About Me

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San Clemente, CA, United States

Friday, August 29, 2014


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.