Tag Archives: education

Teacher-Wise

So, does this title have more than one meaning?  Of course it does.  This post is about being a teacher and having wisdom.  And I know you will immediately think, “You dumb guy!  I know teachers who aren’t wise at all!  Some teachers are stupid!”

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You are especially saying that if you are a student.

You are not wrong, either.  Some teachers have no business being teachers.  It is especially difficult to find good science and math teachers.  After all, those who are good at math and science can make so much more money in the private sector, that they would have to be born to be a teacher… and realize it, to go into teaching.  There are very good science and math teachers out there, but many of them are wilting under the weight of a difficult job being made constantly harder by social pressures like truly dumb people who say things like, “You can’t solve our education problem by throwing money at it!”  I guarantee no one has ever thrown money at the problem.  If teachers were paid what they were worth so that we could retain good, competent teachers, you would see education make an amazing amount of progress in a very short time.  What Wall Street firm fails to pay their star players what they are worth?  Do bankers and lawyers get punished for doing a good job by asking them to produce more with fewer resources for less pay?  Those folks in finance and law always pay the price for the best because that always produces the best result.  If you want schools to routinely produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers, why would you complain that we are spending too much money per kid?  Of course, there are those with the money and the power (especially in Texas) who really don’t want more students coming out of schools with the ability to think and decide for themselves.   Smart people are harder to control and make a profit from. (Out of Control is a book they don’t want you to read.)

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So now I have totally proved the point that smart people who are looking out for their own interests should never go into teaching.  Still, among the unwashed, unloved, and incompetent that do make the mistake of going into teaching, there is still a great deal of learning and gaining of wisdom going on.  After all, if a fool like me can become a good teacher, anybody can do it.  You just have to learn a few bits of wisdom the hard way that have very little to do with what we call “common sense”.

As Dr. Tsabary points out in the book I plastered on the front of this post, discipline is not what you think.  We all remember that teacher we had that nobody listened to.  She was always yelling at us.  She made threats.  She punished us.  And even the good kids in class would shoot spitwads at the back of her head.  Why did we not respect and learn from this teacher?  Because she never learned these profound truths.

1.  Kids are people.  They want to be treated with respect and even love.  Their ideas matter as much, if not more than the teacher’s ideas.  Good teachers will;

a. Get to know every kid in their class as a human being, knowing what they believe in, what they care about, where they come from, and who they think they are.

b. Ask them questions.  They will never have an original idea if you do not make them think.  They have insights and creativity and strengths as well as weaknesses, bad behavior, and wrong ideas.  You have to emphasize the former and minimize the latter.

c.  Laughing and talking in the classroom is evidence of learning.  Quietly filling out worksheets is evidence of ignorance, and most likely the ignorance of the teacher.

2.  Tests don’t matter.  This is always true for these reasons;

a.  Tests are a comparison, and nothing is gained by comparing kids.  Comparing the scores of my bilingual kids in South Texas with upper class rich kids in Chicago and college-bound kids in Tokyo has no value.  Their lives are completely different and so are their needs.  If we don’t score as well on the tests as the kids in Tokyo, what difference will that make to what time the train arrives in the station in Paris?  (Especially if Pierre has chosen the bullet train that goes south at a rate of 200 miles per hour.  No trains in Texas go that fast without crashing and blowing up.)

b.  If I spend time in class teaching students how to read and making them practice reading critically, they will do just as well as the kids who drilled extensively from specially made State materials preparing for the test on the reading and vocabulary portions.  The only way that outcome changes is by cheating and giving them the actual test questions before the test.  (I should point out that teachers caught doing this last thing are shot in Texas and buried in a box full of rattlesnakes.  Dang old teachers, anyhow!)

I know I started this little post by convincing you that I am not wise, and very probably mentally unbalanced.  And now that I have made my arguments, you know for sure.  But over time, there is wisdom to be learned from being a teacher.  You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true.  (I don’t know how many times I used that phrase out loud in a classroom over 31 years, but I am guessing you couldn’t count them on fingers even if you used the hands of every kid I ever had as a student.)

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, teaching

Doing the Devil’s Dance

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We live in world that is profoundly unkind to non-conformity, weirdness, or even basic differences.  How do you explain to a child that his school doesn’t want him there any more because his uniqueness is too much of a bother, a pain to deal with, an issue too complicated for a school administrator to get their little gray minds around?  I can’t tell you the details of what we are going through right now.   Too many privacy and legal issues get in the way of complete candor.  But Texas school systems do not handle issues of exceptionality well.   They are designed to crush originality and individual differences and grind out a workforce that will be compliant, that won’t complain when they are underpaid or mistreated, that will all be alike in many important ways.  They would also like to turn out students who vote Republican, but it is all right if they turn out to be the type of citizen who won’t or can’t vote.  Your life can be turned upside down over minor infractions.  It is a law that Texas students must be in attendance over 90% of the time.  If not, they are going to hound you, fine you, take you to court and even jail you.  Because students must all fit into the same mold.  No square pegs allowed.  They do make exceptions for health problems… but only the right kind of health problems.  Stomach cancer. okay, panic disorder, not okay…  There are laws in place to protect those of us with special handicaps… but this is the de-regulation State.  The city of West, Texas blew up in a fireball because too many regulations means lower profit margins.  Of course, they don’t hesitate to apply regulations against me and mine.  That is another matter (and the profits flow the opposite direction, offender to State).

So, what will I do now?  I will do the best I can.  I complained about it here to the best of my ability.  The child even remarked that one day he will be wiser and more experienced than others because he went through this.  There are other means of education, even if I have to do it all myself.  And I can take the frustrations and turn them into future funny fables that will ring true, because they are.

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Filed under autobiography, Paffooney

Teacher! Ooh-Ooh! Teacher!

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I have the privilege of being a public school teacher.  Or maybe I should use the word “cursed”.   It is no easy thing to be a teacher in the modern world.  Regressive State governments like Texas mandate that teachers do more with less.  We have to have bigger classes.  We have to show higher gains on State tests.  We have to do more for special populations based on race, disability, language-learner status, and socio-economic status.  Of course, we give money to private schools to be “fair” to all, so a majority of the well-funded and advantaged students are removed from the public school system, even though studies show that their presence in classes benefits everyone.  When the majority of students are low-income in a single classroom, even the gifted minority perform less well.  When higher-income students are at least fifty per-cent of the class, then even the low-income and learning disabled make higher gains than the minority gifted in the first example class.  So, there’s my triple-downer bummer for this post.  You might think that I would agree with Republicans in this State that the lower classes are not worth investing in.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is, my fondest memories from thirty-one years as a public school teacher come from the downtrodden masses, the poor, the oddballs, the disadvantaged, and even the truly weird.

Okay, so here’s the funny and heart-warming part.  I have a Hispanic English Language Learner right now who looks at the beard I have grown and calls me, “my friend Jesus”.  I have to constantly remind him that, “If I were the son of God, my son, then I would be using lightning bolts for discipline a little more often.”  He grins at me and answers, “Yes, my Jesus.”  He’s a sneaky sort, more dedicated to games and messages on his i-phone than learning.  He is more into working with the girls in small groups so that he can come out appearing much smarter without putting out very much actual work.

I remember one particularly challenged boy who didn’t talk in class at all.  He could make sounds, however.  Constantly during classes with this student in them, there would be numerous “meows” and birdcalls.  Grunts and groans and whistles would fill the air.  Most of the noises came from him.  The ones that didn’t, came from those who imitated him.  It reached a point that I was having to teach a classroom full of Harpo Marxes .  When asked about it, he claimed he had a sore throat all the time and just couldn’t talk.  Many of his teachers thought he was merely sabotaging class so he wouldn’t have to do any work.  But just like when you put a harp in front of Harpo, this boy had hidden talents, and just was not being engaged on his own level.  He was really quite bright if you could learn to communicate with him in Harpo Marxian.

I had another student who read all the existing Harry Potter books forward and backwards, and inside out.  He even looked like the actor who played Harry in the movies, glasses and all.  He was treated like a radioactive being by his classmates, and although he was charming and funny and had a natural talent for manga-style drawings of people, nobody seemed to treat him like a friend. (The paffooney picture I drew for this post was inspired by him.)    He was a jovial loner.  I was able to tap into his natural abilities for the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contests we participated in during the early 2000’s.  I helped him find nerd friends who also knew all the words to the Spongebob Squarepants theme. 

I have a Chinese girl in class who shared the Spongebob boy’s fascination with manga-style art.  She’s a different bird all together.  She gets my jokes and thinks I am funny.  But she never laughs.  She never even cracks a smile.  She is so careful and complete in every assignment that it is very nearly painful to watch.  Grades are serious matters to her.  If her grade drops from 100 to 98, she wants to audit the teacher’s grade book to find out why.  She does everything in class in beautifully crafted Chinese writing, and then translates it all word-for-word into English.

I owe my teaching career to kids like these.  When I started my career in 1981 for $11,000 per year, I was employed by a school that had total disciplinary meltdown the year before.  I had to deal with hostility, impossible behavior-modification tasks, fire crackers in the classroom, student fights, bullying, and a language/cultural gap wider than the Grand Canyon.  That first year, I was planning to resign at the end of the year and try to figure out what else I could do with my life when a small Hispanic boy with a Scottish family name came up beside me on the playground one March day and said, “Mr. Beyer, I hope you know you are my favorite teacher.  You are the reason I liked school this year.”

I didn’t let him see that there were tears in my eyes.  I told him something about him being my favorite student.  And I gave up thoughts about giving up.  I lived the next thirty years of my career for him.

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