Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: Part Five (Sing Sing, STAR Awards, Singing and Swimming)

Lunch with Mr. Tucker, right.
I'm happy to say:  in black and white,
my wrinkles are much harder to see.

I was happy to have lunch recently with former-star-student Joel Tucker and his wife--and always consider it an honor when old students are willing to spend time with a teacher they had back in seventh or eighth grade. 

I'm not going to lie, I think I did a pretty good job in the classroom, myself, and think good teachers make a huge difference in young people's lives.  Unfortunately, these days, we don't hear enough about good teachers. 

Joel filled me in on what he was up to and told me about what other Loveland grads were doing--mostly good, of course--but did mention one fellow who was serving life in prison for a double murder. So, you never know, if you're a teacher, how life will turn out for the boys and girls who sit before you and all you can do is do your best to help them turn out right.

Joel was always a pleasure to have in class back in the day; and he still has the STAR Awards I gave him (those were like "certificates of appreciation" I used to give everyone, an idea I took from Paula Dupuy, a fantastic young counselor, who worked for Loveland City Schools in those days). And the fact those awards meant something to Joel, when he was young, and the fact he still has them today, plays into a series of posts I've been doing.

I don't think we can ever really "measure" most of what teachers do and I'm no fan of standardized testing for that reason, among others.

The first of five STAR's Joel earned (September 5, 1984) read: 

"I was impressed the FIRST day of school because Joel said 'thank you' four times--and I'm hoping my 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son will turn out as well-mannered as Mr. T. has." 

The last (March 30, 1985), explained why I always liked having him in class:  "Mr. Tucker sometimes doesn't realize how many good qualities he has.  But I DO!  I'll take hard workers like Joel in class any day!"

In any case, I've been asking former students to comment on teachers who shaped their lives in positive ways and the response has been excellent.  (Again, I doubt, in ten or twenty years anyone is going to be looking back and saying, "I remember Mr. Slapshot, because he helped me pass the standardized test."  There's way more to what teachers do.)

Sarah Hager, who teaches now herself, responded with this:
I wanted to share this story, but also respect the person's privacy--so you get a message! In first grade I had Marirose Stiver for a teacher. There was a boy in our class (NAME WITHHELD, although Sarah still remembers) that must have been going through some tough things at home--his behavior was volatile. One day he was disciplined for going down the slide and getting muddy, after being instructed not to, of course. He completely flipped out, started screaming and kicking, threw his desk and chair across the room and totally lost control.

Mrs. Stiver walked over to him, took his hand, smiled so sweetly at him, and walked him out of the room and up the hallway to the principal's office without saying a word. She came back to class, told all of the wide-eyed students that "K----- was having a rough day" and that "sometimes we all feel better when we let our feelings out". She handled the situation with class, dignity, and respect for K----- as well as for our feelings. I will never forget it.

I truly believe she set the example for me to successfully work in special education. I think of her (and that incident) every time one of my students acts out. We NEVER know what baggage our students carry when they walk through our door, but we always give them love, support, safety, respect, and empathy. Mrs. Stiver was (and is) an amazing teacher, and I'm sure she holds a special place in the hearts of many Loveland students.

Jerry Dotson, who still sings with a local band, remembers a teacher who "stalked" him all the way through his days in the Loveland City Schools:
First grade at Branch Hill I go to music class and meet Mrs. Henderson and for the next 5 years she`s my music teacher. Then I move to Loveland and attend Loveland Elementary and lo and behold. Mrs Henderson is there. Then its on to Middle School and who`s the choir director you guessed it. Well in the eighth grade I got one of the leads in the spring musical and had ALOT of solo`s. And who met me three days a week at 6:00 a.m. for a month and a half to help just me with my solo`s. Now being a kid I never gave it a second thought as to why she was always my Music teacher, but now realize she taught music for the the entire school system. And for her to do all that plus take that extra time for just me. I am forever grateful and to this day believe she`s why I love to sing.

Jerry and I (and a number of other former students) used to play pickup basketball Sunday nights, in the Loveland Middle School gym, and I remember him for both his deadly long-range shot and sense of humor; and still remember Vicki Leroy Busby as a star student, too.  She was able to recall a whole list of teachers who made a difference. Apparently, she was a little obstreperous at times, although I never witnessed that side of her personality:

Second grade--Mrs. Davidson swatted the kids who deserved it. I loved when she had our whole class over to her house to make Christmas cookies.
Third grade--Mrs. Lewis gave us these awesome little sugar coated ball candies when we were good. We LOVED those!
Fifth grade--Mrs. Glasgow showed how proud she was of me, a scrawny little girl beating every boy--except for maybe Gary Sands--in arm wrestling. Small but mighty I say!
Fourth grade--Mrs. Ross showed me that math could be fun when it was taught in a non-intimidating way and games like Around the World were incorporated. The same goes for Mrs. Christianson, my 9th grade algebra teacher (except we didn't play Around the World in there). 
Sixth grade--Mrs. Reid--one of the sweetest human beings on the face of the earth

8th grade--Mrs. Puls for turning the other way when I had a 7th grade boy raised against his locker demanding he buy me another frisbee since he threw my favorite one into the Ohio River during a field trip. I was SO peeved.

High school--Mrs. Lemon taught me to appreciate the beauty and geology of our national parks when we had to pick one and do a project on it.
--Mrs. Foster told me that I wouldn't need a microphone to be heard on the radio and I got the last word in on that when I came back to visit her class on college break and told her that indeed I used a microphone to be heard all over Indianapolis on its NPR station. Touche. 
How could I forget Mr. Wagner?! He was hands-down the best chemistry and physics teacher and an all-around great person. He challenged his students and encouraged their involvement in extracurricular activities at school. He was the sponsor of many of the clubs at school and volunteered many hours of his time to these clubs. I know one person who became a forensic chemist because of Mr. Wagner's advanced chemistry class.

This comment, added by Dwane Shelly after an earlier post, is going to be hard to top, when it comes to a teacher making a difference in a rather unsual way:
Totally forgot Mrs. LEMMON. Actually she saved my life. Some twenty years ago my fiance and myself....er now my wife....went to Edisto Beach, SC. In my mad rush to "swim out" into the ocean....forgot about the rip currents there. Beach empty...wife assleep on beach...long story short I got pulled so far out I could no longer see shoreline. After panicking and wondering if Jaws was going to dine on my toes....I closed my eyes and lo and behold....I remembered a slide she had shown in her class Oceans of Air and Water. ......it was a slide describing ocean currents and rip currents. I laid on my back...pointed my head at an angle...and barely dipped my hands in the water to maintain the top layer of current.....came in about a mile downshore.....wife didn't even know there was a problem. I'd say that was a piece of education that truly saved my life.

Vicki agreed with Dwane--then added, "I thought of Mrs. Lemon when I was at Crater Lake because I remembered the slides she showed from there. I still smile when I think of the phrase she taught us all: 'Oh, piffle!'"

For now, I'll let Ms. Vicki have the last word today:  "Reading all of these comments makes me appreciate my Loveland education more than ever before. We truly were fortunate to have had some great teachers teaching us. It's the lessons we learned in the classroom that we remember most, not the standardized tests we took."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Voucher Plan for Every Child and Every School

All parents are equal.
All parents are good.
Ergo:  Only the school the child attends
really matters in the end.
I've been watching a lot of Fox News lately and tuning in to Rush on radio; and I'm a huge fan of the film Waiting for Superman.  So, even though I'm a retired public school teacher, I am finally forced to admit the truth. We need a voucher & lottery system for all kids and all schools, a Wild West competition, if you will.  That is:  we allow successful schools to thrive and unsuccessful schools to wither.

(WAIT....keep reading....I might be joking....and you won't know if you don't finish.)

No more public school monopoly.  No more union teachers, sitting on their fat duffs and pillaging the State Treasury.

(Keep going...don't quit now.)

Competition, baby--kind of like McDonalds vs. Burger King vs. Burger Chef--and may the best burger and fries win.

(Patience, my liberal friends. Continue to the end.)

In fact, if you haven't seen my favorite movie, here's a Superman summary:  Five great kids enter the lottery to get into superior charter schools in the cities where they live.  They must flee the failing public schools, where teachers are pathetic losers and unionized malcontents.  Every parent is concerned about their child, of course. The movie makes that perfectly clear because there are no bad parents in the movie.  So we know bad parents do not exist.  We need more vouchers, charter schools, and free and open competition.

In fact, let's look at the famous "Parable of the Schools." (I just made it up.) First, we have Joseph R. Crappy Public School.  Until now, this school has enjoyed a monopoly.  This school even has a monoply on children with serious handicaps and hogs all the homeless children, too.  In this school they take children of all faiths, and no faith at all, and then because they have a monopoly, they can't even be bothered to read from the King James Bible--or is it the Latin Vulgate--or the Book of Mormon--or pray at the start of the school day.

Boy oh boy...those unionized teachers...they have some nerve, not even having the gumption to teach your kid good religious values any more.

Down the street we have Arne Duncan Charter School.  This school can save any child from Crappy Public School.  This school takes children whose parents are involved and sign their sons and daughters up for a special lottery, to gain admission.  If you have seen Waiting for Superman, you know every parent (or grandparent) stands behind their child and wants them to get into this school.  It is a matter of life and death, this escaping Crappy Public School.

Turn right at the next stoplight and you come to Stupendous Prep Private School.  This school comes in 57 varieties, including:  1) Christian School, where religion is taught and the King James Bible rules; 2) Hideaway School, a residential facility where tuition is prohibitive and only children of the upper classes can afford to go; 3) Elite Catholic School, where the Latin Vulgate Bible is preferred, and entry is determined by scores on entrance tests; 4) Muslim School, where the Koran is favored and few listeners of Rush dare to tred; 5 thru 57) other.

Now:  we all know that Joseph R. Crappy Public School is failing and why.  It's crappy unionized teachers.  We know good parents are demanding that their children be allowed to attend Arne Duncan Charter School, which is sure to be better, because there the crappy unionized teachers are kept at bay.  Meanwhile, the students at Stupendous Prep are happy and safe and learning religious values, of various kinds, in perfect good order. 

So:  Here's the plan that perfects the whole.  (This plan elevates me to U. S. Secretary of Education under President Newt Gingrich.) We already know that all parents are equal, that all parents are good, and that teachers in unions are minions of the Devil.  So we level the playing field for every child in America. 

First, we let Stupendous Prep receive regular state funding.

Second, we give every student at Crappy Public a voucher, so that now we have perfect school choice.

Third, since this is a business competition, we allow Crappy Public to operate by the same rules.  That is, what works for Arne Duncan Charter and Stupendous Prep, it's got to work for Crappy, too. 

I was going to say, "Suppose we take an extreme example...." But all parents are the same, as we have already mentioned.  So, imagine that we have a mom and dad who cook methamphetamines in their home.  And they get too busy running the family business to sign up for the lottery to get their child in the nearest charter school.  Well, if the child has serious problems and scores low on standardized tests, Crappy Public School does its duty for once, loosens its monopoly grip, and gives the child a voucher--actually sends them away to Arne Duncan Charter or Stupendous Prep, down the block.  These schools receive state funding, too, and we want every child to play on a level field.  So:  yes.  Stupendous Prep can no longer deny entry based on test scores or keep kids out by charging huge fees.  And Arne Duncan Charter has a civic duty to take students whose parents didn't sign them up, because charter schools exist to save kids who want to flee the failing regular schools. 

Or, now:  the kids the failing regular schools send them to save.

Homeless kids?  Yeah, break the Crappy Public School monopoly here, too.  We enter them all in a lottery and divide them up, so that Stupendous Prep gets a fair share of the pie, and next you know, these poor children are wearing monogrammed blazers and getting ready to go on to Harvard and Yale and Brown.  Handicapped kids?  BREAK that Crappy Public monopoly.  Kids with severe behavior disorders?  BREAK that monopoly. 

Honestly, how can such a brilliant plan go wrong?  From now on, in every school of every type, all kids take State standardized tests.  If Crappy Public has the lowest scores in 2013, then we do our duty to the children and allow the lowest scoring students, say the bottom 50, to load up the yellow bus and go on down the street, where Arne Duncan Charter will save them--raise them from the educational dead, like Lazarus, so to speak.  You don't ask parents if they want their kids to go, lazy unionized teachers!  You send those lowest scoring students away.

You can't be selfish and try to keep all the kids with the worst problems to yourselves.

In fact, the State can now close all juvenile detention facilities.  We give every kid with violence issues or a criminal record a chance to escape Crappy Public and send them to Christian School to learn from the King James Bible, and sit next to Governor Kasich's children, or we send them to Hideaway School, where Davis Guggenheim, producer of my favorite film, sends his kids and then watch the business model work in education to perfection.

Family background has no bearing on what happens in schools.  Schools and teachers alone shape kids.  So let's send all the boys and girls who really need help to the very best schools.  Open those doors wide Arne Duncan Charter School. Come on Stupendous Prep! 

You've got some saving to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mormonism, Liberalism, Socialism, Botulism?

The author stops at Thomas Jefferson's home
during his cross-country bicycle ride in 2007.
I've been thinking a lot about politics and religion and the simple terms we use in categorizing people we don't like, lately. I'm a liberal, for example, and a retired teacher and Mitt Romney is a venture capitalist and a Mormon.

So we have:  liberalism, unionism, Mormonism and capitalism in four tidy packages. Yet, I wonder:  What do such labels really mean?

I happened to catch a news clip yesterday of a Florida woman speaking to Rick Santorum and telling him that Obama was an "avowed Muslim" (but she wouldn't call him "president" because, I don't know, he wasn't really an American).  Mr. Santorum smiled demurely but did not correct the woman.  So what do we have here?  "Americanism?" 

And Rick Santorum?  "Conservatism" and "Catholicism." 

The lady in the audience?  I think we have "Euphemism."  I think people who believe the president was born in Kenya might be hiding a little "Racism" under their skirts and coats; but I'm a liberal, remember.  So I don't usually deal in definitive statements. I was checking my Facebook feed the other day and one of my former students, Betsey Barre, quoted Robert Frost's definition of a liberal as "someone who can't take his own side in an argument."

Of course, some of my conservative friends question why I'm a liberal in the first place.  Is it a mental defect of some kind that I have failed to acknowledge?  I don't think so.  I think I'm a smart guy and did I mention "handsome?" 

Okay:  add "Narcissism."

I've been hearing a lot in this campaign about how liberals don't love America but I don't believe that's true.  Actually, because I'm both a liberal and an American, I thought Mr. Santorum should have said something about religious tolerance to the Florida lady.  I'm old enough to remember, after all, when people in this country said no Catholic could be trusted to be president.  So, if you believe in "Conservatism" and it clashes with "Catholicism," where do you come down on "Americanism?"  Again, as a victim of "Liberalism," questions like this cause me "Confusionism."

And what about Mr. Romney?  My god, could there be a bigger fan of "Capitalism," free enterprise, and job creation in god's whole wide world???  (I could throw in "Creationism" here; but I shall refrain.)  Now what do I hear? 

According to many Evangelical voters, his "Mormonism" makes him suspect; in other words his religion trumps everything. It's like Rock, Paper, Scissors.  "Mormonism" kills "Conservatism."

Of course, if you don't like one man's religion you have...Newt Gingrich, who has tried more than one faith and insists we must vote for him, otherwise, "Socialism" triumphs under Mr. Obama and taxes go up and Mitt Romney has to pay more than 15% to the federal government.  Yep:  add "Federalism" to the mix and that brings in the Tea Party.  I know some liberals suspect all Tea Party people are inclined to "Facism" and I know Tea Partiers who think all liberals are closet communists. So there you go:  a touch of "Communism" to add to the stew.  But I'm an old history teacher.  So I remember that the original Tea Party folks were accused of "Radicalism" when they protested against "Colonialism" and dumped the tea in Boston harbor in 1773.

Which seems kind of anti-capitalism, if you think about it.

So, where does a liberal like me come down in this kind of discussion?  I think if a Mormon is qualified to be president, we should vote for him. If "Capitalism," however, means that the super rich can park their money in offshore accounts in the Caymen Islands, well, you can't really be president if you won't do your share to support the very government you say you want to lead.

I say "Americanism" beats "Caymen Islandism."  Does that make me guilty of "Jingoism?"  Do these jeans make my ass look fat???

Well:  I'm not sure the evidence is in on where Mr. Romney parks his big stash of hundred dollar bills. I'm just saying--you know--the categories we use aren't as tidy as people might think.

We've been hearing a lot about "unionism" here in Ohio, where teachers, police and firefighters are fighting to protect pay and benefits, and I've heard people describe these fairly ordinary Americans as "union thugs" and the like.  So I get even more confused.  If one of my best friends is a public school teacher, but always votes Republican, because he's anti-abortion, is he guilty of "Unionism" or "Conservatism?"

Or both? 

Certainly, Newt is in favor of the sanctity of marriage.  So he's against "Lesbianism."  But isn't he guilty of "Catholicism?"  And isn't it weird that conservatives once insisted that disqualified him from running for a seat in the Oval Office and liberals said it didn't. 

Or, since his own marital history is a bit checkered, do we use the term "Recidivism?"

Yeah, I admit it.  I'm guilty of "Liberalism."  I think a Catholic can run for president, or a Jew or a Muslim.  Right now, I know there are American Muslims and American Jews and American Catholics and American Evangelicals and American Mormons and American Agnostics overseas, fighting Islamic "Radicalism."  I cringe when I hear people say that all Muslims are dangerous; and sometimes, as an ex-Marine, I get tired of hearing conservatives question the "Patriotism" of liberals.

Even "Americanism" can be suspect, if you examine the term under a microscope, if all it means is "Nationalism" and not justice and freedom for all, which as a liberal, is what that particular term means to me. 

So, to wrap it up for today, let me end by saying that as a liberal, I am DEFINITELY against "Botulism."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 5

Did she try to kill that boy or didn't she?
What do students really remember about teachers
who made a difference?

Well, we're ten years into the Age of the Testing Fix in this country, when standardizing education was supposed to make everything better. So, where do we stand? With billions spent and millions of hours wasted preparing for and taking standardized tests, we're pretty much in the same place where we first began.
It isn't always the diet plan or the diet planner that matters. 

More often than not, it's the dieter's motivation.
So, I've been asking former students to comment on teachers who made a difference in their lives, mostly in the years before testing became a mania. 

Let's start with Joey Caylor Spencer.  She remembers Mrs. Henderson, the middle school and high school choir director:  "I loved Mrs Henderson. She didn't let me get away with just singing in choir, she made me learn how to read music. She doesn't get the credit she deserves for all she did to make kids feel special."

Elaina Wolff Strub agreed:

Not to discount other teachers, but Mrs. Henderson stands alone in my experience. (Mr. Viall, you stand out too, but more for the um, ahem, incident in class...). Now that I am a teacher myself, I realize how dedicated Marge was to all of us. It takes A LOT of time to do the job just as it needs to be done, but she ALWAYS went above and beyond. I can't even imagine how much of her life she spent working and preparing for work, much less on all the extra activities that came along with Show Choir and such. She was so clearly passionate about her subject and a major player in my teenage years... (this coming from a reformed choir nerd, of course.)
If you've been reading this series of posts, you know what I've been saying.  You can't measure what a choir teacher is doing and the degree to which good teachers, like Mrs. Henderson, shape lives. 

You can't do it.

In a brief posting, Jacquelyn Pohl, a recent Loveland graduate, harkened back to her earliest days in school to find a teacher who really mattered:  "Believe it or not my first grade teacher Mrs. Hoppe was so encouraging and inspirational. I would always talk with her growing up to[o]... she was a great mentor with a lot of insight."

Insight?  Is this going to be on the standardized test?  (God, we're letting the fools run American education today. Sorry:  had to get that out of my system.)

Tami Barnett posted a brief tribute to two elementary teachers (and I know from working with Mrs. Lundy in the higher grades later, that Ms. Barnett is right):  "i was blessed to have mrs. lundy for 1st and 3rd grade...she was amazing!  and having mr atkins for 2nd was a treat too. i was pushed to challenge myself and appreciate them for it!"

Andrew Grote and Mike Smyth had fond memories of my class.  But I mean this series as a tribute to other Loveland teachers--and there are many excellent ones so far not mentioned--and to hundreds of thousands of educators who are out there working hard every day all across the country. 

So here's what Andrew says about Mr. Ball, Mr. Friedmann and Mr. Zinnecker:

I can comment on teachers that made a difference to me. 4 to be exact...Not one of these guys taught the same subject. But they all had one thing in common. They never pushed me to conform with the way everyone else learned things. The each sat back and realized that I saw the world differently. And they used that knowledge to allow me to learn to my potential. To many teachers, especially these days, seem to teach more toward passing tests, than learning. I learned different aspects of life from these 4 gentleman, things I share with others everyday...Mr Ball opened the door to computers and math, that I never even knew I liked. Mr. Friedmann help me realize, not everyone speaks english...I now speak 6 languages. And Mr. Zinnecker helped me realize, that no matter how creative, or obscure, or off the wall I make things, someone out there will enjoy it. All these things still stay true today, and have molded me into the person I am.

Sam Demmerle also chose to salute a number of fine professionals:

My junior year of high school Mrs. Bosse [showed us] how to write a good paper. To this day, I still believe she taught me the tools and techniques to write analytically and the proper way to close-read a text. She is a fascinating educator and [I] loved the discussions she would direct in class. She inspired me to be an English major. I remember how she challenged my thesis on my literary analysis of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and instead of changing my idea, I pushed myself to prove her wrong and I got a 198/200 (I lost points for grammar mistakes) on the final draft. If I had listened to her suggestion, I wouldn't be such an opinionated writer/analyst now.

I would continue to list every teacher who has ever made an impact on me (you Mr. Viall, Ms. Weill [now Mrs. Chast], Mrs. Jamison, Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Lail, Mr. Maegly, etc.) but the list would be quite lengthy for a Facebook comment.

Matt Mouser, who posted earlier this week, posted again and mentioned the kind of subtle touch that made one teacher memorable:  "At the end of the 6th grade year Mrs. Emden made me a bookmark that said "Matt, To my champion joke teller. Have a great summer and always do your best!". She was probably the nicest teacher I ever had."

For today the final words go to Shawn Richardson, who weighed in exactly the way I thought most students would. You see, real young men and women, who sit in real classrooms all across this land, they know that what matters in education goes far beyond simple testing. Shawn reports that three of his ex-coaches have turned into "great friends," Mike Rich, Dave Evans and Denny Johnson. "All have been to my house to play cards, we go golfing, go out of town to sporting events, [and they] come to my wedding and just flat out care on how I'm doing and are there if I need them."

He's talking about "teachers that stay in 1 community for 30 years even if they didn't go to high school there [and] were so committed to the schools and the students that they live there[,] that is what makes a teacher."

How do you measure all that teachers actually do?

P. S.:   A brief note about that "incident" Elaina mentions. In eighth grade she piled a tall stack of her books atop her desk one day, before class started, and the weight (she was a good student and so carrying some serious baggage) tipped it as suddenly as a trap door sprung on a gallows.

Unfortunately, the front edge of the top struck a young man (who if memory serves was trying to flirt with her) directly in the shin. At first we thought it might have broken his leg; but once it became clear he was fine, Elaina seemed mortified.  So, to make her feel better I began accusing her of trying to assassinate the poor fellow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 4

What teacher taught
Matt Mouser about art?
I've been asking former students, via Facebook, to tell me about teachers who made a real difference in their lives. 

I'm happy to say, response has been great.

So let me give you a little background on why this subject interests me. 

Currently the BIG idea in American education is to "fix" what's wrong with schools by creating all kinds of standardized tests and then tie teachers' pay to results.

Unfortunately, most proponents of this approach have taught only briefly, or have never taught at all.  And in their ignorance they are taking us down a dangerous path.  Of course, schools in this country could be better (but so could doctors' offices, day care centers and roofing companies, to name a few). 

My fear, howerver, is elemental.  I believe current leaders in education are leading us right over the cliff.

Here, for example, are a few facets of education that cannot be measured.  Does that mean they aren't important?  Are we really going to focus on test scores and imagine that that is all there ever is to learning?  I was a history teacher--but I'm fairly certain former students would tell you they did more writing in my class than almost any other.  But the ability to write with style is never going to be measured on a standardized social studies test.  Techinically, in this new Age of the Testing Fix, that means any time I spent trying to help students perfect their writing style was wasted.

It's a god awful way to "improve" education.

In my class we did a number of debates and all kinds of what I called "skits," on various topics.  I still remember a young man named Derek Vormwald, in a skit about George Washington and his army during the American Revolution.  Derek managed to use the two doors to my classroom to play two characters, exiting and entering as required, in a brilliant display of creative thinking.  Part of the time he was "Martha Washington," complete with falsetto voice and ratty-looking red wig.  Then he would exit and return in the role of a new recruit to the Continental Army.  Skits like these were meant to last for entire periods; and students did almost all the talking and all the thinking.  They had to learn material in great depth, had to learn to speak in front of an audience, and hundreds of students told me how much fun they had, participating and watching.  But debate skills, the ability to speak to an audience, fostering a love for learning, none of that can be "measured."

It's like trying to "measure" art.

Indeed, we had outstanding art teachers at Loveland Middle School (Barb Rockwood, Bethany Federman and Diane Sullivan, among others).  I often looked at student work, posted on bulletin boards in our halls, and marveled at what they had kids doing. 

We had a brilliant band director, too, Bruce Maegly.  He sent dozens of musicians on to the professional ranks.  How do you "measure" that?

Then there was my good friend, Jeff Sharpless, also a history teacher, who came up with the idea for a comic play based on Homer's Iliad (Achilles, Hector, Paris, Helen of Troy--and then he threw in Jessica Simpson).  There wasn't going to be a question on any standardized test about this.  But every year he got fifty kids involved as artists, actors and singers.  Jeff had played in a rock band during his youth.  So he created the songs for the play, including "We all Live in a City Known as Troy," performed to the tune of "Yellow Submarine."

Students loved performing and Jeff stayed late after school, twenty-five or thirty days each year, to make it work.  That can't be "measured" either.

It worries me--all this talk about standardized testing.  So, I've been asking former students to tell me about teachers who made a difference.  (I don't believe, twenty-five years from now--or a hundred--that other young men and women will be looking back fondly and saying, "Yes, I loved Mr. Johnson, because he focused on standardized test prep.")

Here, then, are memories students shared this week (and more to come).  William Ladd is up first for today:
I feel that I must weigh in on this anyway, because my comments will reflect on the not so [often] mentioned world of L.D. teachers, “teachees“, and teaching. I am very qualified to remark on this subject as I was an L.D. student with behavioral problems. I have had much time, expense, and effort put into my education. There are some who might believe this effort was a waste. It is to those people that I must protest. Although I did in fact “drop out” I have since paid “penance.” I served the Army, earned the G.I. Bill as a result. After Serving in the Army I studied at Southern State Community Collage and earned a Associates Degree in Electronics W/ Robotics Emphasis. I graduated with a 3.94 GPA thus earning Honors. This most likely would not have been possible for me with out my participating in L.D. programs. One teacher who stands out for me was Ms. Dee Ross (she has since been married). Although over time I have lost touch with her I still consider her my mentor (along with others). She taught me L.D. English, spelling (an area I must admit that I am still weak), and Mathematics. Aside from this she taught me respect (Not on a standardized test) and generally speaking she taught me how to carry myself through life (also not on a standardized test).
Ms. Ross did in fact marry, and as Mrs. Zaenglein, continued to do excellent work as a third grade teacher in Loveland for many years.

Tina Lee Coffinbarger "liked" William's post, another vote, in the Facebook world, for Ms. Ross.  Then Steve Glass added another comment.  Steve remembers getting swatted, unfortunately, but agrees with William whole-heartedly:  "Mr. Battle,Mr. Viall, and Coach Rich made a big impact on me when I would get in trouble and got lifted off the ground about six inches. I would say that was a big impact... Miss Ross was a very great teacher and caring."

Great and caring?  Can't be measured on a standardized test.

In fact, most of what matters in schools can't be tested.  Mr. Battle has aleady been mentioned in an earlier post, after he stepped in to help a young lady with a serious eating disorder.  And Coach Rich could get the best out of athletes in every sport he ever set his hand and heart to, from seventh and eighth grade football to wrestling and even, one year, girls' volleyball.  You wonder.  Does it matter if you teach kids to dig deep inside and never quit on a court or a field or in life?

I believe it does.

Annie Taylor, a star student in my class, and a 2007 Loveland High School graduate, reached back to elementary school for inspiration: 

Mrs. Kroncke from 6th grade... I will never forget her..... She made learning fun and she had the kindest heart... Even when the worst kids acted out and were so uncalled for and rude, she reached out to them. Also Mr. Zinnecker in high school... He made class a blast and had hilarious sarcasm. I loved them and will never forget them, along with u Mr. Viall !!

Lisa Brown dug even deeper:

There is an elementary teachers that I have the upmost respect for...Mrs. Walker, she helped me get through first grade. Everyone in my class didn't expect me to return to school after a bus accident I was in. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. School was dismissed early due to weather conditions. We had a substitute bus driver that day. I had slipped on the snow and ice and went under the bus. The bus driver thought I had already crossed in front of the bus, but when he went to pull away from my house, the back wheels ran my legs over, between my knees and ankles. I was very lucky that the snow had cushioned my legs. I couldn't walk for about a month unassisted by crutches. Mrs. Walker had came to my house to bring me my assignments and to tutor me on her own time. She didn't have to but she did, she went beyond her duties to ensure that I could stay caught up with the rest of the class. She was an amazing teacher.
Vicki Leroy and Ambie Hice "liked" Lisa's post; then Vicki went back farther still to mention an educator who had a lasting influence: "Kindergarten--Mrs. Poe--pointed out to my mom that I had 'leadership' qualities. My mom says she thinks it was a nice way of saying I was bossy (like I didn't get that quality honestly, Mom)."

Ms. Leroy had more good to say about teachers; but I'll save her comments and others for another day, note that I too discoverd in seventh grade that she had leadership qualities, and end with what Matt Mouser's has to say.

He remembers, for example, the moment he learned he'd never be a carpenter:
One time Mr. ----- yelled something to me I will never forget and it changed me forever. From one side of the room to the other he yelled to me "WHAT THE HELLS THE MATTER WITH YOU!! ARE YOU SOME KINDA GOD DAMNED IDIOT!!" I'll never forget that....we were close like that. I haven't built a shelf since.
Then he added:  "In all seriousness Mr. Viall...Mrs. Reynolds always told me she believed in me. I am the artist I am today because of her."

Ruth Herzog "liked" Matt's comment and added her own thoughts, but, again, for we'll leave it at that for today.  Teachers can have a negative impact--but most of the educators I ever met were having a positive impact, often in subtle ways.

You can't measure that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 3

I don't know how many readers of this blog have seen the movie Waiting for Superman; but if you haven't let me save you the time and give you the plot outline for the film:

Scene One:  America's public schools suck.

Scene Two:  America's public schools suck really bad.

Scene Three:  And they suck because America's public school teachers suck. 

                                                                                                                  THE END

(I've heard it's Governor John Kasich's favorite movie, by the way; but that might be nothing more than an ugly rumor.)

It's funny, though.  I worked for 33 years in the public schools and most of the teachers I worked with were dedicated professionals.  That doesn't mean most of us walked on water or deserved to have our careers immortalized in Hollywood film. 

But I do have a theory:  I believe teachers come in all the same varieties as movie producers, political figures, and plumbers.  Some good.  Some middling.  Some not so good.

(Yes, Governor, I mean you.)

At any rate, last week I asked former students, via Facebook, to comment on teachers who made a difference in their lives.  This is Part 3 of a series.

Scott Everett, a young man I well remember for his outstanding work ethic in seventh and eighth grades, went on to study zoology at Miami University.  He remembers several fine educators from his Loveland school days:
In high school I came down with mono and was stuck at home sick and barely able to get out of bed for over 3 weeks. Mr. Wagner (Advanced Chemistry and Physics) and Mr. Bivens (Calculus) actually came to my house several times during that period and went through all the material with me so I wouldn't fall behind. And of course there's Mr. Maegly [Loveland Middle School band director]. The quality of musicianship he was able to get out of us wild & crazy 7th-8th graders was amazing, and routinely outshone even the high school band. After all these years a bit of Mr. M still comes out every time I strap on my guitar and crank it up.

Jessica Maxfield, second from left.

Jessica Maxfield, who now makes music a career, and lectures at Northwestern University, agrees. 

She's working on comments about Mr. Maegly and I'll add them when she finishes.

Mandi Vargo, also a Loveland graduate, now teaching chemistry at East Feliciana High School in Louisiana, posted her thoughts:

"While I don't agree with everything you say [on your blog] Mr. Viall, I really love reading what you have to say about education."

What???  The young Jedi doubts Yoda!  Well, I forgive her.  She was a wonderful young lady to have in class, and something tells me she's another fine teacher.

So:  Ms. Vargo continues:
My most memorable teachers from Loveland definitely include the cast of characters already mentioned. I loved your class Mr. Viall, you made history (by far my least favorite subject) fun and interesting. I also remember how you always treated everyone the same. I don't think I realized it at the time, but as a teacher myself now, I try and live up to that standard with my own students. I also distinctly remember Mr. Ball and his endless patience. I went through a bit (understatement) of a whiney phase in the 7th grade and he never once showed frustration at my endless monologue of “But Mr. Ball, I dooooonnnn’tttt geeeetttttt ittttttttttt!” Mr. Miller was also an amazing influence on my gooney preteen years. He was wonderful at building up a student’s confidence. It’s amazing how much you appreciate your former teachers when you step into those shoes yourself! I hope I can have half the impact on my students that my teachers had on me.

I didn't want to use what students said about me, but Ms. Vargo mixed her praise altogther.  And SirSam Benzinger had a few kind words to add--and I should note that he helped me raise a lot of money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation this spring (Sam is a good man, and worked his buns off for JDRF, and "blames" me for his interest in government.)

Then Deana Callahan Willisch weighed in from a point of view so unusual, I had to include what she offered. This one goes way back, to a time when corporal punishment was still used in the schools.

(I feel like a dinosaur.)

Ms. Willisch writes:
I have to agree with SirSamuel - it would have to be you. If you remember the infamous swatting of a classmate for snapping my bra strap in your class….I had been bullied all my years at Loveland in one form or another (mostly mentally and emotionally, but sometimes physically). When you stood up for me (and took back order in your classroom by reminding the students that there are consequences to bad behavior), it was really the first time a teacher had ever done so in response to my tormenters.

You were so obviously angry at not only the disruption of your lesson but at the sheer injustice of the unwarranted and unprovoked act against me, and you promptly marched that student out into the hallway and delivered justice.

It was at that moment that my mindset changed from "I am a loser who deserves to be treated this way" to "I am just as worthy and important as anyone else in this school."

Education is a funny business, I think you can say, as complex and hard to "measure" as life itself. So, if standing up for Deana helped her, I'm happy.  And I hope I didn't ruin that other boy's life, the young man who pulled her bra strap and got swatted.

And I'm not an advocate of corporal punishment today, in any way.

Meanwhile, Zach Goyer, jumped into the conversation and added a fresh name to the mix: "What about Mr. Damewood?" he wondered.  "He was an awesome teacher, and the assignments he gave us weren't only related to English, but also helped with skills that I use now in college such as how to properly write a research paper. Plus he would always try to keep us on top of current events, and the books he had for us were always amazing."

Jonathan Davis, now a Loveland High School senior, concurred:  "I agree Mr. Damewood is an awesome teacher. English has been great this year even though I normally dislike it."  I asked Jonathan to add a few details and he came back with this:
Mr. Damewood always keeps us entertained in English class by just doing different things. one day we had a book talk about bees so he brought in his beekeeper suit and explained how you get the honey out and everything. when we have reading assignments he likes to point out stuff that we didn't realize that makes us laugh. whenever we seem bored he'll just make a few jokes then go back to class work.

Working at Loveland Middle School for more than three decades, I heard young students talk about elementary teachers they loved and then heard former students come back and tell me which high school teachers they most admired. 

I wasn't living in some fantasy land.  Don't get me wrong.

I know there are bad teachers out there, just as there are bad car mechanics and stock brokers and horse wranglers, too, I suppose.  But we need to remember there are plenty of good ones, a simple truth that seems forgotten today. 

Eric Bauer, a top student when I had him in eighth grade, and now a senior at LHS, had this to say:
Mr. Wagner has been an amazing teacher for me. I was privileged enough to have him for AP Physics. The first day he asked all of us what we wondered about. The most common replies were silence or "I don't know". Boy did he fix that. He showed us countless demonstrations and asked many us all questions on why things happen. He also accepted any question of ours and answered it to the best of his knowledge (which is quite considerable).

He taught us an amazing amount. Not only did we learn mechanics, electrostatics, and thermodynamics but he taught us how to think abstractly. In that classroom we were fledgling college students for 90 minutes. In the first quarter I struggled quite a bit but once I got into the swing of things I was able to enjoy and learn the units very well. Thanks to his class I am currently acing AP Chemistry (the hardest class in the school!) and independently studying circuitry.

Mr. Wagner has been good in the classroom for a very, very long time; and Cheri King, a dedicated sixth-grade teacher for Loveland today, remembers Mr. Wagner just as fondly as Eric, though from the perspective of an earlier generation:

Mr. Wagner - I was his student near the beginning of his career. Although I was not a talented science student, I remember his enthusiastic approach to teaching, making every minute of class meaningful.

When I became a math teacher, after completing a music degree, I used Mr. Wagner as a role model for how I approached teaching. He was highly prepared for class and was always looking to fine-tune his work. He kept careful class notes as evidenced by the giant notecards stacked on his lab table. When needed, he added notes to himself on ideas inspired from class. If there was a “fool proof” method to make a lesson more effective, Mr. Wagner was going to find it. (He did, however, chuckle on occasion that this might be the one unachievable task - but it didn’t stop him from trying.)

Mr. Wagner seemed to be as interested in helping his students - teenagers - learn more than just science facts. We learned how scientists really conduct their research, make discoveries, and learn from their mistakes. If Mr. Wagner’s demonstrations went awry - no problem. This turned into an opportunity for him to invoke one of his mantras at the time: If it’s worth doing; it’s worth doing right. The learning experience was of primary importance. Giving up was not an option. Observing, analyzing, hypothesizing, and finding a solution was the path to take.

Mr. Wagner knew how to make science relevant and accessible to all students. He was caring and encouraging toward his students. He set high expectations for everyone. Critical thinking, thoughtful ideas, and questions were always encouraged. It’s not surprising that he’s still a well-loved teacher today, over 40 years into his career.

I suppose Susanne Beaudoin should have the final say. She remembers a number of educators fondly, for the very kind of reasons that are an immeaurable, in the end, but offer the best evidence of what good teachers actually do:

I would have to say Mr. Folzenlogen. Just for the fact that he helped to set me on the path to being an artist. He helped get my art recognized and showed me that being in the art club did NOT make you a nerd. Then there was you. You showed me that history was a truly awesome subject when presented the right way. (I graduated college 4 hours shy of a history minor. You also helped encourage my writing and artistic side. And there was Mr. Still [who taught industrial arts for several years at Loveland Middle School]. I got a deck chair that is STILL in my yard today! In his class, girls with power tools that knew what they were doing were COOL! (between him and my dad, I learned enough to paint my walls, tile my floors and fix about anything!) I also need to mention: Mrs. Dyson, Mrs. Reynolds and Herr Friedmann. Thanks Guys!

 So, yes.  I'm no fan of standardized testing--and I think you'll notice that what real students remember, looking back on days spent in school, has nothing to do with standardized anything. In the end, education is about the teacher who inspire a love for learning.

I'd like to know how education experts (who never teach) and politicians (who only preach) think we can go about measuring any of what these students say.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 2

Lindsay Moore, right, in fire gear.
Some kids grow up wanting to be firemen
(or fire ladies).
Teachers try to prepare students
for whatever life might bring.
IF YOU READ MY LAST BLOG POST (and all across America, people are asking themselves, "Who didn't?) you know what this post is going to be about.

Teachers who make a difference

I'm retired now; but I truly believe that the education "experts" are going to cut the heart out of our schools with a monomaniacal focus on standardized testing.

I don't believe you can measure what good teachers do with testing. So I asked former students on Facebook to comment, to tell me about educators who made a impact in their lives. Here are some of their responses.

Emily Lloyd checked in to offer a bit of praise for a favorite high school teacher: "Ken Zinnecker all the way! I had him for Creative Writing and Fantasy/Sci-Fi. He's the man :D" Three other former students, Wendy-Kidd Yockey, Erin Parkinson Betz and Brandon Huber, "liked" her post and in a Facebook world that's like three more votes for Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucases.

(Unless you don't like Mitt Romney.)

Dwane Shelly had his own nomination and tried to explain the essence of what he thought made good teachers good: 
They don't give up on the student....they use their life experience and savvy to figure out what makes the student "tick"....then exploits what he/she can to drive that student to performing their very best. Mr. Poe did that for me. As a consequence...I have always sought to do my best and be a problem solver. Sometimes teachers don't really know how much they affect the lives of their students in ways that last a lifetime. Kudos to all my teachers that gave a damn.
Lori Chisman Barber (a star student from time past) went back to junior high days and added her ideas to discussion:
‎1st off- I can't name just one teacher. I loved school and loved a lot of my teachers. Other than you- I would say: Mr Huffmaster. He taught me it was ok to learn about the Big Bang theory and other theories of creation even though my parents didn't like it one little bit. He said as a scientist he not only knew all of the theories but he also knew the Book of Genesis very well. He said "If you don't understand scientific theories of creation how can you ever refute them if you only know the book of Genesis?" He also taught me it was pretty cool to be VERY different and not care what others think- because he was that way. I remember his teachings to this day because he was so unusual.

Lindsay Moore remembered a high school government teacher, not for the facts he taught but for the fashion in which he made clear what those facts meant:
Mr. Volkman inspired me on so many levels. He changed my views on the potential and greatness of our country. Listening to him speak so passionately about government (at least how a government should be) got me out of my pessimistic ways of thinking, not just about our country as a whole but for people in general. I realized I'd rather be an idealist who gets disappointed sometimes rather than a pessimist who's constantly proven right. I'd rather stand up for the uncommon good morality and be laughed at than hide behind the superficial surface of our bubble and be generally accepted :)
P.S. On our way back from the senior trip to DC, Mr. Volkman got on the loud speaker and made a speech about everything the city stands for and what it means to him. Every single person on the bus fell silent as he spoke from his heart and even choked up a little. It was an amazing moment to witness someone, much less our teacher, be so pure and honest with us.

Really. You can't measure that, even if you decide to batter students with standardized tests into the next century. But students know what counts and Sarah Jackson, Abby Hoff and Valerie Daugherty agreed with Ms. Moore's assessment.

After I messaged her and asked for details, Emily Lloyd returned and had this to add about Mr. Zinnecker:
The most important piece of knowledge that Mr. Zinnecker gave me when it came to writing was to throw any kind of cliche out the window. Common cliches including "it's raining cats and dogs" and "as dead as a door nail" were not welcome. Mr. Z's response to the door nail cliche was, "What the Hell is a door nail anyway?" :P

Ms. Jackson (presently doing her own student teaching) chimed in with her take on educators who made a difference:
I couldn't agree with Lindsay more! Mr. Volkman changed my whole way of thinking about the government. He is one of the reasons I decided to teach :) he treated us seniors like adults in his class and I will never forget when he handed out our constitutions he played patriotic music and shook each and everyone of our hands. He opened my eyes to government and made me think. I also respected him for the sheer fact that he was and still is a solider who as if right now is deployed? I could be wrong but you should definitely include Mr. Dave Volkman into your blog :)

Chelsea Olivia joined in the discussion and nominated one of the best teachers I ever saw in my 33 years in education. She noted:  "my favorite teachers[,] I absolutely loved Mr. Ball and thank him for teaching the class that made me a computer geek, because of him I am able to be in front of any computer for ten minutes and be able to tell you anything that you need to know. I still occasionally see him when he comes to eat at my work."

Lisa Brown had only a few words to say, but her comment was excellent:  "Seventh grade english, Mrs. Puls. She taught the students to stand up and be heard. Not to be afraid to speak in groups. Let your opinions be heard."

Brandon Beck, a junior at Ohio State, entered the fray:
Mr Zinnecker from LHS was one of the best teachers ive had to this day. One of the most down to Earth teachers ive had, and he actually teaches you lessons you will use every day of your life, instead of just making you memorize facts you will forgot once the class is over.The best advice he gave me, and some of the best advice i've ever received to this day was when he told the class: "if theres one thing I can teach you, it's to do something that you love." I use his advice daily.

Jennifer Szczepek-Prokosa agreed:
Mr. Zinnecker. Other than being an awesome fantasy / sci-fi/ English teacher, he really cared. I went through some tough times at home my high school years and he was the only teacher I ever had that came to me concerned. He said he could see that something was wrong. I don't think he'll ever know how his concern helped me. It was nice to have a teacher to talk to.

So, you see, education isn't really about standardized testing. What matters most is the long-term effect we have in the classroom on the kids who come our way. Former students in every district in the land could tell you there are all kinds of educators out there, changing lives in immeasurable and important ways every day.
YET, WE RARELY HEAR ANYTHING about teachers these days, unless it's negative.

I still have plenty of examples left; but I'll end with something Glenn Hughes said. "Back in the day," Glenn wasn't always the best student, as he would freely admit. But I had him for history, and I could always tell he had a good brain. At Loveland Middle School one year we took fourteen students who struggled the previous year and set up a special program (known as SPARK) to see if we couldn't help them. 

We hired a veteran administrator, teacher and coach out of retirement, Mr. Stan McCoy Sr., and put him in overall charge. Then three dedicated young female teachers (and yours truly) went into their room every day and taught the four main subjects. (Those three women:  Ms. Cindy Taylor, Ms. Jennifer Windau and Mrs. Karen Gowetski, later Karen Clary.)

Watching Mr. McCoy was an inspiration--and he never let those fourteen kids forget they had real talent. The year before their grades were...well, let's just say they weren't good. But this time was different. The three young teachers helped get those fourteen teens rolling. (At least one boy kept asking Ms. Taylor to marry him.) I did my part, too. One day, I made the SPARK group a bet. I said I thought they were as smart as any class I had, they just hadn't always used their talents before. So, if they could all earn A's or B's on the next history test, I said I'd run to school from my house.
How far, they wanted to know? Fourteen miles. 
Mr. Hughes went on to study
at the University of Cincinnati.
(Mr. McCoy could see his potential.)
Lord have mercy! Those kids buckled down and started studying and Mr. McCoy encouraged them every way he could. The day of the test thirteen kids were present and when I graded results we had thirteen A's and B's. But one young man was absent; so we had to wait a day, and when he took the test, and earned another B, the room erupted in cheers.  I'm not sure I've ever been prouder of a group of kids in my life, and I know Mr. McCoy felt the same way. 
With the help of one old football coach, and three fine young women, and maybe even me, the SPARK class kicked some academic butt that year. And Glenn (and Doug Conwell, who "liked" his comment later) have not forgotten, decades later.

With that, I'll let Mr. Hughes have the final say: 
Mr. McCoy - I think i speak for most in the SPARKS class Mark Jones Doug Conwell Stefan Talley He was a wonderful mentor that always had our back and taught us even though so many teachers had given up on us (for good reason) He would stand beside us. We all worked in every subject during that year just because we wanted to show him how much his dedication meant to us. I believe most of the class stayed honor role that year. Not bad for a bunch of misfits and clowns! Although you were the biggest clown in class that year! See you can get in this one!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration?

Former Loveland student Todd Huntley
serving in Afghanistan in 2006.
We didn't teach him to shoot;
but teachers shape lives in many ways.
I've been thinking a lot about standardized testing since I retired from teaching in 2008. Several of the big names in education reform believe more testing is the solution. Since they've rarely taught, I don't believe they even understand what the problem is.

Most teachers I know don't think focusing on testing is making education better.

Neither do I. 

So I put a question out on Facebook for former students, asking them to tell me about teachers they felt made a difference. Their comments were excellent--and yet represent only a thin sliver of the story of U. S. education, coming only from students of the Loveland City Schools, and only from those who had me in seventh or eighth grade. 

Still, these examples make me proud of what ordinary men and women accomplish every day in America's classrooms.

I should point out that I told former students I wouldn't use anything they said about me (you know, names changed to protect the innocent, and all). Josh Nutgrass couldn't resist, saying, "john viall is the first name that comes to mind or mrs. miranda cuz she was hot hehehe lol[.]" 

Okay, Mr. Nutgrass has a good eye for the attractive female form and I must agree; Mrs. Miranda was a very fine teacher.

Pat Treadway mentioned an old friend of mine, a former college football player, an imposing gentleman, and a man of great integrity, too. Pat recalls: "Mr. Battle. His no-nonsense attitude and toughness was a scary thing as a kid. I look back and realize it did a lot of good for me. He also provided quality entertainment when he saw any type of bullying or minor vandalism. I'm sure he made a few kids pee their pants a little."

Josh jumped back in with all caps: "O YEAH MR BATTLE 'ASSUME THE POSITION' OR MR MCCOY!!!"

I'm not sure which "Mr. McCoy" Josh meant, because we had three, or if he ever had to do pushups for Mr. Battle after getting in trouble, and Josh certainly wasn't the type to be bullying anyone. But the words, "assume the position," uttered in Mr. Battle's deep baritone must have sent shudders up and down the spines of any bully or troublemaker who ever crossed his path at Loveland Junior High. (Later renamed: Loveland Middle School.)

Natalie Golliher cited Mr. Battle, as well, and if you can measure this kind of impact with a standardized test, I'd like to know how. She explained: 
Mr. Battle helped me get through a lot he gave me tough love when he found out I was struggling with an eating disorder everyday for weeks he walked me through the lunch line made me get a healthy meal and sat down with me and made me eat it helped with gym class being my next period after lunch so I couldn't get out from under his eagle eye lol
We happened to have a fantastic choir director at our school, a man named Shawn Miller, and I used to sit and listen to his choir perform or go to plays he put on as director, and marvel at how he was able to coax out the talents of so many kids. 

Kate Altieri (left, in costume for the musical Seussical), a senior at Loveland High today, explained his impact:

[Mr. Miller]...doesn't just help you with music but he can also help you when you are...[in]need. Having six years with mr.miller ive learned so much about myself and of course music. He is the reason I decided to major in music education in college at northern Kentucky in the fall of 2012. He has been a big impact on my life and I've never worked with such a man who is dedicated to seven choirs, ( a boys, girls, two mixed choirs, a middle school show choir, a high school show choir and a high school top choir called chorale) even with such a busy schedule he still makes time for his family with havin every weekend dedicated to show choir he still puts his family first. I want to be like Shawn miller but the girl version of course :) he is an amazing man and an inspiring one at that too.

Kelly Harris decided to talk about an industrial arts teacher he had at Loveland High School: 
Mr. Jim Poe...is the reason my dad had me add[ed] an addition onto our house during the summer of my Junior/Senior year in high school! I have done so many home mechanics by myself that I have never needed to hire a contractor!!! I have completely rewired a house that was built in 1920, replaced roofs, completely tore out plumbing and replaced with new and even hooked up to county water as well.
Valerie Lynn Daugherty mentioned several educators who made a difference for her:
Oh there are so many... After you John [that's me] Mr Berkoff was awesome.. You both kept history interesting and fun. Doug Bush was another one of my favorites after he left I quit band which was my senior year. Mr Rich was fun but tough. Mr Miller is why I did show choir he is like Mr. Shew on Glee always made music different and ever since middle school I've loved singing... Still to this day I wish I could record.
Later she added:  "Oops...Mr. Still was another."

Deonna Cossentino added a fresh name to the mix:  "Mr. Sievering! He was amazing, and he really connected to students. He cared for everyone, no matter how 'popular' you were. He knew what needed to be done, and helped everyone who needed it."

I remember watching Mr. Sievering during a meeting with a young lady who was struggling in eighth grade, even though she had real talent. You can't measure most of what teachers do, including most of what matters, but at one point during the discussion he said to her, "Jessica, what I respect about you is that you're 'real.' You know who you are and you're not afraid to show it."

Jessica told me later how much such kind words meant--and when she had to tell someone she was pregnant she went to Mr. Sievering again.

Todd Huntley spoke fondly of his foreign language teacher at Loveland High School:
Amos Friedmann, I took 2 years of German and 1 year of French with him in high school. Looking back I can now see that he helped instill in me a love for learning about new cultures, travel, and languages. While the knowledge of German certainly came in handy living in Germany for 3+ years, it is more the interest in learning that he fostered that really set me on the path that I'm on.

Considering the fact that Mr. Huntley went on to Harvard Law, and a career in the military (traveling to thirty countries in the process), we can safely say that Mr. Friedman earned more than his pay.

I plan to post more examples in days to come; but I was pleased when an old high school friend jumped in on the discussion, joined not long after by my older brother. Mark and Tim and I are all advanced in years; but we still remember teachers from Revere High (near Akron) who made an impact, even after the passage of almost half a century.

That's what great and good teachers do. They shape lives. You can't measure that with a chronometer, an odometer, or a standardized test. Brother Tim felt the need to vent first, but then got into the swing:
How about Mr. -----, who made most students both hate him, and, hate algebra? What a psycho he was! On the other hand, Ms. Ocasek was great and made Latin interesting, Ms. Schmidt, my fourth grade teacher, was wonderful, and several profs I had in law school (practicing attorneys who taught in the night school) brought outstanding real-world insights to their classes!

I won't go into details on the algebra teacher; but I had Ms. Ocasek, myself, and when I attended my 40th high school reunion, I asked classmates (because this question always interests me), "Who do you remember as being a really good teacher?"

Ms. Ocasek's name came up a number of times--and I forgive her for giving me a "D" in Latin II for the year. It wasn't her fault.

I was pretty lackidaisical back in the day.

Mark mentioned three educators who left a lasting impression:
Mr. Pamer taught Advanced Math and Physics. He pushed us pretty hard. Any grade you got from him was earned. He invented the concept “firm, but fair[.]” His explanations of slippery concepts were clear and to the point. No question was stupid, even the stupid ones. When I re-entered college in 1980, much of what he taught still lined the inside of my skull. It lasted through my engineering career. This is a characteristic of an excellent teacher.

Sadly, Mr. Smith was my English teacher only for my senior year. His personality was sometimes (how shall we say) eccentric. If you could handle the mood changes and the occasional bombast, he was very intelligent and a great communicator. He treated us like college students to present concepts like “death wish”, existentialism, sexual motifs found in literature, and others. Preparing us for college, he said, and that he did. Sometimes when I got my themes back, I wondered if he had cut an artery over it. The grade of the paper he wrote so large that everybody in the class saw it – there was no hiding from it.

I never took Interscholastic Basketball I, II, III from Coach Greynolds. I just had him for Driver’s Ed. Every so often Coach tossed the Driver’s Ed book out the window to cover what he called the practical stuff the school doesn’t teach us. So he taught how to balance a checkbook, how to buy a new or used car, what to look for in a house, how to apply for a loan and so forth. Was he giving us the right scoop? In my experience, his advice was pretty sound, especially about buying new car.

It's interesting to see how much Mark's memories of Mr. Greynolds mirror those of Kelly Harris, when Kelly talked about Mr. Poe. (I know dozens of former basketball players would tell you Greynolds, the most intense coach I ever saw in action, profoundly shaped their lives for the better.) And I can testify myself:  Eugene Smith taught me how to write. (His name also came up repeatedly when I asked about good teachers at my 40th reunion.)

Mr. Smith had one rule in class that I never forgot and adapted for use in my own history classes (my students did a lot of writing, as I'm sure many would attest). If he caught you using the words "thing" or "things" in an essay he circled either and slapped an "F" on your paper and your academic goose was pretty much cooked. If you wanted to say something, he insisted, say it clearly. Don't talk about "things going bad." If your pet hamster was flattened by a bulldozer, then by all the powers in the English language, say what you mean!

I worked for the Loveland City Schools for 33 years and saw all kinds of fine teachers in action, from Steve Ball, who taught math for the team of teachers I had the honor to lead, to Jeff Sharpless, who taught seventh grade history like I did and was always so helpful in his collaboration. I saw Rachel Angel in action, a young lady who worked tirelessly with special education kids, and Pat Settlemire, who got paid as an aide, but did the work of a regular teacher, and Kathy Simpson, who worked brilliantly with LD kids.

There are hundreds of thousands of great and good teachers out there today and there always have been.  It's a shame we don't hear more about them.

Students had plenty to say and mentioned dozens of teachers. See similar posts: