On a Career of Two Halves

Embed from Getty Images


Everyone evolves in their job or career. It’s different for everyone; however, not only do each of us change, different reasons initiate each bit of change. Do you have a single moment that changed your career life? If so, do remember the key components as place, date, time, and situation?

I can’t imagine a teacher getting it right on Day 1 of their career. After all, one enters their classroom from the protective confines of observations, experiences, and student teaching – but now that new teacher is all alone with the elements.

To me, my teaching career involved two halves. Content and discipline dominated the first half. After all, two of my strengths were organizing and explaining information.

I recall a story of student who came to my defense when a peer complained that I was so hard. She explained that I was easy because I presented the information well, laid it out in front them, but the content was hard – not me. Oh my, is biology ever heavy in terminology. On the other hand, I later determined that didn’t mean I was a good teacher.

The labs were OK, but not my strength. Like most science teachers, labs were done to support/verify the already-presented content.

I don’t know how it happened, but professional development was very important to me. State, regional, and national conferences were always on my radar. I tried to attend those within a reasonable distance, plus I didn’t mind providing some of my own expenses because (the way I saw it) that’s what professionals do. These conferences were learning experiences – although a side of me (like most teachers) was looking for ideas to fit into my system – after all, I (like most teachers) know what is best for my students.

Toward the end of my career’s first half, the school district hired a math-science curriculum coordinator. Although primarily a math person, I processed her thoughts because she was good at stimulating my thinking. Besides – I had already heard this information before at the conferences; but I didn’t put my knowledge into action.

I wish I would have recorded the date, time, exact setting, and circumstances of the next event. I recall being in a session at a National Science Teachers Association regional conference in Louisville, Kentucky when the light bulb became bright – causing me to proclaimed, “I’ve done a great job of doing it wrong all these years.”

Reflections can be powerful, and I wonder how many people would admit what I did – especially one with 13 or so years of experience. From that moment in Louisville, I committed myself to change. During the rest of the school year, our coordinator encouraged me to try some things – similar to test driving a car – which I did. I also identified areas where I needed training – plus where to get it – and I eagerly attended several intense classes and workshops for 6 months.

As the next school year started, my teaching approach and philosophy changed 180 degrees. I shifted from a lecture-based to activity-based – from teacher centered to student centered – from content driven to application based – from textbook driven to the textbook being an aid – from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side – from dispensing informing to students to having students learn for themselves – from me telling what they needed to know to me guiding their learning as they figure it out – from me tweaking prepared activities to me designing my own lessons that had a clearly defined instructional strategy.

There is no question that the last half of my career was more rewarding than the first half. I loved the challenge of developing and implementing a lesson. My most rewarding moments would be standing and looking at a classroom of every student engaged without me. I wrote my own lessons and was very good at it. My first-half strengths of organizing information and controlling the classroom helped immensely. After all, I had been there and done that.

The last half of my career taught me how to teach. It taught me how people learn. It taught me that change can occur – especially when driven from within. Yes, it made me stubborn with teachers I encountered who held onto the past of teaching how they were taught.

I later had some years in training development for businesses. I cringed when hearing someone say, “Anyone can teach” – well, in business it’s “anyone can train!” I knew I had arrived in my new endeavor when I was disagreeing with the majority of others in the field around me. After all, I had the advantage of knowing that telling isn’t teaching, and telling isn’t training.

On a Day of a Teacher

Embed from Getty Images


I stopped at the grocery store on the way home where the clerk said to me that I looked tired and must have had a tough day. After I smiled and affirmed her observations, she encouraged me to relax this evening. While nodding, I said to myself, “Who is she kidding?”

The 6:30 AM-to- PM part of the day at the high school was interesting.

  • I arrive at 6:30 AM for the final preparations of the day.
  • 7:25 AM – Homeroom starts and it’s too short to do scheduling justice.
  • Three classes (85 minutes each) had lab activities, which had various issues.
  • The fourth class had a Performance Objective Assessment (POA), a required district assessment.
  • During my conference period I had a parent conference on the phone, then went to the Special Ed. room to work with students.
  • After the last class, I knew 16 students would be retaking a different POA, but little did I know there was still more to come.

It’s 2:30 PM.

  • Most students arrived for the retakes – so getting them started is the priority.
  • Another student wanted to discuss grades. She saw the time wasn’t right and was willing to talk some other time – I was thankful.
  • A second student graciously waited as we had to shift from one make-up item to another, and then I finally started 20 minutes of tutoring.

It’s 3:00 PM. As the tutored student left, a Special Ed student entered to retake a POA. I decided to test him orally; and I determined he was deficient. Learning is very difficult for him and I would like to continue oral evaluations with him. I tried remediation and found some helpful websites for him to do in the classroom for about fifteen minutes while I continued multi-tasking.

It’s 3:15 PM. Another struggling student appears – the one who appeared earlier then left. She was very patient with the hectic after-school period. I’m sure school isn’t easy for her, but her academic laziness compounds the problem.

It’s 3:25 PM. A parent appears at the door for a surprise meeting. I excused myself from the student to meet with the parent. I addressed her questions, and she kept it short because she saw I was working with a student.

It’s 4:30 PM. The tutoring session is over; and I think it went well. I’m alone in the room, so I prepare to finish a few tasks before leaving for home.

It’s 4:35 PM. A student who made-up a POA earlier (and the son of the walk-up parent) wanted to go over the POA to see how he did. Good news – he did well. He’s been improving yet doesn’t yet “show” the grades to please his parents. We talked as I tried to give him some insight in school success.

It’s 4:45 PM. Has the last student finally gone? I think so … but it’s time to check the phone messages to see who called. I imagine some parents because it is “Interim Reports Day.” Yep … two parents. I returned the first message as it seemed to be more pressing. Fortunately, it was a positive conversation.

It’s 4:55 PM – Time to check my email. Yikes! – an unpleasant note from Special Ed. Good timing! … and to think that working with them and their students has been a source of personal pride on all counts. I’ve even received commendations for that work.

It’s 5:00 PM. I’m tired … time to go home – but I have to stop at the grocery store for a few items. I recorded the after-school events.

It’s almost 8:00 PM (but I’m home). I had dinner and did the dishes. I haven’t read the paper nor watch the news. Fortunately through dinner, I did get a chance to talk to my wife.

I still have those 16 papers to grade so those student can get their updates tomorrow in order to cushion the mid-term report damage. Who knows how many other papers are overdue. Plus, I wonder what I will be doing in class tomorrow – and classroom readiness is another personal pride. I don’t feel ready … all along I keep thinking about the Kroger clerk’s suggestion.

This account was a real day – maybe not a typical day – but very real – actually a modified account of a reflection that I wrote (and kept) as one of the assignments required by our building administration.

Teacher is a difficult but rewarding career. It’s the joys of movies as October Sky and Mr. Holland’s Opus. It’s the wide-range of emotions from Dead Poets Society and Stand & Deliver. Teaching is also similar to a Rocky movie of being resilient from being a punching bag and getting knocked day.

Yes – this was 18 years ago – and to think the pressure on teachers today is much greater than then. I wonder – How many teachers today will reach full retirement?

Embed from Getty Images

On Beach Walk No. 17

Embed from Getty Images


I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

The vast waters keeps serving as a metaphor for knowledge. If the water represents the sea of knowledge – all that is known – am I standing on the shore of ignorance? Oh yes – the importance of lifelong learner.

My mind keeps thinking about knowledge and learning. Einstein stated, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Passing a toy sand bucket reminds me that everyone enters a learning situation caring knowledge in 3 buckets – 3 buckets that involve filling and emptying – 3 buckets of knowledge – what they know, what they think the know (but don’t), and what they don’t know.

A good learning situation reinforces what the learner knows while adding to the didn’t know bucket. But, a just-as-important situation lies in the middle bucket – the information one thinks they know but don’t. This information serves as the foundation of misconceptions and illogical conclusions. This is the information that only the learner can declare as “incorrect”, then replace it with new correct information.

For instance, how accurate is one’s conclusion if the person starts with an incorrect assumption as the first or early domino in their logic? How willing is that person going to listen to a correct explanation? How willing is that person to admit they are wrong?

I think about the ways one can justify blood in our veins is blue. We see the blue beneath our skin. We see the red and blue diagrams of blood circulation in diagrams. If a person believes blood is blue, they will do whatever they can to justify their incorrect position by assuming the instantaneous color change when venous blood from a cut contacts the air.

The refreshing water rekindles a situation I experienced at a conference many years ago. The presenter made a point that I processed as, “Oh, that’s what it means – so I’ve been doing a good job of doing it wrong for 12 years.” Yes, that moment was a professional game changer for me. A moment that set the need for learning something new and changing past behaviors.

The bottom line is that only the learner can replace the incorrect information in their belief system. Only the learner can learn and unlearn. Not the teacher, not the trainer, not the expert – only the learner can do that.

I look across the water and down the beach at the horizons, which causes me to think of other metaphors. Is the horizon a learning boundary? Is the horizon a new level of knowledge? Does the horizon represent the distinction between the known and unknown? I’ll save the horizon for another day – another walk – because I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On Anybody Can What?

“Anyone can teach.”

I’ve heard that statement many times from people outside of the profession – along with this one: Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach.

Everybody is an educational expert – after all, everyone has sat in a classroom. Yep – everyone who has owned a car is also a qualified mechanic. Everyone who has eaten at a restaurant is qualified to run one. Because I’ve owned GE appliances, I’m qualified to be on the GE Board of Directors. Oh, yes!!!

As a group, teachers are very defensive of themselves and their professional. Then again, unless you’ve done it or are/have been married to a teacher, people are clueless about the time, demands, and effort involved – let alone the knowledge behind instruction and the subject matter. But back to my initial statement – Anyone can teach.

President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) stated that one way to improve teaching quality was to make it easier for non-teaching professional to enter and lead a classroom.. Although the commission’s report was over 30 years ago and teacher certification and licensing has changed since then, the saying and mindset still exists.

A body of knowledge exists with any occupation. Plumbers specialize in plumbing’s body of knowledge. They can get stumped because each plumber doesn’t know everything. The same can be said for all professions and occupations.

It’s obvious that Anyone can teach decreases the importance of the body of knowledge associated with teaching and learning. How else can one justify bringing in an outside professional who lacks teaching experience and teacher education training? Because the auto mechanic fixes cars, shouldn’t he/she be able to fix my air conditioner and furnace problem?

Interestingly, business has a similar and related mantra inside their own organizations – Anyone can train. For example, management promotes a top salesperson into a training position with hopes of the salesperson’s knowledge and experience will help the rest of the sales staff. After all, Anyone can train. Yet, leadership in the business ignores training’s body of knowledge because what are the odds this new trainer has any knowledge about training, training development, and learning?

A body of knowledge associated with effective training is significant – just like teaching. And just as Anyone can teach, Anyone can train is an illusion. To many people, training and teaching is getting up in front of others to disseminate knowledge – also known as the sage on the stage delivering death by PowerPoint. However, like the book title says – Telling Ain’t Training (Harold Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps) – and telling ain’t teaching either.


On Views of Education: Vol. 4 – Teaching and Learning

Embed from Getty Images

As a member of a teaching staff, I marched to my own beat as a believer in need for reform across many aspects of education. In discussions, I was often the contrarian in the group. One person described me as, the best devil’s advocate she had ever been around. Of course, I countered her comment that I wasn’t being the devil’s advocate, thus being myself.

In the world of educational conformity, I was often the voice in the wilderness as I spoke my mind, and a few of my past colleagues who read these pages will think – Yep, he said that.

Packing to move provides an opportunity to sort, discard, and organize. I kept some of my writings from my teaching days, thus recently gathered some of the quotes, most of which were written between 1987-2001.

Some will cheer while others jeer. Some will detect a passion, others will think Oh no, he’s one of those. You may disagree with some, all, or possibly none … and that’s OK – after all, I’ve handled dialogue on sensitive subjects before. But keep in mind, because we may disagree, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong – thus it just means we disagree.

Below is a collection of quotes with each standing on its own so I’ve numbered them only for reference.

Embed from Getty Images

Today’s Topic: Teaching and Learning
1) If we teach chemistry as if all students are going to be chemists, if we teach mathematics if all students are going to be mathematicians, and if we teach writing if all students are going to be novelists, how many chemists, mathematicians, and novelists have we produced?

2) Assessment practices are locked into measuring low-level knowledge through methods ingrained from our past.

3) Teaching quality is important, yet Dr. Glasser is correct – teaching quality isn’t emphasized today and it should be – and many educators today will deny this.

4) Whereas elementary teachers can learn content and get equipment support from high school teachers, the high school teachers can learn teaching techniques from elementary teachers.

5) All teachers have different skills, strengths, and weaknesses. We hear about the need for lessons being student-centered activities based on research and standards with embedded assessment. Developing those activities is a skill in itself – and how many teachers have those skills – let alone the time?

6) Learning enables people to successfully participate in life, work, and in groups no matter where and when.

7) Learning is more about connections, community, and context than content to meet an academic standard for a test.

8) Learning is an active, social, intellectual, focused, and emotional process.

9) The miracle I would like is restructuring of the school routine to accomplish restructured outcomes for students who want to learn and competently achieve high expectations.

10) Students should be responsible for their own learning, and the information must be understood, applied, and internalized.

11) Few educators at any level think beyond competence. We educators are the ones who have trained the students to do less, do it more poorly, and expect good results. We’ve trained them well at expecting to give little and earn a reward.

12) The grading system has too many carrots and sticks: A, B, C, D, F …. that’s not enough, so add plusses and minuses to each. At best, this is questionable. However, a distinction between competency and competency with highest quality has a place, but, the highest level needs to be for those working at the highest quality and additional competencies beyond the minimum – not the highest level/grade at the minimums – nor a faster/quicker minimum achievement.

13) A student asks, Why do we have to learn this? – I say at least someone in the room has contemplates that question.

Previous posts in the series