The Old Fart



Teaching: Lessons I learned!

Hmm. How did I survive?

I spent 35 years teaching in Jordan School District, in the south end of Salt Lake County. Over the years, I've taught: Reading, U.S. History, Computer Literacy, Computer programming, Web Design, Keyboarding, Word Processing, U.S. Government, World Civilizations, and Financial Literacy. I spent 30 years teaching middle school students (grades 7-9) (Yes, I realize the 9th grade isn't really a "middle school" grade, but Utah hasn't been able to get anything right yet. They are always behind the curve. The rest of the country tried "open classrooms" and gave up on it as a bad idea. So, of course, Utah jumped in. Other parts of the country decided that the middle school philosophy was good, so after they developed it, Utah decided to jump in, but seemed to have missed the boat. I mean, how do you have a middle school program with kids involved in High School sports and other programs, class sizes running around 40+ and school sizes in the neighborhood of 1500+ students. A few years ago I went to Nashville for the National Middle School Conference. Everyone was flabergasted when we described our school and said is was a "middle school"). I also spent 5 years teaching High School.

Over the years, I've watched the pedegogical pendulum swing back and forth, from one extreme to another and I've been pretty frustrated watching people try to figure out what they need to do so that students could learn. Unfortunately, they all seemed to ignore the most important elements that needed to be recognized and reinforced: Parental involvement and student accountability. Everyone wants to hold the teacher accountable, which they should be for the things that they can influence. But everyone also wants to excuse poor parenting, lazy students, and in effective administration, because then we might actually have to hold parents, students, and administrators accountable. Can you imagine the uproar? We might actually have to recognize that, God forbid, sports are not the most important thing in life. Unfortunately for Utah's students, the powers that be in Utah are always getting onto the pendulum just as everyone else is getting off.

Motivation and Parental Involvement

Over the years, I've found that motivated students do well irregardless of the teacher. They do great with a good teacher and ok with a so-so teacher. If the teacher doesn't teach them something new, they find other ways to learn. Unmotivated students don't learn anything from any teacher. They often "dare" the teacher to make them learn. They might mimic so that they can pass a test, but they have no ability to retain anything. It's been my observation that the biggest difference between public school and private school is parental expectations. When a parent pays thousands of dollars a year for their kids education, there is an expectation that the student will perform as well as the teacher. In public education, when a parent has an expectation that the student is there to put in the effort to learn, students can get the same quality education as in a private school. However, there's often a free-loader mentality that demands the best with little or no input or effort from the parent or student.

This is especially true in Utah, where people complain about poor people wanting "handouts" and special programs, but then demand the best education in the world while paying for the worst. Idiots will pay hundreds of dollars to go watch an illiterate fool throw a ball through a hoop, but complain about paying a few dollars more so that their child can be educated. The demand their students get A's but only if he can get them in the 7 hours that he's in school. Funny, many of these same people run businesses and realize that to be successful, you have to work when you are off the clock. Given a choice between homework and sports or a church activity, homework usually takes last place and the teachers are vilified for expecting students to work outside of class.


And reading a text book? Do you think we live in the Dark Ages? Reading is "dead" and long live illiteracy. Studies show that 4/10 freshman students need to take remedial classes before they can begin regular class work. Studies show that the average college freshman can't read beyond a 7th grade level. (Renaisance Learning, 2015) Rather than fight with students who won't or can't read, teachers opt to not use a textbook, rationalizing that, "they won't read it anyway" or "all information isn't contained in a book." (It's been my observation that many teachers who opt out this way, are poor readers themselves.) These kids hit college, stop by the book store, look at the books and wonder what the hell happened? How are they supposed to read thousands of pages of text in 1 quarter, when for the last 12 years, they slid by on their "good looks" or "cheating".

Besides, there's the internet. All information is available on the internet, why read a book. Just search, highlight, copy, and paste. Plagiarism? What's that? A term that the mean old teacher down the hall used to describe the last paper that was turned in.

My role as a teacher!

I was once called into my principals' office to explain why I had told her that I wasn't there to be her child's friend. I thought, "Really? You want me to be their friend? I go to dinner, movies, and other places with my friends. I visit their homes and they visit mine. I go golfing and spend hours goofing around with them on the golf course or hiking in the mountains. I give them rides in my car and ride in theirs. If I did any of these activities with the kids in my classroom, I'd be fired or worse."

There in lies one of the problems with education today.Too many teachers, counselors, and administrators, (not to mention parents) want to be "friends" with the kids. Honestly, why in the heck would any adult want to be friends with selfish, hormone driven, fickle, mean teenagers? I chuckle at parents who think that their kids are their friends. With rare execptions, your kids don't want you as friends and won't until they get to about 20 years old, then they will be the best friends you've known. Until that time, the job of adults in their lives is to be a role model, mentor, coach and supporter. My job as a teacher was to motivate, inspire, and push my students to achieve the potential I saw in everyone of them. I began every year or semester, seeing a class full of Albert Einsteins or Marie Curies. I wanted my students to believe in themselves. I felt that if they thought that I believed in them, they could believe in themselves.

I tried hard to be there if they needed a shoulder to cry on, and often was. However, unlike a friend, rather then helping them run from their problems, I tried to help them solve them, if necessary involving others, more qualified than I. I tried to share the lessons that I've learned over the last 65 years so that they wouldn't have to make the same mistakes, realizing that in all probablity, they would still do so, but hoping that while making the mistakes, they would know that there was a light at the other end of the tunnel, because they knew that I had traversed it.