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San Clemente, CA, United States

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Teachers

Every day I wake up I make a decision to be as good a man as I can be.  I make some mistakes, but I hold my head high as a man of good character.  The older I get, the better if feels to do the right thing.  I don't lie on my taxes, or cheat on girlfriends.  I don't take what isn't mine and I don't ask for things I neither need nor deserve.  I always pay my fair share and I treat people with respect.  I do all these things, not for any praise, but because this is how we are supposed to act.

Maybe I'm watching too many YouTube videos, but I'm getting convinced I'm the last sane and honorable man in America.  I know that great men and women must be out there, but I fear we are wildly outnumbered by people who have no desire to walk a good walk.  Well I'll walk a good walk.  I'll do so because I have a responsibility to my G-d, my family, and my late father and I will not embarrass any of them.

Additionally,  as a public school teacher, i feel a responsibility to act as a role model for our children.  Many of our kids live in homes in which parents do not exhibit good character.  As teachers, people who stand in front of these kids 5 times a week, we have an opportunity (responsibility) to show them not just mathematics, but how to be young men and women of good character.

Too many of my colleagues have forgotten this responsibility or never realized that it is the biggest part of the job.  I'm not talking about saying "bullshit" in class.  Heck, my language at times also gets colorful.  I'm talking about showing kids that when you go to work, you go to work.  You don't sit at your desk and demand others work.  You stand and deliver until your feet hurt and your voice is strained.   Then you do it again 4 more times that day and every other minute of your week.   Then you work even harder the next week.   We must show our students what hard work looks like.

We must show our students what it means to come to work prepared.  How dare we lambaste our students who don't bring their book to class when we can't be bothered creating a good lesson plan?

Some of my colleagues are amazing hypocrites.  They come to work late yet write more tardy referrals than the rest of us.  They confiscated cell phones while spending much of their time in class living on theirs.  They complain about the performance of their students while not doing anything to better themselves.  They expect an hour of homework a night out of the students and then can't be bothered to grade that work in a timely manner.

It is time for teachers to begin holding each other to higher standards.  It is time for teachers to risk friendships if it means it might help students.  It is time for strong teachers to open their doors and show their colleagues what it means to be a teacher.




Saturday, August 22, 2015

24

On Tuesday I begin my 24th year as a high school mathematics teacher and I still have the feeling of butterflies in my stomach.  The rush of standing in front of a crowd competes with the fear of standing in front of a crowd.  And don't tell me a classroom of 38 17 year olds isn't a crowd.  Hell, somedays its a gang.   If the past 23 years are any indication, I won't sleep for the next two nights.  I'll toss and turn and plan my day/week/semester/year.  

One of the reasons I like teaching public high school mathematics is because it provides me a fresh start every year.  For most people, life and work is a steady non-stop grind.  I get to enjoy a clear start date and I get to look forward to an end.  I like having a finish line.   I hit the tape, take a couple days off, and spend the summer playing golf and thinking about how to get better.

I have only one goal this year.  Perfection.

I want to pitch a perfecto.  27 men up.  27 men out.   Nothing even close.  Punch out 17.

I want to birdie every hole.  298 yard drive with a 10 yard draw right down the middle.  142 yard 8 iron that flies right at the stick.  8 foot putt with 3 inches of left to right break right in the back of the jar.

I want to score on a penalty kick, a breakaway, a long distance bomb, and I want to bend a corner around the goalie.

10 frames?  12 strikes.  300

I want to dunk on Michael Jordan as I beat him 11-0 in one on one.

I want the jury to award my client MORE than I asked for.

I want the doctor to tell me to start smoking because I'm too healthy.

I seriously want to be the perfect teacher.  I've won 3 Teacher of the Year Awards.  What else is there?  I want to be perfect.

No more popping off at a kid goofing off.  Calm and perfect.
No more colorful language in class.  Classy and perfect.
No more outward frustration when they act like kids.  They are kids.  Breathe and be perfect.
No more going home with anything left in the tank.
No more forgetting that I am there to serve there needs and help them achieve.

I want to be perfect.  Seamless transitions from funny to serious.  The perfect balance between rigor and reason.  I want to be tall and dark and handsome and every one of my words dripping with importance.   I want to have the greatest year since Plato opened the Academy.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cliches

I don't like cliches.   "Time heals all wounds."  Shut up. No it doesn't.  "Patience is a virture."  Shut up and hurry up.  "You can do anything you set your mind too."  Shut up.  I'll never dunk a basketball.

And my favorite.  "Take it one day at a time."  Just shut up.  What does that even mean?  Only a fool would go through life not knowing that a day was a small piece of something bigger.  To treat a day as an isolated event doesn't fit my brain.

Except yesterday I figured out that "Take it one day at a time", for me, might be the key to my sanity.

I've been having a problem with balance.  I've been too "all in" at work.  Planning, teaching, tutoring, testing, reflecting, re-teaching, re-testing, begin again.   My brain has been all school all the time.

Well, yesterday I had a good day.   One good day.   Balanced.  Bit of work, bit of fun, bit of family responsibility.  

Now I want one more good day.  Maybe I'll try and do this "one day at a time".

Friday, August 29, 2014

22

On September 4, I will start my 22nd year as a high school mathematics teacher.

I remember early in my career how I couldn't wait for summer to end.  I had to get back in the classroom.  I needed to teach, and teach well, conic sections, logarithms, and DeMoivre's Theorem.  I read all I could get my hands on about teaching.  I read and re-read countless numbers of textbooks so that I could use the very best parts of each in my lessons.  I put together pacing guides, wrote tests and quizzes, and then waited for the calendar to turn.

Gosh how I loved those final weeks of summer.  The anticipation and nervous energy.  I loved the first few weeks of school.  Kids on best behavior and teachers still wearing decent clothes.  I loved feeling of full mental exhaustion at the end of each day.

I'm worried because I feel none of that right now.  No dread, just completely unemotional.  I'm not silently wishing the days would go faster.  I'm not sitting in my classroom, alone, just thinking about how to get better and what I hope to achieve.  I'm not pacing around my apartment planning full semesters in my head.

Instead, I'm thinking abou...

I'm thinking about applying to become a school principal.  I've had my credential for years, but I never really considered it.  Well, I'm starting to think it might be a good fit.  First of all, I'll never get a gig.  One has to spend years toiling away as a Discipline Asst. Prin. or Guidance Asst. Prin.  before getting a shot at the title.  I know I'm just exercising my brain, but I'm thinking more and more about the impact the job could have. 

My first thought is to my current principal.

He's good.  Really good.

It sounds cocky, but one of the things that makes him good is that he recognizes that I am good at what I do and that I am an expert in my field.   He also recognizes that I have passion and am a hard worker and he uses all of that information to let me be a strong voice in the decisions that affect my department. 

Though I don't know him well,  he seems to be his own man.  I like that.  I don't see that much.  I see a bunch of people just trying to get through their day.  Doing what the bosses say to do.  Not thinking too much, not caring too much.  Just getting along and taking the easier road.  I don't think that's him. This guy will fight the good fight and if a policy is wrong I don't think he's afraid to raise a little hell as needed.I like that a principal can still stand up for what he believes.

My main reason for considering this move, is to be the educational leader every high school needs.  I'm not a fan of the current trend in hiring school administrators. I want a guy who has walked a mile in my shoes.  I want a guy who can come into my class, do an observation, and say things to me like, "Have you ever tried...." or "What about using....", or "When I was teaching....."   I want a guy that knows what I know and that takes time.  I want a guy seasoned enough to know that pendulums swing back and that teachers aren't the lazy, entitled, arrogant, untalented group that many have painted us as. 

The current trend in hiring Principals seems to be teach for 3 years, be an Assistant Principal for 3 years, then become Principal.  MOST guys that take that path never fully get the respect of the staff.   Maybe the office staff, but most teachers want a guy who has been on the front lines and knows that education happens in classrooms with teachers.  To fully get the teachers on board?  Give them someone to look up to.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

My way


This summer, two of my former students had to write college essays about someone they admired. They both chose me and they both scheduled me for "interviews."  After the first one, I thought I knew what to expect in the second.  I was wrong.  I didn't see it coming.

The first student asked me about my education, early work experiences, and a lot about why I became a teacher.  She asked good, "nuts and bolts" questions about me and my life.  At the end, I thought she got a pretty good picture of who I am and what I stand for.  

The second student only asked me one question.  "Are teachers born or made?"  Kinda stupid question I first thought and then I listened to myself stumble all over my answer.  I finally took a breath and shared my take.

Teachers are born teachers.  On my level, successful teaching requires the ability to stand in front of 40 pairs of judgmental eyes and deliver an engaging, informative and meaningful lesson.  On my level, if I stumble on the content, my high level kids would either eat me alive or stop believing in my ability to teach them and shut down.  But content aside, a teacher must be able to stand up and talk.  It sounds easy enough.  It isn't.  While I absolutely believe a person can learn to overcome any anxiety about speaking in public, great teachers don't just endure speaking in public.  They need it.  Great teachers can't wait for tomorrow because they get to perform again.  It is absolutely ego driven and absolutely ok.  The desire to be seen and heard forces the great teachers to be great.

And teachers are made.  I always tell the same story whenever anyone asks me what sets me apart from other teachers.  I don't claim its my dashing good lucks and 5' 6" frame.  I claim that I became  good because I mastered my curriculum.

I took my first high school mathematics teaching job in the middle of a school year.  Catalina Foothills High School had just opened its doors and by Thanksgiving, a math teacher was pregnant and gone.  I was hired and thrown right in.  Our first year school was a frenzy of wonderful confusion and growth and we all loved being part of something new.

That year, it was all I could do to stay a bit ahead of the classes.  I had Pre-Calculus, Geometry, and Algebra classes and every night I planned and prepared for a couple of hours.  I didn't like the last minute pressure and I silently pledged to never be merely sections ahead of the class in my preparation.   That summer, after being hired full time, I killed it.  I worked hundreds of hours to plan each class, outline each lesson, and write a years worth of tests and quizzes.  I wanted to be dead ready to go when that first bell rang. I did one more thing.  I solved every problem that I would be assigning that year for homework. 

I was great.  Planned, prepared, organized, sexy.  What I didn't count on was what happened next.  Many of my previous years Pre-Calculus students, now in AP Calculus, were seeking me out for help.  I realized that knowing only my curriculum wouldn't be enough as a high school math teacher.  I realized I needed to master the entire curriculum.

I did.  It took me 3 years but I read every word and did every problem in every math textbook  used at Catalina Foothills HS    I became an expert in high school mathematics.  Then I got confident and confidence is a funny thing.  I stood talled, spoke with more conviction, knew more, imparted more, and understood more.  I think that is what sets me apart. 

She smiled, thanked me, and wrote the most beautiful college essay I've ever read. 

Thank you.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ready or not, here we come!

As has every educator near my age, I've watched a BUNCH of ideas flow into the classroom.  For over 20 years I've watched dozens of "great" new approaches to teaching.  Teachers, without question trying to do the right thing, have tried an untold number of ways to educate kids.  Each new idea or technique or method was the "silver bullet".  Each of them was going to magically sweep away the failed policies of the past and guide us down the "right" road.  Each would eliminate the achievement gap and raise our International test scores.

Nope.  The evidence reveals that there has been zero improvement over those past 20 years.  I content that all these new pedagogies have in fact hurt our performance.

Never mind that for YEARS we have known there is a direct relationship between student success and parental influence, we keep thinking that we 'can overcome this with a new approach to teaching

Back when I was a younger man and went to happy hour's with my colleagues, one game we used to play was the alphabet game.  We had to go around the alphabet and name an educational fad or program or inservice we knew of.  It was amazing how many we could name.   Alternative assessments, Brain based learning, Cooperative groups, Differentiation, Enrichment, Favorite mistake, (just learned this one) , Guide on the side, etc.   I really could go on and on and on.   And on.

The problem is, none of them work.  Well, that may not be true.  What we can say definitively is that none of them have any evidence of working.  In the past 40 or so years of educational trial and error, there is exactly ZERO research to indicate any of it improves learning.  Wouldn't you think that after 40 YEARS we might have collected some data indicating what approaches work?  Well, hundreds and hundreds of surveys and experiments and observations and trials have been done and NONE OF THEM indicate that students learn better with Discovery Learning or Reverse Classroom or Cooperative Groups or any of it.

These fads, and "flavor of the month" approaches all fall short because when teachers first try them, as college students or adults, THEY ARE COLLEGE STUDENTS OR ADULTS!  Why do we think that the methods used to teach adults will work with kids?  They often don't.   All of our students learn the alphabet.  We wouldn't put a bunch of 4 year old kids at tables and tell them that if they learn it on their own they are more apt to remember it.  It would be ridiculous.  My point is that there is a line people cross for when they may be ready for self directed learning.  MOST high school kids aren't there.

The dirty little untold secret in education is that the ONLY method that has been proven to work consistently is Direct Instruction. (Project Follow Through)    Imagine that.  Stand and deliver.

It isn't about how a methodology.  Its about an educators expertise and willingness to deliver quality and understandable lessons.  Its about imparting knowledge and motivating kids to take it all in.  We need to stop trying to find the next great method and start trying to train better teachers.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Technology

10:00 AM and I'm already angry.

I just watched a YouTube video (don't judge me) produced by a father, starring his son, with only one message.  Over and over the kid said, "You can't be my teacher unless you know technology."  Literally.  I think the video is called "You can't be my teacher."

Shut up.

The implication is that human beings aren't as capable of imparting information or solving problems as is technology.  YOU MEAN THE TECHNOLOGY THAT HUMAN BEINGS CREATED????? 

All technology does is save us some time.  Nothing can be done by machines that can't be done by man.  Nothing.  In mathematics, there is NOTHING my calculator can do BETTER than me.  Faster yes.  Prettier?  Absolutely.  But not better.  And my calculator doesn't know that some answers are extraneous based upon the problem.  "You can't be my teacher?"  Shut up. 

I am watching a generation of kids who spend much of their time, making videos of themselves commenting about a video starring someone else.  I am watching a generation of kids who think others care what they think. 

It truth, I should only speak about what I do; teach mathematics.  In theory, we should be able to look at the big picture stuff and let the computers and calculators focus on the "minutia."  I get that.  I do.  But what is the logical extension?  Where is the line?  Should kids even learn logarithms?  Trig?  Multiplication?  Why bother. 

We bother because there is a certain beauty to the pencil and paper.  A direct connection between brain and paper.  A thoughtful, logical, ordering of events that lead to a solution. 

I contend that the minutia matters too.  The journey.  We aren't just teaching kids to solve problems.  We are also eaching them to be diligent and persistent.  

In architecture, Computer Assisted Design, (CAD) has "revolutionized" the industry.  But lets not forget that before computers we found a way to build the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumph, the Sphinx, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the flipping PYRAMIDS and everything else built before about 1950.  How about Mt. Rushmore?  Imagine that. 

And how the heck were computers invented before computers?  By guys with pencil and paper.  Already I'm hearing that we are removing cursive handwriting from elementary schools.  Wow.  How will these kids read historical documents?  Maybe they can take a picture of it, run it through an APP, and have their phones rap it to them.  Eh, thats a problem for Virginia Reischl.