Thursday, April 28, 2011


Teaching is a performing art. In this day and age in the classroom, more and more teachers open the textbook and follow a script. Moreover, principals, superintendents and state legislatures expect us to teach in this way. One teacher is on a given lesson, and the teacher next door is expected to be on the same exact lesson. The world of education, the growth of knowledge does not fit this model whatsoever. Quite the contrary, lessons need to move and change to fit individual students.

To dispense knowledge you must have the attention of your students. They must be engaged, either while a teacher is speaking or learning from the setting the teacher has created to prompt discovery, discussion, or research. One size does not fit all, the scope and sequence of any class should only exist as a guide. A plan is a mark to aim for, it’s not a dictator. Any great teacher adjusts lessons, and most lessons need adjusting.

For example, I remember running literature circles where groups of students read a novel together. The various groups, every year, and had different roads to travel. One group, who read a given novel, had entirely different discussions than other groups that read the same novel. If I had to teach a given curriculum content area, say ‘tone’ for example, the students would pick different words from their reading and construct meaning that made sense to them. The many and varied ways that students learned voice, main idea, theme and even grammatical ideas such as possessive nouns and punctuation were all valid and all arrived at by different means.

This not only applies to reading but across all content areas. In math, I can recall many times when the scripted lesson for the day was (thankfully) sidetracked to clarify some other math misconception. Getting denominators to match was consistently one of these areas. To
find a common denominator, I invariably had to ‘sidetrack’ and remind students of how to find the greatest least common multiple. When rounding, or comparing numbers, I always had to revisit place value. Honestly, these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Great
teachers shift, move, adjust and improvise; they don’t stick rigidly to a set plan where students’ understanding is not taken into account.

I remember once when a student was challenging me on the fact that Hawaii was located out in the Pacific Ocean. He said something to the effect of, “They went down to Hawaii.”

I ventured to correct him by replying, “You mean over to Hawaii right?”

The student retorted, “No Mr. G. Hawaii is down there by Mexico.”

Should I stay with the plan? Do we have time to go off on a tangent and clarify a geographical misunderstanding? The fact that many
maps, including the one in my classroom, inlay Hawaii down in the bottom right hand corner of the map threw him off. He had seen it down
in the right hand, bottom corner many times; this prompted the student to believe that Hawaii was located in the Atlantic Ocean right next to

Musicians and other performers do this all the time, they adjust. Great teachers are performers. I have played many solos and often times
there comes a point where I play an accelerando. I start out slowly, steadily increase the speed, and then fly into warp speed. If the crowd
starts screaming and cheering, I will stay with the speed for a while longer. If the crowd is quiet, I will move on to the next section of my
solo. Teachers must do the same thing.

Led Zeppelin is one of my very favorite rock groups. Their improvisation is one of their greatest attributes. In their live stage shows Jimmy
Page would play and awesome guitar lick and Robert Plant would mimic the guitar riff with his voice. The back and forth communication was
pure excellence. Jazz musicians do this all the time as well, a trumpet or a sax player will take a verse for a solo, they’re feeling it,
improvising, they take musical roads they may not have planned on taking – but they’re valuable, amazing and enlightening roads! Educators need to take these roads as well.

Art is expression, using human creative skill, and tapping the imagination. Isn’t that what teachers do everyday? Even something as mechanical and logical as math, often uses the phrase, “solve the expression,” or “express the answer in such and such a manner.” Knowledge is an expression, and/or understanding of an expression. The analogy holds up even better with the visual arts. Isn’t your school day literally the making of a movie? How we treat others, teach with examples and use narratives analogous to the strokes of paint on canvas? Administrators and teachers, what did we paint today? Is the picture a serene seascape? Or is it an avant-garde, buckets of paint flung on the canvas?

I can tell you this: the performance or the painting describes what happens in the realm of education much better than an ordinal percentage assigned by a standardized, multiple choice test.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Disposition is everything. How we treat others, how we interact with others, is of prime importance. I completed much research on the subject of happiness for our school district Wellness Program; the overarching message was that happiness comes from our own, internal perception. If we perceive that our life is stressful, that we are overwhelmed with problems beyond our control, we will be unhappy. This is true regardless of reality. You and I could be in the same exact environmental situation, say we are both stranded in the middle of a vast desert. I could be unhappy, ornery, aggravated, worried. You could be walking right next to me happy, excited to be on an adventure, enjoying nature, having faith that we will be found, or just be having fun surviving. Happiness and our disposition in general, is a choice.

By the same token, our approach to interacting with others is our choice. Teachers and administrators must have a disposition of kindness, patience, and understanding. We must ask students to “admit” that they don’t understand some curricular area, and be open to accepting instruction. This is not only true for academics, but even more applicable in the realm of behavior. We in essence are asking people to change; to grow, and to see a reason for this growth and change.

We ask parents to discipline and instruct students at home that have a problem with hitting other students. We ask teachers to speak kindly to parents and not to foist their viewpoint – even if they know it’s the correct path to take! We ask administrators to prompt teachers to be caring, vigilant instructors. We ask for change. Shouldn’t we ask in a kind and caring way?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How much government?

You know, when I was younger, it seemed to me the world was black and white with few gray areas. Life experience brings about change, and change causes a broadening of viewpoint. For example, my view of government; when I was younger I worked for the Forest Service, and I saw the importance of the government stopping the general public from destroying Wilderness areas. I saw the importance of fighting forest fire, regulating who took wildlife and trees from forest land. Even at that time, I still felt dreadful when the law enforcement officer with whom I worked wrote tickets for people breaking petty rules.

After many years of studying history, and listening to music that I love, I long for the government to keep its hands out of my pocket and its edicts out of my life. I don’t want the government telling me, I can’t drink a coke, or that my kids can't eat a happy meal, or even tell me to put on a seat belt. I think that if God can give us freedom of choice, our own free will, why does the government of the United States think they can take it away?

OK, I do want law and order, but why should the government have the right to tell me how or what I can build on land that I’ve purchased? I want freedom, not restriction. I don’t want people to hurt other people, and I want a society that is intelligent. So how much government is good government? To have safety from evil doers, I believe the government should provide a police force, and military forces along with military technology. In order to have an intelligent public, and a society that learns the mores and folkways for a productive culture, I believe schools are of primary importance, right alongside defense.

The importance of education in our republic form of government is well spoken by the father of America, George Washington on Dec. 15, 1784 stated, “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

Beyond safety and an academically and behaviorally superior society, I don’t think the government should be involved… at all! Can anyone comprehend such a limited government? See, here’s the gray area, this is what I feel is important now. Someone else will have other priorities. Some will want extra taxes on cigarettes, gas, alcohol, they’ll want Fish and Game to limit people even walking on “Public Land.” Some will want the government to tell McDonald’s how hot they are allowed to make their coffee, or Amana to make refrigerators that die within ten years to have “green” compressors. I don’t.

All this being said (hypocritically) by a principal whose salary comes from the taxpayers of Idaho! You see, it’s all gray area.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Teachers, and especially administrators, have to constantly manage children’s behavior. We are not only given the task to teach academics, math, reading, writing, etc. but in order to do so we have to manage behavior first.

How can we teach a child to read if they are being abused? It’s impossible. Learning is not high on an abused child’s priority list, survival is. Abuse occurs more than one would expect. Concurrently, there is a much more prevalent problem - spoiled children.

I wonder how many students in our school have regular chores to complete. I wonder how many children in my elementary school have any chores to complete. It is so difficult for a child to come to school, and for the first time, hear someone give them directions.

Many kids are just accustomed to telling their parents “no,” and it’s permitted. Therefore, when a teacher gives a simple command such as “Please sit down,” there’s a good chance the student will say, “no.” Then comes the dealing, the encouraging, and the prodding.

Now, add the fact that there are 25 to 35 other students all losing a chance at receiving instruction. All the other kids that have had a similar upbringing learn they can say no as well. It’s a miracle what we educators get accomplished under the circumstances.

It’s telling when discipline is such a original approach that television shows are made and become hits that put forth the idea. There are students that come from homes that have taught responsibility, and respect. These people are our hope for the future, but they're becoming the minority!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Honesty and Openness

The innocence, the forthrightness, the honesty, experienced in abundance from fifth graders on down to kindergarten is awesome. The experiences of honest displays of affection are something most people do not experience. Do I love it when students swarm me out at recess? Do I love it when children come to my office to show me something they have drawn? Do I love it when a child spontaneously takes my hand as I walk down the hall? YES!! Can you have this experience in any other job? No.

It’s not just the overt display behaviorally; it’s also the honesty in their words. Children keep a person grounded. When I (at age 43) have a pimple, they notice, they point it out. If I’m inconsistent, they are not quiet about it, they point it out. If they love the kudos they receive for performing well academically or behaviorally – they certainly let you know. They laugh and they cry easily; the young people I work with everyday let you know what they are thinking and feeling.
Somewhere around sixth and seventh grade, this openness and honesty disappear.

I know the affection and honesty was never present in my other jobs I’ve had as an adult. Construction, fire fighting, surveying, I could never imagine the honesty and openness occurring in these other vocations.

In a way, it’s also sad that we can never recapture that time in our lives. That time before our hearts were truly broken. That time before we worried about being cool. That time before bills, and stress, and when we were basically only concerned with the superfluous. Children are a blessing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I’m running along, jumping over the hurdles. Clearing them quickly, really rolling. Then all of the sudden after catching air over one of the hurdles, my right foot comes down, instead of landing on a hard, cinder track, I land in gloop.

Gloop is the consistency of a mammoth bowl of sticky oatmeal. It’s quicksand. Plop. The mud grabs around me, sucks me down. I’m sinking, stuck, legs and arms descending, movement is difficult. Veins popping, slow, swimming motion with my arms, just go forward. Slow struggle or my mouth and nose may descend to where I can’t breathe. I reach the edge of the gloop; feel some hard ground through the muddy oatmeal. Pull, fingers first, straining, triceps aching… pull… push up motion to drag my body out of the quicksand. Strain, struggle, pulling… upper body out, pull legs free.

No time to rest. I wipe off some of the gloop, get up, and get running down the track. Clear the next hurdle, the next, then blop! Back in the gloop.

How many of these gloop sessions until I’m out of energy? How many of these gloop sessions are self imposed? How many are out of my control?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Education... Rewarding and Draining

Teaching takes the starch out of a person. Yes, teaching is rewarding, we get to meet and help other, fellow human beings. However, it’s also a completely draining experience. I remember when I first started teaching a class of 31 – 33 sixth graders. I would come home completely wiped out. I virtually had no energy for discussions, for doing anything, for going any where. Nothing has changed.
As an administrator, it’s the same experience, but most of the interactions are dealing with problems. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. You have to reason with children and adults (teachers and parents) constantly. Thankfully, as an administrator I still have plenty of opportunity to teach as well, but the grey hair is multiplying. It’s electrifying!

Emotions run the gamut. One of our faculty’s most upbeat, happy personalities has left us today. How sad? I literally shed tears, she is so kind, caring and patient, and always has a happy smile. Now she is on to her own business where she can make a lot more money than in a public school setting. Sad.

A student came in and may be seriously injured, possibly cracked ribs. Other students all came worried, and worse, I fear another student pushed the injured student on purpose. Yes, we even have to deal with the criminal element. Worry.

I gave away little toys to students who are well behaved and saved “Eagle Bucks.” I also gave away prizes to children who were good and their names were drawn out of a hat. The utter joy in these kids who receive nothing more than a “slap bracelet,” special pen or a piece of candy is so fun. Happy.

I had to bolt four large shelves to the wall, and hang acoustic panels with a drill, masonry bits and wall anchors. Un-string an extension cord from the ceiling, and get my safety manual in order for a safety inspection. Physical labor.

This is just little parts of one day! There is so much more, phone calls, complaints, worry for my secretary, worry especially for one of my teachers, hope for the fledgling music aspect of Adams, and the list goes on and on. One day!
I worked I the Forest Service, surveying through the roughest terrain the United States has to offer. I fought forest fires for many years – education is MUCH more draining. It’s the formation and building of lives. No wonder it’s draining!