For Teachers Who Are Being Pushed

2017-02-09 10.57.27


I’ll start with a simple piece of advice: Save the picture of Batman. Save the painted rainbow with the flowers. Cherish the knitted scarf. Put your little presents, even the simple, “I love you!” written on a scrap of paper, in a special place. Add names and small details on the back to help you remember special moments. Ask a student for permission to save his holiday project with his many car pictures and big dreams.

Keep a stash of moments to look at when the going gets tough. When the feedback from observation #192 of the year gets you down, remember the day when Ted told you that you were the best teacher ever. Then take a deep breath and smile down at Batman.

It’s all about the kids anyway.


He did not fall. He was pushed.


I messaged my guest writer for permission to post his words because I could have written chunks of his sad, retirement post. He is drowning in sympathetic responses right now from teachers who empathize with how he feels. He feels he failed. I would say you can’t fail if you can’t succeed. When the snowball in hell has better odds than you do, you cannot fail. No one can be held responsible for their inability to do a job that cannot be done.

I quit for many of the same reasons my guest writer did. So did friends I intend to meet for lunch next week. So do friends I know who plan to leave teaching this year.

Enough intro. Here’s one of the more heart-rending posts on teaching that I have read in awhile:


Gonna be a long one…
So February 17, 2017 was the day I resigned after 22 years in the classroom. As a middle school teacher, union delegate, and all the other hats teachers wear, I walked away. Into what? I have no idea. Scary. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. Stressed out. Not finding success (as defined by test scores and the Framework for Teaching based on Charlotte Danielson). Constantly overwhelmed. Couldn’t differentiate all my lessons. Couldn’t find time to write 5 Common Core aligned unit plans every 5-6 weeks which elaborated how I was meeting the needs of my “diverse learners”, my tier 3, 2, and 1 MTSS groups, and how I was meeting the social and emotional needs of each student and addressing their individual learning styles. I struggled to integrate all the “powerful practices” such as “close reading” and “collaborative conversations” and “depth of knowledge” questioning. Just couldn’t keep up – “Writing About Reading”, “Universal Design for Learning”, “grit”, “growth mindset”, “agency”, “authority”, “mtss”, “differentiation”, graded papers with purposeful comments and feedback, “TRU Math”, “multiple means of representation”, Reach Performance Tasks, value-added scores, the Framework for Teaching and all the “critical attributes” to be evaluated as a “distinguished” educator. For example, “Teacher and students establish and implement standards of conduct. Students follow the standards of conduct and self-monitor their behaviors. Teacher’s monitoring of student behavior is subtle and preventive. Teacher uses positive framing to model and reinforce positive behavior for individual students. Teacher’s response to students’ inappropriate behavior is sensitive to individual student needs and respects students’ dignity.”
And “Tasks align with standards-based learning objectives and are tailored so virtually all students are intellectually engaged in challenging content. Tasks and text are complex and promote student engagement through inquiry and choice. Students contribute to the exploration of content. Teacher scaffolds and differentiates instruction so that all students access complex, grade-level, and/or developmentally appropriate text and/or tasks. The teacher’s pacing of the lesson is appropriate, and tasks are sequenced not only to build students’ depth of understanding, but also to require student reflection and synthesis of the learning. Teacher’s grouping of students is intentional and students serve as resources for each other to achieve mastery of the content/skills.”

I failed.

You don’t walk away from the classroom unscathed. I will be haunted by the students I wanted so deperately to reach and couldn’t. The students I wanted to save. The students I wanted to adopt. The days that I lost my temper. The days I wasn’t my best. The failures.

My wife once met a retired teacher at an exercise class and they started talking and my wife said, “My husband is a teacher” to which the retrired teacher responded without pause, “What’s he on?”. My wife laughed and the retired teacher looked her in the eye and repeated the question, “I mean it honey, what’s he on?” Well, let’s see…I am on alcohol and Lexapro and have seen a few therapists. And it has been a constant battle to try to be healthy.

Teaching consumes. And while the successes feel great, the failures haunt. And as they say on the plane, “Secure your own mask before helping others.” I guess I had to walk away and secure my own mask.


Eduhonesty: The best teachers always care. They are always trying to save kids who often don’t care about saving themselves. They always feel bad when they tried their best to help their students and their best was not good enough. They feel bad when they wanted to try their best, but between grades, data spreadsheets and meetings, they somehow ended up so sleep-deprived that patience failed them, or they forgot their handouts in the copy room. So many, many details. So little time — and less time every year. So many superfluous, time-sucking details that are designed to help administrators instead of kids — like the six benchmark tests that stole many hours away from me during my last year teaching because my Principal wanted both AIMSWEBTM and MAPTM testing done so she could pick the best numbers to show to the state.

I have been messaging my guest writer to tell him how much I enjoy retirement. I hope he will enjoy his new life. I especially like the fact that I will never again spend 20% of a school year giving students obligatory, incomprehensible, Common Core-based tests and quizzes written by corporate outsiders 700 miles away — when I know I ought to be teaching those students reading, adding, subtraction, multiplication and division first.

Dreamers without Dreams


Eduhonesty: I know many principals have stopped showing kids the door. Maybe some kids have also realized the job market can be more frightening than any hypothetical zombie apocalypse. In any case, the U.S. dropout rate has shown real progress over the last two decades. But buried in our statistics, I see an ugly truth, one hidden from those people who only see Dreamers in passing, if they notice these outsiders in their midst at all. Continue reading

His Teacher Does Not Like Him


He kicks. He hits. He happily plays, but then he pins a boy and socks him — hard. He’s not an easy kid. Natural pugilist might be the best quick description of this young boy.

Oddly, this post will be about meetings. In my last post, I called meetings the runaway freight train of education. I thought afterwards that many corporate readers might simply shrug. Everybody seems to be in meetings, no matter what they do. But as I watch “Christopher,” I know those meetings are not merely wasting time.

Meetings often — although admittedly not always — waste time. They also waste energy. They divert resources and create opportunity costs.

Let’s look at Christopher and the teacher with four meetings in one day. That teacher’s frazzled. She has to have lesson plans and class activities prepared. All her plans are supposed to be up on the board. Depending on the grade she teaches, she may have to have all her Common Core objectives on the board for the kids and admin to read as well. She has to communicate with administration, fellow teachers and parents. She has spreadsheets and documentation to prepare or update daily. In particular, she has to document Christopher’s behavior. Before most school districts will even consider screening a child for special education, a teacher must build up a backlog of documentation. She has to write down the many transgressions of Christopher, hoping to get him a special education placement or at least a one-on-one aide. She knows this work is necessary. The other kids are already afraid of Christopher and they need her help. His teacher next year needs her help.

This teacher is living out the Year of Christopher. A few years earlier, maybe she survived the Year of Freddie. I thought about using a girl’s name in my last sentence, but opted for honesty. Most ADHD kids are boys. Most natural pugilists are boys. Political correctness aside, the studies back up these observations, although I will also observe that I believe we miss many of our girls with attention-deficit issues simply because they are making messes with paper and glue instead of punching fellow students.

But here’s the problem with those meetings: Christopher’s teacher is already short of time. She went to meetings this year instead of being given time to set up her classroom. She goes to meetings throughout the day, meaning she has to come in early or go home late to set up elaborate activities. Those meetings may shut down some elaborate activities. It’s not easy to lug in all the dirt, shovels, spades and seeds for plant life cycle work. Time that once might have been spent carrying microscopes into a classroom may become a set of Google slides purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers instead.

If time was air, Christopher’s teacher would be turning blue right now. She’s desperately short of time to ready her classroom for daily activities. Endless meetings are worsening her situation and, unfortunately, Christopher himself is worsening her situation.

When Christopher punches Andrew, she has to break to talk to the boys. She may have to write up what happened. At worst, somebody will be sent to the nurse. Chunks of time are slipping away because of this one boy.

Eduhonesty: Let’s see if I can get my idea over the plate.

Last night, my husband annoyed me furiously by wanting me to clean up the front room before I went to an art show. His desire to clean the room was not the problem. He was right. The room needed to be picked up. So why was I upset? I needed to pick someone up and get to another suburb within less than thirty minutes. I felt I did not have time for an emergency front room. I picked up anyway, and discovered I had had plenty of time. But my frustration levels soared for a few minutes.

In the past, when meetings did not run vigorously one after another in the foreground, Christopher’s teacher had extra minutes during the day to address student needs. Christopher represented a big challenge, but that teacher had expected challenges when she entered education. Christopher might even have seemed like an opportunity to save a child from himself and make the world a better place.

But this woman’s frustration levels have been soaring, as she tries to meet many new administrative and government demands that eat up minutes. She does not feel she has time to sacrifice to Christopher’s behavioral quirks. Every time Christopher misbehaves, he eats up minutes she no longer believes she can spare.

Time stress is reflected in her tired, brown eyes. She mostly looks at Christopher with exasperation — even when he has done nothing wrong. I can see she does not like the boy. I am sure he can see this, too. I suspect he would behave better if he did not sense her frustration and impatience. But Christopher’s a smart little fellow, and he can see her eyes are much softer when she looks at Nathaniel.

A great deal has gone wrong in this picture. Christopher needs help. I believe his teacher would spend more time helping him, too, if she were not gasping for free minutes just to get ready for her day.

Education’s accelerating meeting freight train needs to be stopped.


In a Public Preschool in a Suburb in Northern Illinois


“How are you?” I asked a teacher, a young, Hispanic woman who has a firm hand in the classroom, complemented by exceptional organizational skills.

“Fine,” she answered. “I have four meetings today, though,” she added.

Four? And a full day teaching, I imagine, since the school was short-staffed. I think highly of administration, but…

Meetings have become the runaway freight trains of education.

Conversation with Shasta the Invisible Slug about Reforming Education

Shasta – a 40-lb. giant, invisible slug wearing a pink cape that covers her body and spreads out in soft folds around her. She has on her favorite gold-sequined top hat with a pair of large, black lunettes (sprinkled with clear rhinestones) that extend out from the brim, hiding her eyestalks. She is floating on a pink-and-cream-flowered bathmat, about four feet off the ground, to the left of mommy, who sits at the computer near the big bay window with the dark brown curtains.

Mommy – A former teacher who is in yesterday’s gray sweatpants and coral t-shirt. Her brother drove away with the rest of her clothes yesterday.


Shasta: Can we have more Costco chocolate muffin?

Mommy: Half a muffin is enough. We’ve already maxed out our annual allotment of Coffee Mate French Vanilla Creamer for the year and it’s Day One of Visit to the Elderly Hoarder Parents, who have at least one roach and one rustling creature.

Shasta: There’s never just one roach, mommy.

Mommy: Smart girl. And my Aunt Delois may really have had a weasel in her house. But at least it doesn’t sound like wild kingdom here. Cleaning starts soon. I could use my brother. Not to mention my suitcase. Brother or no brother, we clean, though.

Shasta: I thought we were going to talk about education.

Mommy: We are. I want a big picture.

Shasta: How about the one with the big, red sail on the right. This place is loaded with big pictures. And small pictures.  And teeny pictures. And all the other pictures. Mommy, I bet we can find over 10,000 pictures in these two rooms right here.

Mommy: Maybe, but I want to capture how education fell apart in one page or less. This is a metaphorical picture.

Shasta: We don’t need any more pictures here, that’s for sure.

Mommy: Shasta, stay focused.

Shasta: Why?

Mommy: (Sigh.) O.K., the doors are open now, to quote my favorite zombie trilogy of the moment. The phone is dying, the charger in Seattle, the car dead, and my body’s still on Illinois time. We are falling off the grid with nothing to do but clean. You know how I love cleaning. When will we have a better shot at this?

I really loved the part where the plane landed, I got together with my brother, we went to our favorite used bookstore first thing, found great books and happily came back to the house. Then we completely forgot all my earthly goods – I had books, right? What more did I need? – and he spirited my life in the green suitcase away to Seattle.

Shasta: (Hopefully) Maybe some of that chocolate cereal?

Mommy: (Sigh) You can get lost in the facts, Shasta. That’s the big problem. It’s easy to get lost in the facts. So many facts. So many factors. This isn’t that elephant with the blind men in the fable. It’s more like a centipede.

Shasta: The blind men would just crush the poor centipede. You don’t want to be a bug around blind people, mommy . Though that might be safer than being a bug around sighted people, when you think about it.

(Shasta thinks awhile.) She finally solemnly announces: Don’t be a bug, mommy.

Mommy: Fine. I won’t.  Now back to education. It’s not the tests. The tests are mostly a symptom.

Shasta: (Doubtfully) The tests cause lots of problems.

Mommy: But where do the tests come from?

Shasta: The center of the Earth? You know, the Common Core.

Mommy smiles.

Mommy: Let’s list symptoms and see if we can work back to the ailment.  We test and test. We go to meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting. We rewrite curricula, mostly to get to the Center of the Earth. We give kids crazy tests they cannot even read. Then we make spreadsheets that document their inability to read the test that we knew they could not read before we even handed out the test. We try to tutor them a little during the year, but mostly we don’t have money and many of them choose to take the bus home instead anyway. Then we release them for the summer so that can forget most of what they managed to learn, while we gave them material on the spring test instead of the material they had missed during earlier years. What did I leave out here?

Shasta: (Helpfully) Sometimes we use the teachers to tutor the kids who are behind when nobody’s around to replace the teachers. Then the students who are not behind end up with study halls and get to hang out and text with friends.  I think you mostly got it, though, mommy.

Mommy: To ask your question – why? Why are we doing this?

Shasta: Education is the new civil rights, mommy. We want to close the Achievement Gap.

Mommy: But I think we are making the gap worse, Shasta. Look at the State of Illinois Interactive Report Card. Where are the improvements? We have made some small progress, but since we are spending the whole year trying to teach academically-underachieving students how to take one test, we damn well ought to have some progress. Are these kids any readier for college?

Shasta: I don’t know.

Mommy: The scary thing is, I don’t know either. What we need to understand, Shasta, is we are not talking differences in degree. We are talking differences in kind.  When we forgot Vygotsky and Piaget, and their work on child development, we gave up the game.  But we sure can spin wheels. Sometimes I think advanced education in the field of education may be turning people into hamsters.

Shasta: Diabolical.

Mommy:  Indeed. No small part of the mystery rests in the hamsters. So many intelligent people go into education, so many want to help.  But just as MBAs can make a mess of businesses, the Masters and Doctors of Education sometimes get stuck in the wheel.  They go faster and faster and they work harder and harder. But that won’t matter if they work on the wrong things.

Wishful thinking is killing us out here.

Shasta: What wishful thinking?

Mommy: If we just work harder or smarter, we can fix this mess.  We can. But we can’t if we don’t touch the framework. We can’t get to Mars in one year. And we can’t fix a kid who has fallen four years behind in 180 days.  Mars is just too far away.

Shasta: (Helpfully) Like your clothes.

Mommy: Exactly. And I could get those clothes. But I would have to be willing to invest hours of time and take engine-light-no-gas-gauge car across the wilds of I-5. Or I could even go to the mall.  But I can’t fix my problem in the usual ways. The drawers are useless. I tried.

Here’s the key, Shasta: I tried once. I did a thorough search and unearthed one purple polo shirt. Now, if I’m smart, I quit here. I don’t go through the drawers again. After I have made a few circles in that wheel, I step out of the wheel if I’m a smart hamster and I am not running just for the fun of running.

Shasta: Running to run would be fine.

Mommy: Running for lots of reasons would be fine. But if I have a goal and I want to fix a problem, repeating the steps that did not work last time seems silly. Tweaking the steps seems silly. I could tweak my steps. I could look in drawers, on top shelves of closets, under dressers and under beds. Maybe I would magically find a pair of jeans. But how much effort would be required? How much would my odds of success go up? Life is a cost/benefit equation, Shasta. At a certain point, you give up and either go to Walmart or wait for your brother.  Unless you want to breathe lungfuls of dust for no reason.

Shasta: The top of the closet might be fascinating.

Mommy: True that. How much naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene do we want to inhale, though? Mothballs and mice killers are strategically placed in this house. If the goal is useful clothing, I’m pretty sure I would have to wash anything I found.

Trying to get back on topic, Shasta, I think that’s part of the problem.

Shasta: (Doubtfully) Mothballs?

Mommy: Dumb plans. Plans that think about the end goal but don’t consider the costs. I think the problem may be inherent in government plans. Those guys never think about costs. They just assume someone will pony up the billions to make the changeover to the Common Core work. Chicago Public School administrators just assume the state will keep saying, “Sure, float another bond issue that’s bigger than the gross domestic product of some small countries.” Right now, they are trying to “fix” teachers as if that will somehow close the achievement gap. They would like the problem to be teachers because they can exert some control over teachers, much more than they can over students and student lives. But if teachers are only a small variable in this equation, fixing teachers will not change much, and maybe nothing consequential.

Shasta: Mommy, I am getting confused.

Mommy: I am so confused. No Child Left Behind seemed like a good idea. What I don’t understand, though, is why we keep doing things that don’t work. It’s time to get out from under the bed and out of the closet.

Shasta:  (Firmly) Before the mothballs poison you. Not to mention the poor moths. Mommy, does anybody think about the poor moths?

Mommy: I don’t know. What they need to worry about is the bees, but that’s a whole different issue. Maybe it’s a perfect example, though. To kill the Zika virus, they sprayed poisons down from the air to kill the mosquitoes and instead killed the bees. We need bees to make flowers and fruits. For that matter, this plan that involves aerial spraying of toxic chemicals on pregnant women?  A perfect example.  Some people running the show seem to be in competition for the title, “Dumber than the dumbest rock on the planet.”

Shasta: Can rock intelligence be measured?

Mommy: (Sigh) Only by people who can speak Klingon telepathically, dear. So no. It’s hyperbole.

Shasta: (Doubtfully) I am not sure that makes sense.

Mommy:  Shasta, stay on topic.

Shasta: I’m not the one talking about the Zika virus, mommy.  Or telepathic rocks.

(Mommy laughs.)

Mommy: O.K., Shasta, let’s see if we can put this in one-hundred words or less. We are treating differences of kind as if they were differences in degree.  We are pretending that a child who enters a poor school district with 3,000 fewer words than a child in a wealthy district thirty miles away has not already lost the game. We are pretending that if both these children go to school for 7.5 hours daily for 180 days, somehow we can catch up the child who has fallen behind. But the research is clear. That knowledge and vocabulary gap will widen, not narrow.  Let me show you a graph:

pic for play trend1

(Shasta stares at the graph, bobbing her snail head up and down.)

Shasta: On the left, that’s vocabulary words, right?

Mommy: Yes, I did not put in exact numbers. The idea is that Student A starts school ahead and is further ahead as the months go by. She can read more at the start so her reading goes faster at first and she adds new vocabulary faster. She begins with an edge. Also she loses less during the summer. The odds are good that she has more access to reading material over the summer.

Shasta: Sometimes that might not be true.

Mommy: True. This is a general idea. The research supports this idea. The kids who start two years behind often end high school four years behind. If they don’t drop out. In spite of No Child Left Behind, RtI, and other interventions. In spite of everything we are doing.  I put in a steeper learning loss for Student B over the summer, because the research supports that, too. That’s the pale gray line on the bottom.

But the big question has to be – why aren’t the interventions working?

Shasta: (Curiously) Why? Why, mommy, why?

Mommy: Because Student A can already read A Wrinkle in Time in third grade while Student B is struggling with The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby.  We want to think this represents a difference in degree. It doesn’t. This is a difference in kind, Shasta. Student B is so far behind that probably no intervention can fix the problem without a longer school year and a longer school day. Oh, a brilliant teacher might be able to get Student B back in the game. But brilliant teachers are thin on the ground. We have been trying to figure out how to make them for years and we still can’t do it. We can make better, more effective teachers. But I don’t think brilliance can be taught, not the kind of brilliance that can teach Student B seventeen new words each school day, which is what some of our kids would need to learn to catch up.  Three-thousand divided by 180 equals 16.66 words – and keep in mind that while our kid who is 3000 words behind is trying to catch up, her target is moving. Her target is reading  A Wrinkle in Time and adding new words to an already much larger vocabulary every single day.  So the real number needed to catch up may be 20 new words per day or more.

Shasta: Wow.

Mommy: Yes, wow. More people need to do the math. More people need to look at the math. No best practice can fix this. No “working smarter” can fix this.

Working smarter could help. We might try shaping our whole curriculum along language-learning lines, for example, along with necessary math skills. We might jettison inessential activities. But the truth is many academically-challenged schools are already going that direction. They still don’t get those lines to converge. And I end up feeling sorry for their students who seem to have a lot less fun than kids in higher-scoring, wealthier districts. Those higher-scoring kids who entered school ready to read? They take mornings off to watch scientists freeze balloons and authors explain how they wrote their latest kids’ favorite. My last, formal year, my school allowed ZERO field trips until after the spring state test. The wealthy suburbs around us were all going to zoos, museums and nature preserves. The private school that asked me to sub was building actual structures on the ground to teach math concepts.  We did math/English/math/English/math/English until the kids were choking on that stuff.

Shasta: But they have to do the math and English to catch up, right?

Mommy: They do, and we cannot make the whole world fair and fun. But I think we need to face up to an important truth. That 180-day school year has to go in some districts. Those seven-hour days need to go. If we can’t get the results we need within those time constraints, the time constraints need to be changed. Not for everybody. That 180 day year worked great for my own girls. But kids who have fallen behind should be given a real, realistic chance to catch up. That means more time in school. Period.

Shasta: Wow, telepathic rocks. Do you talk to rocks, mommy?

Mommy: (Sigh) If I had spent much longer in public schools, Shasta, I might have.

Shasta, you remind me of a favorite student. I was on a math roll, proud of how attentive my students were as I explained a new concept. One boy raised his hand and I felt elated that I had stimulated his curiosity. Then he asked me the age of the oldest tree in the world.

Shasta: Is it old?

Mommy: Around 9,500 years. I looked it up. Look up the tree Methuselah. I think Methuselah might be the second oldest known tree. Methuselah’s around 5,000 years old.

(Mommy smiles at Shasta.)

I loved teaching, but it can be a little hard on the pride some days. Seemingly foolproof lesson plans fall flat and other less-inspired plans take off like rockets.  But I have figured out one thing. If we are ever to catch our tree-thinkers up, we can’t send them home for more than half the year. That longer school year has to be Part One of any fix-it plan.

Shasta: What’s Part Two?

Mommy: We have to stop boring the crap out of them.

My New Gifted Indicator?


This post is for parents and teachers:

I love cabbies. I could easily add Uber to my new phone, but I keep taking cabs to O’Hare anyway. I talk to such intriguing people, almost all of them immigrants from distant places. The last guy came from Nigeria, planning to retire to his already successful chicken farm, run by relatives while he drove.  A fellow before that was a Ukrainian who knew that dolphins were alien visitors. He directed me to websites holding further information. (Dolphin-fellow made my kids a little nervous.) A few years ago, I ran into difficulties when I tried to give an overly generous tip to a Turkish man, and the fare software refused the amount. I figured his wife could use the money for her ambitious medical education plans. When yesterday’s cabbie told me the five languages he spoke, he identified his Indian origins. His English carries only a trace of an accent. I am sure his Punjabi remains impeccable.

We talked about my cabbie’s kids. He described what they could do in school, a proud dad whose elementary-age son did algebra and whose younger daughter read so voraciously that he kept trying to get her to put her book down on road trips. I’d already flagged the kids as likely gifted when he made the remark that sealed my impression: “Their teachers, they always have them teach the other kids in the class.”

Under No Child Left Behind (and for other reasons I ought to explore further sometime), gifted education has taken heavy damage in the last few decades. How do we identify the gifted? Sometimes we do not bother because no programs exist for them. But if we want a good informal place to start finding the gifted, looking at groups helps. Most groups today are structured with a mix of abilities. The gifted today may be used as back-up teachers, while the “Real Teacher” works in other small groups around the room.

Parents: If your kids always seem to be teaching material to other kids, I recommend you become actively engaged in an effort to find them challenges worthy of their abilities and interests. Make sure they are being forced to think. If they can always teach what they are learning, the classroom material is too easy for them. You may have to go outside the school system to make enrichment happen. Consider creating your own home-schooling classes for the afternoon and invite likely neighbors. Online resources abound.

Teachers: In the flurry of data meetings, behavior meetings, Common Core meetings, planning meetings, curriculum meetings, and simply meeting meetings, many teachers are ridiculously swamped. But can I add one task to the to-do list? Look at those kids who you put into the group to help lead and teach within the group. Would some of them benefit from greater demands? Ask yourself how you could help them.

Before We Try Too Hard to Fix our Teachers… Let’s Tally Up Some Numbers

babychangingstation_nEduhonesty: Our classrooms are changing dramatically. Reading and reading comprehension have been declining for years. According to the CDC’s National Center of for Health Statistics, births to unmarried women reached 40.2% in 2014, up from 18.4% in 1980.  In some  cities, towns, and rural areas, English-language learner populations are skyrocketing. Fast Facts from the National Center for Education Statistics tell us that nearly one in ten U.S. students now is an English-language learner. According to the U.S. Census, in 1980, 11% of the population spoke a foreign language at home. In 2010, the percentage had climbed to 20.6% — about one in five people. Life-threatening health issues appear to be more common. Epi-pens and asthma training have become annual rituals for school employees. Not only do we have peanut-free lunch tables, we have peanut-free schools. Autism is rising at a seemingly alarming rate, although exact numbers remain impossible to determine due to diagnostic changes and more frequent diagnoses of milder cases. America’s children are getting less sleep, as stories about the rise of childhood obesity and decline of fitness explode across our news channels. Electronics compete with school and family for attention; children sometimes game through the night, and under their desks in the classroom. In urban areas especially, gang-related issues can turn a walk to school into a perfectly good reason to stay home.

We are in a hell of a mess out here and I don’t see how blaming teachers helps anybody.

Diversity in Diapers

diaperI have spent the last few days emphasizing that one-size-fits-all approaches do not work for our diversifying student population, while also subbing at a preschool. Alas, the aide who had foot-surgery will return soon, and I will have to move on. I will miss my little nippers. We have been playing together for weeks.

But here are a few observations worth contemplating as we target resilience and mindset: Developmentally-delayed three- to five-year-olds use diapers. The minority who have graduated to underwear cannot be trusted to avoid accidents. Diapers come with the territory. I am going to confess something slightly wacky. I mostly like diaper changes. Some changes no sane person would want to get involved in. How can a cohesive brown substance cover so much surface so fast?  But that soggy, wet waddle? That waddle offers me a few minutes of quiet time to talk one-on-one to a kid. The kids seem to enjoy diaper changes too, most of the time. An adult is taking care of them. The verbal kids happily babble, enjoying being the center of attention.

But almost nobody ever brings the need for a diaper change to my attention. Why stop playing? Clearly, students believe the diaper can wait — almost any diaper. Some students do not care what leaks out or where it goes. No, everyone plays on with the exception of one fastidious girl. She will be potty trained soon. She does not like the feel of that diaper. I honestly don’t think anyone else cares. One boy recently just peed down his leg, making a big puddle on the floor, rather than give up the crayons. He got fresh clothes, but his shoes were soaked, and had been soaked for awhile, I suspect, before I wandered over to watch his quiet, solo play and saw the suspicious yellow puddle. Suspicious is not be the right word. He was convicted on the spot. The snack had been milk and apples.

Pooping is more interesting. (My, this is a silly post, except I honestly think it highlights a truth or two.) Last week, one of the five-year-old trained went in his underpants and just kept playing. I sniffed as we began to get ready for busses. I asked him. He stayed silent. I persisted. He grinned and admitted, yes, he had had an accident. That led to bus craziness as I was forced to abandon bus duties to change all of his lower clothing, borrow pants and clean a pretty large mess. He kept grinning. I guarantee some other students would have been mortified. But not this kid. I ended up triple-bagging that clothing.

A few kids want that turd in the garbage right away. Others would be capable for playing for hours if their teacher had a bad enough head cold. Some are embarrassed. Many are oblivious. A few make calculated choices, as if to say,  “I’ll keep a distance from the adults and finish gym before I deal with this problem.” A few girls have also become self-appointed diaper reporters. One little girl helps so much I am worried. I hope a future teacher works on discretion in tattling. If not, she will struggle socially in elementary school.

Before I ramble on further on this silly topic, I had better make my point :-}. Even in this one small thing, the kids I see daily are so different. If someone was crazy enough to do a study, I suspect they would discover that diaper behavior has various predictive uses. Waddle walkers are messier snack eaters, for example. They are more likely to keep playing for awhile after you sing the clean-up song. I don’t have a large enough sample to assert something this important, but overall they may be happier, too.

With enough pressure, I could make my waddle walkers into fast diaper changers if I tried, I suspect. But why should I subject them to that pressure? As the saying goes, they won’t go to college in diapers. All sorts of verbal messages about how diaper rash hurts just fly past my waddle walkers, even when they repeat my words and ask about them. Those words are still not enough to lure them away from the Lego.

That girl who is reporting all the diaper transgressions? She is going to be an easy student. She works hard and adds many details to her art. That boy who grinned as I ran down people to find me somebody’s extra pants? He’s going to be much more of a handful. He hardly ever starts cleaning after the clean-up song.  If we give them both an identical curriculum presented in a monolithic lesson plan, my girl will outshine my boy almost all of the time, unless maybe the topic is dinosaurs.

Eduhonesty: The Common Core will heavily favor my girl. That’s one reason I am certain we should be moving away from regimented content and instruction. Yes, education classes teach differentiation, but when the curriculum becomes too specific and its time demands too overwhelming, that differentiation can get replaced by an early childhood version of the Curriculum Death March. If you don’t believe me, read the Common Core standards for math for the first grade.

We need to celebrate all our children, not merely the easy and obedient ones. The more we leave teachers alone to work with students placed in their classrooms, the more likely that true differentiation and support will occur. Differentiation and support require time. Fewer spreadsheets filled with superfluous student data and fewer meetings to discuss those spreadsheets would help. The men and women in the field with their boots on the ground should be determining instruction. Our curricular frameworks need to be loosened to meet individual needs.

Because all of these kids are distinct individuals, even the ones who have no idea how to spell their own names.

Unless the Corn’s Too Tall or the Gravity’s Too Strong


This post is for readers everywhere:

Let them fail, the wisdom goes. Let them fall down and learn to pick themselves up. Teach them to create positive feedback loops for themselves. Teach them to say, “I will do better next time.” They will develop self-confidence as they keep going and learn they can work to succeed. Let them try, try, try again until they find the path out of the maze.

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” the classroom posters say. I like those posters. I believe in standing up. I stood as long as I could, until I finally turned in my retirement papers because I got tired of doing batshit crazy things on the whim of administrators, a couple of whom appeared to be intravenously hooked up to the Kool-Aid. Another required Common Core-based exam for a student testing four or more years below the level of the exam:



Eduhonesty: No. No. No. No. No. Here’s the thing: Some kids will not get up. Some kids will not get out of the maze. If you want to know how a kid can go to school for twelve years and emerge unable to fill out a job application or calculate simple loan interest, I’ll answer that. We gave that kid endless pep talks. We kept telling that kid to try harder. But the corn stalks were too high. The walk was too long. Or maybe gravity just tired that kid out. Whatever the reason, one day that kid went down and never got up again. Maybe he crawled in spurts.

We are willing to acknowledge people can suffer from different degrees of depression. We accept that autism, anxiety and numerous other characteristics fall on a spectrum. Anxiety can be a gnat or a 700 pound gorilla.

Resilience falls on a spectrum, too. Some kids keep standing up, those who believe their positive feedback loops or those who are simply too stubborn to stay down. But we should treat America’s children more gently. Some kids will curl up in the cornfield. They will start playing endless Mortal Combat or Mobile Strike when they get home, and exit education, even if their bodies still occupy desks. After all, somewhere out in the wild world of cyberspace, our students can find a game they can win.

Why always fall down and feel bad, when the right videogame makes you feel like a winner instead?

P.S. As kids get older, other escapes become easy to find. It takes no time to load a bong in the morning. Red eyes and placid expressions greet many middle-school and high-school teachers during their first periods.