science teacher, an old woman long past her usefulness that we are unable to be
rid of due to the influence of the teacher’s union, shuffles up to me, begging
for my key for the third time this week. Once again I graciously open her door
for her and as I stand there with a frozen smile waiting for her to realize
that she can go in now, I look around me. Above my head broken or missing
ceiling tiles make a checkerboard pattern, and I mentally plug the face of the
kid who broke each tile into the proper hole.
I am dancing to the
music as I step in a semi-circle to the left and punch my opponent’s face with
my right hand, turning my heel and rotating my hip in unison as I strike to
impart more force. I pause and center my weight so I use my body more than my
arms to throw my limp opponent away. Then as the lovely Ms. Lopez sings the
end, “Until it beats no more,” I step to the right and slowly raise my center
of gravity, feeling my body expand with my inner energy. My imaginary opponents
dispatched and the Tai Chi short form done, three quick, measured steps and a
tap of my finger stops the music.
Over the course of my final years as a public school teacher I decided that I would write a book about my experiences and my thoughts about teaching. I have quite a bit of material written now. Maybe one day I will organize it all into that book, but for now I will put some of it up here. Starting with what I thought would be the forward:
I had to write it all
down. I’m a writer. When asked about myself recently, I described my writing as
an affliction or a disease, as if the words needed to come out of me or I would
retch alphabet soup or explode in a cloud of well-worn and yellowed scrabble
There is an old saying,
“Do as I say, not as I do.” This saying expresses the fact that often people do
not follow their own advice. Every year, somewhere around the third day of
school, I present the children with my modified version, “Do as I say and as I
do.” When I ask for a volunteer to repeat back to me what I just said, about
half the time the response mimics the original expression and not my modified
one. I like it when I get this wrong answer here as it really drives home my
point. The fact is that we have gotten too impatient to really listen anymore.
As I finish out my service as a public school teacher I have come to several conclusions about the educational system. Even at its best, there is still too much wrong to just fix it. I echo the words of Sir Ken Robinson, "We need to rebuild it from the ground up."
I believe some of those who have already started in new directions have gotten part of it right. Those who are flipping the classroom so content is learned for homework are 100% correct. But I diverge from them about the classwork.
My thoughts today are of curriculum and how passé it is to teach for content knowledge when facts are a smartphone away. I educate my children in useful skills like fun, passion, compassion, and cooperation. All of us working together for the benefit of all. Give a group like this any task and they will work together to complete it. Wouldn't "school" be a wonderful place if this were the mandate?
But I'm not a politician, just a teacher so I cannot change the world. The irony of that statement surprises me.
My career in education
goes back more than 40 years. In the middle of October, 1969, the Mets were
showing just how Amazin they were by beating the Baltimore Orioles in the final
game of the World Series. Mayor of NYC Lindsay was taking a few moments away
from watching the game on a backstage tv as he handed me a silver medal
commemorating my winning the Best Essay on fire Prevention in the 5 boroughs.
As soon as school began that following Monday I started my first tutoring
business, charging my fellow 2 graders a quarter each for my help
with their writing assignments or math homework.
This is the continuation of the previous post about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.
It is Wednesday and it
is Halloween. Both my son’s and daughter’s schools have already cancelled
school until Monday, but of course, my school has only cancelled Thursday so
far. We drove south and west today and found a Shop Rite that was working off a
generator and we bought dried salame and cheese and best of all, fresh baked
bread and hot coffee from an in-store Dunkin Donuts. The lines were long, but
we were happy to have some good food so we didn’t mind.
I came across this piece of writing I did during Hurricane Sandy and thought I should share it.
It was 2:28 Sunday
afternoon October 28, 2012 when I noticed the first raindrops. Hurricane Sandy
was coming and both my children’s schools and my wife’s work had long ago sent
notices that they would be closed tomorrow. The state offices had also decided
to close. The only place that had yet to weigh in was, of course, the NBBOE.
For all I knew, I was supposed to report to work in the morning.
Almost exactly one hour
later my daughter’s school joined my son’s school in extending the closed
notice through Tuesday.
I guess I am never satisfied. Whereas just two days
ago I was happy with an unexpected day off for my birthday, today I am mad at
Gov. Christie for declaring an emergency and forcing us to close. We have no
choice, which shouldn’t surprise me as I have no choice in what I have to teach
or where and when I get to teach it. Of course I have no say in making any
decisions but if I did…
Instead of forced stifling classrooms I envision a
huge open space divided into hexagonal pods. The building is open 24/7, staffed
by three shifts of educators and there is a police station by the only