Dear Parents,

I am not your child’s friend.  I do not care if they like me.  This is not a popularity contest for me,  it is your child’s education.

I am not going to pretend your child’s work is exemplary, when it is actually sub-standard.  I demand, and expect, nothing but the very best effort from your child.  Helping your child is not synonymous with giving them the answers, so please explain to them that they will be expected to do their own work in my class. I do not condone laziness or irresponsibility; make sure they have a good breakfast and pack their backpacks with all the necessary items needed to be productive at school.

I do not want to look at the top of your child’s head for 45 minutes each day, so please make sure they get a good night’s sleep.  There is no reason to send your child to school unless they are fully invested in working, my time is far too valuable to be wasted on someone who is not interested in what I am presenting.  If your child is not capable of being present, both physically and mentally, then perhaps a different learning environment should be explored; home schooling is an option for every child.

I will give your child complete and brutal honesty about their work, their behavior and their commitment to excellence, and I won’t feel bad if it hurts their feelings.  I will not pretend their behavior is acceptable when it is grating on my last nerve.  I will tell them to be quiet when I am speaking.  When I address your child, I expect them to be accountable for their words and actions.  If they ask me a question I expect them to listen to the answer the first time it is given.  I do not  want to hear your child telling me that my decisions are not fair; a fair is a place you take a pig to win a ribbon, it has nothing to do with my classroom.

It is not my job to feel sorry for your son or daughter.  Every one of my students comes to me with a different plate of challenges, and your child is not more special than any other child in my class.  Please understand that just doing the work is not enough, it has to be done correctly.  You child must follow directions, or they will not succeed.   I will teach them.  I will motivate them.  I will encourage them to be their very best self.  I will be honest with them.  I will not take responsibility for your child’s failures, and  I will always give them full credit for their successes.

Although I am not your child’s parent, but my career dictates that I must parent.  I understand that the teen mind is a difficult thing to decipher, however I would ask that get on board with the following truth:  one day you will die, and if you don’t pry your kid’s head out of her ass now, they won’t have a hope in hell of making it on their own.  Tell them no, motivate them, hold them accountable, demand excellence, instill a firm work ethic, and be honest.  If you are not part of the solution to your own child’s problems in school, then you are actually part of the problem.


Your Child’s Teacher


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I’ve been saying it for years, “It is a privilege to be in my classroom.  Those who don’t want to be here, or interfere with the learning of others, are welcome to leave.”  Not a very popular statement, I know.  I don’t care.  I have a job to do, and those who get in my way, and the way of my students, can seek their educational guidance elsewhere.  Unpopular?  Maybe.  Honest?  Definitely.

Teachers are often stuck in a frustrating situation when it comes to disruptive students; remove them at the time of their disruption, only to have them returned five minutes later to continue right where they left off.  It is an exhausting cycle that not only takes time away from instruction, but also damages the positive group dynamic in the classroom that teachers work so hard to develop.  Being forced to suspend instruction in order to deal with a repeatedly unruly student is an aggravation that could be avoided.

I’m going to make a statement that many will consider unprofessional and perhaps even unethical.  Not all students are able to function in the public school setting, and we need to start figuring out what to do with those students. We can no longer cling to the model of ‘sacrificing the needs of many for the needs of one’. That being said, where do we place those unconventional learners when they have clearly worn out their welcome in the local public school?  Well, there are countless options when it comes to education: private school, on-line classroom, alternative classrooms, home school.  I believe that every child has a right to an appropriate education, but who decided that the definition of appropriate education means everyone gets the same thing?  I don’t agree with the idea that all students should attend public school, or that students who pursue alternative educational environments will be negatively impacted in their social growth.  I also don’t believe that any one of my students has the right to take away learning time from another student, yet I have been forced time and time again to allow that practice in my classroom.

I’m not a pushover when it comes to my expectations about classroom behavior, I don’t have a classroom management problem or the inability to control a group of kids for 50 minutes.  What I have, and what I’m sure many teachers feel they have, is a lack of cooperation from school administrators when dealing with disruptive student behavior.  Teachers are expected to make it work, modify the situation, try to find that disruptive student’s spark;  sometimes those things are not enough.  The education community needs to accept that some students just can’t handle a tradition school setting, and they will make it their mission to be heard on that issue every single day.

No, I don’t think students that talk a little too much, or giggle in the back of the room with their friends, or even fall asleep from time to time, need to be ousted from our public schools.  I am talking about those students who clearly have NO desire to be there, for whatever reason.  Sometimes the conventional educational setting is wrong because of a student’s home situation, economics, family divisiveness, and countless other reasons.  What I would like to see happen for those students is this:  give the disruptive student an opportunity to gain their education in a setting that is going to make them successful.   I think, if school districts would really look at it closely, we would all see that the disruptive student is also a frustrated student that posses lower than average academic skills and is aware that their abilities in the classroom do not match their peers.

School doesn’t have to be a constant battle for students.  We need to broaden our view of what the classroom looks like for all students, and stop dropping everyone into the same bucket.

The Dilemma of Standardized Testing

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As a teacher, I stress relentlessly about standardized testing.  Did I prepare my students well enough?  What are the consequences, both personal and professional, of students continually not meeting standards?  When did the gap between learning and performance become so vast?

Generally, when school districts adopt a standardized test, there is a certain degree of disparity between what the test measures, and what the district curriculum dictates be taught.  When this happens, teachers are faced with a very difficult choice; teach the curriculum and hope that any gaps between the curriculum and the test don’t affect student testing performance, or teach the information and concepts addressed in the test to better support  student testing success.  This dilemma, testing content versus curriculum content, is ever-present in our schools, and places teachers in an untenable situation.

Its the catch phrase heard in teaching circles across the country; ‘teach to the test’, and educators are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  Standardized assessments and district curriculums seldom address identical goals, teachers must try to sustain a balancing act between the two, without sacrificing one or the other. District curriculums are designed, in theory, to address educational skills and knowledge that will prepare students for postsecondary education that will arguably lead to a profession or trade.  Standardized assessments are generally designed to assess students on a broad base of knowledge and skills that, once mastered, will arguably foster future success.  So why don’t curriculums and assessments contain the same goals?  Why are teachers pressed to follow district curriculums that don’t develop the knowledge base being assessed by the state?  Are the curriculums lacking, or are our state assessments unrealistic?

There is a solution to the dilemma.  If standardized assessments are the guide by which we are going to measure student success, then perhaps we need to see a shift in the content of our school curriculums.  If the big minds in education are all getting together and determining what students should know at certain points in their education, then why not get the big minds to develop curriculums that mirror that same information?  Is this teaching to the test?  I don’t think it is.  I think if states have already decided what students need to know at certain points in their education, it is up to school districts to ensure that information is part of everyone’s daily curriculum.  Feeding students a daily diet of information that is essential to their success, seems like a logical solution to the agony of standardized testing.

Close the Void

voidIn an educational environment riddled with assessments and standards to be met, students are often left stranded in the void that separates teaching and learning.  Our job, as teachers, is to facilitate learning.  How do we do that?  How do we bring the outlying extremes of the void closer together?  We have to start with student connections. Teachers need to make connections with their students; build relationships.

I see the teacher-student relationship take on many forms, and over the years, I have created my own set of categories  when looking at teachers and their interactions with students.  There is the mother, who would happily take every one of their students home for dinner each night.  The pragmatic, who establishes that life isn’t fair and kids just need to deal with it.  The snuggler, who attempts to make everything fine through bubbly exchanges and overenthusiastic involvement.  The ball breaker, who has empathy for students and their struggles, but also doesn’t accept excuses for unattained goals.  The shirt sleeve, who is always there to let their students cry on their shoulder, but also takes things a little too personally. Lastly, the carriage horse, who goes through each day wearing blinders so they are not distracted from their contractual responsibilities.   If you teach for enough years, you will likely run across many, if not all, of these individuals.  Remember, it takes a village.

How would I characterize myself?  Well, I’m a realist, and with that comes a bit of cynicism when I enter the classroom.  I know that not all of my students will like me; I’m too short, or too fat, or too gay, or too strict, or just too me.   It’s alright, I am confident enough to not take it personally.  I would consider myself a ball breaking-mother-snuggler; not too personal, attentive to student problems, but hard as nails in my expectations.  Wherever you place yourself on the scale of connection with your students, it is important to remember one thing; connections matter.

The last high school I worked at is filled with teachers that make meaningful connections with students, and it shows in every aspect of student life.  Students succeed because there is an atmosphere of care that far exceeds many schools in the country, and I could see it anytime I entered a classroom; the connections are visible.  I applaud the teachers in our classrooms today that have taken the time to connect with their students, they are the ones that will make a difference; they are the ones who will close the void.


Image Two months, really, two months?  Yes, it has been two months.  I’m not proud of it; I’m actually a  bit embarrassed.  I was on a roll, posting several days a week, working on my book, reading, learning, feeling motivated; then it just stopped.  No explanations, no reasons, no excuses.  Nothing.  I have toyed with the idea that it could be depression or loneliness, maybe even just plain boredom, but none of those panned out for me.  All I can attest my laziness to is this: disinterest.

Ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel like doing anything?  Now, imagine having that feeling everyday for two months.  While it might sound like I have just enjoyed a blissful tumble into laziness, I’ve actually created higher stress levels and more guilt for myself; both of which outweigh any enjoyment I might have gleaned from my 2 months of stagnation.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience, but it doesn’t make it any easier to dismantle the cycle.

Now, I have to be deliberate.  I have to hold myself accountable and force myself to do things; anything.  No more sitting around in my sweats until late afternoon, only to look at the clock and decide to keep sitting in them until bedtime.  I will make myself get up and shower and dress and greet the day with some sort of plan.  I will hold myself to some sort of work schedule, and keep up with household chores.  I will write, and I will keep writing.  I will have adventures and document them all.  I will join the living again, and  I will start a cycle interest.

Having said that, I have to go now.  I have to shower and get dressed and change the bed linens.  I have stuff to do.

New York City Schools and Plan B Birth Control

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I know that teen pregnancy is still an issue in many school districts around the country, but I’m not sure what to think about schools taking the lead when it comes to birth control.  In a more perfect world, parents would be guiding their children through the pitfalls of sex and the use of contraceptives.  Sadly, the fact that teens are still engaging in unprotected sex that can sometimes lead to pregnancy or disease is a strong indicator that parents are not always as involved as they need to be.

Handing out condoms, referring students to physicians that can prescribe prescriptions, offering access to health care; all of these things are necessary.  Should schools be acting as a conduit for providing reproductive health support?  I don’t know, but there are compelling arguments on both sides of the table.

Attitude Check

I read a post this morning about attitude.  In this post, the author made the point that anyone can have a positive attitude if they want.  I tend to agree with the author, and I suddenly realized that my attitude has kind of been sucking lately.

I’m all hung up, waiting, spinning my wheels, trying to get focused and not lose hope.  While all of this spinning and flailing has been going on, my attitude has taken a nose dive.  I’m not brooding or complaining, I just don’t see the point some days.  Why am I doing all of this?  Is the waiting worth it?  Is the struggle going to pay off some day?

I started this adventure with little more than a box of notebooks, my dog, and my girl.  I left everything else behind, and headed north for a fresh start at life.  At 44 years old, starting over is not an easy decision, but it’s what needed to happen.  It’s what I wanted.  I have had tons of help along the way, and my wife gives me all of the love, encouragement and support I could ever need.   So why the bad attitude?  No idea.

I think that my rut has grown so huge that I am having trouble climbing out of it.  At times, I seem to get too comfortable in situations that aren’t productive, it takes a little revelation to push me through.  When I read the post about developing a positive attitude out of choice, I realized that none of my worries and concerns can be blamed for my current lack of progress; it’s on me.

It’s time to put a positive attitude at the head of the line again.  I will try to keep a better grip on it, but life is not predictable.  I will keep myself in check, and try not to check out before I finish what I started.

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