Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When Pushing Became Easier Than Pulling - part two

A friend of mine recently made a very interesting comment.  She said, “There are two types of leaders – those who lead by pushing others along and forcing them to do what they want them to do, and those who lead by pulling others to join them and lead by their passion and commitment.” 
Over the past 24 years, I have worked for nine different principals.  Some of these men and women were leaders who pushed, and some were leaders who pulled.  While all nine were effective and possessed their own unique strengths, three of them have stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Why?  They were pullers.  They lead their faculty and staff by example, passion and commitment.  They were not content with the status quo.  They sought innovative  teaching concepts.  They educated themselves to the point of expertise.  They encouraged teachers to do the same.  They were risk takers.  More important, they got others – those in their charge – to believe in them, to devote themselves to the same concepts and to follow – willfully and joyfully. 
The first “puller” was my first principal, Clyde Folsom.  Mr. Folsom was a dominant, physical presence.  He was well over six feet tall and well over 250 pounds.  He spoke with a loud, booming Tennessee accent.  There wasn’t a challenge he didn’t like or take head on.  
After a fairly long and distinguished career as a high school principal, Mr. Folsom was assigned to oversee the renovation and rebuilding of the worst school in the district.  A school that “folks” in the area – thirty years after segregation – still called, “the black school.”  It was a school in physical, academic and emotional disrepair.  To Clyde Folsom, it was a clean palate.  
Clyde Folsom took his new palate and created a masterpiece.  It wasn’t unusual to see him cutting the grass (using his own riding mower), or watering flowers, or cutting tree branches.  He wrote grants to get new fencing and a full-time resource officer on campus.  Howard Middle School went from a worn out, broken down group of buildings that kids used to break into by cutting out the cinder blocks to a diamond in the rough.   
Pat Donovan – another great “puller” – was in many ways the antithesis of Clyde Folsom and in many ways his Doppelganger.  Pat was part innovator, part cheerleader, part teacher, part student and part parent to both teachers and faculty and the students at her school.  She, too, never met a challenge she did not like, and if there was a way to do something better, smarter and in a way that both challenged and encouraged kids, she was behind it 100% of the way. 
One of my fondest recollections of Pat Donovan was the time she walked through the New Orleans airport wearing a bright orange wig, made out of two-inch thick ribbon.  She charged through that airport wearing her wig and toting two suitcases full of books, training manuals, beads other goodies she had stored up on the trip to share with her teachers.  Close on her heels were the three teachers who attended the trip with her.  I was fortunate to be one of them.  That was the same way she lead teachers at her school.  She led the charge, toting the ideas, the books and materials while her staff followed closely at her heels.
The last in this group of great "pullers" is Jim Willcoxon.  Jim's leadership style was unique in that, if you did not know Jim or work for him, you might accuse him of not having a style at all.  That style was a paradox - simple and complex at the same time.  He believed in letting teachers do what they do best - teach.  Like other great "pullers" before him, he did not believe in forcing teachers into one paradigm or direction.  He viewed a faculty as a collective - much like a bee hive.  Each worker, each teacher with a specific job to do, and he valued the  individual and unique ways those workers - his teachers - got the job done.  His role was to protect the hive and do whatever was necessary to support the individuals and the group.

Jim's greatest characteristic as a leader was that he never drew attention to what he did, decisions he made or why he made them.  More often than not, those decisions were predicated on one mission - supporting his teachers and students.  Not only did he value teachers' expertise and teaching style, more important, he valued their time.  Faculty meetings were conducted on a "need to know" basis.  If we needed to know something important, there was a meeting.  If not, email would suffice.  Every Monday, he greeted teachers with updates and accolades via the Bulldog Information.  Contained in each message was a thought or quote from an educator or leader.  Like Jim, these quotes were never heavy-handed, accusatory or directive.  They were designed to make you think, value, consider and question - the epitome of his "style".
What distinguished Pat Donovan, Clyde Folsom, and Jim Willcoxon from other leaders was that they never did anything with the precept of how good – or bad – it might make them look.  Pat walked through the airport with a ridiculous wig on her head not so people would look at her.  Her only concern was whether or not what she was doing would ultimately motivate teachers and, in turn, help kids.  Clyde Folsom didn’t cut the grass so that he could get his picture in the newspaper (although Teacher magazine did get a shot of him on his mower for an article); he did it because the grass needed to be cut.  Jim let others stand in the lime light not because he was averse to recognition, but because he truly believed that others were more deserving than he.
Too many leaders today – principals, administrators, lawmakers and wannabe politicians – are pushers.  They push their ideas on others.  They impose their will on people.  They threaten, belittle and chide, and if anyone gets in their way, look out.  They are content with the status quo, as long as it keeps them looking good.  They scorn new ideas because they might not produce “the numbers” needed to be viewed as a success.  In short, they are not risk takers because risk portends the potential to fail.  While they might be expert tacticians or masters in their fields, they fail to recognize one simple truth – the horse has a much easier time pulling the wagon than he does pushing it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Understanding Point of View – a teacher’s point of view

One of the most commonly assessed reading competencies is Point of View.  Point of View is often used interchangeably with Perspective, which requires the consideration of both a value system and a belief system.  Point of View is especially hard for some teenagers to grasp because for the 13 – 18 years they have only ever considered one point of view – their own!  As a teacher, I am not a strict disciplinarian.  Because I am not over-the-top when it comes to rules and discipline, I often find myself at a loss when students react –overreact – when I do call them on the carpet for certain behaviors.  I am even more flabbergasted when parents question my decisions and actions over what I consider “common courtesy” in the classroom – and life in general.  Recently, it dawned on me that students (and parents) often react to things I do and say because they lack an understanding of a teacher’s point of view.  More specifically, they fail to apply an educational value system to what educators are trying to achieve in the classroom.  In short, they lack an understanding of both Point of View and Perspective.

I am sure every profession has its own examples or stories of how customers, clients, coworkers, managers, subordinates, etc. fail to consider point of view in various situations. Because everyone has had a “school experience”, and most people look at teachers and what they do with a modicum of contempt, I believe there is an even greater lack of perspective and understanding of point of view in our profession.  Therefore, in order to illustrate why some teachers react the way they do to parents and student behaviors, I’ve devised this little lesson on Point of View and Perspective.  Highlighted are three scenarios – two student and one parent. After each, I’ve provided the teacher’s point of view and perspective in the form of some common analogies.  Enjoy!

Scenario #1:  A student is sitting in a classroom and is given an assignment to work on.  Rather than doing that class work, he/she is doing work for another class or doing something non-academic, such as drawing or, in today’s technologically advance world, texting or surfing the internet.  The student doesn't understand “what the big deal” is when he/she is asked to stop what they are doing and do the work that was assigned for this class.

Point of View:  This is comparable to sitting in a restaurant after a long wait to be seated.  Another table, who came in after you, sits down well after you.  The waiter walks by your table two or three times without acknowledging you are there.  He then goes over to the other table greets them warmly and takes their drink order.  After returning to the other table with their drinks, and takes their order. He finally comes to your table and says, “Do you all need more time?”

How this is analogous (perspective):  In both situations, the message is “I see that you’re there, but I don’t have time for you.  What you want/need is not worth my time or effort.  What I am doing right now is more important to ME, and I will get to you and do what you want when I can or when it is convenient for me.”

Scenario #2:  A parent calls the school and demands a parent-teacher conference right away.  The teacher re-schedules outside appointments and comes to work early (or stays at work late) to accommodate the parent’s schedule.  The parent does not arrive for the conference and does not call or email.  When contacted by the teacher, they are put off by the conversation and/or respond with something like, “Well, I had something I had to do that day.  Can I come in tomorrow?”

Point of View:  This is comparable to when the cable or internet service goes out in your house.  After navigating through voice mail, you finally get a ‘live person” who sets up an appointment to have your service checked.  You are given a 12:00 – 3:00 appointment window.  You take off work and stay close to the phone only to have the cable company call you at 3:30 to tell you that they “got tied up with another job” and won’t be able to fix your cable/internet.  When you tell them that you have been without the service for days and really need it back, they reply, “I can be there two days from now between 12:00 and 3:00.”

How this is analogous:  In both situations, the message is “My job and what I am doing is more important.  I don’t care that you are inconvenienced.  You can work around my schedule.  My time is more important than yours.”

Scenario #3:  A teacher creates a detail-rich assignment/handout.  The assignment has an outline with due dates.  It has step-by-step procedures for completing the work.  It has a rubric describing how the assignment will be graded.  It has a sample project or completed paper to serve as a model/exemplar.  You post the assignment on your web page and/or district web site.  The teacher posts the assignment on the front board in the classroom where it stays for the duration of the assignment.  On the day it is due, multiple students don’t complete it or it is done wrong.  When the teacher questions them about it, they reply, “I didn’t know it was due…You never told us you wanted…I wasn’t sure how to do it…I thought you wanted me to…”

Point of View:  This is comparable to going to a fast-food drive-thru window.  You state your order one item at a time – clearly and slowly.  After each item, the fast food employee says, “Is that it?”  You reply, “No” each time and calmly go through each item in the order.  As your order is entered into the computer/register, it shows up on the screen in front of your car.  When you finish, the employee reads your order back to you and again says, “Does that complete your order?’  You say, “Yes” and proceed to the check out.  When you get home and open your bag, there is a missing item, another item has mustard on it (which you loathe) and a grilled chicken is replaced with a fried chicken.

How this is analogous:  In both situations, the message is, “I was listening, but I really wasn’t listening.  While you were telling me what I needed to do or know, I was too busy listening to someone (who I value far more than you) tell me something meaningless and unimportant but still of greater interest compared to what you were saying.  I don’t really care that I got the instructions wrong or that the final product isn’t right.  It’s no big deal.  I can always fix it.”

Parents deal with their children for about 8 hours per day, and they drive them nuts.  Kids can’t deal with their own siblings for more than 5 minutes without arguing or disagreeing.  Here is the final lesson on Point of View:  think about dealing with over 100 kids for 8 hours a day – every day – and maybe give the teacher the benefit of the doubt every once and a while.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

When WE failed the test

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Times ran the following headline:  Florida Board of Education calls emergency meeting as FCAT scores tank.

I began writing this blog about a year ago.  After a feverish start, my fervor tapered off over the last few months.  I could blame  the crazy schedule I have in and out of school, but the truth is, for a while, I had taken a defeatist attitude.  I was beginning to think that not only did no one care what I was writing, something far worse was one cared what was happening to education.

Monday's headline shocked me back into action. I truly believe we are witnessing the systematic destruction of public education at the hands of politicians and an ignorant public who believe everything - including all government services - is better suited in the hands of greedy, private entities.

Here is how it is being accomplished:

Step 1: Bash teachers and attack their unions in the media under the guise of public accountability.

Step 2: Cut funding, placing even more pressure on an already "overtaxed" (pun intended) system.

Step 3: Demand higher student performance AND tie teacher evaluations and pay to that performance.

Step 4: Increase the level of achievement and/or mastery on all state assessments (while behind closed doors you increase funding opportunities to private and charter schools who don't have to meet the same standards) while implementing End of Course examinations and cutting funding to after school and enrichment programs.

Step 5: Exhibit shock and outrage at declining scores. Conduct "emergency meetings" to place blame - on teachers, of course! (See Monday's story in the Tampa Bay Times)

(Steps 6 - 9 have not been fully implemented yet)

Step 6: Eliminate tenure and right to collective bargaining (achieved during last year's legislative session). Turn money-sucking schools and their incompetent teachers over to private entities to "fix" the problems (because everyone knows businesses can fix everything - see Enron).

Step 7: Accept with a pat on the back (or a kick in the ass) the resignation of veteran teachers (who make too much money and are "suckling on the teat of taxpayers") who have committed their lives to helping kids. Hire a slew of college grads (at a reduced salary) who teach for three years before abandoning the "assembly-line" approach to teaching that cares more about the product (test scores and dollars saved) than the students they are suppose to be educating.

Step 8: Blame the "mess" left behind on the retired teachers (who are now collecting retirement benefits that the system can no long afford to fund because funds have been bankrupted by the "companies" that are running the schools) and demand even more accountability.

Step 9: Repeat Steps 1 - 8.

While some of this blog was written tongue-in-cheek, all of what I have written about has either already happened or is in the process of happening - not just in the State of Florida but around the country.  While I have never truly had a political agenda (supporting one party over another) in writing this blog, I do have a warning - for everyone.  If we don't do something soon, if we don't get vocal, if we don't speak with our mouths, words and vote, we are as much to blame as the politicians, for we will have become that ignorant public.  This is a test, and we are failing it.  More important, we are failing our children - in more ways than one.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

There is a curiously funny children’s picture book titled, What Cows Do When No One is Looking.  The first four pages of this book read:  Do you know what cows do when no one is looking?  People think that cows just eat grass all day.  But when no one is looking…

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I am writing an “open letter” of sorts titled, What Teachers Do When No One is Looking, for anyone who is under the delusion that teachers come in at 8:00 (when the kids arrive), leave at 3:00 (when the kids leave), copy pages out of a book for assignments, and don’t have to work nights, weekends or over the summer. 

There is an old Native American saying, “Don’t judge a man until you walk two moons in his moccasins.”  I encourage you all to walk two days in any teacher’s moccasins.

What Teachers Do When No One is Looking

Do you know what teachers do when no one is looking?  People think that teachers yell at kids, grade papers and drink coffee while sitting behind their computer all day.  But when no one is looking… 


Cut food, “loan” money, push swings, play kickball, fix glasses, dress up like famous people, write letters, tutor (for free), tie shoes, give “high fives”, open jammed zippers, draw pictures, make faces, create models, do voices or sound effects, dance, chaperone, attend games, encourage, argue, challenge, debate, mediate, counsel, come early, stay late, return emails, go to workshops, plan, integrate, differentiate, re-teach, revise, laugh, yell, and sometimes – cry.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Monday, December 12, 2011

When multiple choice became the only choice

I am taking a break from my series entitled “How to fix it” in order to bring a little perspective to some other aspects of teaching that have been kicking around in my head for a while. I will continue with my three-part series over Christmas break. 

When I first got into teaching, E.D. Hirsch had recently published his book Cultural Literacy:  What every American needs to know.  This book started a maelstrom of controversy about what was taught, not taught and/or not learned by students in American schools.  It fueled the debate – which is still raging today – about why American schools are in decline.

While I respect Mr. Hirsch, and I certainly have a deep appreciation for “cultural literacy,” I believe this very mindset – one steeped in tradition and outdated pedagogy – is crippling our schools today.

There is a palpable disconnect between students and schools because the educational system has failed to evolve beyond the style of teaching that was in place when Mr. Hirsch was a mere lad.  In a world where everyone’s mood, relationship status or what they had for breakfast can be tweeted, blogged or sent via IM around the world in a millisecond, we still expect kids to learn using many of the same tools, resources, and teaching styles that were in place nearly 100 years ago.

Although my curriculum focuses on project-based learning, I do, from time-to-time, require students to read from our state-adopted textbooks and answer questions.  I do it because students are expected to demonstrate comprehension by finding Main Idea, Author’s Purpose, etc. on district and state level assessments.  This type of assessment, based on reading short passages and answering a series of multiple-choice questions, was developed by a Kansas State Normal School professor in 1915.  Sadly, not much has changed since then.   

Recently, I had my students read a six-page passage from their social studies textbook about the early European explorers and answer the questions at the end of the passage.  One of the questions they had to answer was:  What records of their attempt to settle North America did the Vikings leave behind? 

Even with a great deal of background knowledge (we had recently read a book on the Vikings), most of my students did not understand the question.  First, they did not know what a record was.  More important, the wording of the question suggested that the Vikings actively sought – through multiple “attempts” – to colonize North America and deliberately left “records” behind.  Nothing in the book we had read or in the chapter from the textbook suggested that, so I re-phrased the question.  What types of artifacts have been discovered to suggest the Vikings may have visited or even settled in present-day North America? 

Since my students have access to a computer, we googled the phrase, “Viking artifacts in North America.”  In an instant, they saw hundreds of “records” of Viking remains in North America. After allowing them to “explore” a few web sites, I asked them to answer the question again.  Immediately, they wrote down parts of Viking ships, decomposed swords, tools, and bowls.  I showed them a web site that explained how carbon dating was used to figure out how old the artifacts were and another that showed were in North America these sites were located.  A collective light came on. 

To those who defend the use of chapter tests and pop quizzes, I offer this.  When in the real world do we ever expect anyone – a mechanic, a lawyer, an accountant or a doctor – to know all the answers on the spur of the moment?  Most doctors examine patients while typing information and symptoms directly into a laptop computer or iPad.  Lawyers often have a conference room filled with law books, legal reviews, and case studies.  Mechanics look up parts and settings on a computer.

Often students are not allowed the same “access to information”.  They are not allowed to “find” information or use resources to show that they understand concepts.  In short, we don’t teach the same strategies and skills they will need “in the real world” in the classroom. 

Much of the blame for our over reliance on this type of learning and assessments falls on the federal and state mindset that educational achievement can be measured through multiple choice assessments, and the belief that students (and teachers) should be assessed and evaluated based on a single test score.  A pop quiz of our schools.

Politicians will tell you the public wants accountability.  They will tell you that we need to hold teachers to higher standards so our students can achieve, grow and develop to meet the needs and demands of an ever-changing world.  Unfortunately, they do not abide by the same precepts.  They do not allow schools to develop curriculum that meets these needs simply because it cannot be measured. 

What are we really measuring?  That question is as perplexing to some as the one my students had to answer from their textbook.  Perhaps we need to re-phrase the question and take measurement and evaluation “outside the box” or least outside the textbook.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When "fixing" the problem became the real problem

How Do We Fix It?

The other day, I posted an article from the St. Pete Times on Facebook about how recent cuts in educational funding are beginning to have an impact on student achievement.  A friend of mine posted this comment, “How do we fix it?”  I decided to dedicate the next five posts to answering this question.  I warn you, these posts will be longer than others.  I hope they challenge your thinking (or confirm what you already know).  Please feel free to comment and/or share with other educators or people who profess to know how to “fix” the problem.

1.      Eliminate the Department of Education - at least how it exists today.  

The Department of Education should not be “a clearing house” for tax payers’ dollars, doling out funds indiscriminately to states.  One of the biggest drains on school districts today – both financially and in terms of “man power” – is keeping up with the ridiculous goals, guidelines and laws developed at the federal level.  No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have done nothing to improve instruction and raise student achievement.  What they have done is create unrealistic goals (NCLB) and hoops to jump through (RTT).  What they haven’t done is provide necessary resources – in terms of teacher training and professional development – to implement relevant instructional methods to achieve the levels of student achievement each program expects.  

Rather than pumping out mindless initiatives, the Department of Education should be an educational “think tank” composed of life-long educators – not accountants, psychologists and doctors like the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development panel that culled the “research” used to formulate the goals and standards used in No Child Left Behind.  The Department of Education needs to take its direction from educators, more specifically teachers and college professors, those individuals who are not influenced by textbook and testing companies or donors and campaign financers. 

The Department of Education should establish regional centers for professional development.  These centers should develop programs and teacher training “modules” based on the needs of students (and teachers) in the various parts of the country.  Miami-Dade is a far different school district than Kalispell, Montana.  To expect schools, teachers and students to obtain the same level of achievement with completely different groups of students and with completely different needs and resources is asinine. 

These regional, professional development centers should be staffed by educational experts – those who research and implement “cutting edge” educational and professional practices.  They should be run by people like Harvey Daniels, Richard Allington, Ellin Oliver Keene, Stephanie Harvey, Tony Stead, Tim Rasinski, etc.  One thing research tells us over and over is that the most important factor in student achievement is the level of expertise of the teacher in the classroom. We need to start by making the Department of Education a department that educates.  

2.        Allow states and local districts to make all decisions concerning funding and measuring student achievement.

Many of the arguments to support this approach have been broached in the previous “fix”.  The bottom line is students and schools are different from state to state, district to district and school to school.  Florida has over 65 individual school districts from rural Bradford County, which has one high school and seven schools in all, to Miami-Dade, which is one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the country.  Under the current model, each district receives funding – and directives – from the federal and state level.  The needs of each district are different, and the needs from school to school are also different.  Some schools in my district have a student-family poverty level of over 75%, while others have levels under 25%.  In some schools, language is a barrier.  In others, the issue is student mobility.  In some schools neither of these is an issue; in some both are an issue.  

We cannot continue to use a “one size fits all” approach to education.  Creating student achievement goals that are unrealistic or overly ambitious (in terms of time tables established and/or the percentage of students achieving a particular level) creates a “teach to the test”  mentality and forces many schools to ignore the real needs of students to focus on test scores and test preparation.  Rather than creating programs to address student needs, schools are forced – under the threat of loss of funding or being “taken over” by the state – to focus time and resources on programs that are geared toward standardized tests.

We need to create a structure in which school districts “apply” for state and federal funds based on the needs of students at each of its schools.  A similar approach is taken with schools that receive Title I funding. These schools must submit a comprehensive Title I “plan” that outlines how funds will be used and how student achievement will be measured.  Each school is then responsible for showing gains and/or how to address or “fix” persistent needs and deficits.  In short, Florida (and each state) would develop its own No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top plan and would be responsible for funding individual districts based on each school’s needs.  District and school plans would be tied to student needs and levels of growth and achievement within each school and would be measured using relevant, meaningful and developmentally appropriate measures – not just standardized assessments.  Plans would be reviewed, revised and re-submitted every couple of years and funding would be modified based on performance and growth.

3.      Restructure educational funding sources 

I don’t want to turn this blog into a discussion about taxes and who pays too much and who does not pay enough, so I will focus my comments on the state’s (Florida’s) reliance on regressive property taxes and sales taxes to generate revenues. 

Florida’s taxes, namely property taxes, are a major source of funding for schools.  For years, Florida has attracted people to “the Sunshine State” because it is one of few states that does not have a state income tax.   Florida’s legislature has relied on two primary tax sources – property and sales taxes.  For years, these revenue sources have relied on Florida’s service-related economy and the housing market.  With the recent downturn in both areas, revenues have dried up and taxes have become “out of whack” (term used by a recent Time magazine article). 

According to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “Florida’s state and local taxes are 15th lowest in the nation as a share of personal income. At 10.2 percent of personal income, Florida’s taxes were well below the national average in 2008…the poorest twenty percent of Floridians paid, on average, 13.5 percent of their income in Florida taxes, while the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers paid an average of only 2.1percent of their income in state and local taxes.”

While it is not a popular stance, if Floridians want better schools, we ALL have to be willing to pay for them. Not only do we need to revamp the current revenue sources, we need to look for funding sources outside of local property taxes and state sales taxes.  Privatizing certain aspects of our public schools (a topic I will address later) is one idea.  Creating business-school partnerships is another.   There are far more creative and knowledgeable people than me who can develop ways to fund our schools.  One thing is certain, we need to need to be smarter with the millions of dollars that are already being pumped into our schools.  We need to look at the archaic practice of separating school funds into two primary sources – capital funds and operational funds, but that is the topic of my next blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When we lost what was really important

In one of my recent blogs, I wrote about a teacher whose “intangibles” could not be measured by student test scores or a complex algorithm.  It read: His lesson plans are sketchy – at best. His record keeping leaves a lot to be desired.  He operates under the “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” mantra most of the time.  But he knows his subject area better than most college professors.  His vocabulary, writing and critical thinking skills are unparalleled.  More important, he knows how to relate to his students – from the nerd who sits alone in the back of the room to the loud-mouthed girl who is taking care of three younger siblings at home.  He makes learning meaningful and relevant, and they remember the life lessons he teaches them – as well as the subject area lessons – long after they leave his classroom.  His effectiveness cannot be measured by a protocol and certainly is not accurately reflected based on how his students perform on one test. 

That “teacher” was actually an amalgam of several teachers I have worked with over the past 20 years.  One of those teachers was Mike Martin.  This past week, Mike passed away.  He was only 66 years old and had just recently retired.  His death has caused me to consider (re-consider) my role as an educator, father and husband. 

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to leave the classroom and pursue other career opportunities.  To be honest, on more than one occasion, I was more than ready to close the book (pun intended) on my teaching career. 

What kept me coming back – and keeps me coming back each year – is the reason why so many teachers enter the profession and stay in it year after year.  It’s not the “cushy retirement” (30 years in the classroom for less than 50% of your top five years).  It’s not the “three months off in the summer” (which is really 11 weeks for kids and 8 weeks for teachers, which is really more like 5 or 6 weeks for dedicated teachers).  It’s not the “no weekend hours” (all teachers spend countless hours working over the weekend – in and out of school). The reason is simple.  For me, for my wife, for the teachers I work with, and for Mike Martin, there is (and only has been) one reason – our desire to share our love for learning with the kids.

Mike Martin’s career spanned 40 years in the classroom.  During those years, Mike witnessed (and endured) countless programs, assessments and educational pedagogies.  Despite working in a profession that was in a constant state of flux, Mike’s primary focus was making learning meaningful for kids.  His classroom was filled with models, magnets, rocks, compasses, fossils, puzzles and an array of “hands on” learning activities.  Mike was never concerned with the X’s and O’s of teaching.  That wasn’t important to him.  Relating material in ways that kids would remember and understand was.  Comments former students have made on Facebook are a living testament to his “old school” approach to teaching and learning.

Mike’s passing should be a wake up call to those who make policies and laws that affect our schools and children.  Losing Mike should be a reminder that the “old school” approach, one in which children were the primary focus, is dying too. 

We cannot bring Mike back, but it is not too late to bring back some perspective to teaching.  Do we need to assess students?  Sure we do.  Can test scores help us understand our students’ strengths and weaknesses?  Of course they can.  Should we monitor teacher performance and look for ways to improve instruction?  Absolutely.  Have we made student assessments (and now teacher evaluations) far too much of a focus in education?  If you would have asked Mike that question, his response would have been “heck yeah.”
Rest in Peace, Mike.  You will be missed in more ways than one.