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A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Those words, from The Education of Henry Adams, are on my mind this morning.  It is a Sunday.  Saturday is the one day during the week where I do not focus on school -  it is a day for family and household tasks, for time with the cats and with the spouse, and yesterday for finally doing my taxes.  

Before I go to sleep on Sunday, I must correct any papers I have brought home with me, make up or modify any tests or exams being given in the next five days, complete my planning for the week, and update my web page so that my students will be able to plan their weeks.

I could take these tasks for granted - after all, I am now in my 15th year of teaching, my 11th at this school, my fifth of having 3 of my six classes at an Advanced Placement level.  But each year is different, each week's planning affected by what has happened the week before, each class by the particular mix of students therein.  

And if I am honest, what I do is clearly affected by each student who comes before me.  It has to be, if I am to take the words of Henry Adams to heart.

I often write about teaching, as I did yesterday in a diary which talked about economics (and which as I write this is somehow still on the recommended list - who knew!).  I understand that my experience as a teacher cannot be universalized:  I am lucky to teach in a school that is highly supportive, I have great flexibility in what I do because of my record, and many of my students are highly motivated even before they appear in my classroom.  Also, I do not face the economic pressures that burden some of my compatriots.

Still, there are things about my experience, about my life, that do connect with most of the teachers in this country, despite the pressures faced - economics, the amount of time and energy it takes to do the job well, the restrictions upon using one's best judgment, rigid curricular and pacing guides, the insanity of our approach to testing.

This morning, none of that matters.  What matters is this:  the realization that for better or worse I have an opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of more than 150 young people each day I set foot in my classroom.  I have an opportunity, and thus I have a responsibility of which many do not conceive.  It is that opportunity and responsibility that opens the possibility of affecting eternity.

I have never taught elementary school, where I would spend the day with one group of children.  Some might argue that it is with these, the youngest, that a teacher potentially has the greatest impact:  helping a child learn to read, to hold a pen or a pencil, to begin to discover science, or music, or poetry -  all of that may be true, but it is not unique to the elementary classroom.  The one advantage is the time and the opportunity to experience the student across a range of domains or if you prefer subjects.

I have taught from 7th through 12th.  Most of my current students are 10th graders, which carries a certain amount of irony for me.  I almost failed to get certified because of my high school placement when student teaching, where half my classes were 10th grade.  10th grade, 1960-61, was perhaps the most unhappy year of my life.  There were all kinds of family problems, it was my sister's senior year, during which she was doing spectacularly.  I had just entered our high school (which began in 10th grade) and was struggling.  I was socially awkward, and would not go out on a date by myself between our 9th grade class and Spring of my senior year, which as you can imagine was a kind of slow torture. I was one year ahead of myself, and was so miserable that at the start of my junior year I seriously explored skipping senior year to get away from the hell I thought I was experiencing.  Thankfully I did not, for it was a teacher that year, 1962-63, in Advanced Placement US History who made a difference, who finally helped me begin to understand how I could and should use my mind, not in comparison to how others did, but for my own sake, with a responsibility to myself.

Thomas Rock is one of a number of teachers the experience of whom has shaped my own teaching.  In college there were more:  Frank Parker in Philosophy, who when the college was ready to kick me out for poor academics stood up for me because of how much I had improved for him.  George Kennedy who turned me on to classical history and encouraged me to do independent reading on a systematic basis, and then was amazed when I read every book on his suggested list in two weeks (rather than doing the work in some of my other courses), and gently suggested that I needed to learn how to balance my passions of the moment with my overall approach to learning.  John Davison, my freshman adviser at Haverford College, the college's first music major, who upon my final return to the college at age 25 would be my department chair and a close friend, who in his teaching showed me how every student, even when struggling, sometimes needs some small measure of affirmation in the work s/he has assayed, even if it is still in need of improvement.  He was beloved by the college, and passed away too young, but remains a part of all who knew him.

I cannot name all of the teachers who affected me.  Some did so in an unfortunate manner, and it is best that I neither mention them nor the hurt that they did.  I can still feel my face burning as I think of one episode in which I was unnecessarily ridiculed.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

That influence can be positive or negative.  I remember that embarrassing moment that still makes my face burn.  I think how an experience like that can cause a student to shut down, not merely in that one class, but in all classes:  after all, the embarrassment was public, those who saw it were in other classes with me.  

As a teacher, I know that I will not succeed with every student.  The age of those in my classes is such that I face a delicate balance, because part of what I must help them with is taking responsibility.  As cruel as it might seem, for some the best thing I can do is to let them fall flat on their faces - better for them to experience that perhaps early in 10th grade so that then I can reach out and offer to help, to provide the assistance they need to pick themselves up.  For others such a fall would be so devastating that I cannot allow it to happen unprepared.  The problem is that I cannot always be sure which approach to take.   And if I am wrong, I am haunted by the 2nd part of the words from Adams, he can never tell where his influence stops.

Some would say my responsibility is limited to the assigned content of the course, the material on which they will be tested.  All of my students must pass a state end of course exam to graduate from high school.  My AP students are supposed to sit for the AP exam.  I cannot imagine anything more boring, more draining of enthusiasm for learning than so narrowing the class experience, and I refuse to do it.

I have found that my students do far better when they are given a chance to connect what they are studying with their own lives and experiences.  Sometimes that can mean going very far from the assigned material, but if it provides an opportunity to see into the mind of a student, it enables me to find a way to connect her to the material that she must learn.  It also provides an opportunity for the student to learn how to make connections on his own.  That is an important part of the learning process.

Or to put it another way . . .  yes, I have a responsibility to ensure that the students have a chance to learn the assigned content, but it is far more important that they learn how to learn, to organize information, to know the limits of what they do and don't know, and how to find information on their own.   Every class has had the experience of someone asking an interesting question and my refusing to answer it.  My response is, "that's an interesting question, why don't you look up the answer and get back to us?  Since I have four classroom computers for students, as well as my school-issued and personal laptops, often a student will go and immediately research the issue while it is fresh in her mind.  In the process he will learn that the teacher - or the textbook - is not the only source of information.

No teacher can know for sure what impact s/he has on students.  In some cases we immediately recognize when we have made a mistake, and if we do we have a responsibility to fix it immediately.  Recently I unthinkingly criticized the slipping performance of one student in front of his classmates.  I needed to confront him, the occasion came up, and because it was important and I was too narrowly focused I spoke immediately, rather than looking for an occasion to pull him aside.  As I drove home that evening, I realized the harm I potentially had done, not only to him, but to the others who observed the exchange -  it might make them fearful of what I might say about them.  Unfortunately, that happened on the last day before Spring break, in the final period of the day, and I would not see that class for 11 days.

I had been thinking about doing something, and this convinced me.  I sat down and wrote out an index card for every one of my students.  In some cases there was something for which to thank the student, perhaps now regularly doing her work.  In others, it was to acknowledge that there were things more important than my class, such as one young lady who just gave birth and was struggling to balance her responsibilities as a new mother with her attempts to graduate from high school this year.  I offered my perceptions, which might be incorrect and thus would give the student a chance to speak with me and explain.  And, like that student in 8th period, in some cases I expressed disappointment or offered a challenge.

The students got their cards the day they came back.  It was the first thing.  We talked generally about it.  I explained that I had a responsibility to communicate with them, but I also needed to do so in a way that gave them control over who else experienced that communication.  Some shared their cards with friends, others did not.

And in 8th period I apologized to the young man, because having acted inappropriately in public, the apology also needed to be in public, not only for him, but for the sake of the relationships with the other students.

Perhaps that is the most important lesson I can offer.  We will all make mistakes.  We need to accept when we are wrong, then do what we can to make it right.  Some of my students fear making academic mistakes.  As a result, they do not learn all they could.  They need to learn it is okay to take intellectual risks, not to be devastated because they get something wrong.  School should be a place where we encourage intellectual risk taking, for it is only by experiencing the dimensions of that risk taking that the students will learn to self-monitor, to realize when the risk is not sensible, when there might be another way.  

I don't know if that makes sense to anyone not in a classroom setting.  Perhaps it is one reason I do not like the kinds of tests we do.  They require convergent thinking -  there is one right answer and everything else is wrong, there is no opportunity to explain one's choices, and thus little opportunity to use the experience to see where in the reasoning one went wrong.  

I am rambling.  That happens in my classroom as well.  Yet we do get through the required material, because despite what may seem to be side paths, we are working on skills and understanding, we are connecting what we study with our own lives, we are learning to experience one another as human beings, full of promise, prone to error, fallible, and yet still exciting the potential that is still before our lives, even for almost 64 year old geezers like me.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.  Thinking about that could paralyze those of us who teach -  what if we are wrong, what damage might we do?

But is also empowers us.  Our influence is not restricted to our limited knowledge.  If we admit we do not know all, and help our students believe in their ability to go beyond where we can take them, our influence breaks the boundaries of our personal limitations.   We will not claim ownership of the success of the students, but we can feel a quiet satisfaction that we were a part of the process.

I will be 64 in a few weeks.  I know I am teaching next year.  I begin to feel the limitations of my age -  declining physical energy has become a factor these past few years.  As the possible ends of my career and my life approach, I also think about other things I still hope to do.   Yet each time I consider leaving the classroom I find myself drawn back.   In part it is because the students help keep me young.  In  part it is because they connect me to a future I will not live to see.  Having no biological children, they are my legacy.  It is the only way I will have a continued existence, and somehow that seems to matter.

But that matters less than seeing the possibilities available to them, wanting them to be empowered, not restricted.

I cannot judge what my impact has been, or may yet be.  I can remind myself that I have the opportunity to make a difference in a way that few ever experience, because of the number of young people who pass through my care.  I read those words of Henry Adams, and they serve as a challenge, an inspiration to keep going, for the sake of those students, and thus for the society I will eventually leave behind.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Which is why I am proud to be a teacher.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 04:28 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  a morning mental meandering (62+ / 0-)

    or if you like, a meditation.  In part I am speaking to myself.  In part I am attempting to offer a window into what teaching means to me.  

    I have no idea if this will speak to anyone other than to me.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

    I will now, over the course of the day, begin to refocus on teaching, which remains the central thing in my life.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 04:27:58 AM PDT

    •  thanks to those who have read, commented, rec'd (13+ / 0-)

      pleasing to know that my words spoke to someone other than myself.

      I suspect this will now scroll off the rec list, since the traffic has seemingly ceased.  That's fine.  

      Again, thanks.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:17:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I found this piece quite moving... (4+ / 0-)

        I can definitely relate ... having worked in this field.

        Those tangents you spoke of... well, some of us excel in those. To the point of having to pull ourselves back into the "main stream" on occasion... but that doesnt minimize or negate the usefulness of those tangential forays...

        They are the moments when the iron is hot and you need to strike - when inspiration and observation merge... you know you can teach something important well ... and they are receptive... right then. It will weave its way into other things they learn, need to learn for the "tests" and, more importantly, for the meaningfulness of the learning, itself.

        It could be a learning tool, how to use it to their benefit (like some aspect of dictionary usage) or a learning skill in the mind, only, like making generalizations and seeing associations; or some story that relates to the story of focus, in some way that makes its meaning fuller and more interesting, more relevant; or some beautiful and/or unique, perhaps quirky aspect of language that makes language itself more interesting and engaging... I could go on...

        And as for your self criticism, well, yes, that is a part of what happens... and it is particularly hard to deal with some faux pas you feel youve made when you cant correct it soon after. (A reason to tell oneself: "Be extra careful with Fridays and days before vacation! Dont allow the boogeyman of self doubt to bedevil you on your days off") Alas, it happens, but good advice, to keep in mind.

        Your corrective measure sounds very caring... I assume/hope you prefaced the giving of the index card messages by imparting a sense of caring and hope for each, particularly for those who might not want to "share" with others... to enable them to feel okay if they are in that group, ie, "need improvement")

        Grading - that is probably one of the most difficult aspects of teaching, to my mind... in part because of its intrusiveness to the dynamic of group learning and rapport that has been fostered and built... grades just are shot in there, like some alien objects to the delicate balance that has been achieved. And yet, witness all the pressure and attention built around that very thing - the academic grades, which can often speak more to a person's time management abilities (or lack thereof) or personal problems, at that time, and not to their ability to master the learning of the tasks that are graded - as if it were assumed all else was copacetic on the road to reach that A or that B. But grades often reflect a psycho-emotional, social-emotional and/or social economic aspects the student is grappling with, much more than the academic aspect they so bluntly purport to show.

        Thanks, ken, for this piece, today. It really helps to affirm that sense of goodness re the teaching profession. (Especially needed in these times of intense and completely insane teacher -- and union -- bashing.) Goodness aint perfect. It's just good. And oftentimes, that just has to be good enough!

        Good, then, on you and your students! : - )

        Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

        by NYCee on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 08:11:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I don't know how you can block out a day (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri, lcrp, dle2GA

      from school.  I will soon finish my 9th year as a high school science teacher and a day never goes by when I am not thinking of my students.

      How do we change our school year to match other countries?  I think the summer break is far to long.  The middle school in our district is in the lowest 3% in the country and they just won a grant for $3 million.  It is going to be interesting to see what changes take place in the next school year.  One of the changes they are looking at is adding days to the schedule.  They can do that as they will have the money to pay for the extra time.  But where does the money come from to pay teachers for an extra 20 days or so if we go to 200 or more days of school each year in all the schools?

      •  I need it as a mental break (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NYCee, kj in missouri

        except one Saturday morning a month I have been teaching AP prep to students from other schools -  next Saturday will be the last of those.

        Usually by Friday evening I am somewhat worn down, so when I get home or to wherever I am going I try to let go of school for a day.  I do allow myself to have a life outside of teaching.

        Of course, if I write a diary like yesterday's, which is about education, and which gets that kind of traffic, I am still connected, since I read all comments, responding back where it is appropriate.


        do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

        by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:19:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is utterly, completely necessary... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          teacherken, kj in missouri

          One needs to find a way to disconnect for periods of time...

          Unless one expects to be a sort of priest/priestess/monk of teaching... devote oneself totally to it in every waking hour.

          Okay then... but not okay for most.

          Even when one takes the time "off" being employee-teacher consumes a lot of us. If we want to nurture other aspects of our lives (which will lend themselves beneficially to our interaction with others in our time "on," in non surface ways), we need that time to be outside that role and that mindset.

          Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

          by NYCee on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 08:20:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks very much tipped and rec'ed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri

      I completely agree.

      LeBron James is worth way more than any Wall Street Banker.

      by J Brunner Fan on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:48:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, TK. (19+ / 0-)

    This is a beautiful diary for a Sunday morning. I was a tall, smart, and socially awkward kid in high school, but I had a number of wonderful teachers whose influence I still feel today, and I graduated from high school in 1968. Many thanks to my French teacher, Latin teacher, honors chemistry teacher, and especially to my world lit teacher.

  •  Love your dedication (14+ / 0-)

    Tonight I will also be planning the week ahead.

    Oh no, the dead have risen and they're voting Republican. - Lisa Simpson

    by LaFeminista on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 04:40:05 AM PDT

  •  Lovely (19+ / 0-)

    And here is a story I've told before, but what the heck, it's a nice one.

    When I was 5, I was in kindergarten with a teacher named Grace Kumar  - a truly wonderful human being.

    When we were rough with each other, as five year olds can be, either verbally or physically, she would say

    Be gentle.  That is a human you are playing with

    It's 45 years later, and I still remember.  And I've passed it on to many other people.

    Where does Ms. Kumar's influence stop?  It doesn't.  

    We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

    by plf515 on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 04:55:57 AM PDT

    •  My best was first grade, early on... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, kj in missouri, plf515, dle2GA

      like yours.

      She was beautiful older woman, upswept whitish blond hair. I have not one negative memory of that class...

      One of my stand-out memories was when she addressed my rather (burgeoning ADD?) scattered approach to a task. When we were cleaning up from an art project, she suddenly materialized by my side, having noticed that I was carrying one scrap of construction paper at a time to the scrap box in the back of the room. "NYCee," she said, in her gentle tone, a hand on my shoulder, "When Mother goes to the store, does she buy eggs, and come back home, then return to the store for bread and come back home and then... ?" Eureka! I got it! I thought she was simply sage.

      She had also written a history of NJ, as I recall.

      What a wonderful woman... organized us to do what we needed to do in a very fluid, enjoyable and "safe" way...

      I remember how she complimented a neglected, perenially sad looking girl who came slouching in, painfully shy and late (family had poverty issues, I think) on her "lovely dress" - a rather forlorn, wrinkled looking organza type party dress, which looked very out of place... her compliment kind of hung in the air around that girl, sparkling...

      It didnt make the dress look more right, it just made kindness seem right, especially for that girl, at that moment.

      Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

      by NYCee on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 08:44:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Blessings to you on a beautiful Sunday (16+ / 0-)

    I am up early, working on sped paperwork that I did not get to finish on Friday.
    I used that time, my conference period, to help a student choose a screaming pink  prom dress.  At our school, teachers and students donate money and new and gently used dresses and tuxedos, so that all our students can have a great time at their senior prom.
    The joys of teaching are boundless. Tk has written another diary to show that.

    •  thanks for the comment (12+ / 0-)

      our influence often extends well beyond our curricular and instructional responsibilities, even if we are not coaches or sponsors.  We make a difference when we connect on a human level.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:15:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Very important point (11+ / 0-)

        yes, I have a responsibility to ensure that the students have a chance to learn the assigned content, but it is far more important that they learn how to learn, to organize information, to know the limits of what they do and don't know, and how to find information on their own.

        A lot of my students in college are successful only in that they connect words well enough that they can pick out the correct multiple choice answer.  It's what I call typographical knowledge.  They can associate two words, when they really don't know the meaning of either. And too often, don't care.  

        I love my students, but often they are frustratingly passive.  They don't seem to have any self-direction when it comes to their own education.

        The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. --Goya

        by MadScientist on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:29:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  which is one criticism I have of such tests (10+ / 0-)

          that are all multiple choice

          Look, I can get weak students through the state exam by teaching them how to approach the questions on the test, just as I was quite successful when working first for Princeton Review and then Prestige Tutors in raising SAT scores.  Insofar as my students are required to pass the tests, I take sufficient time to make them comfortable so that they can do their best, which unfortunately sometimes means their scores are beyond their underlying knowledge.

          Were that all I did, I would be a failure as a teacher.  I spend far more time, even in my lower level classes, working on reading skill, on thinking skills, on writing skills, and on human relations.  On helping them learn how to learn, even it if it is not something that will be measured on a state test.

          But put all the pressure on the test scores, and schools can raise them, but at the price of real learning and real skill.  And because we have since NCLB went into effect in 2002 had such an emphasis, the scores lose meaning and the students are ever less prepared.  I see this with tenth graders who arrive with little social studies, because it is not tested for AYP.  And don't tell me the solution is to add social studies tests in elementary school, for gosh sakes.

          I have been commissioned to do a piece for a professional magazine on the impact of our testing insanity.  I will have to synthesize material from four important books, one of which I have not yet reviewed online (I may as part of the preparation), and combine that with my classroom experience and my observations of policy.  It is supposed to be around 8,000 words and it will be peer-reviewed.  It is an honor to be asked, and a task that I take very seriously.  

          But meantime I have AP exams in about 3 weeks, and state exams two weeks later.  We lost 9 full days of class, and had another 5-6 interrupted by shortened days. The dates of the tests have not moved. So my focus between now and the tests gets unfortunately narrowed, thereby depriving me and my students of some opportunity for learning in greater depth.

          How sad.   And yes, those of you in colleges are seeing the results of that narrowing.

          do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:37:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Kudos to you! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri
    •  Oh ... As I started to read, I thought... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri

      you had helped a student choose "screaming" over some other response to a problem. Glad to see it was only pink was screaming. ;-)

      This is inspirational to see how much planning others do.

      When I reached the point where it seemed I could forego spending a lot of time on planning, once I got into a groovy groove, I tended to do it less than I should have... I was relieved to leave a lot of that draining overtime behind and rely on the plans in my head, which were pretty damn good and I had worked damned hard to come by... not to mention my creative juices and my ability to wing, which is fucking excellent.

      I think I did this because I had struggled so much, early on, spending so much extra time on planning and trying to make up for profoundly inadequate resources/support given to us (way inadequate, back in the day -- along with the pay and prep time, which improved later -- to plan/create/invent... and then there were always the "must do" clerical paperwork demands)

      Then comes the struggle to find that balance, because planning is necessary, too.  

      Another good reason to give teachers good resources and support from the get go... it makes them gooder!

      Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

      by NYCee on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 09:19:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have posted this before, (21+ / 0-)

    but it never gets old:

    "A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank...but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child." -- Forest Witchcraft

    Thanks, Ken, I know you are making the world a better place.

    "The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." ~ Thomas Paine

    by third Party please on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:17:09 AM PDT

  •  Well said, as always. (10+ / 0-)

    I wish that those who have never taught could understand what you've said on something deeper than an intellectual level.  Hopefully, this diary will help.  Have a great Sunday!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:20:59 AM PDT

  •  I Love Your Diaries. (8+ / 0-)

    As a retired teacher you bring back to me some of the joys of being in the classroom. I consider myself so lucky to have chosen teaching as my career.

  •  After teaching 8th grade students (17+ / 0-)

    with disabilities in a full inclusion model (17 students on IEPs in a class with 10 low-skilled non-disabled peers is NOT really inclusion) this year I moved to an elementary classroom for students with multiple disabilities. I am enjoying this experience immensely. The students' progress; using a straw, opening a milk carton, using a zipper, hanging up a backpack, may seem like nothing to the average person, but reason for celebration in our classroom. Watching the students beam with pride for a new skill mastered is unmeasurable and worth the time, effort and repetition needed for mastery. If we could meet all kids where they are and move forward from there we would truely have "success of all".

    "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

    by lilypew on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:29:13 AM PDT

  •  Here's another one for you... (8+ / 0-)

    that I posted in C&J on Friday for you:

    Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.

    Alfred Lord Tennyson

    No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. ~ Margaret Sanger

    by madame defarge on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:29:38 AM PDT

  •  I wonder if ........ (15+ / 0-)

    .......much of the punitive "solutions" being offered for the supposed problems with today's teachers aren't really nothing more than envy.  The teachers I know and love are all dedicated, self-actualized, and HAPPY people.  They work VERY hard, and they love what they are doing.  When they do complain it's always about the things that get in the way of being with and for their kids.

    Lovely post for a lovely spring morning.  I and my first-grade teacher friend are headed out for a spring drive on the Leelanau Penninsula, overlooking Lake Michigan.  She'll be recharging for another week.  She was up late planning her spring science unit, sprouting seeds and ordering tadpoles.  When I asked what she was up to, she smiled and said, "Twenty six-year olds, Monday morning, the weather's warming up, it's showtime and you better be ready."

    Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

    by boatwright on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 05:33:28 AM PDT

    •  yay! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri, ER Doc, miss SPED

      warms TexMex's heart.


      by TexMex on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:43:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And for all this watching of teachers... (0+ / 0-)

      My burning question is:

      Who is watching the WATCHERS???

      Although I think administrators are now being pressured and penalized in ways unwise and unfair, there are often those who offer nothing of worth and make things worse... for the teachers to do their jobs effectively, so, of course, the students can learn...

      The bureaucrats and higher ups... where is the hyperbolic Newsweek cover slamming them? (We Must Fire Bad Administrators! We Must Fire Bad Superintendents! We Must Fire Bad Education Policy Makers!) Where is there, say, an entire 3 hour Morning Joe show, with wagging finger dedicated to denigrating them, as was done recently on MJ to teachers ONLY.

      Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

      by NYCee on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 09:42:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  To all teachers - Thank you! (10+ / 0-)

    You are a special breed.  As a former student and now parent, I appreciate and admire the job you do.  

    My grandmothers were both teachers.  For one, it was her life long profession.  She taught high school biology in a small town.  When she died in her 80's - some 20 years after retirement, many of her former students came back to the small town for her funeral.  They came to pay homage to the woman and teacher who influenced them - they were all teachers because of her example.  

    Yes, teachers have the ability to affect eternity.

  •  So many of my former teachers (8+ / 0-)

    still live in my heart, from Mrs. Jochim, the kind first-grade teacher who helped me adjust to being away from home all day and started me on my road to learning, to Mr. Waters who immersed me in Shakespeare my senior year in high school and even a teacher I never had, Cathy, one of my mom's best friends, who taught elementary school and who took me under her wing, let me grade papers for her, and gave me a place to escape to at times. Teachers are awesome people.

    There's a reason Democrats won massively the last two cycles, and it wasn't because people were desperate for "bipartisanship". --kos

    by Debby on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:23:50 AM PDT

    •  the important thing is that teachers are people (7+ / 0-)

      or rather, persons, each individually special.

      We have our strengths and our weaknesses.

      We are not, or should not be, automatons reading a scripted lesson, following a rigid pacing guide that can either hold back or go too fast for the students before us.

      Students, who are themselves persons.

      Teaching is, at least for me, a series of relationships.

      It is, beyond making love or being a parent or being a spiritual counselor, perhaps the most intimate of relationships.  We deal not only with minds, we deal with souls, with heart, with the entire person.  


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:29:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks from a teaching family (6+ / 0-)

    My husband and three of my kids are teachers, so I really enjoy your writing and dedication.

    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for Democrats to stay home in November.

    by ahumbleopinion on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:37:26 AM PDT

  •  Thank your for posting so often, TK (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED

    I know you have many more school chores to do, they always do.  I always learn something from you.  I have been reading all the ed related posts here over the last few weeks and I have a question for some persistent posters.  People keep bringing up all the "bad" teachers but no one ever gives examples of what make them bad or ineffective.

    Every teacher I worked with worked their butts off.  Did older ones sometimes move slower? Yes, but that often was because they knew, in certain cases, it was wasted energy and everyone would soon be at the point where they currently stood. Others might have less than great years due to health or family problems.  As I stated yesterday, I think too many still have the American icon of the School Marm in mind when they consider a teacher's job.  Teachers aren't supposed to have their own lives and needs.
    I recently read about a study where teachers described themselves as idealistic, discouraged or competent.  Is it any surprise that those who saw themselves as competent worked in good schools and those who were discouraged worked in challenging ones?  Oh yes, the idealists were found at the hard schools as well.  One wonders how long, without support, before they reidentify themselves as discouraged.  I've been numbing my mind with too much TV during this first year of retirement.  I like to watch the cop/CSI/lawyer type shows.  Here's something to consider.  Whenever law enforcement confronts a dangerous  or difficult event, they call for backup.  Where is the backup for teachers in this country?  Seems like there are too many who want to throw them under the (school) bus.

    •  there ARE bad teachers (6+ / 0-)

      some do not know their material, or don't care to prepare, or are burnt out, or don't like kids or whatever.

      Some should never have been allowed in classrooms.   Some need to be removed.

      All of that can be addressed without doing away with due process for everyone else.

      Administrators need to do their jobs.  But the pressure to have a certified body in the room is often very great.  And under NCLB the requirement for "highly qualified" teachers tended to exacerbate that problem.

      There are also teachers who are not as effective as they could be.  Most of these can be made more than satisfactorily effective, providing we are willing to give them the necessary support, counseling, training.

      The percentage of "bad" teachers is probably no greater than that of any other profession, from medicine to law to politics to the military.  

      Many of us as teachers want the problem addressed, but not at the expense of basic rights, including those of collective bargaining - which given that teaching is rarely an individual effort, makes a huge amount of sense -  and of due process.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:53:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Texas and Georgia (0+ / 0-)

        do not have tenure: Florida seems poised to get rid of it, and Chris Christie is ( of course ) making a run on it some time in the future in NJ. Anyone know how these states stack up? My guess is Ga and TX are near the bottom...

  •  In 1982, Mr Dreher taught me computer science... (7+ / 0-)

    as a high school senior using a tiny TRS-80 with BASIC programming language. I remember him teaching me then that if the the "online" light was glowing, it would mean that the computer was successfully attached to something called a "network" of microcomputers which, of course, did not yet exist in our school.

    Flash forward twenty-five years, and I'm a community college math professor who has designed an Internet-based, department-wide, exit-exam testing system used by all of our 5000+ Arithmetic and Algebra students per semester.

    One day, who shows up to teach one of those classes as an adjunct professor?
    None other than the very same Mr. Dreher!

    Once I realized who this nearly-anonymous adjunct professor was, I made a point of telling him that he was experiencing the fruits of his own teaching 25 years later, and that he should never believe that any of his teaching effort was pointless. He smiled!

    Groucho Marx sings the new GOP motto: I'm Against It!

    by Jimdotz on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:48:46 AM PDT

  •  correcting typos (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kj in missouri, miss SPED

    Thank you for...  I know you have more chores to do, there are always more.

    I can read, I'm just touchpad disabled.

  •  Good morning my friend (4+ / 0-)

    I was one year ahead of myself

    Me too!
    I got skipped from Kinder to second grade. So I missed first grade. aaaack
    So my pudgy little fingers were not prepared for writing so my handwriting was bad. I was always the youngest in the social groups all along though high school so I was always left out when kids were sharing the "sex stuff". So I just went to the library to found out about the birds and the bees.
    But I got stuck in the bug books and been hiding out there ever since. I never had a date in high school.

    But six months after graduating from high school I was engaged to my former science teacher. :)
    I miss teaching, I wonder if I will go back to it.


    by TexMex on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:52:26 AM PDT

  •  the title of your post.. (4+ / 0-)

    is rather dramatic, but essentially true.

    A teacher can lift a student's  aspirations or conversely crush his spirt.

    Being fair and offering encouragement are the most important things a teacher can provide.

    I still remember (and not with fondness) a teacher I had in eighth grade earth science who negatively impacted the trajectory of my life just because he didn't like me.

    When you are young, it's hard to grasp how events that happen can have such a dramatic impact on the life you end up living.

    Teachers have an enormous responsibility to help in that formation, and next to parents are undoubtedly the most important influences for a young person.

    "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

    by jkay on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:52:59 AM PDT

  •  the opening quote (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kj in missouri, miss SPED

    This is another great offering by the one DKos diarist that I, as a teacher myself, read every day. That being said, I hasten to add that the quote that begins the diary comes from The Education of Henry Adams, not The Autobiography of Henry Adams.

    These are days when no one should rely unduly on his competence. Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed. -Walter Benjamin

    by weary hobo on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 06:58:20 AM PDT

  •  I read your teaching diaries every time (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, kj in missouri

    I comment less and less but I do read them. Can't say that I read the non-teaching diaries as often.

    Here are some random thoughts.

    It is hard sometimes to connect with the students. I teach math and it is hard to consistently connect the material to the students. I work in a SE DC school and it is difficult for me to connect with many of my students lives.

    I've been considering doing something similar to your notecard letters. It is hard to communicate with all my students. Sadly it is difficult to communicate with some outside of the context of their behavior or academic deficiencies. Some of the quieter ones I will pass by several times in class without acknowledging them at all. I am a shy person myself which makes it difficult sometimes for me to communicate with my fellow introverts or be excited to converse with the extroverts in my class.

    Basically this diary has encouraged me to go with some of these inclinations I have been having as of late as to opening some of those doors of communication with my students.

    •  one reason I like to teach govt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kj in missouri

      is that it is so easy to connect with lives of students.  

      Think outside the box and you can find ways to connect your curriculum as well.

      And if we want our students to take intellectual risks, do we not have to model that for them as well??  

      Good luck.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:10:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  teachers and kids' emotions (0+ / 0-)

    I recently asked my very smart, frosh-in-college, son if he thought any of his teachers were bad.  He thought for a while then named his second grade teacher.  I was surprised.  She was considered one of the top teachers in the school and my son got good grades.  But she was a native Spanish speaker and, supplementary for 2nd, taught the kids Spanish.  My son couldn't say his "r's" correctly at that age and had no exposure to Spanish at home.  So he didn't didn't do well and he thought the teacher didn't like him.  Why didn't I know this?  Because he learned from his parents that his number 1 job was to do his best in school.  He was also taught that he would have to work with all kinds of people in life and he would not like all of them.  

    I also asked how his K-12 teachers compared to the professors.  He said, without a doubt, the K-12 teachers were much better.  I know he has only a short experience in college but I think my savy son is right.  

  •  Thanks from a retiring teacher (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, BMarshall, princesspat, dle2GA

    Hi TK, I'm a Georgia teacher, 53 years old, getting ready to retire May 28th after 29 years in the classroom.  I hate to leave my students, but otherwise its a great time to retire (budget cuts, furloughs, etc, etc,)

    I come from a teaching family so it was in the blood, so to speak, but my real impetus came from two fabulous high school teachers, my ninth grade world history teacher and my gifted resource teacher for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.  Not at all coincidentally, I have taught AP World History (10th graders) for the past ten years.

    I have no idea where my old world history teacher is now, but a few years ago I was able to track down my gifted teacher and rekindle our friendship.  She's still in education, fortunately for her students.

    A couple of years ago the faculty at my school voted me Teacher of the Year.  That was an enormous honor that still makes me proud, but even more heart warming are the messages from former students thanking me, the smiles and greetings from my present students, and the emails and other messages from next year's students and their parents asking me to please reconsider retiring so they can have me!

    I'm not writing this to brag, but just to affirm your diary title.  Thanks for an uplifting message!

    •  thanks for what you do (0+ / 0-)

      recognition from our peers matters.  So does after the fact affirmation from students, some of whom may have fought us while in our care.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:12:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice material for Sunday reflection... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, kj in missouri

    ...on my own teaching.  Thanks!

  •  You plant the seed and never taste the fruit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    which is an oversimplification, I guess, but as a 7th grade teacher I rarely get to see  where my little guppies end up. We settle for those light bulb moments.  They happen every day, on a good day, every hour.  At age 59, this is my second  career so I haven't had the privilage of  seeing any of my students as adults.  My first  students will be graduating high school this year.    Some of my colleagues are teaching the children of former students.   I'll hang it up before that happens (I hope) but I have noticed something that most of my high achievers have and most of my low achievers lack:  a parent who has been touched by leaning and has seen their life improved by it. That illustrates to me the validity of Henry Adams's
    statement.  Everytime I see that light bulb go on and those eyes light up, I've given a  child something to give to their children.  You can't beat that with a stick.

    Always grateful to wake up alive.

    by Subo03 on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:10:04 AM PDT

    •  I used to teach 8th grade (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      which meant they left the building when they left me.

      When I started in hs, I taught 9th, which meant I got to watch them for 3 more years, occasionally getting them a second time in an elective course.

      Even with tenth graders, I get to watch them, talk with them, sometimes write recommendations for when they apply to college (which is an honor, even as it might be a burden).


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:13:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the direct answer, TK (0+ / 0-)

    I recognize some of the behaviors but have not had much interaction with those types.  I think there are fewer in elementary schools.
    I do think, from my experience, that incompetent teachers get out of the classroom, and, often become the principals who evaluate teaching.  It is the only way to make more money in education,  in many cases.

    •  I have worked for five principals in 3 schools (0+ / 0-)

      none had been an incompetent teacher, several had in fact been outstanding.  All were very supportive of teachers.  In that I have been, I know, very lucky.

      As the job is currently framed, being principal requires a very different skill set than being a teacher, but it still requires an understanding of the teaching task.  It helps to have had more than a smattering of such experience oneself.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:21:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  this is one problem with reform (0+ / 0-)

        people want to put any old cowboy in charge. That said, I think future teachers should emerge from a prep program fully qualified to become principals; as it is now it is almost a separate profession with different training requirements. Require a masters degree for teachers, and cover the principal aspects in that training.

  •  TEACHERS* ROCK but the 1 quality many seem 2 lack (0+ / 0-)

    lately is modesty.

    Teaching --- even effective teaching --- is not the only career with a potential butterfly effect. Also, as I understand the concept of the butterfly effect... a good result is not the only possible result. To me it seems disingenuous to take credit (or responsibility) for every Barack Obama or Helen Keller and none of the responsibility for those with different outcomes.

    I have read teacherken's many diaries in past weeks and months on the teaching profession and am fully convinced that teacherken is exactly the kind of teacher who affects eternity with every student that passes through the door! But this comment is my reaction not only to this diary but to the general debate I have followed in teacherken's impassioned writings.

    As someone who has had both fantastic, nurturing, fun teachers (who inspired me to explore my creativity all the way to Harvard Law and beyond) and lousy ones (who made me wonder --- as a wooden ruler shattered into smithereens on my raw knuckles --- why someone who literally hates children would pick the one career that guaranteed full immersion with that population), I am personally turned off by the self-beatification that seems to be the fall-back argument lately whenever the issue of merit pay or differentiation emerges.

    I agree whole-heartedly that good teachers are not honored as much or, literally, valued as much as other professions that are much more lucrative but don't have anywhere near the same potential beneficial impact on society. In some cases, these high-dollar professions have a markedly destructive effect, in fact. But I also believe that the "one-size fits all" non-results based system of tenure in most public school districts is partially to blame as great teachers are not recognized and no-so-great teachers who nonetheless return to their jobs year after year devalue the profession.

    In any other career, it is expected that workers will be assessed on results. And yes, in any other career, workers encounter and must deal with difficult variables outside of their control as they do their best to fullfill their job description. I don't think a high-stakes test is the answer but I also don't think the concept of determining a professional's salary based on past achievements and the promise of similar achievement going forward is a radical notion.

    There should be a mechanism for encouraging good teachers to remain in the classroom and to inspire bright minds to pursue a career in education in the first place. Attracting brilliant, dedicated young minds to teaching should not require a vow of poverty.

    And bad teachers --- so defined based on a panoply of "attributes" that includes the inability to impart information to one's students... in other words, teach --- should no longer be able to lose themselves in a sea of excellence, expecting to remain under the radar year after year and decade after decade at the expense of the hundreds/thousands of students whom they fail to educate.

    (*by that I meant good teachers... the ones who get results by affecting their students in a positive way.)

    "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" --- President Barack Obama, 1-20-2009.

    by tier1express on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 07:27:15 AM PDT

    •  tenure misconceptions (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMarshall, tier1express

      Have been amplified recently.  This is my concern.  I don't understand it.  I've always worked in districts with rigorous evaluation systems that had mechanisms to remove ineffective teachers.  And they were used.  Why was my district the exception?  I watched a Charlie Rose intervew with Michelle Rhee recently.  She said the key to changing the job was to change the negotiated agreement.  I totally agree with that.  Afterall, we've been told we had to pay the bonuses to the banksters & financiers because "it was in their contract".  Many seem to want to ignore teacher contracts rather than work to fairly change them.

      The first year I worked at my last district, we had a work slowdown.  The adminstrators were being patronizing and refusing to show the "books" to the teacher reps in negotiations.  It was amazing.  When the admin saw all the things that teachers weren't doing because the tasks were not specified in the contracts,they quickly changed their tune.  And for the twenty years I worked there, the teachers acted as professionals when they were treated as such.

      •  Rhee is not someone to follow (0+ / 0-)

        she claims she turned around her own students in only 3 years, but no one has a record of it. Strange. She only taught for a brief period herself, and then for Education Alternatives, a private contractor who finagled a deal with the Baltimore schools. Not sure if they are still the megalomaniac Joe Clark ( who I once worked for ), Rhee seems to have good PR and little else. We can only get so far by continuing to bash the existing teaching force.

    •  this butterfly effect (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is one reason teachers and human service professionals burnout so much ( burnout was first used to describe social workers )because they do not see the effects of their efforts directly...this ONE reason among many, there are plenty of others.

  •  thank you Ken (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, la rocker sex chick

    As usual..thanks!
    This expresses so eloquently some of those ineffable aspects of teaching   -- the relationships, the emotions, and how big a part of the whole thing those are.  But hard to explain.  You got the words around it very well.  Much much better than ever I could!  It is so wonderful to hear a teacher's voice in this place.  

  •  Your abiltiy to see the best in people (0+ / 0-)

    Is probably one of the things that makes you a great teacher.  Yes, principls have too many tasks to complete.  But I get upset that the current mood is that bad teachers are ALWAYS protected by EVIL TEACHERS' UNIONS.  My last principal was an example of what I have seen.  He taught the minimum # of years, then when he came to my school, immediately started working on his PHD.  I hear he is going to be supt. for a small rural district next year.  Believe me, the years he was at our school his energies seemed focused on improving his job situation much more than our school.

    I do know there is a shortage in administrators.  

  •  Two teachers changed my life (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Sister Havana

    one of them inspired me to keep reading history and economics. I was 17 now, and now I am past 60... my library is full of such books.  Another encouraged me for a scholarship, which opened my horizons and changed my life completely.

    Teaching is the most underestimated profession. Thank God for teachers!

  •  Thanks for posting this (0+ / 0-)

    I completely agree with the substance of this diary. I myself, though I do not work in education, teach students various subjects in a summer 'camp' program for which I volunteer, and I often see those students years later who thank me for doing it.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 08:10:46 AM PDT

  •  When you said 1960-61 10th grade... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Sister Havana

    at first I thought you meant teaching them!I've been around since the mid 80's, and remember plenty of teachers around then who taught in 1960-61...sometimes I forget how much time has passed, and that, at 47, i am one of the veterans now....the oldest ones I can recall now have been working since the early 70's...

  •  probably sounds silly, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Sister Havana

    but i came from a family that revered teachers; thought there was no higher calling. that certainly influenced my choice of a spouse.  (who no longer teaches)  been reading you for a long time, teacherken, although nowhere near every dairy you've ever written.  just a thank you on this lovely April morning.

    "From single strands of light we build our webs." ~kj

    by kj in missouri on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 09:18:31 AM PDT

  •  Amazing diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Sister Havana

    Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

  •  Beautiful diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How true this is. I have strong memories of so many of my teachers - good and bad.

    My dad's a retired high school teacher. He still is in touch with some of his students from years ago. We were out to dinner a few months ago and a man came up to him - turns out he was a student in my dad's class in the early 70s!

    Yes we can! Yes we did! Yes we will!

    by Sister Havana on Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 09:55:48 AM PDT

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