This installment tells
the story of Mr. Zimmerman, a veteran English teacher at
Mr. Z. may very well be
right. Maybe the reason our educational
system is going down the toilet is because we don’t require kids to call us Mr.
Zimmerman or Mrs. Smith. Do we really
want to fight this battle? When a
student walks up to Mr. Z. and asks “Can I go to the bathroom?”…Mr. Z. replies
“Can you?” in his sarcastic voice. Mr.
Z. requires students to ask by saying “MAY I go to the restroom?” When students call it a “bathroom”, he snarls
“BATHROOM? Do you take a
Mr. Zimmerman used to brag to anyone who would listen about how tough his class was. “I may be the only teacher left in this country who has STANDARDS!” he would brag. He would crow about the fact that 54% of his students failed his class. His philosophy was that he was responsible for disseminating the knowledge, like Johnny Appleseed flinging seeds out in every direction in the valley. Some seeds took root, grew into apple trees, and produced fruit…some did not. To use another farming analogy, Mr. Z. would say “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” It was the student’s responsibility to learn the material by reading the chapters in the textbook, doing the worksheets, listening to his lectures, and taking notes.
Mr. Zimmerman was openly hostile to any educational reforms that were attempted by other teachers in the building. “My way has worked for hundreds of years!”, he would growl. In reality, seating students in rows (students who by nature want to be active) is not going to lead to good results. Preventing students from working together (when their nature is to want to interact) will also not lead to good results. His argument that some of his students are successful is faulty…those students would be successful no matter what type of pedagogy he used. The issue is how to motivate and teach the students who need our help the most.
Did Mr. Z. have a system of interventions in place to help students who did not learn the material the first time? No, he did not. “Maybe some students just aren’t meant to be successful” was his reply. His intervention for students who did not learn the material the first time? Take the class again. What are the chances that the student will “get it” the second time when the same methods are used to teach the class the second time? Not good.
I remember a math teacher I had years ago (I can’t remember her name…I’ll call her Mrs. Olson) that required us to use a #2 pencil, and she would throw your assignment in the garbage if it was done in pen or marker, or #3 pencil, or mechanical pencil (even though the lead in the mechanical pencil was #2). Whew! She was a stickler for detail. If your assignment didn’t have your full name on it…garbage! Wrong date? Garbage! You didn’t put your class period on it in the top left hand corner? Garbage!
Mrs. Olson could be heard saying to her fellow teachers at the end of the day, “I just presented an awesome lesson on the Order of Operations…too bad that most of my students didn’t get it. Mrs. Olson didn’t realize that it wasn’t a very good lesson if most of her students didn’t get it. She didn’t realize that we have become a “results-oriented” industry, where the measure of your effectiveness is the percentage of students who “get it”.
Mrs. Olson had strict rules for students against bringing food, drinks, or gum into the classroom. Of course, she had a mug of coffee, a cinnamon roll, and other miscellaneous snacks in her desk that she ate in front of the students. She was a real stickler about cell phones, but took class time to take personal phone calls on HER cell phone. When asked about it, she would proclaim, “I am the TEACHER! I am the adult here…I don’t have to follow the rules.” Mrs. Olson didn’t realize that the paradigm has shifted, and the “Do as I say, not as I do” days are over.
Do I look back at Mr. Zimmerman and Mrs. Olson with love and affection? No. Do I look back at Mr. Zimmerman and Mrs. Olson with respect? Not really. What I remember about them is that they didn’t seem to like their jobs very much. They didn’t seem to like their students very much. They didn’t seem to inspire anyone to become great at anything. They basically inflamed and aggravated anyone they came in contact with, all in the name of the “Good Ol’ Days”. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed the Good Ol’ Days as much as anyone when I became a teacher. I liked not having to follow the same rules students did, and I liked not being held accountable for the level of student learning that was occurring in my classroom. I did the best I could do, and tough luck if you weren’t successful. I lectured and “worksheeted” students to death, teaching for years before I discovered that there was a better way.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the Good Ol’ Days are gone…and they are never coming back. “Bull!” the old teachers scream. “If we get every teacher on the same page, and educate the parents, and get some administrators with backbone, and raise academic standards, and quit mainstreaming special education kids, and get rid of all of these extracurricular “fluff” classes, and get back to basics, and elect tough school board members, and increase education spending, and raise teacher salaries, and reduce class sizes, and implement a school voucher program, and outlaw cell phones, and…
Nope. Not coming back.
Check back here in the spring of 2010, when I tell you how to learn about presenting your lessons in a whole new way…a way that ensures learning for almost ALL of your students (notice I said “almost” all? I am not naïve enough to think that you are going to reach everyone). You will see an unbelievable difference in the level of student engagement in your classroom!