Bergtraum High School

Sunday, June 24, 2001

Nancy Grasmick's Speech: Teacher of the Year Gala

October 13, 2000 ~ Nancy Grasmick speaking at the Teacher of the Year luncheon

I once read an online post by novelist Harry Crews. He said that teaching--real teaching--is a messy business. And then, just a few months ago, I read your nomination packets, your views on teaching and teachers, the importance of the profession and your contributions to it. I read your assessments of what makes an outstanding teacher and why you are one yourself...or at least why others say you are. And so it seems to me that you agree with Mr. Crews...that you, too, think teaching is a messy business. And that, in the eye of teaching's predictable chaos--an apt oxymoron if ever there was one--is the key to something wonderful.

Let me elaborate. I read in your biographies that you'll forfeit the lesson you were scheduled to deliver because a student who rarely contributes to the classroom discussion decides to share a thought or ask a question...and, by drawing him out, you know you'll realize an even greater goal.
I read that you don't reuse lesson plans, because you think each set of students is unique, and, therefore, even the best-laid plans are seldom transferrable.

That you'll let the articulate child tell you what she's learned when she has trouble writing it down, and then formulate a better plan to accommodate all learning styles.

You'll open up your house to anyone who needs you--40 rambunctious 3rd graders over for a group homework session or just one 11th grader struggling over an English assignment.

You'll pay house calls to students and fellow them set up computer systems and install software applications...without thought of a favor returned.

You'll dance without self-consciousness, sing without modesty, and act with all the stage presence you can muster, so that instruction is not only a little more fun for your students, but a lot more memorable.

You'll let your students glimpse your world...invite them to participate in what you're doing outside of the classroom.

You'll let your own learning guide your students', and, in turn, let students refine your instructional practices.

You'll show students how learning helps us unravel the mysteries of life--or, sometimes, just helps us appreciate them better.

And so it is no wonder that, when asked, nearly everyone in America can quickly submit the name of at least one teacher who has profoundly influenced--even saved--his or her life...

After all, nearly every one of you did.

You talked about Mrs. Hart, 4th grade, who greeted you with unfailing encouragement and warmth.

About Mrs. Schlotterbeck, 8th grade social studies, who showed you, for the first time, how much fun learning could be.

Mrs. Kennedy, grade 2, who cast you as the lead in the Christmas play and made you feel worthy of the role.

Mrs. Echols, your French teacher, who sat you down and discussed your college options with a parent might.

Ms. Taylor, middle-school math, who presented dynamic lessons and valued hands-on learning.

Mrs. Gass, Mr. Boyer, and Mr. Peerless, who knew you were on the wrong path, and encouraged you to try out for student council or the school musical or the choir, so you would have neither the time nor the energy to self-destruct.

In the coming years, these stories will be supplanted by stories about you. Vivid stories about how you sparked an interest, opened a door, coaxed, cajoled, prodded, and prompted. How you took a different approach when the first one failed--and the second and the third and the fourth.

You are, right now, a legend in the making to thousands and thousands of students.

Poet and critic John Jay Chapman once said that "teaching...implies a need and a craving in the teacher, himself."

That, too, was evident in the synopses I read.

All of you mentioned your love of teaching; more telling, perhaps, is that many of you spoke of a need to teach. All of this passion is who I am, said one Teacher of the Year. It cannot be separated from me.

And so I thank you for heeding the call, for satisfying in yourself the need and the craving.

You have touched more lives than even you could possibly know.

We honor you, and we thank you.

Teacher Pay

This tongue-in-cheek post appeared on a teachers' listserv. The name of the writer was accidentally deleted and I'm sorry for not being able to give credit to that person.

I, for one, am sick and tired of those highly-paid teachers. Their hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they work only nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do -- baby-sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage. That’s right.........I would give them $3 dollars an hour and only the hours they worked, not any of that silly planning time. That would be $15 a day. Each parent should pay $15 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now, how many do they teach in a day?...maybe 25. Then that’s 15 X 25=$375 a day. But remember they only work 180 days a year!

I’m not going to pay them for any vacations. Let’s see... that’s 375 x 180=$67,500.00 (Hold on; my calculator must need batteries!)

What about those special teachers or the ones with Master’s Degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage just to be fair. Let’s round it off to $6 an hour. That would be $6 times 5 hours times 25 children times 180 days= $135,000.00 per year.

Wait a minute, there is something wrong here! There certainly is...... huh?

Friday, June 22, 2001


Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” - Jonathan Swift

Thursday, June 21, 2001

School Testing

So our new President thinks our schools need to do more testing? He couldn't be more wrong!

I wonder how many people realize just how big a role testing plays right now in our nation's schools. Everything we do now is centered on the MSPAP. Students are taught the testing jargon. They are taught the testing format. They practice for the test. They practice for the test some more. Then they practice for the test even more. Finally, they take the test!

Everything in the curriculum revolves around whether it will help students perform better on the test. If it is not related to this concept, there is no room in the curriculum for it.

I wonder where we first got the idea that testing was so important? No one will argue that you have to know where you are in order to know where you're going and how to get there. But it seems to me that we are traveling around in circles, chasing our own tail.

I think there is a connection with the false assumption that schools can be run like businesses: Run a test to check production, set reasonable production goals and run a final check to see if we've achieved our outcome. To an outsider, this seems perfectly logical.

But to a teacher, things are not so cut and dried. For one thing, we are not dealing with the normal "product." Look at what lies behind the data. We are dealing with children, human beings.

Long ago, educational philosophy thought that children were like containers into which teachers poured knowledge. We know this is absolutely untrue. There must be interaction--active learning for things to "gel."

What Students Remember

Several years ago, a former student came to me during Back to School night. He asked if I remembered him. This young bearded adult resembled no twelve-year-old I had taught and I asked his name. This I did remember. That night he told me that he'll always remember my class. Since he had failed my class in spite of all the strategies I tried, I was flabbergasted to hear this.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what it was that he remembered about my class. He said it was the hero/monster book project assigned in my 7th grade class. He told me he still had the bound copy of his group's book and that it was one thing that he really enjoyed in middle school.

That year I had divided each class into groups of four. Each group was responsible for working together to create a book which would have an original hero story that included a monster. Students were given instructions to include specific elements in their story after we had finished reading "Beowulf." Besides the illustrations and main story, other elements included book jacket information, table of contents, and an interview with the monster's mother.

This project, truly an activity which reflected the critical thinking that MSPAP is supposed to encourage, had captured this former student's imagination. I'm sorry to say that I no longer have time in the curriculum to include this project. It takes too long and I would not have time to do the required unit assessments and writing prompt practice for their writing folders. And I certainly wouldn't have the time to grade all that and manage to get the student books assembled. Besides, my copy allotment would probably run out with so many book copies for the students.

Albert Einstein said that "imagination is more important than knowledge" but those who power the educational system policy must not have discovered this yet. Could it be they lack the imagination to envision what the education of our children could be?

The buzz word these days is "assessment" and this word is now in bold print with Bush's leadership. Awakened policy makers realize that our students are not prepared with the necessary skills for successful living in the real world. The answer is to test, analyze and then re-test ad infinitum. The thinking is that if we hammer away enough at assessment hard enough, then students' test scores will go up and their education will have been successful.

And it isn't limited to test, analyze and retest. Between the tests, students are taught the language of the test and the best strategies to do well in the test. During this time they take multiple practice tests. All in the name of good education.

The tests rely heavily on "real-life" situations and the skills needed to cope with them. Don't get me wrong. This type of activity has many merits. However, things are so weighted toward this kind of thinking that we have left out time for kid things, the kind of things that encourage and reward the growth of imagination.

Have you ever wondered why Harry Potter has been so successful? Kids hunger for what is missing in a diet lacking imagination.

Harry Potter fills a void in children's lives that has been fostered by our culture and educational system. Our media culture leaves nothing to the imagination. They are entertained rather than becoming the entertainers. Our way of doing things in the world today provides instant feedback. Kids are used to instant gratification. They are not prepared to accept that education doesn't necessarily provide instant feedback. It can be a long and difficult process. If we can't give them instant feedback because of the nature of the learning process couldn't we at least provide an environment which fosters imagination. Using the imagination is fun.

More students than ever are dropping out of school. We complain about the lack of student motivation. I'm with the students. I understand because I wouldn't be motivated by the hope of increasing MSPAP scores. After all, students do not see the results of their test and it has no impact on grades and anything else they see as relevant.

For sure, test scores are going up. We are successfully preparing our students to understand the language of the test and to be good test takers. But will this prove that we are giving our children a good education?

The Art of Teaching

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” - Mark VanDoren

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Don't Eat the Green Ones

Don't Eat the Green Ones ©

I'll tell you, speaking from experience

Life is like a bag of potato chips

Some are perfect and round

And they crunch just right

While others are green

All hard and nasty

They just don't taste the same


If you pick around them

And be careful what you eat

You'll find

That bag of potato chips

Really is all it's cracked up to be

Those green ones may make you sick

(That's a myth, I think)

If you listen to my advice

And keep it close at heart

You'll find if you pick and choose your chips

(And don't eat them in the dark)

Picking around those green ones

Won't be so hard

And the extra work will pay off in the long run

So be careful when eating potato chips

And don't eat the green ones

Tamara O’Connell

Note: My great Aunt Gleasie, before she died while in her 90's, gave me this poem she wrote on the day I was born, December 10, 1944.

Fifteen Days Before Christmas

"Twas fifteen days before Christmas on a Sabbath morn,

In the Norfolk General Hospital, a baby was born.

There were other babies too--ones I've never seen

But this one in particular is little Bonnie Jean.

She was tucked in her basket with the greatest of care

Without the slightest idea that Daddy was near.

He was--and Granddaddy too--

Awaiting news of a baby in blue.

Thirty hours he waited in great suspense,

Till the doctors thought he'd have no sense.

So he bit his nails and paced the floor,

When suddenly a nurse appeared in the door.

Said she, "Mr. Schupp, your wife presents you with a fine baby girl."

But she realized his head was still in a whirl

When he still imagined she had said a boy,

because like a sailor, he simply shouted, "Ship ahoy!"

Now that all is over, and Mother and baby are doing well,

Daddy feels much better too, as everyone could tell.

He is not disappointed, and confidentially I think,

He is perfectly satisfied with a little girl in pink.

Gleasie Leatherbury

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

You Might Be In Education If...

(I don't remember writing this so I must have seen it on an education listserv. Sorry I can't give credit.)

You might be in education if...

a. You believe the staff room should be equipped with a Valium salt lick.

b. You find humor in other people's stupidity.

c. You want to slap the next person who says, "Must be nice to work from 8 to 3 and have your summers free!"

d. You believe chocolate is a food group.

e. You can tell it's a full moon without ever looking outside.

f. You believe "shallow gene pool" should have its own box on the report card.

g. You believe that unspeakable evil will befall you if anyone says, "Boy, the kids sure are mellow today."

h. When out in public you feel the urge to talk to strange children and correct their behavior.

i. You have no time for a life from August to June.

j. Marking all A's on report cards would make your life SO much simpler.

k. When you mention "vegetables" you're not talking about a food group.

l. You think people should be required to get a government permit before being allowed to reproduce.

m. You wonder how some parents ever MANAGED to reproduce.

n. You laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the staff room as the "lounge."

o. You believe in aerial spraying of Prozac.

p. You encourage an obnoxious parent to check into charter schools or home schooling.

q. You believe no one should be permitted to reproduce without having taught in an elementary setting for at least 5 years.

r. You've ever had your profession slammed by someone who would never DREAM of doing your job.

s. You can't have children because there's no name you could give a child that wouldn't bring on high blood pressure the moment you heard it uttered.

t. You think caffeine should be available to staff in IV form.

u. You know you're in for a MAJOR project when a parent says, "I have a great idea I'd like to discuss. I think it would be such fun!"

v. You smile weakly, but want to choke a person when he/she says, "Oh, you must have such FUN every day. It must be like playtime for you."

w. Your personal life comes to a screeching halt at report card time.

x. Meeting a child's parents instantly answers the question, "Why is this kid like this?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Teacher Rant


On Wed, 6 Jun 2001, Jeff Amdur wrote:

To my dear friends, colleagues, associates, supervisors past and present, and fellow members of the FLTeach and MdK-12 mailing lists, please pardon my indulgence. Some of you may have received something similar about two months ago.

It is the whole gamut of feelings that I am going through right now as I ponder my retirement from the Anne Arundel County Public Schools after 30 years, a retirement that will take effect in two days. I still enjoy teaching itself, foreign languages, my school, my students and colleagues, the other language teachers I have met and worked with, and the Arundel High School community (Gambrills-Odenton-Crofton) that I have taught in for the past 24 years. Up until about three or so years ago, I never thought I would be one to retire after the thirty years. I thought I'd go until age 65 or 70; but recent events (events having very little to do with the above mentioned school, students, colleagues, principals and supervisors) have told me that it's time to go.

The educational bureaucracy headed by Nancy Grasmick (whose main qualification seems to be that she is the wife of a political ally of ex-governor Schaefer) and the Maryland State Board of Education have taken a "throw out the whole machine, even if many of the parts are still in perfect working order" approach to reforming what is being taught in the public schools. The changes they have wrought, and how the county has implemented these changes have had the effect of re-inventing the wheel, making it a wheel that will no longer fit on my car/psyche. Although I know I have been teaching the "new approach" successfully, I know in my own mind that I am uncomfortable with it because it is become increasingly harder for me to be "selling" something that I wouldn't "buy" myself.

Let me explain:

(1) I do not buy the basic assumptions behind the "critical thinking" approach. I do not believe that every student is potentially college material. Algebra and geometry as requirements for graduation in Maryland public schools, regardless of intellectual level? I don't think so. Furthermore, I don't believe that every student can be taught to "critically think" at high levels. Sorry, but some kids just don't have it up there in the cerebrum‹they may have it in their hands, feet, or whatever, but some folks will never be able to "critically think at a high level". If the potential is there, we must certainly develop it; but I am not convinced that the potential is there in every case. There is such a focus on this nebulous process of "critical thinking" that many of the basics are being neglected and that we're not feeding the students enough information to process and think about. Subject matter is now a prisoner to "process".

(2) The emphasis on group work in the MSPAP tests means that the less-able students will be able to pass the tests by riding on the coattails of the more-able, perhaps giving a false impression of an individual's ability.

(3) These one-size-fits-all assessments (MSPAP and High School Assessment) do not encourage homogeneous grouping of students by ability in individual subjects. MSPAP tests hold schools and teachers accountable while not putting any accountability on the shoulders of the students, hardly a preparation for the future HSA's which they will need to pass to graduate.

(4) Curricula for every subject are being gutted and rebuilt so that every activity and objective can be indexed to one of the Official State Outcomes, or "program indicators".

(5) I am not a textbook writer, nor am I being paid to be. In my specialties, French and Spanish, the re-writes of the curricula have made uses of coherent textbooks virtually impossible. I have never been one to use a textbook lock-step (if I did, I'd never have to spend hours upon hours writing worksheets and creating activities); but when a truly great textbook such as what I am using for French 3 is reduced to only the cultural readings between chapters to support the new "thematic units" rather than > the excellent vocabulary/structure themes provided in the book, it depresses me. One of the thematic units (4-6 weeks of discussion of environmental problems) seemed so uninteresting to me that I went back to my textbook-based way of doing things for the last 6-8 weeks of the school year so I could hold the students' interest. I'm not saying it is a bad curriculum; it's just not for me. I can't tackle it intellectually and be the best teacher I think I can be. It's time to turn over room F-115 to someone more attuned to the new curriculum; I owe it not only to myself, but to the future students at Arundel High.

God, I'm tired of this new terminology. "Multiple choice" becomes "selective response". "Short answer" becomes "brief constructed response". "Essay" becomes "extended constructed response".

I'm tired of euphemisms; you can call it "bathroom tissue" all you want, but it's still toilet paper.

Next year I will be teaching part time (two classes of ninth-grade Spanish) at Beth Tfiloh Community School, a Jewish parochial K-12 school in Pikesville. It is a recent winner of a Blue Ribbon School award, and education director Zipora Schorr holds students and faculty to high standards. I look upon it as a challenge to revitalize myself as well as teach in a manner that I feel more at home with, teaching with an emphasis on communication as well as the ages-old Talmudic tradition of respect for learning. I hope I can be as successful there as I have been for the last 27 years of my public-school teaching career (the first three years I’d like to forget). I am also looking forward to becoming involved in all facets of the BTCS community; I have already talked to the athletic director about becoming the announcer/timekeeper for winter sports events. Plus, I will continue to serve in that timekeeping capacity back at Arundel whenever the BT schedule allows me. With the money I’ll be making next year (salary plus pension), I’ll be taking a pay cut of about $23000; but I feel I will be in a less stressful yet more challenging situation. It will be a chance to continue what I enjoy doing.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank all those people who have helped me become successful in my teaching career. Some teachers are born teachers; I wasn’t. I made myself one, and it took several years of hard work to do so.

Thank you all. It’s been a pleasure. I wish you all continued success and good health.

Tuesday, June 5, 2001

No Progress Scott

Scott again. While discussing in class what my students have learned and reminding them they are becoming smarter, Scott blurts out, "I feel like I'm getting stupider."


I asked him if he had ever heard the expression, "Use it or lose it." He had. I then reminded him that it didn't only apply to muscles and working out but it also applies to the brain, so if he feels "stupider," then he must not be using his brain.

Scott is turning 14 and has failed 7th grade this year.


There's a lot to be said against the MSPAP tests but one of the biggest factors is that the way in which the tests are reported does not take into account simple human nature. Students receive no feedback on their performance on the test. There are no consequences for the student. The schools receive a "report card" for the performance of their students. What's wrong with this picture?

Middle school students are concrete thinkers and the abstract escapes them. They usually ask, "What's in it for me?"

Yesterday, Scott said that when he takes the test, he's not going to try at all because it doesn't matter to him. Then I reminded him that the school receives a report and that students ARE the school and that if he messes up on the test, it makes the school look bad and ultimately he will look bad as part of the school community.

I'm afraid this test is merely a reflection of the trend to hold teachers accountable for student learning but not holding students responsible. The old saying is true. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. I could stand on my head trying to compete with MTV, knock myself out to teach a lesson a dozen different ways in interesting ways and agonize over how to help a student to understand the lesson. However, if the student is unreceptive for whatever reason, there's nothing I can do as a teacher.

If a student chooses not to work, not to learn, should I be blamed? Absolutely not.

And the MSPAP test should hold the student responsible for performance by providing test results to every student.

The Obvious

I was telling Lisa to start her work and she questioned me with, "Why should I do it?"

My response? No long intellectual answer about the joys of learning and succeeding. No long diatribe about her responsibility as a student. No deep answer about growing. At this point it was useless.

My answer was, "Because I'm your teacher and I told you to do it."

Sometimes the simple answers are the best.

Sunday, June 3, 2001

Encouraging Students to Be Mischievous

Jonathan, a student in my above average class, takes everything very seriously. He tries to be perfect. He rarely smiles and always has a worried look on his face. MiJun also is very serious and focused,

Last week I assigned a project where students were allowed to work in pairs. I heard Jonathan ask MiJun if she would like to work with him. I knew I could depend on them to do a good job.

As I walked around the room checking on student progress, my attention was drawn to Jonathan's laughter. Not only was he laughing but it was escalating uncontrollably. And MiJun was smiling in spite of her obvious attempts not to do so. I was not worried about these two becoming unruly, but I was very curious about the cause of the laughter. When asked, Jonathan explained that something MiJun wrote was very funny. Students, at the end of their "book," had to write a brief bio of themselves for the book jacket. Apparently MiJun had written something humorous. She didn't want to show it to me and seemed embarrassed and I didn't insist. A few minutes later, Jonathan brought it over to me to share. He was still laughing. I read it and laughed also. MiJun showed a good sense of humor.

I wound up telling both of them that I was very pleased that they had done something "sort of mischievous." I told them that they are both such serious students that I sometimes worry about their ability to have fun. I also told MiJun that I thought she was good for Jonathan because he doesn't smile enough and that it made me very happy to see them both smiling.

So...a glimpse at an infrequent teaching experience.

Friday, June 1, 2001

People who complain...

People who complain that they are bored are themselves the most boring people I know. Bonnie Schupp

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

A Look at Math in Language Arts

Let's say I give a writing assignment to students, a major report or essay. Suppose I spent 15 minutes reading and assessing this student work. This is not unreasonable for an assignment a student worked a long time on. Let's say I have 150 students. Five classes a day, 30 students per class.

How long will it take me to grade this assignment?

Approximately 37 1/2 hours.

This time for grading cannot be found during the school day with meetings, phone calls, planning, etc. Any wonder why teachers don't give research assignments or in-depth writing?

My students asked me why I didn't just flip through the pages to make sure it was there and then grade on the fact that it exists. My answer was that I've never taken the easy route and that their hard work warranted more attention than that.

Teachers have been asking for smaller classes for a long time. Teachers want to do a quality job teaching. Why are we never given the conditions and tools we need to do the kind of job that needs to be done?

Monday, May 28, 2001

Our Life Is...

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” - Marcus Aurelius

“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain

Sunday, May 20, 2001

Stop Blaming Teachers

Teachers are not to blame for students being promoted to the next grade unprepared. Most people are unaware that a student can fail 3 out of the 4 major subjects (language arts, math, science, social studies) and still pass to the next grade!

Yes, this is true! Here's the way it works:

If a student fails one subject, it is ignored and the student moves on to the next grade.

If s/he fails two subjects, one is ignored, one is made up in summer school, and the student passes to the next grade.

If three subjects are failed, one is ignored, two are made up in summer school, and the student passes to the next grade.

Note that summer school is only about 32 days. It is ludicrous to think that in 32 days, a child can make up 180 days during the regular school year.

Students know this system. Most who fail have chosen to fail by not putting in the effort during the year. It's sad that we have seen students this year with 13% averages. It is difficult to earn such a low average.

It's impossible for a middle school student who is trying to have an average this low. There are enough balances in classes, that teachers give struggling students alternative ways of showing their effort and improvement. If a student is a poor test taker, most teachers count other work enough that failing tests is not enough to cause a student to fail the subject.

I say it again. It is impossible to earn such a low average if a student is trying.

Now, back to the 3 out of 4 and you can still pass...(And I haven't even mentioned "social promotions" and special "deals" that are made with students.)

What are we teaching this generation?

1. No matter how little you do, no matter how little effort you put into your work, you can still move on.

2. Party and have a good time during the school year. You can always make it up in 1/4 of the time during summer mornings and still have the rest of the summer to enjoy.

Don't blame us teachers for not preparing students. Teachers are doing their jobs. We are trying to hold students responsible for their actions. The system is not backing us. The school system is not holding students accountable for their actions.

What the school system is doing is a crime. Students are receiving the wrong message about what it takes to succeed. No wonder businesses are griping about the lack of work ethic among their younger employees. This new generation of employees are merely showing what they have learned from school!

Friday, May 18, 2001

Marge, It Takes Two

“Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” -Homer Simpson

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” - Alan Kay

Thursday, May 17, 2001

It's a Shame

Today students are completing a reading/writing long-term assignment. The first two classes have been very good and I was able to have individual conferences with most students as I checked their progress. It feels good to do real teaching and feel that I'm making a difference. The problem is, there are too many students to be able to work one-on-one with each one during a class period. I want to give all students the time they deserve. It's a shame.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Period 7 has a few student "viruses" that spread "infection" among the entire class with students who have low resistance to disruptions. Some days I wind up spending all my time disciplining and not teaching this particular class. Although an average level class, they are not willing to try to tackle problems independently. In fact, they are unwilling to even pretend to work some days. The students who are out of control at home, continue their rudeness and disruptions at school. It's a shame that some students who might have done well in my first or second period class are learning much less as a result of placement in my seventh period class.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Reading Aliteracy?

The No-Book Report: Skim It and Weep

More and More Americans Who Can Read Are Choosing Not To. Can We Afford to Write Them Off?

By Linton Weeks

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, May 14, 2001; Page C01

Jeremy Spreitzer probably wouldn't read this story if it weren't about him.

He is an aliterate -- someone who can read, but chooses not to.

A graduate student in public affairs at Park University in Kansas City, Mo., Spreitzer, 25, gleans most of his news from TV. He skims required texts, draws themes from dust jackets and, when he absolutely, positively has to read something, reaches for the audiobook.

"I am fairly lazy when it comes to certain tasks," says Spreitzer, a long-distance runner who hopes to compete in the 2004 Olympics. "Reading is one of them."

As he grows older, Spreitzer finds he has less time to read. And less inclination. In fact, he says, if he weren't in school, he probably wouldn't read at all.

He's not alone. According to the survey firm NDP Group -- which tracked the everyday habits of thousands of people through the 1990s -- this country is reading printed versions of books, magazines and newspapers less and less. In 1991, more than half of all Americans read a half-hour or more every day. By 1999, that had dropped to 45 percent.

A 1999 Gallup Poll found that only 7 percent of Americans were voracious readers, reading more than a book a week, while some 59 percent said they had read fewer than 10 books in the previous year. Though book clubs seem popular now, only 6 percent of those who read belong to one. The number of people who don't read at all, the poll concluded, has been rising for the past 20 years.

The reports on changes in reading cut to the quick of American culture. We pride ourselves on being a largely literate First World country while at the same time we rush to build a visually powerful environment in which reading is not required.

The results are inevitable. Aliteracy is all around. Just ask:

• Internet developers. At the Terra Lycos portal design lab in Waltham, Mass., researcher William Albert has noticed that the human guinea pigs in his focus groups are too impatient to read much. When people look up information on the Internet today, Albert explains, they are "basically scanning. There's very little actual comprehension that's going on." People, Albert adds, prefer to get info in short bursts, with bullets, rather than in large blocks of text.

• Transportation gurus. Chandra Clayton, who oversees the design of road signs and signals for the Virginia Department of Transportation, says, "Symbols can quickly give you a message that might take too long to read in text." The department is using logos and symbols more and more. When it comes to highway safety and getting lifesaving information quickly, she adds, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

• Packaging designers. "People don't take the time to read anything," explains Jim Peters, editor of BrandPackaging magazine. "Marketers and packagers are giving them colors and shapes as ways of communicating." For effective marketing, Peters says, "researchers tell us that the hierarchy is colors, shapes, icons and, dead last, words."

Some of this shift away from words -- and toward images -- can be attributed to our ever-growing multilingual population. But for many people, reading is passe or impractical or, like, so totally unnecessary in this day and age.

To Jim Trelease, author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook," this trend away from the written word is more than worrisome. It's wicked. It's tearing apart our culture. People who have stopped reading, he says, "base their future decisions on what they used to know.

"If you don't read much, you really don't know much," he says. "You're dangerous."

Losing a Heritage

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
-- Mark Twain

One thing you can say for illiteracy: It can be identified, nailed down. And combated. Scores of programs such as the Greater Washington Literacy Council and the International Reading Association are geared toward fighting readinglessness in the home, the school and the workplace.

Aliteracy, on the other hand, is like an invisible liquid, seeping through our culture, nigh impossible to pinpoint or defend against. It's the kid who spends hours and hours with video games instead of books, who knows Sim Cities better than "A Tale of Two Cities."

It's the thousands of business people who subscribe to executive book summaries -- for example, Soundview's easy-to-swallow eight-page pamphlets that take simply written management books such as "Secrets of Question-Based Selling" by Thomas A. Freese and make them even simpler.

It's the parent who pops the crummy movie of "Stuart Little" into a machine for his kid instead of reading E.B. White's marvelous novel aloud. Or the teacher who assigns the made-for-TV movie "Gettysburg" instead of the book it was based on, "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara.

There may be untold collateral damage in a society that can read but doesn't. "So much of our culture is embedded in literature," says Philip A. Thompsen, professor of communications at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. Thompsen has been watching the rise of aliteracy in the classroom for 20 years, and "students today are less capable of getting full value from textbooks than they were 10 years ago."

He adds that these aliterate students are "missing out on our cultural heritage."

That literature-based past included a reverence for reading, a celebration of the works and a worshipful awe of those who wrote.

To draw you a picture: Where we once deified the lifestyles of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, we now fantasize about rock-and-roll gods, movie starlets or NBA super-studs (e.g. MTV's "Cribs"). The notion of writer-as-culture-hero is dead and gone. Comedic monologuists such as Jay Leno or David Letterman have more sex appeal than serious fiction writers. The grail quest for the Great American Novel has ended; it was a myth after all.

Where we once drew our mass-cult references from books ("He's a veritable Simon Legree"), we now allude to visual works -- a Seinfeld episode (not there's anything wrong with that . . .) or "The Silence of the Lambs" (the movie, not the book). A recent story in Salon speaks of "learning to read a movie."

Where we once believed that a well-read populace leads to a healthy democracy, many people now rely on whole TV broadcast operations built around politics and elections. Quick, name a Wolf Blitzer book.

Non-readers abound. Ask "Politically Incorrect" talk show host Bill Maher, who once boasted in print that he hadn't read a book in years. Or Noel Gallagher of the rock band Oasis, who has been quoted as saying he'd never read a book. You can walk through whole neighborhoods of houses in the country that do not contain books or magazines -- unless you count catalogues.

American historian Daniel Boorstin saw this coming. In 1984, while Boorstin was serving as librarian of Congress, the library issued a landmark report: "Books in Our Future." Citing recent statistics that only about half of all Americans read regularly every year, he referred to the "twin menaces" of illiteracy and aliteracy.

"In the United States today," Boorstin wrote, "aliteracy is widespread."

Several of the articles in the report alluded to the growing number of non-readers. In one essay, "The Computer and the Book," Edmund D. Pellegrino, a former president of Catholic University who is now a bioethicist at Georgetown University, observed: "The computer is simply the most effective, efficient and attractive form for transmittal of processed information. Added to the other nonbook devices like films, tapes, television and the popular media, the computer accelerates the atrophy of the intellectual skills acquired for personally reading the books from which the information is extracted."

Reading for Bliss

Kylene Beers has talked about the evils of aliteracy for so long and so loud, she's losing her voice. Today she's in the lecture hall of Oakton High School bending the ears of 100 or so middle school teachers.

If someone graduates from high school and is aliterate, Beers believes, that person will probably never become a habitual reader.

One of the few academics who have written about the phenomenon, Beers, a professor of reading at the University of Houston, says there are two types of reading: efferent and aesthetic.

Efferent, which comes from the Latin word efferre (meaning to carry away), is purposeful reading, the kind students are taught day after day in schools. Efferent readers connect cognitively with the words and plan to take something useful from it -- such as answers for a test.

Aesthetic is reading for the sheer bliss of it, as when you dive deep into Dostoevski or get lost in Louisa May Alcott. Aesthetic readers connect emotionally to the story. Beers believes that more students must be shown the marvels of reading for pleasure.

On this late afternoon, she is mapping out strategies for teachers who hope to engage reluctant middle school readers. Teaching grammar and parts of speech, such as dangling participles, is the kiss of death, she says. "You don't want to talk about dangling anythings with middle-schoolers," she says in her Texas drawl. And the room laughs.

Aliteracy, she continues, is no laughing matter. Using an overhead projector, she explains that aliterate people just don't get it. Unlike accomplished readers, aliterates don't understand that sometimes you have to read efferently and sometimes you have to read aesthetically; that even the best readers occasionally read the same paragraph over and over to understand it and that to be a good reader you have to visualize the text.

To engage non-reading students -- and adults -- she proposes reading strategies, such as turning a chapter of a hard book into a dramatic production or relating tough words to easier words.

She writes the word "tepid" on the acetate sheet. Then she asks the audience to supply other words that describe water temperature. "Hot," someone calls out. "Freezing," somebody else says. Others suggest: cold, warm and boiling. Beers arranges the words in a linear fashion, from the coldest word, "freezing," to the hottest, "boiling." "Tepid" falls in the middle of the list. This method, she says, will help reluctant readers to connect words they don't know to words they do know. "Aliterates," she tells the teachers, "don't see relationships."

Apparently, teachers don't always see the relationships either. Jim Trelease is concerned that teachers do not read. The aliteracy rate among teachers, he says, is about the same, 50 percent, as among the general public.

There is some good news on the reading front, according to Trelease and others. The Harry Potter series has turned on a lot of young readers and megabookstores, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, are acrawl with people.

But there is plenty of bad news, too. Lots of aliterates, according to Trelease, say they just don't have time to read anymore. "The time argument is the biggest hoax of all," he says. According to time studies, we have more leisure time than ever. "If people didn't have time, the malls would be empty, cable companies would be broke, video stores would go out of business. It's not a time problem, it's a value problem. You have 50 percent in the country who don't value reading."

Like Beers, Trelease believes that youngsters should be encouraged to read aesthetically. Reading aloud to children, according to Trelease and other reading specialists, is the single best way to ensure that someone will become a lifelong reader.

"Even Daniel Boorstin wasn't born wanting to read," Trelease says. "Michael Jordan wasn't born wanting to play basketball. The desire has to be planted."

Surfing Through Grad School

Trelease and Beers and others are scrambling for ways to engage aliterates. For all kinds of reasons. "What aliteracy does is breed illiteracy," Beers explains. "If you go through school having learned to read and then you leave school not wanting to read, chances are you won't put your own children into a reading environment."

"What you have to do is play hardball," says Trelease. He suggests running public awareness campaigns on TV. "That's where the aliterates are."

Trelease says we should try to eradicate aliteracy in the way we went after tobacco. We should let people know, Trelease says, "what the consequences are to your family and children if you don't read."

"Aliteracy may be a significant problem today," says Philip Thompsen. "But on the other hand, a narrow view of literacy -- one that defines literacy as the ability to read verbal texts -- may be a significant problem as well."

Many of the messages that we have to interpret in day-to-day life, Thompsen says, "use multiple communication media. I think it is important to realize that as our society becomes more accustomed to using multimedia messages, we must also expand our thinking about what it means to be 'literate.' "

Olympic hopeful Jeremy Spreitzer plans to become a teacher and maybe go into politics someday. For now, he's just trying to get through graduate school.

He watches a lot of television. "I'm a major surfer," he says. He watches the History Channel, A&E, Turner Classic Movies and all of the news stations.

"I'm required to do a lot of reading," he says. "But I do a minimum of what I need to do."

But how do you get through grad school without reading? Spreitzer is asked.

He gives an example. One of his required texts is the recently published "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" by Robert Putnam. In the book, Putnam argues, among other things, that television has fragmented our society.

Spreitzer thumbed through the book, dipped into a few chapters and spent a while "skipping around" here and there.

He feels, however, that he understands Putnam and Putnam's theories as well as if he had read the book.

How is that? he is asked.

Putnam, he explains, has been on TV a lot. "He's on the news all the time," Spreitzer says. "On MSNBC and other places. Those interviews with him are more invaluable than anything else."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

A Lesson in Empathy Today

Today students had a chance to role play as Timothy and Phillip.

In The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, Phillip and Timothy are stranded on an island after their ship was torpedoed (WWII). Phillip was going home to Virginia from Curacao with his mother who thought things would be safer there. Timothy is a worker in the boat. After spending some time afloat on a raft, they land on a deserted island. Timothy, in his 70's, is a black man from St. Thomas. Phillip is an eleven-year-old white kid who has learned prejudice from his mother. He is dealing with his new blindness from an injury when the boat was torpedoed, his fear of being alone and his distrust of Timothy.

The scene the students played was when Timothy tried to teach Phillip how to weave mats. Phillip says he can't because of his blindness and Timothy insists that he does. He is trying to help Phillip become more independent and self-reliant. Phillip doesn't appreciate it.

After students had a chance to be Timothy as teacher and Phillip as learner with handicap, we discussed what they experienced and how they felt. I entroduced "empathy" to them and related it to the classroom also.

I know that no one learns empathy from one classroom lesson but I'm hoping that the experience may give them a new direction of thought sometimes.

Too Little Too Late

Today I had a call from a parent of another failing student--failing all year. She was concerned about his last assignment and wondered whether (in the last couple of weeks!!) Tim had a chance of passing. Not to mention that he still does nothing in class. No further comment.

Teach? I'd Love to!

Teach subject matter? I'd love to do that but there are so many other matters to deal with.

Seventh period today, several girls were a few seconds late to class. I didn't make an issue of it. The class was even more talkative than usual. I put Mike out in the hall because he was trying to be class clown again. Meanwhile, Katie and Krista, the few seconds late girls, began with, "I have to go to the bathroom." Since they had just come from the same hall and had five minutes to use the bathroom, I refused to let them go. Les, our permanent sub, then said that Mike was misbehaving during his time out in the hall. I told Mike to go to the office. Then Katie walked out saying she was going to the bathroom anyway. Now long after that, Krista walked out saying she was going to the bathroom. When they returned, I sent them to the office. I wrote referrals on all three of them. When I checked in the office, the two girls had never shown up in the office.

I told the class that tomorrow, I was not talking to them. They are to come in, sit down, be quiet and work.

Monday, May 14, 2001

School Testing

A posting from George Curtis from MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU:

I have this old political cartoon on my wall from THE BAY TIMES newspaper on the Eastern Shore it shows a large pig on a scale. There is a picture of a farmer and a scientist standing next to the pig.

The farmer say, “Weighs the same as an hour ago...maybe if we feed him?”

The scientist says, “No...No...No...Just keep testing him until his weight increases.”

The bottom of the cartoon reads, “If agriculture were run like the Department of Education.”

A posting from Peter Donahoe which appeared 5/10/01 on MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU:

It might interest you to know that Maryland’s eighth-graders, on average, appear to know a little less math and science than eighth-graders elsewhere in the United States and a lot less than children in many countries, including Hungary, Bulgaria, Australia and Slovenia. I’m not even mentioning places like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which lead the world in math and science?

A 5/10/01 posting on MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU from Jim Morrow wrote:

I’m REALLY surprised... especially with all the testing that Maryland does..Maybe we should start giving the tests weekly.. I’m sure that if we give the tests often enough our results will improve..

This is the article from the Washington Post:

Maryland Math, Science Learning Dip, International Test Shows

By Karin Chenoweth

Thursday, May 10, 2001; Page HO21

It might interest you to know that Maryland's eighth-graders, on average, appear to know a little less math and science than eighth-graders elsewhere in the United States and a lot less than children in many countries, including Hungary, Bulgaria, Australia and Slovenia. I'm not even mentioning places like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which lead the world in math and science.

I know this because Maryland participated, as if it were a separate country, in an international test of eighth-gradestudents in 1999. So we now have important data to help us think about what children should know and how our schools are doing. The 1999 test was a repeat of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) administered four years earlier.

Because of TIMSS, we realize that American fourth-graders know, on average, as much math and science asmost in the world, while our eighth-graders are about in the middle of the pack and our 12th-graders can barely compete with students in the poorest and least developed countries.

The 1999 retest, known as TIMSS-R, was done partly to test the notion that some special characteristic of fourth-graders who took the test in 1995 would keep them at the top. No such luck. Kids who performed so well then were just average in 1999, seemingly on the same downward path as their older brothers and sisters.

This confirms much other data indicating that something begins to happen in our middle grades that retards the pace of learning for most kids. It isn't that they aren't learning math and science, but they tend not to learn as much as children elsewhere in the world, as evidenced by how the 38 participating countries did.

If Howard County had participated as a separate country, it probably would have performed better than the whole of Maryland. Part of the reason lies in demographics. In general, the wealthier the jurisdiction, the better its students did on TIMSS-R, and Howard is wealthier than most of Maryland.

All of the 13 states tested performed at about the national and international averages. But the wealthy school districts in those states performed much better and the poor ones much worse.

The biggest exception was probably the Michigan Invitational Group, a collection of diverse school districts that demographically match the rest of Michigan. Those districts have been working closely with the National Science Foundation to develop high-quality math and science programs, and they performed much better than Michigan as a whole.

This is an exciting finding because it demonstrates that attention to teacher training, a strong curriculum and high-quality materials can make a significant difference in student achievement. Howard can also look at neighboring Montgomery County for an idea of how it would have performed. Montgomery County was 10th in math in the world and 26th in science.

Like Howard, Montgomery has been pushing more students to take algebra in eighth grade. About 40 percent of eighth-graders in both counties take algebra, compared with about 33 percent statewide. So my guess is that Howard County, like Montgomery, would have been in the top 25 percent.

All of the participating states and districts deserve a lot of credit. It isn't every school superintendent who wants his or her district judged against world standards, and all who agreed to do so should be applauded for their intellectual courage. This is especially true for urban districts that participated.

It is tough, for example, to explain to parents in Dade County, Fla. (Miami), why their children scored way below national and international averages. But Dade, and Rochester, Chicago and Jersey City, which also participated, are determined to help their kids learn at high levels, and this is one way they're proving that.

The TIMSS-R provides a rich source of information about our expectations of children today. For example, American kids performed badly on a rather simple problem asking for the area of a shaded rectangle within a parallelogram. Only 34 percent of Maryland students and 45 percent of Montgomery students answered correctly.

In this country, we tend not to teach geometry until high school. In Singapore, where geometry is woven into the math curriculum more consistently, 83 percent of eighth-graders got the right answer.

There's a lot more information that can be mined from the TIMSS-R, because students, teachers and principals were also surveyed about interesting issues. For example, if anyone thinks that kids today don't realize that it's important to do well in school, forget it.

More than 95 percent of the 3,317 Maryland students surveyed said it's important to do well in math, science and language. But 98 percent also think that it's important to have fun and 84 percent to be good at sports. While students also overwhelmingly said their mothers thought it important that students do well, only 76 percent said their friends do.

This contrasts sharply, for example, with what students in Singapore believe about their friends. That might be one small factor in why Singapore's eighth-graders lead the world in math.

Here's another interesting fact: 40 percent of Maryland's math teachers report that they majored in mathematics and an additional 35 percent in math education, fairly comparable with the rest of the country.

But here's the kicker: 92 percent of Maryland's eighth-grade math teachers say they feel well prepared to teach eighth-grade math. This high level of confidence, and the lower level of training, contrasts sharply with that of the top performers in the world.

For example, in Singapore, only 66 percent of eighth-grade math teachers say they feel well prepared to teach eighth-grade math although a higher percentage of them were actually trained in the field. It appears that the more you know, the greater your appreciation of the complexities of the field -- and the less confident you may be that you are prepared to teach it.

By the way, if your kids complain they have more homework than others, they now have some evidence. According to surveys filled out by teachers, 73 percent of Maryland eighth-graders are assigned math homework three or more times a week. That compares with 63 percent of eighth-graders nationwide.

TIMSS-R provides a wealth of information, and I've only skimmed the surface. For more, go to, where half of the 300 test questions are posted. It's kind of fun to see how you and your kids stack up against Singaporean and Japanese students.

Homeroom, which appears every other week, is a forum for you. Send questions, opinions and issues that you would like to see discussed to Homeroom, The Washington Post, Howard Extra, 10490 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Suite 650, Columbia, Md. 21044. The fax number is 410-772-2330; the e-mail address is To see previous columns, go to, click on the Education page and look for Homeroom under Education Columnists.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Professional Truth

My daughter Lauren graduates Memorial Day weekend. I called in to take off a personal day on Friday, May 25 since she graduates 10 a.m. Saturday and we want to celebrate Friday night. (We have a telephone call-in system where you spend a long time navigating through one menu after another by pushing certain number on the telephone after the computer voice has droned on for too long.) I was reminded that it's against our contract agreement and I can't take a personal day the day before or the day after a holiday. I would have been docked pay for that day. So I called in and canceled. Then I called in sick for that day. The contract doesn't say anything about not taking a sick day then. When I was so sick in January (6 days) I was required to bring in a doctor's note because I had gone over three consecutive sick days. We're a long way from being treated like professionals.

Too Little Too Late

There are 20 days left in the school year. In the past two days, we've seen parents of four children who are very concerned that their children are failing. It amazes me that none of these parents were heard from the entire school year, in spite of a number of E's on their children's report cards for the first three marking quarters. Not only are they showing concern too late, but they are blaming the teachers and school for not notifying them.

Where have these parents been?!!!!

Students take home one interim report and one report card each marking quarter. The parents were notified six times!!!!

When we reminded the parents of this, they retaliated by saying their children were not reliable in bringing things home and that it is the teachers' responsibility to make sure their irresponsible children do what they are supposed to do. They also are demanding that we call them every time their children don't turn in homework or misbehave. I'm sorry but with 140 students every day and more than a full day, there's no way we even have time to do this if we were so inclined.

The climate is such that everything is the responsibility of the teachers. If students don't learn, it's because the teacher is doing something wrong. If students misbehave, it's because the teacher is using the wrong techniques. Of course, we are very limited with what we can do. We can't touch them. Detention only Tuesdays or Wednesdays and then too many times parents hear one side of the story and tell their child that they don't have to serve detention for that nasty teacher.

Nothing is going to change in education until students are held accountable for their role in their own education.

It Never Stops

7th period. Mike has been told 8 times to stop being rude and keep quiet. Now he's pushing desks in the row and bothering students in front of him. More reminders. It continues.

I finally go behind him, catch him in the middle of the act and pull him and his desk back with a jerk. He is surprised and the class is awed at the strength of their language arts teacher. Mike is now threatening to sue me for whip lash.


Unseen dangers lurk. At the end of last week, Carol (science teacher) entered her room in the morning and noticed gas controls were turned on. She flicked the light switch which was not a good idea because a small spark might have set off an explosion if enough gas were in the room. She discovered that it could not have been an accident because several had been turned on. She quickly turned them off and left the room. By that time, she was feeling alarmingly dizzy and called her husband and doctor. The advice was to keep moving and NOT to go to sleep. She had to work the gas out of her system.

The gas had been on all night long. The police were not called. The fire department was not called. The building was not evacuated. MSPAP testing continued that day with no interuptions. Is there a message here?

There was no clue as to who had done it until the next day when one of her students bragged about it. He was taken to the office and given three days suspension. Many are outraged at the lack of punishment over such a serious matter. It should be considered as serious as bringing a weapon to school because of the potential for dangerous consequences.


Tuesday. Excitement 6th period. I was in the hall on hall duty when one of the students came out in the hall with blood running down her face. Another student had thrown an eraser (chalkboard variety with wood) at her and gashed her head. I sent both to the office and got eye witness accounts. Then I sent the best communicator in this below average class to give a description to the vice principal.

Details: Amanda was busy doing her assigned classroom chores. Mike said something to her that she didn't like. She threw a pen at him. He retaliated and threw the chalkboard eraser at her, causing injury to her face and narrowly missing her eye.

Mike was back in my classroom before the end of the class period.

Monday, May 7, 2001


It's Monday. Another week. It's near the end of the school year and many of the kids are choosing to do no work and to bring no books. During 7th period I asked Nicole to "please" clear the aisle and put her things under her desk. She responded, "That's called walk over it." I sent her out on a referral. Average class.

Sixth period, Tiffany was bent on loudly announcing the latest rumors to the class and when I told her to stop and be quiet, she continued and announced to me that she had told the class anyway. Below average class. I changed her seat. When I reminded her to get started with her work, she sat there, didn't open her book and continued talking. I sent her to the office.

Fifth period. Above average. When I came in from hall duty, Ken said his books that had been on his desk had disappeared. His notebook was found under my desk but his class novel was gone. I talked with Zach who had found his notebook. He said he didn't do it and didn't know where the novel was. I checked all the numbers of everyone else's books and they were not using Kevin's. Somehow, between 6th and 7th periods, it wound up on a chair in back of my room. I took it to him in Phyllis's class. This class doesn't usually do this and I'm going to talk to them tomorrow.

After school today we had a stress in-service that was really an infomercial given by a chiropractor. I believe in chiropractors but resent the way this was done.

Sunday, May 6, 2001

To the uneducated...

"To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks." -A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

"When I was fourteen years old, I was amazed at how unintelligent my father was. By the time I turned twenty-one, I was astounded how much he had learned in the last seven years." - Mark Twain

"Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is a beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it." - Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. - James Thurber

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Teaching About Gun Safety

Legislation about teaching gun safety in the schools: Bill HB791 has passed both the Maryland house (98-33) and Senate (33-11). To find out more about this bill go to:

From MSTA about teaching gun safety in the schools:

(Casey Newton, our ActionLine editor)

The General Assembly did pass a bill that would require the teaching of gun safety from K to grade 12. Each County board would adapt the program to their own jurisdiction but the program must meet standards set by the Department of Education. The bill allows a single source to provide the curriculum, including the NRA's Eddie Eagle program, etc. MSTA has written to the governor to request his veto of the legislation. We object giving the NRA access to our students; such a program adds considerably to teachers' workload; and the part of the bill that allows schools to take their junior and senior high students to a firing range to learn the safe way to handle firearms, is in our opinion, ludicrous. The bill signing is not for another couple of weeks, so we'll see what he does. We hear he is inclined to veto it, but a letter to him from you and
others could help convince him.

(Diana Saquella)

Saturday, April 28, 2001

Buried by Paperwork

Guest column: Fads, paperwork bury teachers and students

By AL MARKISH, For The Capital
The writer, an Odenton resident, taught at Arundel High School.
Published April 22, 2001, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2001 The Capital, Annapolis, Md

Retirement last June, after 31 years of teaching, has left me with a smile only a surgeon could remove. Why the joy, you ask?

It's simple: I've seen a job that is at best difficult and demanding gradually become a masochistic exercise. With no power to fix it, I've felt like Kafka's beetle, stuck hopelessly on my back.

I'm not alone. Most teachers I know express similar sentiments.

Everyone knows that you can't teach if no one is listening. Discipline in schools is abysmal.

Administrators argue that their use of progressive discipline -- a series of measured responses to recalcitrant conduct -- modifies undesirable behavior. In reality, it means that nothing of any consequence happens until the kid has drawn blood. While a paper trail of teacher referrals
documenting the child's misdeeds accumulates, the child continues to disrupt.

School reformers pontificate unendingly about raising standards. That's bull. If teachers set high standards and grade accordingly, large numbers of children fail -- and then the teachers' competence is questioned.

The basic problem is that many students won't study or do homework because they're too busy doing "real work" -- flipping burgers at McDonald's to pay for their cars.

(And why do they need cars, you might ask? So they can get to work, of course. You see, we've failed at teaching logic as well.)

But why worry? If they fail they can always take the class at night or summer school or with some other teacher who sets "fairer" standards. The last person blamed is the person most responsible -- the student himself.

Each year schools and teachers are asked to do more -- often with less. Drug and sex education, conflict resolution, technology training, mentoring troubled students -- the list goes on.

The mission to educate is being crushed by a tidal wave of tangential mandates that often have little bearing on whether Johnny can read and write.

What does matter is the amount of time teachers have to prepare to teach, to be creative, to plan with colleagues. Good teachers, like fine wines, need to mature. But it's a maturation process born out of thousands of hours of hard work and experience. The end result is great, but it takes time.

That time is being stolen by useless meetings, administrative duties, conferences and phone calls. Some of it is necessary; a lot of it is not. Responsibilities have changed; the number of hours in the day has not.

How can we prevent the system from collapsing under its own weight? If I were the education guru for the state, I would recommend that we:

End tenure for teachers as it currently exists. It breeds incompetence.

Recycle administrators. Every five years, we should put administrators back in the classroom for a limited stint of teaching.

Require that all observations of teachers be unannounced.

Give teachers a role in evaluating other teachers.

Reduce the role of administrators. Their primary responsibility should be enforcing school discipline.

Ensure that a pencil is in one hand, if a computer mouse is in the other. It's ludicrous to lavish computers on the schools when high school students can't read or write a sentence.

Redefine disability. Special treatment should be reserved for the truly disabled.

Give teachers input in evaluating administrators.

Streamline the bureaucracy. There are a lot of people in education who draw a paycheck and teach not a single child.

Cut teachers' clerical responsibilities.

Raise the standards for summer school and night school. Has anyone ever failed a summer school class?

Get behavior problems out of the schools. It shouldn't require a two-or three-year paper trail to rid the school of a student who spoils it for others.

Scrap the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. It's a waste of time and resources.

There are children in high schools who can't write a coherent sentence because they haven't been taught the rules of grammar or proper sentence structure. Effective writing has been sacrificed in the interest of creative writing. The mantra has been, "Make the child feel good about himself." It doesn't seem to matter that Johnny's essay is in Neanderthal-speak.

The same is true in mathematics. The focus is not on whether Johnny can make correct change, but on whether Johnny feels good about making correct change.

Good teaching is a fine art, not a science. It is a combination of intensive planning, experience, personality, pride in one's work, and character. It is a delicate balance of personalities, backgrounds and viewpoints.

Teaching is difficult to quantify or validate by test results, and it is often impacted by influences beyond the teacher's control. Many students do well in spite of poor teachers and badly despite great ones.

Under the right conditions the right people make it happen, but it's never easy. Teaching is an honorable profession and, like the people it serves, must be nurtured. I believe to do otherwise is to gamble with our children's future, not merely their academic eligibility.

Teacher Apathy?

This was a posting responding to seeming apathy of teachers in posting a response to a thought provoking posting on the University of Maryland listserv:

-----Original Message-----
From: Harry Banks
Sent: Tuesday, April 24, 2001 9:09 PM
Subject: Re: [MDK-12] Column about why so many teachers are leaving thepublic schools

But what is really remarkable is that you are the only one to respond! Absolutely amazing, the amount of silence! Harry

This was my response about our "apparent" apathy:

From: “Bonnie Schupp”
Sent: Tuesday, April 24, 2001 9:37 PM
Subject: Re: [MDK-12] Column about why so many teachers are leaving the public schools

Maybe we’re just all burned out, especially at this time of the year. Maybe we have barely enough energy for survival. If I dwell on negatives right now, I won’t make it. One thing for sure, though. I won’t be in teaching much longer and am now working on a degree which will lead me to another career. It’s a shame because I love teaching, but I am not such a masochist that I enjoy being beaten by a system that doesn’t understand reality in the same way teachers in the trenches do.
Bonnie Schupp

This was the response to my posting:

Bonnie, sorry to hear that you might be leaving. I and probably 600 others on this list know exactly what those feelings are, and that they are strongest now in April, May and June. Unfortunately I know only one person who has left who regretted not interacting with kids, and she only regretted that for the first year. Now she makes more money than my wife and I put together and feels quite productive with her company which very much appreciates the ex-math teacher. Wouldn’t it be a dream to have a society of teachers who left the profession to march on the state or local government the way the Viet Nam veterans (who paid their dues big time) demonstrated against the waste of that war. The republicans think it is about a new test for accountability, and the dems keep saying more money more money. Not too many people outside the classroom are concerned about discipline and absolutely stopping class disruption with the use of law as a top priority. I work (after 30 years of combat) with kids I enjoy and parents come in to apologize for mis-behavior. My only regret is the overwhelming majority of kids who went by my charge and did not get 100% of my time. The emotionally and behaviorally “needy” got the largest percentage, as the teacher gets administrative kudos for handling THOSE kids so well. I would be right there with you, leaving, had I not gone to a school that struggles to face the tough problems and supports teachers the way they should. But will those administrators be invited to speak as the university to the next crop of innocents? I hope you stay! Harry ----- Original Message -----

Smoky Mirrors

Posted 4/28/01 by Jim Morrow
University of Maryland Listserv

Does anyone else hope the smoke will clear and the mirrors will crack so people can see and recognize that teaching and learning is a cooperative enterprise; that giving students what they want is not necessarily what they need; that just berating teachers and their methods without addressing students and parents and their responsibilities in the cooperative process amounts to abuse?

Some thoughts of education today about why so many teachers are leaving the public schools....

I have noticed lately, in my 30 years of doing this wonderful thing I called teaching, what I call the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” That- all the children are now above average. When I was a child my father used to take me when we bought steamed crabs to Gordons of Orleans Street... Up on the wall were three crabs... the sign said “small—“medium”—“large”.., The other day I saw those same three crabs, -- listed now as.. “#1Large”, “Jumbo” and Texas Jumbo”

At my schoolð Our crabs now read..(oops I mean our courses of study) are scheduled to become..—instead of B course and A course .. we are now “TA DA”--- “College Preparatory and Advanced Studies (AP or IB”). We ve gone through calling it “Special” College Prepèthen that “EVERY” student at City was an HONORS student, rename after rename to make OUR students appear to be the best in Baltimore City.. Now we are no longer offering honors coursesðOur “Honors” courses are being disbanded since the EOC (BCPSS “End Of Course” exams) and HSA’s (High School Assessments) do not distinguish between honors and regularð So why should we? We will be offering Pre-AP and Pre-IB coursesðto 9th and 10th grades.. Could it just
be to force students to take AP or IB. and enlarge our new “ADVANCED STUDIES PROGRAM”?

Statistics and data are now manipulated to make the results say anything we want. For example... over the past 5 ç(FIVE) years we have had (whoa) 35 total students take the AP calculus exam (AB). In 96- 0/15 passed (3 or higher) or 0%..., 97 -1 out of 7 passed or 14 %, 98-1 out of 12 passed or 8%,---- BUT in 1999- 1/1 passed.. That’s 100%. A chart of this was created stating our 5 year trend was 100%. .... the people at the State and City must be impressed!. Our percentage passing went from 0% passing to 100% passing in just 5 years. We are a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and a MD State School of Excellence.. Nancy came by personally to help raise the flag and join in the celebration.

But a recent Brookings Foundation Report suggests “that the 18çyr old program is too often an award for impressive paper work and fashionable teaching methods and too infrequently a measure of academic achievement” (çJay Matthews, Washington Post, Sept 6, 2000)

Of course OUR average SAT scores are in the 800’s.. We’re Blue Ribbon (with the flag to prove it.), but this allows the powers that be to claim the fame, and the Abell Foundation to give and additional $30,000 grant to PROMOTE our new excellent curriculum. (the AP-IB Advanced studies program), on top of who knows how many $100,000”s (seriously) to fund the “International Baccalaureate Program, for 50-60 kids out of close to 1300.

Isn’t education wonderful?

Our principal has never taught in a public high school. He has his doctorate, and is a lawyer. Most definitely, he, Ms. Grazmick and other powers that be need to go back (or for the first time) to the classroom and teach. NOT to the Montgomery Blairs, and the Centennials, but the everyday High Schools, Teach a full load for one full year, with Portfolios and MSPAP and all the other Bureaucratic @#$%. Only then will their suggestions have meaning or relevance. (Did you ever want to be the Principal at a school that was marked for “STATE TAKEOVER”? To ask our State superintendent to bring herself and her “staff” and demonstrate how it’s to be done..? Let them take over the school for a year, WITHOUT additional funding, outside intervention, privatization, additional staffing, etc, and implement THEIR policies of “how WE should do it”.

I doubt they would last for 3 months let alone a year, My students are wonderful kids.. but typical kids.. bright, lazy, energetic, happy, angry. good days-bad.. I love teaching them.. I feel bad, dirty about the immorality of inflating them to believe that mediocrity is excellence. I get angry that people who haven’t, don t or no longer teach, just change the names of courses to make them sound better, more advanced, more elite. Ashamed that it does such a disservice to them as future adults and will never address the roots of the problems they face, we face.. (but it does make the upper powers look good, feel better about who they are and justifies their job and salaries I guess)

But alas like you and others.. I am cast aside as a lowly veteran, who’s not up to date with the latest jargon and statistics data trends and practices of which none address the parent or student's accountability for their on actions or inactions.

As long as our “Lake Wobegon” society ans system wants no failures and all excellents.. and no one seems to remember or understand about the Bell Curve of normal distribution, theywill continue to just change the names, and manipulate statistics to prove that mediocre is excellent.

Hang in there sports-fans. We’ve done (DO) a good job, fought (FIGHT) the good fight, and have taught and provided students the skills and abilities to accomplish great things.. (even though we never bothered to count and manipulate the data, correlate and extrapolate future trends, shamelessly self-promote or rename ourselves to look better.

Friday, April 20, 2001



The end of the week! Why do teachers live for the end of the week?

1. It's a chance to get caught up with laundry and everything else you've put off until the weekend because you haven't had time or energy to deal with it during the week.

2. It's a chance to get caught up with grading.

3. It's a chance to organize and work on lessons.

4. It's a chance to sleep!

5. It's a chance to gather energy you will need to face the coming week.

Tell me what is wrong with the list above.

Tuesday, April 17, 2001



I should have started this log at the beginning of the school year but who has time to record details and impressions with all the STUFF that is hurled your way beginning the first hour of returning to school. Since next year will be my last year teaching before another big life transition, maybe I will use this convenient blog to quickly add comments.

Today I'm home sick. Actually I was sick almost the entire spring break. I feel cheated. Not only was I sick but I didn't feel much like getting caught up on grading and planning for school. On the home front, the environment is in chaos and I had hoped to make some sense out of my daily disorder. And for my grad class, I had hoped to get a lot done also. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. So here I am, hacking (coughing) away and hurting in the chest.

I sent David in with updated seating charts and lesson plans. I hope everything eventually lands in the hands of the substitute, whoever it winds up being.

I was just reminded of an e-mail that I received from Katie's mother. I had worked with Katie for two years before the enrichment program was pulled from the schools. She told me she had been cleaning out some old e-mail files and discovered Katie had completed an on-line survey about who she wanted to be like when she grew up. This poem comes from that communication:


A simple survey

A cliche question

Who do you want to be like

when you grow up?"

My name goes in the answer space.