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9 posts from May 2012

Travis Wittwer | Current Affairs, Education Policy, Teacher Leadership | May 31, 2012



I sat at my dining room table this morning, finishing up a crossword, before moving on to what’s new in education news.

Budget cuts, great numbers of teachers leaving the profession, and frustrating class sizes are creating an education dilemma. An edulemma, if you will.

In an effort to view the current situation from all perspectives, I donned my alter ego, William P. Levitt, and found that solutions to our educational situation are within reach. 

Mark Gardner | | May 30, 2012

To the Class of 2012


800px-Greeting-cardsBy Mark

At the close of each year, I always come up with some kind of message--like we all do--to the students who are about to leave my classroom. I posted my message to the class of 2010, ruminated about the significance of the ceremony in 2011, and have been mulling what to share with the class of 2012. Here it goes:

This year I want to address the lies perpetuated by this graduation "celebration." 

I'm talking about the blatant lies and excess flattery penned in cliche'd almost-rhymes in the cards you have been or will be receiving from friends and family over the next few weeks. Thankfully, like much of the homework reading assigned in the last several years you won't be reading those either. I know you'll shake them for cash, check the envelope just in case, then hand them to mom for filing in your memory book.

Let's start with the most seemingly innocuous: "Congratulations, graduate! You did it!"

Tamara | | May 28, 2012



By Tamara

It is the end of May. Yet, daily, in every period there are three to five students who need a pencil. Or paper. Or both. Or just need to be reintroduced to their binder which has been languishing in their locker. Since January.

This daily inability/disinterest/motivation (I don't know which descriptor to use here, which is the crux of this post) to come to class prepared is less about there being fourteen days of school left than it is about personal responsibility. A reflection really of what this batch of kids expects from life and themselves. I am worried.

Having spent over a decade teaching in Title I schools, students' lack of basic supplies is the norm. So like most title schools we stand in the gap with a heavily discounted student store and many teachers keep extras in their rooms for those kids who really can't access supplies. So there is really no reason other than conscious choice for a student to come to class without basic supplies.

It is that conscious choosing not to bring the materials necessary to actively engage in learning that has me worried. It is not even the typical "I can learn this by osmosis" attitude. The repeat offenders are presenting as uninterested and unconcerned with learning. Now middle school students are not reknowned for great forward thinking or meta-cognition beyond "I think Justin Bieber is really cute/stupid" (though they do often have moments deep thinking and the hardest questions I have ever been asked have come from seventh graders). They do typically get if-then-because kind of logic. The kind that takes poor kids with difficult home lives to skills center, community college, and beyond. These kiddos aren't there. And I don't know that what I am observing can even be called apathy.

It's more a perfect storm of learned helplessness, lack of opportunity, and almost nonexistent value for obtaining knowledge...about anything. I don't believe any of them want to grow up to be stupid. But they certainly don't want to grow up to do anything requiring they come prepared, on time, or with a sense of curiosity. I fear our best intentions have created this storm. These kids KNOW if they hold out long enough we will give them the answer, and the pencil and paper too.

So I am wondering: which acronym in the Ed Reform alphabet soup is going to address accoutability?

Mark Gardner | | May 24, 2012



File1461335626844By Mark

By nature, I am a pessimistic skeptic. I am a glass-half-empty-because-it-is-cracked-and-leaking kind of person. But, if there's one thing I believe, it is that a person should, no must, be willing to adjust his or her beliefs when faced with new information. 

Thus, though I was a TPEP skeptic at first, as I have learned more, my attitude has shifted.

Thus, though I was a PLC supporter at first, as I have learned more, my attitude has shifted.

I think resistance to a new acronym, doctrine, or mandate is healthy and important. The "new" must be vetted, examined, deconstructed, and challenged in order to become worthy of acceptance. The key there, though, is that if something new can be proved to have merit upon close and level-headed inspection, then it can and should be accepted.

Yet, it is staggering how much energy some people invest into resisting: resisting change, resisting what is new, and even resisting learning that might threaten or contradict their initial knee-jerk and not-fully-informed reaction to the "new."

Case in point: making copies.

Tom | | May 13, 2012

Thanks, Mom


Apple_pieBy Marge’s Son

In 1966 I started kindergarten. The bus stop was in our front yard, and my mom put me out there with the other kids to wait. “Stand here,” I was told, “and when the bus comes, get on it. When the bus gets to the school, get off and someone will tell you where to go.”

The bus came, but I didn’t get on. Instead, I went back in the house. My mom was there with the rest of my family, and when she saw me I could tell what she was thinking, “This one clearly needs more supervision.”

Which I got. All through school my mom was on top of things. Getting me to bed on time, getting me up on time, making sure my clothes were clean, my lunch was packed and my homework was done correctly. She drove on field trips, stayed home with me when I was sick and baked cupcakes on my birthday. She didn’t do anything huge; she did all the small things that go into raising a child. She did all the stuff that every teacher wants every student’s mom to do.

Twenty years after the failed bus ride I was a very young teacher. I was living at home, trying to save money for my upcoming wedding. My little brother was home from college and we decided to go skiing. It was a Wednesday night and my mom saw me heading out the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Me and Steve are going skiing.”

“Steve and I. And isn’t it a school night? Are your lessons planned for tomorrow?”

Always the mom. Always worrying; never fully convinced that I would succeed without supervision. And always right.

Throughout my career I’ve had to measure every parent of every student against the standard set by my parents. Some have come close. They’ve done all the little things. They get their kids to bed on time, get them up on time, make sure their clothes are clean, their lunches are packed and their homework is done correctly. They come on field trips, stay home with their kids when they’re sick and bake cupcakes on their birthday. They do all the small things that go into raising a child. All the stuff that every teacher wants every student’s mom to do.

Twenty years after the ski trip I was up on a stage at a huge convention center in Washington, DC, receiving an award for teaching. As I stood there, I saw my mom in the crowd. She looked relaxed; as if realizing that a lifetime of supervision – of parenting – had finally paid off.

This is for you, Mom. Thanks for everything.  It’s also for the rest of the moms, who make what we do possible.


Travis Wittwer | | May 11, 2012

More Appreciation


Pulpit rockBy Travis

Writing did not come easily to me. In junior high, I would watch my friends energetically write, their pencils dancing away, creating works of great literature, or at least semi-coherent pieces that would garner a passing grade. 

Writing eluded me. I knew what writing was and I was an avid reader, but the power to mold words and phrases into something worthy was beyond me. It was akin to magic.

Science and math were my subjects. I tolerated English because I enjoyed reading. Then in my senior year, my American Literature teacher changed my life.

Mr. Blair was a short man, solidly build. The use of "stout" would fit most welcome on his person. He wore casual clothes as he was also a coach in a variety of sports. Golf shirts and jeans. He did not have the appearance of an amazing teacher. I walked into class on the first day and had him figured out: sports guy who loved worksheets and end of chapter questions. I would nail this semester. 

I left that first day both wrong (totally wrong) and happy at being wrong (a unique endeavor in my early adolescence).

Mark Gardner | Education, Life in the Classroom | May 9, 2012



Coffee-stainBy Mark

There will be coffee awaiting me in the main office tomorrow in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Coffee: I used to joke with my students that if any of their papers came back with coffee stains from me, it was a bonus 5 points. That comment comes from a deep memory of receiving back many an assignment in Mrs. Jones's class that had coffee rings on the corners.

On my drive in to work this morning, I got to thinking about Mrs. Jones, from whom I took 9th grade science, chemistry, physics, geometry, Algebra II and Advanced Math Pre-Calc. She was basically half the science department and half the math department in the tiny high school from which I graduated. 

My freshman year, a rather self-important group of us claimed that we were going to get her fired. She simply expected too much of us. It was unreasonable. A few of us had parents on the school board, so we knew it would be a slam dunk.

Travis Wittwer | Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | May 7, 2012



By Travis Picture 7

I took my sons to school with me on national Take Your Child to Work day. It humanized me. I have a good rapport with students because I care about them as people outside of my subject area. I know for many students the intricacies of Shakespeare’s language in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is not what is important for their survival that day. I also know that my class may just be a blip on their day of ups and downs. Given this, I work hard to make their time in my class an “up.”

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues | May 1, 2012



File5561335491384By Mark

Of my seniors, some may graduate, some may become a statistic.

Of the total FTE in my building, some may have jobs next year, some may be RIF'd.

Of the courses on the master schedule, some classes may be scratched, some may be cobbled together.

I may decide to stay in the classroom. So much depends.

All of these this-or-thats will be decided in May. How appropriate.

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