I taught full time for fifteen years and am now subbing so that I can finish my novel. I don't have all the answers. None of us do. In fact, even if something works great for me, there is no guarantee it will work for you.
I hope that we will give each other suggestions. I went to all the trainings I could get my principal to approve when I taught full-time. I talked to a lot of teachers. AND I just kept trying things until I found something that worked FOR ME. We can not go against our own nature. Kids can sense that and will test us.
So, don't give up. Keep on trying new things and always know that there is a place to go where you can be anonymous and speak freely.
Best of Luck to all of you. Our children deserve the best that we can offer.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Self-Esteem Dilemma by Robert Genn

Back in the good old days, the Girl Guides used to get badges for accomplishments. Nowadays they're also getting badges for loving themselves. The self-esteem movement is an epidemic that's been sweeping parts of the Western World--claiming that even young girls need to feel good about themselves before they can do good things. I don't think so. I think you have to do good things to feel good.

It's particularly noticeable in the art game. In some quarters, we go to a lot of trouble to help others feel good. These days some of us are getting all sorts of praise for just trying. The Internet is full of it. Jack writes to Bill: "Right on, Bill--I love your fence posts." Even though Bill's fence posts are substandard, he still gets approval and encouragement. I guess it's more democratic.

Instead of measuring work against examples of excellence, we now honour mediocrity as well. Actually, it's human nature--it makes us feel comfortable, particularly if we're mediocre ourselves. What's going to become of a society that persists in this folly? No child left behind in the field means fewer peaks on the hill.

True professionals don't stand for this nonsense. For one thing, they don't listen to non-authoritative commentary or ingratiating praise. They try to decide what excellence is, challenge themselves and bend their bones to make it happen. Actually, the whole self-esteem thing leads artists into marketing courses before they're producing creditable work. But just get reasonably good and the world will love and reward you. Stay bad and all the marketing in the world won't help you--and you'll end up thinking less of yourself, anyway.

Quality deserves approval and gets it. Quality breeds success, cash flow and, curiously, genuine self-esteem because it's warranted. And while all artists, no matter how evolved, need a little perk from time to time, when you're on top of your game, you can take things less seriously.

We once attended a concert where little tykes played solos on the piano, cello, violin and trumpet. It was all pretty cute, and we all applauded like mad, especially when one of the little people was ours. At the end, every last kid got a trophy or a ribbon. Some system.

Best regards,


PS: "People thought that kids who felt good about themselves would get higher grades. They don't. They only feel entitled to get them." (Margaret Wente)

Esoterica: "Self-esteem," says cognitive psychologist Martin Seligman, "cannot be directly injected. It needs to result from doing well, from being warranted." Artists need to consider this when awarding and receiving prizes and honours. I recently juried an art-club show where in my heart of hearts it seemed to me that no one deserved even an honourable mention. "You have to give prizes," the president told me, "or the club will collapse." I didn't. It didn't. Fortunately there was another juror available, so they gave my job to him.

Coach Sherrie says: I couldn't decide which of my three blogs to put this in. I finally decided on this one. As a techer, I have seen the damage done from inflating a child's self-esteem: anger, resentment, mediocraty, jealousy (of the actually worthy student). I am even aware of a teen being killed because his own cousins were jealous that he was such an outstanding young man, intelligent, honest, kind and caring. What we need to do is help each student find a plave where they really can EXCEL.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Myth of the Lazy Veteran Teacher

I am so grateful someone finally said this!

The myth of lazy veteran teachers
By Joseph Staub
Updated: 04/25/2009 10:49:50 PM PDT

Almost every time the subject of layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District comes up, somebody bemoans the idea that enthusiastic, talented young teachers - the "best and the brightest" - are the first to be let go. Meanwhile, lousy, lazy and otherwise unfit teachers stay, protected by their seniority regardless of their ability.

As someone who has served as a master teacher and mentor teacher for California State University, Northridge, Cal State L.A. and Loyola Marymount, I know that perception is largely untrue. It is mostly a fallacy perpetuated by its romantic appeal and political expediency.

When a school district or college officials say they want to attract the "best and brightest," they may be sincere about a sound recruiting policy. However, they're really only talking about the candidates they want. We all know the best candidates don't always make the best teachers.

I have seen dozens of young (and not so young), talented people show up with their shiny new credentials and years of training, only to be dismayed by the difficulty and complexity of a real classroom.

My favorites are the ex-engineers who think because they can build rockets they can teach math and science to a roomful of sixth-graders. Whom do you think reaches out to mentor these new teachers, walking them through their first years, if they last that long? Why, the veteran teachers, of course. You know, those lazy dopes just hanging around until they retire.

This isn't to say there aren't brilliant and dedicated new teachers. There certainly are. But there are also a great many veteran teachers - the 10-, 20-, 30-year types - who are astoundingly good and astonishingly passionate at what they do. New teachers cluster around them - if they're smart - to copy lesson plans, borrow materials, unload stress and soak up knowledge.

But, the argument continues, aren't there also a number of senior teachers who should not be protected by seniority, and who need to be moved out of the profession? Yes, indeed.

And there are mechanisms in place to do just that. It takes a long time, though, I hear some of you saying, shouldn't administrators be able to hire and fire whom they please? Well, perhaps, but consider the assumptions on which this idea is based.

First, it assumes all principals are competent.

Most administrators are talented and committed, in my experience. But in the far too numerous cases where they aren't, do we really want them to have so much influence over the staffing? What kind of teachers do you think an incompetent administrator would hire, or keep?

Second, even when an administrator is competent, it's still a highly political job, especially the principalship.

Too often I have seen a teacher tagged as a "problem" for something completely unrelated to the quality of his or her instruction. Pointing out incompetence, abuse, or fraud, for example, or not being on board with somebody's pet project, or not having their bulletin boards just so.

Third, sometimes you need seniority, and the protection that comes with it, just to do your job.

I know I do. I am a special education teacher, charged with making sure the teaching and other services my students with disabilities receive complies with district policy and state and federal codes.

Many, many times I have had to slug it out with an administrator or other district official (or, to be fair, a parent, or teacher, or bureaucrat, etc.) who just didn't want to go through the time and expense to serve the student in accordance with the law. Now, how could I protect my students if the very people I had to stand up to had complete control over my livelihood? Only tenure allowed me to say and do what was necessary to ensure my students got what they needed and deserved.

Fourth, of course, school districts want young teachers.

They're without the protections mentioned above and cost far less than experienced teachers.

It is no secret that there are many issues to be resolved in the ongoing debates about tenure, layoffs, seniority, and so on. The resolution will be easier if we look past the emotionally charged descriptions of thousands of bright young experts being forced tearfully out of schools, leaving behind only a corps of smug, untalented, unmotivated union hacks.

It just isn't true. It's not even remotely accurate.

Joseph Staub is a teacher and writer in Los Angeles. He may be reached at

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Smart Does NOT = Happy

By Holly Lebowitz Rossi, Inspiration
Dalai Lama: Smart Does Not Mean Happy

What happens when one of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world visits two of the most revered educational institutions in the world? Wisdom, that's what.

This week, the Dalai Lama visited Harvard University and MIT with the message that being smart is not at all the same as being happy. I commend to you Michael Paulson and Jim Smith's fine Boston Globe article about the visit. From their article:

[The Dalai Lama] joked about Harvard's reputation, saying: "Some of my friends in the East once told me Harvard is so famous, even just to walk in that place is something sacred. That is too much, I think. Foolish people, or silly people, can walk [through] easily."

At another point, he observed: "There are very smart scholars, professors . . . full of feelings of competition, full of jealousy, full of anger. . . . I don't mean disrespect."

He said, as he often does, that compassionate feelings appear to be a biological component of human beings - he cited the early connection between children and their mothers - and said those feelings need to be cultivated, not only by families, but also by schools.

He noted that Buddhist monks have weathered imprisonment in Chinese prisons with less apparent psychological damage than that experienced by veterans of the Iraq war, and said, "More compassionate persons, in spite of traumatic experiences, their mental state is still calm." And he attributed some youth violence to a lack of "compassion, or affection, in family, or society."

But he suggested that "Warm-heartedness" is difficult to teach.

Coach Sherrie says: I decided we all needed a reminder.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Teaching Shakespeare by Jeffrey Billard

Hi Everyone,
I hope you are all well and moving to the conclusion of your school
year with many successes in teaching through the arts under your
belts. I thought it would be nice to share some successes here. Here's
a recent one of mine.

After reading Act One of Romeo and Juliet, I asked students to choose
a song that best sums up Romeo's feelings of love for Rosaline. Since
music is so important to students, they were very excited to jump into
this assignment. One student came in with seventeen songs! They
brought in songs on their IPod, which we played excerpts from, song
lyrics and a paragraph on how their song related to the topic along
with some analysis. It was a great success with the best song being "I
Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick! Remember that one?

I also asked the students to summarize the balcony scene as if Romeo
and Juliet were texting each other and write it that way. They had a
great time doing it and couldn't wait to share them with the class.
They agreed that both of these assignments forced them to read the
play more carefully and helped them to understand it better.

As a classwork assignment, I asked them to write a prologue for Act
IV. In pairs they had to summarize the events of the act and then put
it into sonnet form. It took about twenty minutes and got all of the
students involved; it was much better than just discussing the events
or answering questions about them. Plus it was fun, and you can't
discount that.

Ok, so let's hear some of yours.
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Implementing Positive Change In the Classroom

Seven Thoughts on Implementing Positive Change in the Way We Teach our Students
by Jeffrey Billard, M. Ed.

1. Engage students more in what they are learning.
Getting the student interested in what he or she is learning is engaging and thought-provoking. We need to get away from what Paulo Freire calls "the banking theory of education" where teachers deposit learning into student's heads and make withdrawals for tests. The old factory model of education is just that...old and outdated; we need to reach out to students, find what's important to them, what they enjoy and reach them that way. "Teaching to the test" and "drill, drill, drill" are outmoded and need to be done away with.

2. Make what we are teaching relevant to our student's lives.
Can we turn the standards we need to address into situations that have meaning to our students? Definitely.

3. Teach kids instead of teaching content.
We know what has to be taught-that is clear, but it's in the delivery and how we treat the students as people in an empathetic and human way that is key.

4. Make our classrooms into "safe containers" where students feel welcomed, appreciated and valued.
Building community in a classroom is incredibly important, yet often overlooked. If more students felt safe, emotionally as well as physically, then more would come to school and learn.
Schools all over the country are attempting to curb rising drop-out rates. Doesn't making schools more appealing for kids mean that they'll want to come?

5. Assess students in a more global, inclusive way.
If the main way students are being assessed is through traditional forms of testing, then we are only appealing to the linguistic and mathematical learners. What about all of the other intelligences as put forth by Howard Gardner- spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist? After all as Sir Ken Robinson says we think and process things in all the ways we experience the world. Doing that with our kids would speak to them, as we hit all the intelligences and learning styles.

6. Foster creativity and creative thinking.
Instead of a generation of students who are good at taking standardized tests, we need to foster creative and critical thinking. This makes school exciting and fun. What better way to get students to want to come to school and help prevent drop-outs.

7. Get students up and moving in the classroom.
Kids, no matter what age or level, want to get up and move in the classroom. Sitting for an hour in a hard chair is not conducive to learning. Creative movement activities make the room crackle with excitement and energy. This is especially effective if you have students with ADHD-think about it. I would guess that if asked, most students would tell you that they would rather be up and doing at least some of the time instead of sitting and listening all of the time.

We don't need to design new, elaborate systems as we re-think how our schools should look; we need to re-think the instructional methods we use in the classroom everyday and invest in restocking our teachers' toolboxes with methods that integrate the arts through creative movement, drama, poetry, storytelling, visual art and music in all grades and all levels.

Integrating the arts into the curriculum accomplishes all of these points and more. We all need to advocate for this type of approach as we take our first steps into the 21st century.

Posted by Jeffrey Billard, M.Ed. at 9:51 AM 0 comments
Labels: Examining our teaching practices, Jeffrey Billard, Rationale for integrating the arts