It is that time of the year … What makes a good teacher?

August 29, 2010

I dedicate this entry to a clueless elementary school principal at Sycamore (IL) District 427, because he clearly doesn’t know what makes up a good teacher, and given his position, desperately needs to figure this out.

So the question to my students is:

What are the most important qualities of a good teacher?

  • Someone who is not judgemental.  somebody whi is always there if you need extra help.  For example:  e-mail and non-school hours.
  • Acceptance, understanding, creative
  • Nice and teach a lot, but also give a lot of breaks
  • one who can explain things better.
  • I like to be interested in what I learn, so the teacher has to be interesting.  Also, of course, nice, understanding and somewhat funny.
  • Someone who doesn’t get too angry.
  • Good speaker … asks us questions during class
  • very funny
  • The main quality is funny, because the less boring class is, the more I pay attention.
  • Organized, helpful, understanding, reasonable.
  • Supportive and fun
  • Know how I learn
  • Makes learning easy
  • Looks forward to class everyday
  • Funny, chill, like a teen again
  • Explains, but not overdone
  • They have to be fun, and want to get to know the students better and be interactive and exciting [Note:  They may have misunderstood the question and described what they like about video games.]
  • Smart, funny, friendly
  • Being able to understand the student.
  • Smart, focused
  • Nice, not strict, laid back
  • A good teacher is nice and sweet and understands when you might not do well in class on certain days because everyone has those off days.
  • Nice & fun, gives break times, not boring
  • Teachers who hope the best for their students, not ones who just don’t care.
  • A lot of patience
  • Respectful, positive attitude, willing to help, doesn’t pick favorites.
  • Someone who I can trust, and someone who knows what they’re talking about.
  • When teachers make a point to connect with their students
  • Willing to teach, listen to students, compassion
  • Makes sure EVERYONE understands the information
  • Easy to comprehend
  • Helps kis learn in fun ways without overwhelming them with a lot of work and throwing too much information at them
  • Makes sure everyone knows before moving on.
  • I like it when a teacher gets personal about some things.
  • Always enthusiastic … has a sense of humor even if it isn’t the best.
  • Sympathy!  Some days just aren’t good for high school kids and any teacher that can understand that is a saint. [Note:  I think I do this in my class, but I am not saint.]
  • Entertaining
  • Gives good notes
  • Easy to talk to
  • Fun, easy to talk to, challenging
  • Young good looking female [Note: this individual is going to be having a short talk on the subject of how weak attempts at humor get taken out of context and ruin people’s careers]
  • Not rushing through things that are difficult
  • A teacher who genuinely cares about their students and puts as much effort into the class that they want the kids to put in.
  • laid back
  • Someone who makes me want to come to class
  • Interesting, fun, quirky, fair, but also in control

I did remove a lot of the repeats … and I will climb up on my soapbox to make some points.

First off, I would agree with a great many of these.  Some might not be as important as others, IMO, however, note that not one student (I ask you to take my word for this) said things like:  doesn’t give homework … gives less homework … gives easy tests … easy grader, etc.  I think this serves as anecdotal support that high school students do have some serious ideas about what makes a good instructor.

Second … this is not only a long list (some repeats for sure), but it is a long list of some fairly abstract concepts.  I think the one thing that we could all agree on:  we know it when we see it … that is:  teaching is an art (perhaps in keeping with this standard, it is more like pornography … I won’t argue), and is very far from a science.  Keep this in mind when people talk about trying to rate teachers or schools, or students and base everything about them on some objective score.  I think we all agree that you cannot truly objectively rank art … I argue the same for teaching and learning.

Third … I am not going to sit here and say “teaching is the greatest or most difficult job on Earth”.  It is the best job for me.  There are other, far more difficult jobs (parenting jumps immediately to mind … surgeon, president, intelligence operative, soldier/sailor/marine/pilot also jump to mind to form a non-exclusive list).  Teaching requires a certain level of education and training and preparation, but there are jobs that require more.  However, whenever anyone thinks that there is any truth to the aphorism “those who can do, and those who can’t, teach” … and that teaching is even remotely “easy”.  With due respect, they can suck me.

Fourth point … Think about how this group of students was all over the place with their list of “what was most important”.  I guarantee you that if I polled adults from any and every walk of life, there would be equal disagreement on this list.

Yet, there are politicians and citizens who think they can base a teacher’s livelihood based on some short list of objective criteria.

Think about that folks when you are considering who to vote for … there are plenty of outstanding teachers who fit those criteria above who would be dropped from their job in a country minute because they put student education and welfare above the results of a standardized test.  This is already happening.  When selecting a politician to vote for, there are  a lot of issues that go into deciding a good leader.  All I ask:  make this one of the things you consider.


It is that time of year … big moments!

August 27, 2010

Moving on … students respond to the following:

What have been some big moments in your life?

  • Going down state in swimming
  • When my brother left for college … I got his room
  • Saving my brother’s life and dealing with my grandfather’s death
  • When I went to a Bears-Packers Monday Night Football Game in Green Bay
  • When I had open heart surgery, and when my aunt and grandma died six months apart
  • now! (applying to colleges)
  • This last summer when my mom got re-married
  • Getting my braces off
  • Moving four times before second grade
  • When I went to the Miss Canada pageant, and my cousin won Miss World Canada
  • Traveling to New Orleans to do volunteer work
  • Surviving cancer; speaking at the NBA Summer League Tipoff in Las Vegas
  • When I volunteered at Shriner’s Hospital for kids with spinal injuries … I learned to be grateful for my health
  • Becoming a godfather
  • Placing first and second in all my dances in an Irish Dance competition
  • Visiting my family in Guatemala
  • When my parents got divorced.  I was grounded from Jan. 6, 2010 to June 20th 2010.  I died my hair June 21, 2010
  • When I moved from Ireland to America, I was terrified.
  • Getting my tattoo
  • Becoming a junior firefighter
  • When my uncle passed away before freshman year … it was a very hard time for my family
  • Moving from Ireland when I was 5
  • When my grandfather died after 48 years with cancer
  • The first time I performed at a poetry slam, and the first time I got on a plane … it was the first time I realized how much I love to travel and want to do it for the rest of my life.

It is that time of the year … Favorite Books and Movies.

August 26, 2010

Bowing to popular opinion, I will curtail this posting, a combination of two questions:

What is your favorite movie?

Like most years, the most popular answer was a very recent film; in this case, Inception. Stepbrothers, Charlie St. Cloud, Rush Hour, Zombieland, A Walk to Remember, Remember the Titans, and The Notebook all got multiple mentions. Other notables:

  • old Disney films (like Cinderella and Aladdin) [Note:  Aladdin is NOT old!]
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • The Goonies
  • Sands of Iwo Jima
  • There Will Be Blood
  • The Blues Brothers
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • pre-1990s James Bond films
  • Gladiator
  • Saving Private Ryan

The other question:

What is your favorite book?

20 students responded “none” or “I don’t read”. It was, sadly, the number one answer. Multiple mentions included: the “Twilight” series, A Child Called It, The Hunger Games, My Bloody Life, the “Hary Potter” series, The Messanger, The Road, The Last Song, Lord of the Flies, and A Long Way Gone.  Others of note:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • The Old Man and the Sea
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s works featuring Sherlock Holmes
  • Of Beetles and Angels
  • Night
  • Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Guadalcanal Diary
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

It is that time of the year … Who is your hero?

August 25, 2010

On Thursday, I headed back to school, and on Monday, the kids came back, with classes starting this past Tuesday. The kids appear promising, though with two of my classes up 50%, and the others up about 20% … along with some bureaucratic changes that I fear are going to discourage kids from taking challenging electives, it is a very tentative year. My colleagues are putting on a happy face and acting like pros, but when the worry about the ability of quality education to survive is starting to have its impact.  Our school has been able to hold out amid the chaos for a long time, and I think we are all afraid the best days of the school are either over, or may not be back for a long time.

Nonetheless, my 17 year tradition of polling my students continues. Each year, like many teachers, I ask some questions of my students, some of which gives me a little insight into their thinking … some I ask for my personal curiosity.
For the record: these response are a mix of my sophomores who come from a lower level class and my seniors who are taking a full year elective course in non-AP physics (but borders on accelerated). Some of these students are in accelerated/AP courses, including AP Chem and Bio. As always, I present the answers as they were given to me.

This year, in response to a question I got from a viewer last year, I am doing things differently.  Every few days I will pick a question, and give all of the answers, instead of just select answers.

Who is your hero? Why is that person your hero?

  • Obama, hes cool
  • My brother, I try to be live him.
  • My mom because she has been through a lot and still loves me and my siblings
  • My mom, because shes a good role model
  • noone
  • My grandma or dad because they both had tough lifes and they became suceesful people.
  • My Mom and Dad because even though their divorced, they’re both still there for me at all times.
  • My mom b/c she is such a wonderful human being & she is a great cook.
  • My cousin Marissa is probably m hero because  shes alwaysnice and caring towards everyone and is just an amazing person to be around
  • I don’t have a hero.
  • Michael Jordan because he change basketball
  • My hawkette coach, She is so younge, but works so hard, she owns her own studio and runs a dance team.  She is understanding and a amazing coach. [Note:  this is a very special response to me.  The coach she is referring to is, in fact, a former student of mine;  the first time I can report one of my students got named as someone’s hero in this response.  I can verify that she is every bit the passionate and professional coach this current student describes her to be.]
  • I would say my mom is my hero because she got where she is today by herself without anyone’s help.
  • My hero is my doctors because they saved my life when I was a baby due to heart problems.
  • Avril Lavigne, she had her first album and hit singles at the age of 16.
  • My older sister Anna, she always gets me to do my best and gives me wonderful tips.
  • Probably my mom because I look up to her for everything
  • Mom because she is really nice and supportive
  • My parents because they had to put up with me and my siblings and they were great examples.
  • My dad because he sets the greatest example for my sister and I.  He is loyal, responsible, respectful, understanding and wants the best for his family.
  • William Shakespeare, he is my hero because he didn’t let his poor background stop him from becoming one of the most famous authors ever. [Note:  Spelling is a big issue for many of my sophomores.  My initial impression was to think this was some attempt to impress me, but given that this young lady spelled Bill’s last name correctly tells me she is prett darn serious!]
  • Mariusz Pudzianowski, he is my hero because he is the world’s stronges man and he is also Polish like me..  When I look at him I see that when he was youd he was just like me and the accomplished a lot in his life so it tells me that I can accomplish a lot just like him. [Note, I checked this out, and Mr Pudzianowski is in fact the first five-time winner of the International “Strongest Man” competition.]
  • My grandma was my hero.  She died not to long ago but she was the best grandma.  She took care of me like if I was her everthing.  I was her spoil girl.  and my mom is my hero/best friend because shes always there for me.
  • I would say either my mom or my cousin, Amanda.  My mom does a lot for my family and I so I look up to that.  Amanda is always there for me and helps me out with things also.
  • One of my heroes are my mom becaus she does a lot for me.
  • My Dad, I’ve always looked up to him and always wanted to be just like him.
  • My Great grandfather because he’s taught my father to be a good man.
  • My dad he taught me how to play ball and about cars.
  • Myself I think I am great and know what I can do in life.
  • My hero is MJ, because hes the best.
  • I really don’t have any heros.
  • My mom because she always comes to my rescue when I need help.
  • My dad because he knows everything I want to know.
  • Coach Disrude, he is a good guy, has time for everyone, strong, he has been through rough stuff and overcame it, wants to help everyone [Note:  Coach Disrude is one of my colleagues whom I know well:  he is our freshman wrestling coach, and I think he does a phenomenal job of really educating a bunch of 14 year old testosterone laden boys into better disciplined wrecking machines.]
  • My cousin he always helps me with problem and I want to be like him.
  • My mom she does so much with such little $.
  • My mom, because she is always there 4 me no matter what.  I can count on her 4 almost anything.
  • Don’t have one.
  • My dad because he shows perseverence and never gave up in life and now is very successfull
  • Austin Carlile.  He is my favorite vocalist and he achieved his success from never giving up.
  • My dad because he takes care of all his family.
  • My dad because he is always there for me and my family.
  • My mom b/c she has to deal with a lot everyday and still has time for family.
  • My grandma.  She will help out everyone and anyone without wanting anything in return.  Nothing ever makes her lose faith and she has unconditional love.
  • I havent really found someone that I can completely idolize
  • My dad because he is successful and has a great life.
  • My mom b/c she always encourages me to do better
  • sister = best friend!
  • I don’t really have a specific hero.  I think all the people who have helped me become the person I am today are my heros
  • My parents are my heroes because I always look up to them, they give me great advise, they teach me to make right choices and things that’ll happen later in my life.
  • I’ve always looked up to my parents.
  • My family they’re all people who I can look up to & made certain I grew up in a healthy home.
  • My hero is the head of the Stevens Point Environmental Science Biology Ecology .  She has done so much with the wildlife around Wisconsin and I want to be like her.
  • My hero is my dad because everything he has  done reflects who he is and it imprints on me for my future.
  • My parents are my heros they encourage me to do my best.
  • My hero is my mom cause she raised me and got me to where I am today.
  • My parents, have taught me so much.
  • My hero is my grandfther because he passed away and always proved to never give up on goals you have set.
  • My mom because she helps me.
  • My dad is my hero he is a good hard working man
  • My parents the guided through my childhood while helping me along the way
  • I don’t have a hero
  • Clint Eastwood, hes a cool guy
  • Multiple members of my family are my heroes.  They are all honorable people.
  • My mother because she is always giving and helping others she always thinks of others first.
  • My little sister.  she keeps me motivated each day even when I feel like doing nothing.
  • I don’t really have a hero no one has individually saved/helped me personally enough to be my hero
  • My mom, she overcame breast cancer when I was young and she never complaines
  • My mom because she came to the U.S. with just a bag of clothes and now we’re very fortunate.
  • My parents.  They have helped me through a lot of things & they taught me to push myself to do the best that I can.
  • My dad because he works a lot to support us.
  • Leonardo Di Caprio.  He is simply fantastic in everything that he does and I would like to make big accomplishments like he did.
  • My grandfather, he enlisted in World War II and then had the courage to serve in Korea when his country needed him.
  • My grandma, shes always there for me and helps me out a lot.
  • I don’t Have one
  • My dad is my hero because he triumphs through hardships and is one of the most determined people I will ever know.
  • My Nana.  She is hardworking & always positive no matter what.
  • My hero is my mom and dad because we came from Serbia when I was four years old and moved to the U.S. and they have started from nothing and got us everything.
  • Michael Phelps.  He has demonstrated a lot of skills & dedication to what he does that I admire.
  • Michael Jordan b/c he didn’t make the team in school but became the best.
  • I am my own hero, just because I don’t really have heroes and I love myself.  I think heroes aren’t necessary.
  • My father — supports whole family & mom — takes care of 4 kids all at once.
  • My hero is my brother Anthony because he always cheers me up.

    Problem Based Learning, and bad ideas

    August 25, 2010

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/25/australia.terror.assignment/index.html?hpt=T2

    Problem Based Learning (PBL) has been around for a long time, but only recently is gaining vogue.

    In problem based learning, students are presented with a complex problem which has an open ended solution. Students then solve the problem. With the right students, it is a great way to learn. With the wrong students, it blows up in your face. It is being touted as one of the solutions to our (IMO, over dramatized) educational problems, but I am skeptical.

    A teacher in Australia, using PBL had a novel problem he asked his students to tackle:

    Students are to plan a biological or chemical terrorist attack to take place somewhere in Australia. They must include their choice of victims, as well as their plan of attack to maximize death.

    Needless to say, at least one student objected, and the assignment was rescinded. To the credit of the principal of the school, the teacher was young, and was corrected to not do it again, and is not going to be fired.


    I wouldn’t sweat the Asian carp and Zebra mussels …

    August 24, 2010

    http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Chicago-River-Alligator/ss/events/sc/082410alligatorchica;_ylt=Aii6iuroA_muyYCv5N5.dnhbbBAF;_ylu=X3oDMTBuZzVjMHViBHBvcwMxNwRzZWMDZXAEc2xrA2ltYWdl

    Zebra mussels have been a problem in Lake Michigan for some time, and the EPA is desperately trying to keep the Asian carp that have overrun the Mississippi and Missouri River Systems from getting to Lake Michigan.

    These are bad invasive species, but they have one thing in common: they typically don’t predate on human beings. But Chicago has a new menace in town.

    For the second time in a month, an alligator has been captured in the Chicago River.

    A frickin’ ALLIGATOR has been found in the CHICAGO River! It would have been less shocking if a brown bear had been found polishing off a few tourists on the Sears Tower skydeck, given that this is prairie country.

    The first reports were ignored because, like, this is Chicago, and it is not known for being the domain of crocodilians. The last time large predatory reptiles roamed the Chicago area was sometime around the …. I don’t know … CRETACEOUS PERIOD?? However repeated sightings had the Chicago Police call in a reptile expert, and sure enough, plucked a gator out of the river. Just this week, a second one, measuring three feet and capable of eating cats, small children, and chihuahuas was pulled out of the river.

    This may be something that Chicagoans may need to adjust to: a world where ferocious man-eating alligators are now a part of the urban fauna.

    We await nature’s next move.


    What does it take to reform?

    August 17, 2010

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100817/ap_on_re_us/us_gang_killings_execution;_ylt=Al1fdQZ5CP9lwxNPsV9wqE0UewgF;_ylu=X3oDMTNmODE1bzU4BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwODE3L3VzX2dhbmdfa2lsbGluZ3NfZXhlY3V0aW9uBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMQRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrAzNyZHRyaXB0b3RleA–

    This article caught my eye …. Randy Ertman will very soon be taking his third trip to witness an execution in Texas. He is not the one being executed. Rather, he has been a witness to those who killed his daughter.

    His daughter and her friend were 14 and 16. On their way home one night through a park in 1993 Houston, they ran into a gang in need of initiating a new member. They were kept alive for over an hour while they were raped repeatedly, hit so hard that several teeth were knocked out, some of their hair was ripped out of their scalp, and some of their ribs were broken. A few of the injuries were specifically traced to a pair of steel toed boots that the ringleader, Peter Cantu, was wearing. Their decomposing bodies were found four days later. The gang members, being ever intelligent as gang members tend to be, kept valuables from the girls as prizes, and made sure not to get rid of anything incriminating, like blood stained clothing and follow up video back at the crime scene of one gang member celebrating the event. One of the brothers of the ringleader eventually turned in the whole group after he heard them bragging about it. Sadly, after this murder, two of those involved were linked to an earlier murder, which, had they been caught, would have maybe prevented these two from happening.

    Two 17 year olds are serving life sentences, only because their death penalties were overturned by a Supreme Court ruling barring the use of the death penalty on anyone under 18. A 14 year old is in the middle of a 40 year sentence. Derrick O’Brien and Jose Medellin both have already been executed.

    It turned out to be a big case … You might remember that when Medellin was executed, the Mexican government filed a protest because he was Mexican born (hence a Mexican citizen) and was never advised that he had the right to speak with counselor officials from Mexico. The World Court demanded that the execution be stayed, and the State of Texas politely reminded the World Court that they aren’t a sovereign nation, and that they have no right to demand anything. When George W. Bush demanded the State of Texas investigate, in what must have been a rare moment, the State of Texas informed the President that he had not right to interfere, and that only Congress had that power.

    It was also the case that led to the inclusion of a “victim impact statement” where relatives of the victims are aloud to address the court in person or in writing during the sentencing phase. It was Randy Ertman who argued for the right of the victim’s family to be represented in the death chamber to witness the execution.

    While he was the first to be convicted, thee gang’s leader, Peter Anthony Cantu, arguably the most despised person in Texas, will follow two of his fellow gang members into the death chamber.

    What caught me in the article was that the corrections people describe him as a model prisoner.

    Let me be clear before proceeding. I am not a supporter of the death penalty. For one, I’m not sure it really works too well in deterring crime. For another, there are too many cases that have come up expressing doubt as to the guilt of a person being executed. I’m also not a fan of tax payers supporting these guys in prisons that they might escape from. The Supermax concept has some promise, though a lot of the same people who oppose the death penalty claim that treatment in these facilities causes permanent and severe emotional distress on prisoners. I could probably live with that as a happy medium.

    My question is: why was a person so fraught with problems his whole life (theft, rape, murder, etc) wait until now to turn his life around?

    I mean … is the point made in the horror movie Saw that correct? … do some people only learn to appreciate and respect life after they are truly … truly faced with their own impending death?

    Is this one of the great twisted ironies in our country: without the death penalty, this man almost certainly would have never changed, and almost certainly would have raped and killed again, but with the specter of execution, he becomes the person that would have saved his life.

    Or … is there some type of therapy death row inmates go through that turns their life around in time for their execution. If this is the answer, why isn’t this being done more with other criminals guilty of lesser offenses?

    I pressed a little bit … I found an anti-death penalty website:

    http://www.deathrow-usa.us/PeterCantu.htm

    (please note that I do not endorse these websites because, while they may make a principled stand for something, I strongly disagree with their tactics) addendum: a protest by death penalty advocates took place today at one of the memorials to the young ladies who were killed. That borders on the tasteless, in my opinion, and makes it very easy for people to not only ignore your message, but turn against it.

    … that had a statement from Mr. Cantu, specifically requesting “non-judmental, open-minded, and honest” people to communicate with, because they are “mutual traits that I reciprocate willingly because honesty is the foundation to lasting friendships.” He continues “This is a world of confinement for 23 hours a day but it’s your letter that humanize, where the Texas officials have sought to dehumanize me.”

    If this is not some kind of a put up … it is a shame that it took all of this for this kid to get straightened up. If not, then I would say Mr. Cantu won’t have to worry about being dehumanized for much longer.

    addendum: Peter Cantu was executed by lethal injection this evening in Texas.