Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Discussing education with non-teachers

Over the past several months, I have had blogging discussions with people like Rory, KDerosa, Crypticlife, and Steven. (Please forgive me if I left you out, but those are the first names that came to my mind.) All of these people are intelligent, passionate about the subject of education, and all of them disagree with me a lot. I have found my discussions with these gentlemen, and also people like Elizabeth, who chimes in once in awhile, challenging and generally enjoyable. But I have also often felt frustration when I've gone back and forth with them, because they are not teachers. I know how bad that sounds on the face of it, so please let me explain.

Teaching is a demanding job; I don't think even most of our critics would deny that. And I think most people would agree that there are aspects of any demanding job that are only understood by those who actually do it. Two of my sons are involved with computers. I'd like to tell you exactly what they do, but I don't understand their jobs even when they explain things to me slowly and avoid using big words. I doubt that any of their neighbors would ever try to make even minor suggestions about how they should do their jobs. The same can be said to some extent for people who are doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, and even carpenters and plumbers. But that is not the case for teachers.

Most people have gone to school, and they weren't there for just a little while. Anyone who has gone no further than graduating from high school has spent much of thirteen years of his or her life in school classrooms. We shouldn't be surprised that many people who have done that feel like they have a pretty good handle on what goes on in a classroom, and what it's like to be a teacher. As a result, I think there is a tendency for people who aren't teachers to believe that they understand what happens in the classroom a lot better than they actually do.

Some people can be quite obnoxious about it. A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Fox and Friends early in the morning, and in their "fair and balanced" manner, they were interviewing another conservative ideologue who they presented as an expert. The "expert" began to trash public schools, as conservative ideologues have a want to do, and he finished by saying, "If you're only going to learn one thing, let it be this: they're government schools, not public schools."

Public education critics seem to feel particularly clever when they call public schools government schools, but it actually shows how little they know. They do this because, they say, the public has no meaningful control over the schools. Anybody who works in a school knows how idiotic that idea is. Anytime any parent complains to the school, administrators react, and teachers feel pressure. If three or four parents complain about something, the school goes into crisis mode. Anyone who says that those of us who work in schools don't feel tremendous pressure to keep our publics happy simply have no idea what they are talking about. Nevertheless, this has become a popularly accepted notion.

The expert that I saw on Fox and Friends is an idiot, but the bloggers that I mentioned earlier are not. This post was actually inspired by KDerosa, who made the following statement in a comment on my last post in response to a complaint I made about non-performing students: "I do not understand why teachers never consider the possibility that maybe the problems they see in their low performing students could actually be caused by their own teaching." In fairness, I'm taking KD's statement out of context, and misunderstandings are always possible, but this statement seems pretty clear. Now, KDerosa is obviously intelligent and articulate, and I've never seen anyone who can match him at researching educational issues. But that statement was clearly made by someone who does not understand the mind and the perspective of a teacher.

As I said to KD in my reply, I don't know any teachers who don't consider that--and consider it before almost anything else--anytime their students perform poorly. I think every school goes through cycles of good and bad students. A couple of years ago, my high school was at the top of a very good cycle of students, but the last couple of years we have definitely been on a downward trend. Right now, our school has a lot of frustrated teachers, and almost every one I've talked to about it has told me that they've sat in their rooms at times and wondered, "What am I doing wrong." A lot of people in the public might have trouble believing this, but when things are not going well in the classroom, the first person a teacher looks at is himself. As I've already indicated, KDerosa is not a stupid person. But despite his obvious intelligence, there are some things about being a teacher in a classroom that he'll never quite understand.

I am not saying here that people who are not teachers should never criticize education, schools, or teachers. I have learned a lot from KDerosa, Rory, Crypticlife, Steven, and and Elizabeth, and they've also forced me to clarify my own thoughts. And despite my "special understanding" as a teacher, there been some arguments I've had with them where I've felt like I've been throttled. Let's face it, the fact that they aren't teachers gives them a perspective that teachers need to hear. I am not asking them to shut up (Like they'd listen to me if I did!), and I'm not asking them to concede any arguments to teachers just because they're teachers. All I am asking is that they recognize the fact that because of our experiences, those of us who teach do have some understanding of education that a non-teacher can never have.

One person who might end up bridging the teacher-non-teacher blogging gap is Rory from Parentalcation. Rory has indicated that he is thinking about becoming a teacher, and I really hope he does. First of all, he seems very passionate about education, and with his unique background, I think he'd be terrific. But I also hope he does because I'd love to hear what he would have to say after seeing things from our side.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dos and Don'ts according to Ed. Gurus

In a comment on my last post, KDerosa sent me this article about the educational "reforms" that have been forced upon those of us "in the trenches" over the last few decades. I thought the article was excellent, because it fit so well with my experience. I have always believed that much of what I have been fed through colleges and workshops about how I should be teaching has defied common sense. But we are always told that these ideas come from the best and the brightest and that they are research based, so how could that be? This article explains.

There was one statement in the article, however, that I thought needed to be addressed. It criticized teachers for our desire to be able to do our own thing. Here is what it said:

Some of the tactics teachers use to avoid reliance on a dysfunctional professional support system also undermine the development of a scientific professional-knowledge base about teaching. For example, an over-emphasis on individual teacher autonomy and creativity can undermine the development of a shared knowledge base. As Adam Urbanski said: "Everyone seems to think that all you need to do to be a good teacher is to love to teach. But no one thinks that all you need to do to be a good surgeon is to love to cut." Having teachers pick and choose instructional procedures according to personal preference, without any scientific information regarding the effectiveness of these procedures, is not likely to lead to significant improvements in the effectiveness of public education.

As I responded to KD, I think a lot of that desire for autonomy is a result of the "reforms" that have been thrown at us. I didn't have to be a teacher for very long in order to figure out that those "child-centered" strategies couldn't work very well. Give me a choice between winging it (trying things on a trial and error basis, going with things that work and throwing out things that don't) and going full scale with some strategy that defies common sense, and I will wing it every time. When you consider the "reform" alternatives that have been given to teachers, of course we're going to want our autonomy.

Here are some things that I've "learned" in workshops and graduate classes that I've taken during the last several years. I did not make any of these things up, and I am not exaggerating:

1. You must fully incorporate the theory of multiple intelligences into your classes. (Allow students to show their understanding of American History by making up a dance, singing a song, or doing an art project.)
2. A chemistry class can be brought to life by having one student dress up as a potato and pretend to worship another student dressed up as the sun.
3. Cooperative learning is always good.
4. Competitive learning is always bad. (You should not have your students study for a test and take it by themselves, then grade them according to who did well and who did poorly.)
5. Students should sit in circles or clusters.
6. Students should not sit in straight rows.
7. Pencil and paper tests are bad.
8. Objective tests (multiple choice, true-false) are especially bad.
9. When teaching American History, there must be as little focus as possible put on white males (who most of us have heard of), and put most of the focus on women and minorities (especially on those who no one has ever heard of).
10. Minorities and women must be taught that they have been oppressed, and they continue to be oppressed.
11. All caucasians are racist.
12. It is impossible for a minority to be racist.
13. Anorexia among women has been caused by a plot by white males to hold back the gains that women are making.
14. All history assignments should be made by using primary sources.
15. Never lecture.
16. Never make reading assignments from a textbook.
17. Deadlines are evil.
18. If a student is not ready to take a test on the day a test is scheduled to be given, that student should be able to take the test at a later date (when he or she is ready), and still be able to earn an A.
19. The disciplines should be eliminated. (There should not be English classes, math classes, history classes, etc.. Everything should be interdisciplinary.)
20. Focusing on content in a subject is bad (learning things that have happened in history, the different parts of a sentence, and some of those silly math concepts).
21. Focusing on the processes of thinking, whether or not there is any substance to that thinking, is good.

Let me make it clear that I do think there are aspects of the reforms, of which these goofy ideas are a part, that do make sense. I do believe in the theory of multiple intelligences, so I do allow my students to do art projects involving American History for extra credit. I do believe cooperative learning can be used to supplement the other things I do. I do believe that I should not rely solely on multiple choice tests to evaluate what my kids have learned. I do believe that the contributions of women and minorities in our history should be included in American History classes much more than they were when I was in school. And I do believe that having an awareness of thinking processes is a good thing.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that if I had gone lock, stock and barrel, into the things I have been told to do in workshops and in graduate classes, my students would have learned a lot less. In fact, I think my American History class would have been a joke. Like teachers around the nation, I have been forced to try to find things from those classes and workshops that might be useful, incorporate them into my own program, and throw out the garbage. In the wonderful movie, Schindler's List, there is a seen that shows a Jewish family, that is about to be taken away by the Nazis, putting jewels into bits of bread and then eating them. Later they will try to separate the jewels from feces. That is what teachers across America have been forced to do during my entire career.

Every teacher I know wants to be successful. I mean who wants to regularly go up in front of 25-30 people, even young children, and look like an idiot? Show me something that will help me do a better job, and I will grab it, and I don't know any teacher who doesn't feel the same way. The bottom line is this: colleges of education and those who put on teaching workshops have been doing a lousy job. Maybe, instead of focusing on "failing schools" and "failing teachers", Congress ought to take a look at them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Teachers and Educational Reform

This morning when I turned on my computer at school, there was an email from my blogging buddy, Rory. It's always nice when I find an email from a real person mixed in with all those stock tips and advertisements for Viagra and "male enhancement" products, and Rory's was especially welcome because he asked a great question. Rory wanted to know why high school teachers were not leading the charge for educational reform, since--as he put it--we are the ones who have to deal with the mistakes that are made with kids all the way up.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I have never viewed myself as having to clean up the mistakes of those who teach in elementary and middle schools. I have always viewed myself as being right in the trenches with them. They might make some mistakes, but so do I, and I know that elementary and middle school teachers work every bit as hard and are every bit as competent as high school teachers. Nevertheless, the heart of Rory's question is valid: why aren't high school teachers, or any teachers for that matter, more anxious to embrace educational reform.

Rory's question seems particularly valid after the response to my post asking for feedback from teachers on Direct Instruction. Joan Jacobs asked the same question over at her blog, and between us, we got over forty-five comments. Amazingly, the only people who expressed any reservations about Direct Instruction were teachers who, like me, had never been trained in it and never used it. The response from those who had used it was incredibly consistent: Direct Instruction works.

I told Rory in my reply that the high school teachers I know have not been advocates for reform because we have had so many reform models thrown at us that haven't made a dime's worth of difference. I think there have been some good aspects to some of the reforms we've been pushed into, and I've tried to adopt those aspects, but they've also had aspects that were totally ridiculous. We are required to change much of what we're doing, and about the time we make those changes, that reform gets dropped, and we are told to move on to the next one. Then we are supposed to change everything again. So any time an experienced teacher hears about another reform, it's hard not to want to roll your eyes and say, "Here we go again!"

The following is an excerpt from the book that I wrote. I hate not to be original, but I think this does a good job a expressing why so many teachers are so cynical about educational reform.

I first became aware of educational reform during the last week of my senior year in high school. Our Modern Problems teacher told us about a new program they were going to implement the following year called “modular scheduling.” Rather than consisting of the normal fifty-five-minute class periods we had always known, the school day would be divided up into twenty-minute mods. Instruction would be given in classes that would last either one mod (twenty minutes) or two mods (forty minutes). The students wouldn't be taking any more classes than we had been taking, so they would have a great deal of additional time to work on their own.

It didn't take the kids in our Modern Problems class long to figure out that, under this system, the students would all have the equivalent of two to three hours of study hall. I think the term the experts used was something like "independent study," but we knew better. And we also knew how we liked to spend our study hall time. Most of us used some of our study hall time to do homework, but we spent much of the time playing games such as Hangman. We all knew that the typical high school student would never use two to three hours of "independent study" time effectively.

Modular scheduling became the rage across the state of Minnesota in the early seventies, and some schools actually combined that idea with an "open campus," in which students could come and go as they pleased. Guess what most of them did with their independent study time then?

When I went to do my student teaching at a Minneapolis suburban high school four years after I'd first heard about modular scheduling, the faculty was voting to euthanize it. It wasn't long before modular scheduling went the way of the Edsel throughout the state of Minnesota. It seems very clear that, although the eighteen-year-olds in my graduating class could all figure out that modular scheduling was doomed to failure, the educational geniuses who guided policy couldn't.

While there are some teachers who are willing to become true believers in the latest reforms, many others, especially those with a fair amount of experience, have turned into lifetime reform-cynics. No field seems to breed as many acronyms as education, and our reform-cynics have their own batch. TYNT stands for “This Year's New Thing,” while LYNT stands for “Last Year's New Thing.” President Bush believes that his NCLB stands for “No Child Left Behind,” but our reform-cynics, who have seen reform after reform come and go, refer to it as “New Crap Like Before.”

It might sound terrible that teachers would be so cynical, but it's hard not to be. In the early 1990's, we were told that all schools in Minnesota would have to convert to outcome-based education. The old timers in our school said, "It'll never happen." They were right -- it never did.

A few years later we were going to convert to something called Minnesota's Profiles of Learning, which was inspired by the latest progressive reforms, and we spent hours and days in workshops listening to presenters expound on the wisdom of this new system. We were all supposed to design complicated project-type activities in which students would demonstrate mastery by "doing" something. We’d then rate those students on a one-to-four scale, rather than on the traditional A, B, C, D, F model. Do you understand that? Neither did we. And neither did the different presenters at those workshops. Rarely did we get the same answer to any one question that was asked to different presenters. "Never fear," our old-timers told us, "this too shall pass." Mercifully, it has.

Our state’s most recent stroke of educational reform genius is the Minnesota Academic Standards. This is more in the educational traditionalist mode, and it just proves that educational progressives don’t have a monopoly on bad ideas. When I learned what the Standards required for American history, it almost made me long for the days of the Profiles of Learning. The state now wants me to overwhelm my students with a massive amount of material -- something similar to what I did when I first began teaching American history. I quit teaching that way because it didn’t work very well. I figured out that trying to cover too much makes it impossible to go into depth about anything, and most students end up understanding and remembering very little. Nevertheless, the state of Minnesota wants me to go back to that. If I do what they are telling me to do, I’m afraid more than a few of my students won’t learn who we fought in the Revolutionary War. Oh, we’ll cover it all right, but we’ll have to rush through it because of the time I’ll have to spend doing things like explaining the differences between Mayan and Aztec architecture.

So that is my experience with educational reform. Nearly all of the reforms I've been exposed to have ended up with about 90% of the teachers I know saying, "What a bunch of B.S.!" I have never been exposed to a reform like DI where every teacher I've heard from says, "Yes, it's effective," or "Yes, it really does work."

I want people like Rory to know that I think the great majority of teachers would be enthusiastic about any reform that can actually help us to do our jobs more effectively. The reading that I've done and the teachers that I've heard from have made me believe that Direct Instruction is the real deal. But, at least in my experience, when it comes to educational reform, that makes it the exception and not the rule.

Friday, February 16, 2007

What do you know about Direct Instruction?

During this school year, I've had my hands full simply trying to write a post or two a week, so I haven't been checking out other blogs nearly as often as I should. The other day, however, I went over and checked out Rory's Parentalcation, and he had a post dealing with one of his favorite subjects--Direct Instruction. When it comes to Direct Instruction, which, as its name indicates, is a method of educational instruction, I think it would be fair to call Rory a disciple of KDerosa of D-Ed Reckoning . If there is a blogger who pushes Direct Instruction harder than KDerosa, I don't know who it is. He is very articulate, he is harshly critical of American education, and he seems to believe that public elementary schools are guilty of gross negligence because so few of them use Direct Instruction. Last fall, after having been lambasted by him, I did some reading about Direct Instruction, and I have to admit that it sounded like it was very effective at getting kids to learn.

Neither KDerosa or Rory are teachers. They are both parents who have a very strong interest in education. I am somewhat mystified because I have rarely seen anything by any teachers about Direct Instruction--for or against. Last August, Ms. Teacher from California Livewire wrote a post about a Direct Instruction workshop she attended, and she sounded quite enthusiastic about it. I contacted her, and she told me that she would be doing a post about how it was actually going in practice. If she did, however, I never saw it, and I haven't seen anything from California Livewire since November.

As I indicated earlier, it is hard to find anyone who is more critical of American education than KDerosa, and much of his criticism is centered around his belief that we are using the wrong teaching methods, especially at the elementary level. I would love to hear from any elementary school teachers who know more about Direct Instruction than I do. I'd especially like to hear from teachers who have used Direct Instruction after using other methods. I would also love to hear from teachers or administrators who know why so few elementary schools use this method. It is a mystery to me why I've heard so much about Direct Instruction from parents, like KDerosa and Rory, and so little about it from teachers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yippee!! Politicians to the rescue!!!

Were you worried about the state of public education in America? Well, never fear. The New York Times reports that the politicians are here to save the day!

Yes, folks, it's another commission that has made some swell recommendations on fixing the system. This one is dubbed "The Commission on No Child Left Behind" and it even has a couple of governors on it. Oh boy! I don't know about you, but when I heard it had a couple of governors on it, I just couldn't wait to hear what they had to say. I mean who knows more about education than governors. A couple of times every year, they'll even stop into classrooms for fifteen minutes or even a half-hour so they can say something inspiring to the kids like, "Study hard and you will do well."

Okay, I don't want to keep you in suspense any longer. Here is the answer this enlightened commission has given to solve our educational problems in America:
No Child Left Behind, the federal education law, should be toughened to judge
teachers and principals by their students’ test scores, and to block chronically
ineffective educators from working in high-poverty schools.

As the two characters in those Guinness beer commercials would say: "Brilliant!" What a profound and original thought! When students don't do well, it's the teachers' and principals' fault. Why didn't anyone ever think of that before? When kids in those inner-city schools do poorly, it's because the teachers aren't trying hard enough. Of course!

And if you have any doubts about whether this commission has hit the nail right on the head, you can put those doubts aside. Teddy Kennedy has endorsed their proposals. That's right--Teddy Kennedy, himself! And who knows more about public schools than Teddy Kennedy? After all, he did attend some inner-city public school in Boston when he was growing up, didn't he?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If I could

Last week I read the Center on Educational Policy's report on public education, and I found its support for public schools heartening. Although the report concedes that public schools are far less than perfect, it points out that they have played a vital role in American society, and it argues that they should be supported by the public.

The report listed six missions of public schools:

1. To provide universal access to free education.
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
3. To unify a diverse population.
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
6. To improve social conditions.

The report states matter of factly that not all public schools are fulfilling their missions well. The big question is how can we do better. Many educators and people on the left side of the political spectrum would argue that we need more funding. They would say that we need more money for more teachers so that we can have smaller class sizes, and that we need to fund more programs. They would also argue that we will get better teachers if we pay them more.

I am not against any of those things, and they would all be somewhat helpful, but I think if we got them all, the results would still be disappointing. In other words, I doubt that they would make the big difference that we are looking for. For example, smaller class sizes are a good thing, but they aren't everything. During my thirty-three years, the worst class I've ever had was my smallest, because so many of the kids in that class either didn't care or were disruptive. The best single class I've ever had was my first hour class in 2002-03, and at that time it was one of the largest classes I had ever had. It was such a good class because there were so many good kids that they brought everybody else in the class with them. I must admit that my worst class would have probably been even worse had it been larger, but my best class wouldn't have been any better if it had been smaller.

And it isn't just class size. I have seen so many different programs tried during my years in teaching with such limited success that it's hard for me not to snicker any time I hear of a new one. When it comes to new educational programs that are going to cost more money, I have more sympathy for frustrated taxpayers than many of them would imagine.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we have the righties who believe that"accountability" and "choice" are the answers to improving education in America. They believe that teachers and administrators aren't trying hard enough, because public schools aren't affected by market forces, so they think competition with private schools would force us to get better. Once again, I think that if they got their way, the results would be disappointing. There might be some small initial improvement at the beginning, but in the long run any improvement would be marginal, and with vouchers, public schools would probably actually end up being worse. There are some teachers and administrators who don't make the effort that they should, but I think that those on the right don't know how hard many of us do try.

I am convinced that we could achieve the "big" results that we all want if we would create a positive learning environment for kids who want to learn, regardless of their ability, and kids who are willing to behave. We could do that by removing kids who are unwilling to behave or make a reasonable effort from their classes. I know that I am beating a familiar drum here, but it is a drum that I believe needs to be beaten over and over and over. Sometimes I feel like a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness.

If you are a teacher, just imagine teaching classes in which your most disruptive and apathetic kids were removed. How much more effective could you be? How much more would those kids who are trying and behaving learn?

If you are not a teacher, I want you to realize two things: First of all, I believe that public schools need to educate any student who wants to be educated. The second thing is that I am not looking to give the boot to a lot of kids here. I teach in what I would call an average school, and I have about 150 kids during the day. If I had the power I would like to have, at this time, one student would be gone. Sixty-seven percent is required to pass in my class. This kid is sitting at 14%, he talks openly in class about how he can get drugs, and I've had a couple of girls tell me that he scares them. I would put three other kids on probation for their behavior, and three others for their miserable effort. I would guess that three or four of these kids would improve enough to stay in their classes, but a couple of them probably wouldn't, and they would be out the door, too. I want to make it clear that if any of them came back next year and wanted to try again, I would be more than happy to let them give it a shot. An added benefit to this is that there is no question in my mind that if I had this power and everyone knew it, there are other kids in my classes who would pick up their effort and performance considerably.

What about "bad" schools with a lot of "bad" kids? In his book, The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard makes the point that even in large inner-city schools where people have the perception that almost all kids are "bad", only a relatively small percentage of disruptive students are destroying the education that is supposed to take place. But assuming that the numbers of problem students in those schools is much larger than it is in mine, it becomes even more important to free the kids who want to learn from them. The more disruptive and apathetic kids there are in a classroom, the less likely it is that anyone is going to be able to learn anything. If you are wondering what we can do with kids who get kicked out of their classes, you can check out this post that I wrote last July.

There are always people who think I am being heartless when I make this argument. After all, we are in the era of "No Child Left Behind". But the kids I am proposing to leave behind are kids who are not learning anything anyway, or kids who are destroying the education of their classmates. I said this before, and I'll say it again: I believe we should be doing everything we can do to educate any kids who want to be educated--that should be our number one mission. If we ever stop trying so hard to accommodate kids who couldn't care less about that, we will do a lot better job of carrying out that mission, along with all of our other ones.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

There are good ones, too!

I have a nasty tendency to get a little negative on this blog sometimes. Okay, so I've got a nasty tendency to get a lot negative sometimes. But there is an explanation for that. Although I frequently argue that public schools are doing a much better job than we're given credit for, I think it's essential that we improve. That being the case, it's natural to focus on problems. And when you focus on problems, you tend to get negative. After my last post, Elizabeth said this:

You sure have some dumb kids! I'm surprised you haven't become a total burnout case.

It occured to me that maybe I've been getting a little too negative, so it's time to put things in perspective.

I have had some "dumb" kids, but for every one of them, I've had others who were clearly smarter than I ever was. These kids can finish reading an assignment in about half the time it takes others, and their comprehension is flawless. They ask great questions, and it seems that every time they're called on they have the correct answers. Sometimes they don't raise their hands as often as they could because they don't want to be seen as showing off. In other words, their social skills are as good as their academic ones. When I put them in groups, I know that they will lead their groups and their groups’ work will be excellent. When I grade objective tests and find any of their answers wrong, I know I better go back and check the key. I usually find that I'm the one who made a mistake.

I have complained a lot on this blog about "students" whose effort is miserable, but for every kid I have had like that, I've had others who worked harder than I ever did when I was in school. I'm not talking about historical wizards, but some of them consistently earn top grades because of their work ethic and persistence. It takes them longer to read assignments than some of the other students, but they get it done. When they answer questions orally in class, they'll be wrong as often as they are right. They'll have to study longer for a test than those really bright students, but they'll put in the work, and if they don't get as high a score, they'll be close.

I have had kids who are loud and obnoxious, but for every one of them I've had some of those quiet, reliable ones--kids who never raise their hands, but always have their assignments done and are always prepared for tests. Many experts emphasize student participation in class, and I don't deny the importance of that. As a teacher, I certainly want a fair amount of students to raise their hands, ask and answer questions, and participate in other ways, but as I often tell parents jokingly, the more I've taught, the more I've grown to appreciate those quiet kids. They may not say much, but you'd have to be a fool not to admire their quiet diligence.

I have had kids who are so surly that you take a risk if you even say "hello" to them, but for every one of them I've had others with fantastic personalities and senses of humor. These are kids who I know I can tease, and they'll always have smiles on their faces when I do. If I take a shot at them, they'll take a shot right back at me, but they have great common sense, and they rarely go too far. I like just about all of my students, but I have to admit that it's the ones I "insult" that I usually like the most. They make the class more fun for everyone, including me. Heck, especially me.

I have had classes that I've gotten headaches just thinking about, but I've also had some fantastic ones. I walk into the room and see smiling faces, and those smiling faces are the result of the students’ happiness at seeing me and being in the class. Students come to class having done the assignments, so when I bring up a subject, almost every one of them knows what I'm talking about. When I ask questions, hands shoot up, and the biggest problem is keeping students from blurting out answers before I call on someone. Not only do they answer my questions, but they ask me questions because they are actually interested. When we have class discussions, they get excited and even show some emotion when they argue about the subjects with which we're dealing. When someone says something funny, it's not meant to hurt anyone, and if there's a lot of laughter, I don't have to worry that this is going to cause the class to reel out of control. No that is not a dream, and it's not just a description of an ideal situation. I really have had classes like that.

So I want people like Elizabeth to know that although I've had my share of bad students and bad classes, I've also had more than my share of good ones. It's the lousy ones who give me the most material for my blog, but it is those great kids and classes that put a smile on my face every morning that I walk into our school.