You Might Be a Teacher if…

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“You might be a teacher if you have perfected the staff meeting poker face,” the meme reads.

I posted the meme to my Pinterest teacher board and moved on, deciding to write this post.

I did perfect that poker face, but only at the end. For years, I had spoken up against dumb plans. Sometimes, so many dumb plans emerged in staff meetings that, if dumb plans had been icebergs, Louisiana and much of the Midwest would be underwater.

I sat through so much craziness. Let’s give them more tests from outside firms. Let’s make everybody take the test whether they can read it or not. Let’s make all the classes do the same opening activities, whether students know the activities or not. Let’s all read exactly the same books where the dog dies so we can make valid comparisons between students. (I can already tell you Jackie who just came from India last year will take months of nights to get through that book, which will be fine. Jackie will be learning. But Krystian from Poland will blow the whole assignment off while pretending to read. I could do much better by Krystian if I handed him a nonfiction book.) Here’s a personal favorite: Let’s not try to solve issues during the morning staff meeting because that takes too much time. We will just bring up the issues for solution later. (By whom? When?)

My fellow teachers kept looking at me that last year before I retired, the ones who knew me.* I had been known to speak up, to protest. For years, I’d had the right Principal, too. He listened. I could sometimes stop the madness. But at the end no one was listening, except possibly Lord Vader so he could put another not-a-team-player checkmark by my name. So I shut up. I watched disturbed and even horrified colleagues look at me, as if to say, “Say something!” But what could I say?

Those East Coast written unit tests that my students could not read and always failed had become a fact of life. I got in trouble for substituting another opener for the opener I knew my students could not do. When you grade math papers every night, you pretty quickly know your students limitations. In the meantime, I was required to be rotating groups rather than doing whole group instruction, even if not a single student in the class knew the topic in the common lesson plan. I felt bad for shutting down and leaving my fellow teachers in the morass — although I recognize they were trying to convince me to fall on my sword, rather than taking the chance of falling on their own — but I saw no benefit to impaling myself.

Eduhonesty: That staff meeting poker face is no win for education.

*The district’s attrition rates had reached unprecedented levels and many newbie strangers sat in my meetings. One problem the year I left especially was that nobody remained to tell the newbies where to find useful items that had been buried on stages or in drawers during past years.

P.S. Welcome to my many new readers. This post is an example why I sometimes call this the Secret Blog of Gloom and Doom. I promise it’s not always this gloomy. I’ll try for a funnier post soon.

Brains on the Shelf

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I was a Social Science major in college, with an emphasis in secondary education. I took as many courses on the American colonial era and westward expansion as I could. This turned out to be wonderful preparation for writing fantasy novels. ~ Rae Carson, Credit to

I was a social science major, too. I have a B.A. in Political Science, an M.B.P.M. in Business and Public Management, and an M.A. in Secondary Education. Technically, I specialized in high school mathematics, but I am certified or endorsed to teach the whole core curriculum, as well as French and Spanish. I like research. I like reading nonfiction, although I also enjoy science fiction, mysteries and other genre fiction.

Sometimes I wince to read the results of social science studies, though. Here’s one that hit the net a few weeks back.

Study: Teacher Evaluation Scores Linked to Job Satisfaction By Brenda Iasevoli on February 7, 2017 7:00 PM

High performance ratings lead to higher job satisfaction among Tennessee teachers, researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Missouri discovered. (Oh, mother help us all. How much money did these guys spend to get these results?) The studies showed high effective ratings in evaluations changed attitudes, causing teachers’ views of their work to improve. Amazingly, the opposite was also found to be true: Low performance ratings led to decreased job satisfaction.

Sigh. Credit Matthew G. Springer, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University for these insights. I don’t want to seem too snarky. We have reached the point where common sense seems never to be enough, so we must have the data. I’ll grant that Professor Springer’s work should enable long-overdue discussions to move forward.

Yes, when a teacher has worked nonstop all year to do his or her best, those dings in an evaluation can be a real downer. Some teachers are perfectionists, too. If their Charlotte Danielson rubric numbers average out  to be perfectly acceptable or even good, each lower number of that twenty-one page evaluation may be a personal stab in the heart. There’s almost no way to make a twenty-some page evaluation without throwing in enough average or below average numbers to do some damage. Average is a “C” in the world of education. For that teacher who gave up half or more or every weekend and evening all year, average ratings in various categories across all the many categories may well hurt. Enough of those ratings and the sensitive may say, “Enough. I think I’ll return to insurance claims adjusting for Allstate. At least I was appreciated there.”

Eduhonesty: My picture above applies to students and teachers. Grades don’t determine intelligence, they test obedience.

Here’s another news flash: Grades can also knock teachers as well as students out of the game. Some students respond to ongoing poor grades by redoubling their efforts. Some teachers respond to regular, institutionalized criticisms intended to improve them by saying, “I will work harder.” But some students quit. So do some teachers.

They Used to Be Tellers

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Click for the larger view.

For middle-school and high-school teachers:

Feel free to borrow my picture. If your students ask why they should study and why they would want to go to college, I’d suggest pointing at my picture and saying, “Those were people once, people who got dressed up to go to work every day. His name was Harry. Her name was Sophie. But robots do their jobs now. The only jobs robots can’t take over yet are the ones where you think for yourself.

I like to put those robots on the radar. Kids need to understand that the pound-pound, flip-flip job too often can and will be handed to a machine nowadays. When wages become high enough, McDonalds will put kiosks at the front of the restaurant with one human to run the machines and control for exceptions. Our kids who understand this fact will be better able to see why the college pathway (or the right skilled trades) may be their best and eventually only good choice.

He’s Hell on Wheels, but He Sure Can Play House



Back to preschool today. If you know the parent of this child, please pass my post along.

I’ll call him “Peter.” He likes Spider-Man. He’s verbal. He can tell you what he likes. If you ask, he will share what he is thinking when he has the words. He’s not quite four, though, and he’s straddling two languages. Communication can be tough. But he’s not afraid to try to talk.

In a public preschool, some children cannot or do not talk. That silence leads directly to interventions providing them with early schooling and early social services. Kids may see counselors, social workers, speech pathologists and other experts as needed. Some kids will receive the whole gamut of services.

Peter’s problems are mostly behavioral. He’s a three-year old bully. He’s a scary, three-year-old bully who does not need a provocation to hit, kick or pull hair. He’s persistent, too. Sit him down for snack and he kicks kids under the table. Put him in a line in gym along the wall and he reaches for a nearby girl’s hair.  The kids shrink away from him. They watch him all the time. In a room where disputes over who-had-what-first are common, the kids leave him alone. If he wants to play house, no one takes a chair or plastic kid out of that house.

The teacher wants him watched throughout the morning and I know why she worries. Somebody should be watching this kid every minute because he is steamrolling through toddlerhood with his fists cocked. He’s not exactly out of control. If he knows I am watching, nothing will happen, unless someone deliberately reaches for a toy he has chosen and, as I said, the kids are mostly keeping a wide distance. He sits down near a girl in the gym and she automatically slides out of reach. He sits down next to a boy and that boy moves his chair as far left as possible, until stopped by the girl next to him. Peter’s fellow students are waiting for the blow to land.

One-on-one with an adult, this boy does well. If he can monopolize his teacher, her aide, or another adult, Peter will play quietly. The room purrs along as other kids go about their business.

A few different thoughts come to mind here:

  1. Peter still has at least one year of services and he may learn to manage himself before kindergarten. Mostly, anyway. The Peters of the world seldom abandon their desire to kick. They can and do learn to control that desire in lower-stress situations. If you know parents with a Peter, please encourage those parents to seek help. They may have to push. But behavioral disorders can respond well to interventions.
  2. If you have a child in a class with a Peter, it’s time to begin teaching anti-bullying strategies. Now. Don’t trust the teacher to manage. Peter’s already skilled at knowing when adult eyes are looking elsewhere. Your best and main strategy will be avoidance, but learning to speak up and loudly say, “Keep your hands away from my hair!” will help too. In early years, tattling won’t carry much social stigma. “Teacher, he kicked me!” won’t cost a kid socially and should help keep Peter’s feet on the floor.
  3. Let’s hope Peter’s family understands that “boys will be boys” does not apply to their boy. Once the kids in class all started watching Peter because he made them nervous, the family had reached the intervention stage. When all the kids in the playgroup avoid a child, that child and his or her family need help.
  4. If you are teaching a Peter, try to set aside kindness for him. Peter needs to see kindness and compassion modeled regularly. But (I’m sure I am preaching to the choir) he also must come to understand that kicking is a loser and he will be isolated if he cannot keep his hands and feet to himself.
  5. Parents, talk to the teacher before you talk to the administration. Find out how she is managing her challenge. Find out if she feels able to manage the challenge. Ask her what you can do to help.
  6. Parents, raise hell with the administration if you must. If your child does not feel safe, you must. Some Peters will eventually require special placements. The teacher in this classroom happens to be strict and alert. She can handle her Peter. But I have seen less safe situations. Unfortunately, some kids should never be handed the scissors, period. Even the wrong-shaped puzzle piece can be a problem.
  7. Teachers, keep documenting and sharing your documentation. Yes, I SO know you have a gazillion+ things to do. But the sooner everyone knows that Peter has become an emergency, the better. One problem with our current data and testing frenzy has become the lack of time to work on individual situations. Peter should not get lost as we make our 100th new, required spreadsheet of the year. I absolutely am not criticizing anybody here. I’ve had the where-can-I find-time problem, along with the who-can-I-find-who-will-listen-to-me problem.
  8. Hugs to all the teachers out there who are managing as best they can, with love and appreciation for their students, even as they use their week-end to amass their data for the week.

You Can’t Return a Childhood


A reply to readers who thought that last post and last project should have had more limits:

I guarantee readers that every high school student in that classroom had watched Maury reveal a daddy or two, or even legions of daddies and nondaddies. One of the saving graces of that classroom — and real frustrations — concerned absenteeism. The class had 35 students, 40 to start until union limits kicked in. On any given day, though, we were likely to have fewer than 30 students. Many knew they were dropping out soon and simply stayed home. I printed copies for 35 but I expected 28.

It’s hard as heck to run group projects in classes like that, and the Maury show helped attendance among other considerations. Kids were excited. Kids wanted to watch the show developing even before presentations. I stand on what I let those guys do. It worked.

Sometimes in urban and academically-challenged areas, you have to do what works. That’s why strict scripting of curricula based on the Common Core represents a step in the wrong direction and a bad idea. Even Jim Carrey might have trouble making the exports of Costa Rica interesting. Some of these politically-correct stories that have been produced by major publishers to teach literature should be marketed as sleep-aids instead of short stories.

In the meantime, yes, my students were America’s children. But I assure readers they had left childhood behind sometime previously. One of my presenters never finished that class. He was arrested and jailed midyear after a gang disciplinary action went wrong and he accidentally killed a friend, He was tried as an adult and then convicted of manslaughter long months later, too many months later. They twisted the system to get him to seventeen years of age before they brought charges. We were a much sobered class by the end of the year.

I loved those kids. This last post brought back many memories. And for all the problems I had trying to teach Spanish to those kids, most of whom had no interest in Spanish, I’d take that class over a Common-Core scripted class or District-Curriculum-Determined class any day.

Eduhonesty: I promise to get back to preschool soon since interest is high.


The View from the Front of the Room

This post is for newbies and aspiring teachers, especially those who identify with this picture.2017-02-11 09.54.55(Click on pic for better view.)

Is it in your nature to question what you see? It’s not in mine. I once walked a full block past a rocket on a street corner in Seattle before it occurred to me, “Wait, that’s a rocket!” In no alternate universe am I making my living as a law enforcement officer. When in the middle of a task, I often have tunnel vision. It’s called hyperfocus, I believe, a trait in some people with ADHD.

I nonetheless figured out how to be a teacher. After my first year trying to manage 35 students in my Spanish 1 classes — a probable gang member set off two firecrackers in bottles — I moved to smaller classes, first in an alternative high school and then in middle school, where I entered bilingual education. Here’s my advice for future colleagues and struggling first- and second-year teachers: If the above picture resonates with you, then keep your class sizes down. You will be better off driving 50 minutes to a classroom with 21 kids than you will be trying to manage 32 kids 10 minutes from home. Work with your strengths. My strengths included creativity, flexibility, and a natural rapport with young adolescents. I write quickly. I can adapt materials and even whole chapters without losing my entire evening. But I do best with small classes where I can connect with kids, and see into all the crevices and corners.

Eduhonesty: Less observant educators will find teaching vastly easier and more fun if they can get their class sizes down.

P.S. After the first firecracker goes off, that guy needs to be in the front row for the rest of the year.

Early Intervention: Not Merely for Kids Who Take Time to Talk

This post will also be for parents of young children who are struggling. Yesterday’s post attracted a surprising number of viewers. I don’t know why. But I thought I’d add to that post in view of the interest.


Children who lag behind in speech hit the radar quickly, especially when parents can see differences between these kids and older siblings. If Joshua spoke in full sentences at two, and little sister Maya still mostly points and uses short phrases or single words, parents can be expected to worry about Maya. Maya may be fine. Einstein was a late talker. But those contrasts can be scary.

I remember talking to my pediatrician about child number two. I was worried she might be ill because she slept so much, a full six hours when she was two months old. My first child had never slept more than two hours for the first five months. I was so tired back then, I was walking into walls. I set off the smoke detector twice, nodding off while warming bottles. I’m sure I should not have been allowed to drive.

My pediatrician thought my worries about my second daughter were pretty funny.

“It’s called getting lucky,” he said.

By all means, have late talkers evaluated. Early intervention helps enormously in the right situations. When children don’t seem to be acquiring language as you expect, a screening and discussion with a professional is indicated. But keep in mind, Maya is not Joshua and she may simply see less need to communicate at two than he did.

That said, I’d like to expand on my last post. Preschool interventions are not just for delayed speakers. Behaviors also should trigger evaluations when those behaviors create learning challenges — or when they can be expected to interfere with socializing with other children. Behaviors that cause a child a great deal of stress, even if those behaviors don’t isolate a child, may also be cause for intervention.

If Wendy always cries when her drawers are not in perfect order, if Nathaniel cries when other kids try to play with him, if Jemma throws frequent, titanic tantrums, then maybe professional help will make everyone’s lives easier. Yes, some kids are clingier and more exacting than others. Kids throw tantrums. But young children can suffer — and I truly mean suffer — from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Young children can find themselves battling extreme anxiety. And those tantrums may amount to more than a toddler’s frustration.

Almost all toddlers will outgrow belly-flop, shrieking tantrums. Almost all kids will learn to manage separating from mommy, and will find friends to play with. Many obsessive-compulsive children will manage well, with a great deal of praise from adults who appreciate their unexpected neatness and precision. But if you are efforting all the time as you try to manage behaviors that complicate the flow of daily life, I’d suggest seeking outside help. School district counselors and social workers can provide guidance. Preschools teach many useful life skills, such as cleaning up after yourself, communicating and sharing.

I think too often we parents try to go it alone, trying to solve our own problems when help may be available. Sometimes we are just too tired to communicate. If I had ever once gotten a full night’s sleep during my first child’s first five months, I might have been able to think straight enough to realize I needed more help than I was getting. We also get so busy that we postpone thinking about the big issues in favor of somehow getting the grass mowed and the laundry done.

Eduhonesty: Step back for a moment. Do you sometimes wonder if your child might have a problem outside the boundaries of the usual toddler tussles? If so, please do yourself a favor and put the mower or the laundry down. Find an outsider to help you sort out your thoughts. Go to your local school district. Ask if your girl or boy would benefit from early intervention. Considering talking to an outside therapist. At best, you will be reassured, and when early intervention is indicated, the sooner you find help, the better.

Again, go with your gut.

P.S. And if your gut tells you that the district has made a mistake, believe that you may be right. Talk to outside counselors. Ultimately, you may lack objectivity, but nobody knows your kid like you do.




When Little Dylan Seems Different


This post is being written for parents, especially parents of young children, another post that has nothing to do with the impending war with Australia and everything to do with education!

How do children get into the public school preschool programs? Their parents push. They ask for their child to be screened for learning challenges. Screening may not result in placement. If not, those parents keep pushing.

I should start with an observation: There are no “average” children. Average children do not exist. Children learn differently. Not all gifted children speak early. Speech deficits may not correlate to cognitive deficits. Introverts may manifest a dislike of loud noise and social demands even before they can walk. Many children have specks of ADHD in their behavior at odd times. Variability and being the odd child out sometimes come with the territory. So I want to stress that the odd child out may be perfectly fine.

But I suggest parents go with their feelings. What does your gut say? If the language seems to be coming too slowly, if the lack of eye contact or sharing seems extreme, or if the waves of tantrums come too often, I strongly recommend seeking help early. Talk to counselors. Talk to your school district. When available, early intervention helps. Going to school to get ready to go to school ups the odds that kindergarten and first grade will go well.

Eduhonesty: If you hit a wall, keep hammering. You may need to find the right person to get help. Document concerns. Keep documenting. Go back. And go back. People have been known to fight the special services fight for years. Those services cost money and districts drop the ball for a variety reasons, money and staffing among them, especially when deficits don’t scream out at them. The kid with a tracheotomy who needs assistive technology to communicate will get help. That girl who covers her ears through most of her playgroup may struggle to get special services, especially if she does well with adults in quiet spaces, disguising her challenges.

Go with your gut and — I hate to write this — keep in mind that administrators may have an agenda that does not match your own. I remember when the state of Illinois told my district that our special education rate was “too high.” We had placed too many children in special education, according to some secret rule. Maybe so, maybe not, but teachers were quietly given to understand that no placements would be made except in emergencies.

Fortunately, people who complain enough can become emergencies. Keep pushing. You have a perfect right to shove as hard and as often as it takes to get help.


Taking a Break from the Future War with Australia


Tweet, tweet. This post has almost nothing to do with Donald Trump. Let’s return to education for a moment. I encountered a data discrepancy in the last few days, a wild one. Social science numbers tend to be fuzzy, but these numbers make me think of Rapunzel’s hair. Fuzz cannot begin to cover what I have been reading. rates the local schools in North Chicago (a suburb found a little less than an hour north of the actual city of Chicago)  at abysmally low levels: 1 out of 10 for the local high school and 2 out of 10 for the local middle school. Greatschools does know that North Chicago Community High School has one language (Spanish), two versions of art and music, fifteen sports and no known clubs.

Greatschools gives Deerfield High School 6 out of 10, reason unknown. Greatschools has no idea how many clubs, world languages, sports, and arts and music classes can be found at Deerfield High School, so I thought the reason might be lack of data, but keep reading. I think they invented that number.

U.S. News and World Report has Deerfield High School rated seventh in Illinois for 2016, and 219th in national rankings. They don’t rate North Chicago Community High School at all. ranks North Chicago Community High School 586th of 635 public high schools in Illinois. It ranks Deerfield High School 260th out of 635 public high schools in Illinois, giving the school a community review of 3 out of 5 stars. NCCHS received zero stars.

I think I’ll throw in Glenbrook North High School, rated 26th in Illinois and 712th in the nation by U.S. News and World report. Glenbrook North’s SchoolDigger rank is 135th of 635 Illinois High Schools. Community review comes in at 3 out of 5 stars at Schooldigger, with an overall rating of 10 out of 10 at

What?!? Numbers, numbers, numbers. The question is this: Do these numbers even make sense? No, but they are out there and they are being used and even quoted.

Eduhonesty: Social science numbers bear only the loosest relationship to actual facts. Yet the rage in education right now is data acquisition. I have taken many 1/2 day sub jobs this year while colleagues attended data discussion meetings. This post is a reminder that, even when cloaked in big words and good intentions, sometimes data is just gobbledygook.