October 3, 2009

Business Or Marketing?

There remains a great divide between business teachers and marketing teachers. People not in our field rightfully wonder, what the heck is the difference? Our state's Department of Education recently realized that there was so much overlap between business education and marketing education that they combined these two fields into one license. But it wasn't always that way.

Business Education

The business education license was for what we traditionally think of as vocational education. These teachers taught things like keyboarding, office procedures, accounting, computer applications, and finance.

Marketing Education

Teachers licensed in this area taught marketing & sales, and ran our school stores.

Business and Marketing Education / Career and Technical Education

Within the last five years, Federal legislation changed Vocational Education to Career and Technical Education, and our state combined the business and marketing licenses into Business and Marketing Education. Teachers in this new era teach all of the classes taught above, along with disparate subjects such as: A+ certification, computer programming, sports marketing, and work based learning.

The Divide Remains

Despite the new combined license, the divide between business and marketing educators remains, and I can see this very clearly through the organizations I belong to:

DECA is an organization for marketing students that teaches skills such as: sales demonstrations, marketing plans, business plans, public speaking, and employment interviews.

BPA is an organization for business students that teaches skills such as: financial analysis, web site design, economic analysis, and computer networking.

I've been an advisor for chapters of both organizations. It's like the two groups are from different planets. The BPA people are the geeks and the DECA people are the suits. Geeks complain that the suits don't have any technical knowledge, and suits complain that the geeks don't have any business knowledge.

I see myself more as a business guy than a marketing guy. I find the DECA / Marketing crowd rather annoying, to be honest. I'm interested in making things that work, not in pushing products. However, I see the value in both. The business / marketing divide is a religious war of sorts, both groups talking completely past each other, neither bothering to listen to what the other has to say.

It's like this. If everyone was a Linus Trovalds, we'd have great technology but no one would know about it. If everyone was Steve Ballmer, we'd have a bunch of commercials with nothing to actually sell. What we need are more Joel Spolskys. People who can do both.

September 27, 2009

Starting A Business

Good teachers have experience in their respective fields. Good English teachers have been published; good technology teachers have worked in industry; and good business teachers have run their own businesses.

I ran a business a few years ago when I was in college, selling a product I wrote called Attendance Management System. The software tracked attendance for nonprofits such as churches, scout troops, and other community organizations. The profits weren't gigantic, netting about $130 per month, but it was a fun little endeavor.

I'm in the process of re-introducing the product with plans to roll out an online version later this school year.

Starting a business is not as hard as a lot of people think, and for me, it's more of a hobby than anything else. Coming up with an idea is difficult sometimes, but in my case, I wrote the software in my free time specifically for an organization that I belonged to and only later decided to offer it to other people.

There must be something that you can make or a service that you already provide that others would find useful. When you start a business, you can share it with others and make a little money besides.

September 22, 2009

Swine Flu, Anyone?

Do you think you'll catch the swine flu this year? It's a bit hard to imagine how the virus WON'T spread when you cram over two thousand students with poor sanitary habits into a single building, and they spend six hours with each other in close proximity.

At least one of our staff members has already contracted and recovered from the virus. In the first two weeks of school, a larger than expected number of students are showing flu-like symptoms. The school nurse has a mandate from the state department of health to send home anyone showing these symptoms. Sick students and staff are required to stay home for 24 hours after their fevers break, which usually takes five days.

Some say that these measures are overreactions to an overhyped problem. It's true that the H1N1 virus in its current form is relatively harmless, but it's still smart to take precautions. We might not be able to stop the spread of the virus, but we should do anything we can to at least slow it down
One of the high schools in our state already has 20% of the student population home with flu symptoms, and there are other districts with very high absence rates as well.

My theory is that it's a foregone conclusion that a large population of students and staff will probably contract the virus sometime throughout the year and that we should just accept it. Vaccines should be available in my state around mid-October. Swine flu is a not a reason for panic, but we shouldn't get complacent, either.

September 19, 2009

Why I Could Never Be President

President Obama recently came to my city for a health care rally, and I was one of the fifteen thousand enthusiastic attendees. He pitched his health care reform plan, and for the record, I support it, even if I have some reservations about it. Mr. Obama's approval rating has been slipping lately. When assessing his performance, I count myself in the "approve" column, and I'd vote for him again if I could.

The reason I could never be president is that it seemed like the average IQ of the crowd that day was right around the 60 mark. I mean really, I couldn't believe some of these people.
  • After the President used empirical evidence and logical reasoning to describe some of the failings of our current health care system, the crowd's response was, "We have to do something!!" I got the impression that no one had any idea what that something should be, or even where to start.

  • It concerns me greatly when people have very strong opinions on topics about which they have limited knowledge, even if I happen to agree with those opinions.


  • The atmosphere was very us-versus-them. We are benevolent and they are greedy. We believe tax dollars should be shared with the sick and they want to let people die so they can keep their money.

  • The truth is, the health issue is not nearly that simple, nor is the tax issue. Conservatives have legitimate concerns about the health plan just as much as liberals have legitimate concerns about our current system. Instead of addressing the other side's concerns, our political discourse has devolved into name calling.

    Understanding the issue is not important; forming tribes and outgroups is. Democrats accuse Republicans of name calling, and Republics accuse Democrats of it, and both sides say the other side does it more. Let's please stop this nonsense and start having some intellectual discussions based on logic and evidence.


  • The president listed some features of his plan: insurance companies would not be able to put caps on coverage, they could not exclude customers with preexisting conditions, and they would have to compete against a publicly subsidized insurance organization.

  • The crowd went wild. Again I hesitatingly agree with the President's plan for various reasons, but I also recognize that it has downsides. You can't add those extra burdens on insurance companies and not expect premiums to go up, all else being equal. But again, the crowd was one-sided as could be, and failed to even consider the opposing arguments.



So the reason I could not be president is that I'd have to work and fight for a bunch of narrow-minded, ignorant sheep. Mr. Obama is smarter that this; he does see both sides, as demonstrated in some of his interviews. But the very people he is fighting for don't even understand or appreciate the reasons for the battle. That's why I could never be president.

In our classrooms, we need to teach critical thinking skills to our students. Take the other person's perspective. Use logic. Understand the difference between normative and positive statements. Be smart.

Leaving Work At Work

This year, I have not brought work home a single time, and I never intend to. This new philosophy is working very well. I work hard when I'm working, and I relax when I'm not. I took the advice of several readers and decided to move some distance away from my district. The decision was a great one.

There is more separation between home life and work life now. I'm not constantly thinking about school. I'm not worrying about when I'll get around to grading those papers, because they're at school and I've already graded them.

This is only possible because of all the legwork I put in last year and over the summer. This year, I'm committed to avoiding the death march. I've taught all of these classes before, so preparing for class is SIGNIFICANTLY less work. That first year is brutal, but now it's relatively smooth sailing. People in my life have commented that I seem much less stressed this year than in past years.


When I was a student teacher, mentors often told me that it takes three years to really get into a groove and find your style. This is my third year, and teaching does seem much more natural now. I know the kind of teacher I am, and I'm comfortable with it.

In case you're curious, my classes are going very well so far. I look forward to going to work in the morning. Mondays excite me!

It's still not a 40-hour-a-week job; I'd say it's 50, minimum. But it's what I do. It's part of who I am, and I really like this career. It's just no longer ALL of who I am, and that's a good thing.

August 28, 2009

Wealth And Health

Teachers don't make much money. Poor people are have short lifespans. There is a well-established relationship between wealth and health. Reasons for this are many, but I think one factor is the differences in the quality of housing that people can afford. We teachers have made a deliberate trade-off between income and how we spend our workdays. Housing quality is one thing we are giving up, and along with it, our health. I've been renting for ten years because I don't have the financial strength to buy a house, and each place I've rented has been less than ideal. These observations are from the places I've lived:
  • For three years, I lived in rental units next to paper mills and could frequently smell the emissions.
  • My college dorms did not have a usable kitchen, forcing us to eat the only moderately healthy fare served in the cafeteria for a year, causing some of my classmates to gain the infamous freshman fifteen.
  • One rental property was in a basement with the upstairs owner's cat's litter box right outside the door, which they never changed. This owner, one day without warning, decided to re-varnish the floor upstairs. His family escaped the fumes by taking a week-long camping trip, leaving us basement renters to either suck in the fumes or take to the streets.
  • One place had an untested private well, producing water so bad that it was impossible to drink. The only option was to buy bottled water from the local Wal-Mart.
  • Every multi-unit building I've been in has had a smoker in the building.
  • In one rental, the vents from each unit were connected, so that when one person smoked, everyone in the building got it.
  • My new unit has a leaky gas oven which I'm currently fighting about with the landlord. It may be enough for me to break the lease if it's not fixed.
  • Several rentals have been very old, with plumbing and electrical systems to match. The electrical outlets do not have ground wires. The plumbing systems might contain lead. There is undoubtedly exposed lead paint.

I hesitate to play the victim game because I probably could have avoided some of these problems had I been more diligent and selective in my housing search. But some of these things truly were beyond my control – information that I couldn't have found out until I was actually living in the place, and by that time, it was legally impossible to get out of the lease (trust me, I tried).

Many of us, especially those of us in the business content area, could be making much more money if we pursued careers in the private sector. We all knew about the income hit when we took this job, but did we consider the hit to our health? Is it worth it?

August 24, 2009

New Class Lists

I raced through all of my new class lists today, scanning for names of students I know. I became very afraid when I saw some of the names! I had one of those classes from hell last year at the middle school, and I was really hoping that some of the students (incoming freshmen this year) would decide to take someone's classes other than mine. Lo and behold, some of these challenging students decided they liked me so much that they want to spend another whole semester with me!

I'm going in with an open mind, and I'm not going to pre judge them. But these one or two students have the ability to single handedly destroy an entire class if the teacher lets them. I'm not going to be the teacher who lets them this year.

I'll have to be careful not to single them out. I won't treat them any differently from anyone else, UNLESS they give me a reason to. I'll be much quicker in administering disciplinary measures than I was in the past. When students get away with one thing, they basically have license to keep misbehaving. My goal will be to create an atmosphere of LEARNING from the very first day. I'll have to be vigilant to maintain this atmosphere throughout the term.

I want to emphasize that most of my students are great. I'm just talking about one or two here, but that's all it takes to destroy a learning atmosphere sometimes.

Another random observation about my class lists: each year, there are more and more students whose names I can't pronounce. We have a pretty high population of immigrant families in this community. This is one extra challenge that I didn't have to face at the rural district I taught at two years ago. Overall, these students are very hard working and well behaved, it's just that learning their names takes some extra effort. Effort that is well spent.

August 11, 2009

Has Jeff Atwood Jumped The Shark?

Full disclosure: I love Jeff Atwood's blog and think he is a great asset to the programming community. A lot of what I know about programming, I've learned from him. His new business, Stack Overflow, has helped programmers all over the world get answers to their technical questions.


But I sometimes wonder how his business has become so successful when his business knowledge is so apparently lacking. Here are summaries of a few of his recent posts:

Software Pricing: Are We Doing It Wrong?

Jeff thinks that if Microsoft would radically lower the price of its Windows operating system, the increased sales volume would more than make up for the lower margins.

I teach this concept in my Marketing classes, and it's called Elasticity of Demand. I draw a demand curve on the board for elastic products and inelastic products, and show the differing sizes of the rectangles under each curve when the price changes, and then we eventually conclude that revenue is maximized when the price is set to the point on the demand curve where elasticity = 1.

Had he known this, Mr. Atwood would probably realize that Microsoft has certainly considered the question of pricing very carefully and set their prices very deliberately. He would also realize that the price elasticity of demand for Microsoft Windows does not make his suggestion feasible.

Oh, You Wanted "Awesome" Edition

Here, he says that the Microsoft marketing department is run by weasels because they charge different prices for different editions of their software. As if charging different prices for essentially the same product is some new and radical thing.

I teach this to ninth graders in Intro To Marketing, too. Companies do this with all sorts of products, from breakfast cereals and computers to rock concerts and plane rides. It turns out that there are good and valid reasons for this. But Mr. Atwood chalks it up to "marketing weasels".

What's totally baffling, though, is that he's doing this with his own product, the Stack Exchange engine, even after decrying the practice.

Jeff Atwood is a great blogger, teacher, and programmer. But some of his opinions (including his suggestion to open source his product and destroy his own income stream) show a lack of knowledge of basic, fundamental business concepts.

America is prosperous because of entrepreneurs like Jeff Atwood. One day, some of our students will become entrepreneurs. Let's give them the knowledge they need to be successful. There is value in high school business education.

Makes you wonder who else has jumped the shark.

Photo courtesey Stack Overflow

August 3, 2009

Are You A Workaholic?

Most teachers are goal-oriented people. Most are either guardians or idealists. We are not in this profession for the money; we have a deeply rooted dedication to our students and our jobs.

I've been doing some reflecting lately and have discovered that I just might be one of those workaholics we're always reading about. I'm really excited for the upcoming school year. I've been planning, updating, and organizing. I started the summer starting a software company that fell through. Even in my time off, I'm productive.

But I do it because I like my work. In Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida argues that workers today choose careers for different reasons than we did a generation ago. Money is no longer the biggest motivator. People in the creative professions choose jobs that they intrinsically enjoy. Creativity does not always happen from 9 to 5. Creative workers are churning ideas even on their time off. Creative people like their work.

I've always been goal oriented. I've accomplished a lot of difficult goals, including getting my pilot's license and starting a business. My life, to a large extent, is based around projects. If I'm not doing something productive, I don't quite feel alive. But I do know how to relax – on the weekends, all of my projects are suspended and I'm out enjoying the weather, my friends, and my family. Also, not all of my projects are work related.

That I'm always working on projects and goals, and that a lot of these projects and goals are related to my career, might be a symptom of workaholism. Or it might just mean that I'm doing what I love. I'm not sure.

August 1, 2009

Computer Science: Which Language To Teach?

Arguing about which language to teach is a favorite pastime of computer science teachers. This is one of those religious wars that will never go away, like Mac/Windows. It should be a language that:
  • Teaches fundamental object oriented programming concepts
  • Teaches functional programming concepts
  • Teaches algorithms and data structures
    Allows students to get results fairly quickly (with a relatively shallow learning curve)
  • Is widely used in industry
  • Allows students to create graphical user interfaces fairly quickly


This has been extensively discussed elsewhere on the web, and experts have offered varying opinions:

C/C++

Many modern languages derive their syntax from C, so learning C first makes it easy to learn other languages later. C supports pointers, recursion, and data structures, and introduces students to memory management. Higher level languages abstract away these concepts, but it's still important that students understand them. C++ is fully object oriented. Both are still widely used. The main benefit of using these languages is that they introduce students to core computer science topics.

On the con side, they have a steep learning curve and a cumbersome syntax. They are low level languages, which means that it take much more effort to create a working solution, such as a full featured GUI app.

Java

Java is fully object oriented and is a great language to choose if your goal is to teach OOP. It has some vocal critics who argue that students miss out on learning functional programming. It's platform independent and used all over the place. This is the language used in the AP Computer Science curriculum. I think it's a great place to start. Its major weakness is that creating GUI applications is very difficult in Java.

Another great thing about Java is that it is free and open source. There are many free editors and IDEs available as well.

C# .NET

Microsoft Visual Studio makes it easy for developers to create event-driven GUI applications. The language C# is very similar to Java. It's very widely used in the commercial sector. This would probably be my first choice, because it includes all of the benefits of Java with an easy to use GUI creator. The major downside is that Microsoft charges big licensing fees to use it. Some teachers don't like the fact that Visual Studio almost makes coding too easy, the way it automatically corrects errors as you type and gives you syntax hints along the way.

There are ways to code C# for free with the SharpEdit tool and Mono, but they're more cumbersome that Visual Studio

Visual Basic .NET

VB uses the same development environment as C# but has a different syntax which some say is easier for beginners to understand. However, learning Visual Basic first will make it more difficult for students to transition to languages with a syntax derived from C later.

PHP

PHP has many critics too, but I think it's a good choice, especially since version 5, which is fully object oriented. There are several reasons I don't use it in my classes:
  • It requires a deep knowledge of XHTML, which my students don't have.
  • The only types of programs it allows you to make are web apps (unless you also learn GTK)
  • Debugging is difficult
  • A semester course would give students just enough knowledge to create web apps but not enough knowledge to make SECURE web apps. I don't want students to hang themselves.

Python

I don't know much about Python other than the fact that it is becoming increasingly popular in high schools and universities.

Others: Ruby, Scheme, Haskell, Delphi/Pascal, Assembler, LISP

These languages have some great strengths but are missing a few bullet points on what I consider to be essential characteristics of a first programming language. They are either difficult to use, not used in industry, or have very limited scopes.

Conclusions

For now, Java is a great choice, but it will undoubtedly be displaced by something else in the future. C# has a lot of strengths, but it's expensive.

July 31, 2009

Where Do Teachers Live?

How important is it that teachers live in the same community in which they teach? Does living in your school's community create more school spirit or community pride? How important is that for teachers?

I find myself facing this decision for the second time. Last year, I taught in a very rural community (pop. 10,000) about twenty minutes away from a medium size city (pop 90,000). I chose to reside in the small town where I worked. It was very nice being so close to school; I could just hop to work in a couple of minutes if I wanted to. Deciding whether to attend after-school events was trivial. Had I lived in the larger community further away, I would have attended fewer school functions, commuted more, and spent more on transportation.

Honestly, though, I didn't really enjoy living in the small town all that much. I got bored. My personal and social life would have been better had I actually lived where the action was.


I'm faced with the same choice this year. I live three miles from my suburban school now and my lease is up at the end of August. Do I stay out in the burbs or go into the city? I've lived in the city before and rather liked it. The commute would be about 15 minutes, which really isn't that terrible. Many other teachers at this district commute in. But still, there's something about actually living in the community, right?

Part of me likes the idea of having a bit more distance between my work life and my home life, but part of me likes the idea of being a bona fide resident of my school district.

What do you think?

July 20, 2009

Avoiding The Death March


Last year, I discussed how teaching can be compared to a death march and how easy it is to become overworked and burnt out. Almost all of my time was spent on work last year, so I'd like to be a bit more prepared this year.

Fortunately, I've already taught all of the classes I'm scheduled for before, which means I've got a good set of lesson plans for them already. Of course, I'll be making some changes to the classes, but the fact that I've taught them before will significantly reduce the amount of prep time for the classes.

I'm going one step further. This summer, I'm laying out the lesson plans week-by-week, so when I ask myself what I should do in class that week, I can just look in my file and pull out a bunch of lessons. That's not to say that I won't be customizing the lessons of course. But it will help tremendously.

I'm also making some changes to my grading procedures. I'm going to research some web-based tools to help me grade keyboarding papers. Also, I won't be grading every single Java program line by line. I'll do this for some, but I'll be spot checking others to make sure they compile and run properly.

I'll also tighten up my policy for late work. I've accepted late work in the past and assessed a minor penalty for it. The point deduction will be much higher next year, and students will not be able to turn in work that is more than one week late.

I have to say that I'm getting pretty excited to get into the classroom again. I'm really excited for what we'll be doing with DECA as well. The rest of the summer will go really fast.

June 10, 2009

What Are You Doing This Summer?

I'm starting a software business. Yes, that's all. In order for the business to have any chance of success at all, I need the entire summer uninterrupted. I've never worked on my own for an entire summer at a time, so I'm not sure how this will go. But I think these factors will be crucial to its success:
  • When you're working, work; and when you're not, don't.
  • Block out long chunks of uninterrupted time to work.
  • Treat the new business like a job. Start and stop working at the same time each day.
  • Maintain work/life balance. I'll still be going to the cabin on weekends this summer for some fishing, water skiing, and mountain biking.
  • Have a specific goal to complete each day. Actually, 90 minute blocks of time work well for mini-goals.
  • The initial enthusiasm I have for this business will eventually wane. Use motivational techniques to stay focused.

I have a few other things on my plate this summer as well:
  • Trips to the cabin and to visit friends and relatives on the weekends
  • Daily morning bike rides to stay energized and in shape
  • Eat a healthy diet and reduce the amount of money I'm spending at restaurants.
  • Read two books per month. The first couple of days this summer will probably be spent just reading.

A few things on my list are actually school-related:
  • I'll be taking a class to become certified to teach AP Computer Science. The class takes one week in June.
  • Meet with the new DECA officers at least once this summer to plan next year's Program of Work
  • Luckily, each class I teach next year is one that I've taught before. However, the curricula are in need of updates and improvements. Spend some time on this, but not until August.

It's important that teachers have purposeful summers. I don't say that because I think teachers should stay productive; I say that because if your summer isn't purposeful, I think you'd get bored really fast. Last summer was busy for me. For the first time since high school, I acted in a play. It was aweseome. I also took some classes and did a bunch of other things. But teachers definitely need to take proactive steps to stay busy during the summer.

It's doubtful that I'll be updating this blog much throughout the summer. I plan on taking a complete break from all things kids and education for a while. I haven't decided whether or not I'll keep writing next school year.

Writing this blog has been a great experience. Thanks to all of my readers and commenters. Have a restful and purposeful summer!

June 7, 2009

Year In Review

Here is a list of things I learned this year and things I'd like to improve next year:

  • Inspect what you expect. It's OK to give students responsibilities, but don't give them more than they can handle, and hold them accountable.

  • Maintain high academic expectations. If students know that they can get away with substandard work, they will. Don't let them. They won't learn anything that way.

  • Maintain a proper work/life balance. My workout routine took a major hit this year. There were some reasons for that other than work, but physical fitness needs to be a very high priority.

  • Don't get too involved. This is only a job.

  • Establish routines and stick to them. Students need predictability and clarity of expectations. This includes everything from how to request hallway passes to when to sharpen a pencil to grading and attendance policies.

  • Unfortunately, I've learned that teenagers can't be trusted. They make promises they can't keep; they cheat, lie, and steal; they don’t follow through; they bicker and complain; and they generally act like immature teenagers. I thought that my job would be teaching. It's more like 10% teaching and 90% babysitting.

June 4, 2009

Making Waves

The district has upgraded me to a full time teaching schedule for next year. I'll be teaching more programming and technology classes, which I'm excited about. I can definitely see the Business department changing direction since I replaced our previous Marketing teacher. We're moving more toward a Business focus and away from a Marketing focus:
  • Our School Store program is being reduced.
  • Our Sales and School Store Seminar classes have been cut.
  • Our OJT program has been cut.
  • We added a new Web Site Design course for 2009-2010
  • We'll be adding an AP Computer Science course for 2010-2011
  • Our DECA program continues its strong growth.
Overall, I like the new direction we're going. Almost all of these changes are a direct result of me, a more business-oriented person, being in the building instead of last year's teacher, who was much more of a marketing-oriented person. I personally advocated and/or introduced most of these changes myself.


My Last Job

I spoke to my friend who took the job I held at a rural high school last year. He informed me that his position has been reduced to a part-time gig because the district has decided to cut the OJT program there. That program was managed by the same exceptional teacher for 10 years in a row. Then I came in and took it over for a year, and now my friend is running it. He's currently looking for another job.

So I've only been a professional educator for two years, but I've already made or contributed to important and lasting changes at two separate school districts. When you enter the teaching profession, you assume large responsibilities. What you do in your school can have widespread systemic effects.

May 28, 2009

Are We There Yet?

Nine days to go and my mind is already long gone. I remember feeling this way last year too. I'm so ready to be done with immature kids and move on to other things. I have a big goal for the summer: to start my second software company. I've already been spending a lot of time on it. When it's ready, I'll be announcing details of the business on this blog.

Plus, there's been quite a bit of forward movement in my social life lately, which I've been giving much more priority to than school. And, the temperature is rising and everyone is pretty much pent up and ready to get outside, up to the cabin, to go fishing and swimming and biking and camping.

Surprisingly, the buzz on teacherlingo.com is still all about education and pedagogy. Kudos to everyone for staying so focused so late in the year. How do you do it?

Nine more days!

Nine more days!

May 16, 2009

Smart And Gets Things Done

Which is more important: being smart or getting things done? In other words, should people be commended for coming up with really brilliant ideas, or for working really hard at turning those ideas into reality? I agree with Joel Spolsky when he says that both are important.

Being smart includes:
  • Being creative, that is, synthesizing existing concepts in novel ways in order to develop solutions to problems.
  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Developing new ideas.

Getting things done includes:
  • A strong work ethic.
  • The self-discipline and perseverance to see a task through to completion.
  • Project management skills.


Being Smart

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is smart and gets things done. His idea for a social networking site was nothing short of brilliant. But the business only exists because he did something with his idea.

Getting Things Done

When I started my first software company, I had no idea how much work it was going to be. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have even made the attempt. My business was successful because I had a smart idea and got things done. I needed both.

In The Classroom

How are we preparing our students to be smart and get things done? Which do you emphasize most in your classrooms? It seems to me that most K-12 educators focus more on the "gets things done" side of the house. We're more interested in the fact that students complete the assigned work, following our instructions to the letter, than the ideas that students come up with.

If students don't have clear instructions, they become totally lost. All but the very brightest students are unable to come up with creative ideas on their own. We're producing a generation that is really great at following instructions and copying examples.

Making the Facebooks and Googles of the world is a lot of work. But it also requires creativity. Let's not forsake one for the other.

May 9, 2009

Teaching Is Not Life

There are some days when I would be glad to never see another teenager again. I mean really. There are 24 days left of school, and summer could not come fast enough! Sometimes I'd rather just sit in a dark corner and get paid to write computer code all day. It's not just the kids. This profession draws a personality type that is quite different than my own. I miss the conversations with my old co-workers about three phrase power generation, artificial neural networks, Monty Python, and rubber chickens.

Wait – it sounds here like I'm complaining. I'm not. This is a great job and I'm extremely grateful for it – and by the way, the trip to LA was super fantastic – and this is just such a great career, and I don't think I'll ever change jobs. But still, teaching is not life.

My original plan for this article was to write a long prose about how many other great things there are in life besides teaching, and how engaging in those other things can enhance your entire life, including your professional life. What are those things for you?

Lately, I've been thinking about some other things that are much more important than this job!

I usually put some sort of judgmental moralistic declaration at the end of my posts but I think I'll skip it this time.

April 24, 2009

Begging The Question Has Literally Jumped The Shark

A few additions to my Annoying Phrases List. These rank right up there with I Know Right.

Begging the question when you really mean raising the question.

Saying literally when you really mean figuratively.

Wait. What?

I Know, Right? (added here again just for good measure).

April 15, 2009

I'm The Real Facebook Narcissist

May I have your attention please? Will the real Facebook narcissist please stand up? I repeat, will the real Facebook narcissist please stand up? We're gonna have a problem here.



Have you ever noticed how almost all Facebook updates are thinly veiled attempts to broadcast and show off how awesome one's life is and make everyone else insanely jealous? Some recent examples from my own Facebook friends:
  • Is there really any chance that I will not go golfing today?
  • [name] thinks playing with seaplanes might be some of the most fun you can possibly have. Who would have thought it qualifies as work....
  • And another business takes life. I just cant get enough of this entrepreneurship stuff. Bad economy, what?!?!?
  • [name] forgot how much she loves Hong Kong
  • [name] is excited her husband is coming home! (this class of Facebook update is my personal favorite)
  • New business. My girl is here. Its going to be 60 degrees. B$s got crazy work. Drake loves the world again. Weekend of amazingness ahead. Damn, good life.

Here's what some of my updates would look like if I actually WAS the real Facebook narcissist:
  • Seventy degrees today. Took a wonderful bike ride to the high school baseball game. Chatted with some friends. Watched the team win big time. Biked home. Hit 20mph on the last hill. Awesome!
  • Met with some professional colleagues from around the state at an educator's conference yesterday. Caught up with old acquaintances and reviewed some of the latest research and trends in the field.
  • Took 30 smart and motivated business students to the state competition. Smiles all around.
  • I get to work at 7:30, come home at 2:00, go biking, and then work on starting my second software company!
  • The national DECA students are a great crew – friendly, respectful, energetic, and smart. Working with them is awesome.
  • Went flying in a Cessna 172 with an old friend. I still remember how to do crosswind landings!
  • Running an organization of 80 people. Setting goals and getting things done.
  • Teaching classes and either corrupting or inspiring young minds.

Teaching is not life. But it's a big part of a great life. To the Facebook narcissists: I'm sure your life is great and all, and no offense, but I think mine is even better. Be a teacher.

And there's a million of us just like me, who cuss like me; who just don't give a flub like me, who dress like me; walk, talk and act like me, and just might be the next best thing but not quite me!

Because I'm the Facebook narcissist, yes I'm the real Facebook narcissist, all you other Facebook narcissists are just imitating. So won't the real Facebook narcissist please stand up? Please stand up? Please stand up?

I'm totally serial.

April 14, 2009

Dancing Bunnies Or Videos For Your Classroom

Whenever someone tells me, "Hey, check this out!", I usually just ignore them. It's usually another useless website that I'll immediately forget about, or a clever email forward that's only funny to people who are obsessed with cats, or a cute picture of a dancing bunny.


This picture is only funny to people who like cats.


The people who send these websites and emails my way have good intentions, and sometimes their recommendations are genuinely useful. But we're living in an era of complete information overload. We can't keep track of all of these great websites for teachers and funny cat pictures and dancing bunnies. In the 21st century, learning how to effectively ignore information is actually more important than learning how to find it.

Hey, Check This Out!

There is one great resource that you should definitely not ignore:

TED: Technology, Entertainment, and Design

This annual conference is held in California, and many of the speeches are available as free streaming video online. The conference includes such notable thinkers as: Burt Rutan, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Anderson, Dan Ariely, Seth Godin, Richard Branson, and Stephen Hawking. The topics range from business and marketing to technology to sustainability to physics to psychology to economics, and of course, entertainment and design.

This is a chance to stream world-renowned thinkers, authors, and doers right into your classrooms. All of the talks are profound and will get you thinking about things in ways that you never have. There is sure to be a video you can use regardless of which subject you teach. I recently showed the following three videos in marketing class, and the students were hooked.

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce
Seth Godin: Sliced Bread and Other Marketing Delights
Chris Anderson: Technology's Long Tail

Another great resource is Google Tech Talks. Google invites leaders in business and academia to speak at its Googleplex campus. These videos usually run an hour in length, and I've found several relevant talks here for my business classes, too. There are many videos of authors summarizing their new books. One particularly interesting video is this one of Barry Schwartz discussing the Paradox of Choice.

So – check out these great resources! And don't put them into your dancing bunnies folder.

April 6, 2009

Are You Going Through A Rough Spot?

There has been recent activity in the edublosophere on the subject of teaching with depression. I'd like to throw in my own two cents based on personal experience. I'll start with a question: what would happen if these air traffic controllers thought about their personal problems at their jobs?


Probably something like this:


What happens to our professional lives when there is overwhelming stress in our personal lives? This issue is important for all professionals, but I'd say it's especially important for teachers. Teachers can not bring their students down with them. When we're physically in the classroom, we need to be 100% mentally in the classroom. I'm not an advocate of putting a brick wall between your personal and professional lives; in fact, I believe that the two are intimately related. However, we have a professional duty, maybe even a fiduciary duty, to our students. They deserve the best education they can get regardless of what's happening in the teachers' personal life.

I was going through a pretty stressful episode about this time last year, and this is what I wrote then:

The reason I got into teaching is for the students and that has never changed, even through all of this. My focus as a teacher is 100% on them. I am completely dedicated to providing a high quality education to them. That's always been my reason for entering this field and it's now my reason for staying. I really do get positive energy from this job. I come into work in the morning, start my first class, and think about how fortunate I am to be doing something like this. Every day I still think about it. The rewards from this job are immeasurable. Students first. That's my plan for the next three months.

I ended up following my own advice, and what happened was surprising. First, my teaching improved dramatically – my teaching during this time was even better than it was at the beginning of the year. Secondly, I became quite happy. I began living in the present, focusing on others, and having gratitude. It works. Who knew?

Here's what I would say to a teacher who is going through a rough spot:

  • It's not about you. Focus on the students.

  • Live in the here and now (especially when you're in the classroom!)

  • Maybe you're not responsible for sorting out air traffic, but what you do in the classroom is still more important than your own petty problems.

  • Your job is awesome. Live with gratitude.

April 5, 2009

LAX Fun!

Guess where I get to go?


This is the approach procedure that pilots follow when landing on runway 25L using ILS (Instrument Landing System) technology at LAX. How sad is it that I actually know what all of this means? I earned an instrument rating for my pilot's license about five years ago, but I haven't done a lot of flying lately, preferring to spend my teacher's salary on food instead of 100 octane avgas.

Our outstanding DECA students earned a trip to the national conference this year, so I'll be taking the group out there. We'll take in some of the local touristy stuff, maybe do some surfing, and oh, and we'll be competing at the DECA conference, too. All in a day's work for a business teacher. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.


And we get to fly on an A320! This might be the best part for me, being the geeky pilot that I am.

April 4, 2009

The Best Way To Improve Your Teaching

Diet and exercise. Wait, that's two things. Okay then, just exercise.

You've heard this millions of times before. Here's the thing though: just knowing it won't help. You have to actually DO IT. Just do something for 30 minutes a day: take a walk, go for a run, or spend some time at the gym.

Actually you should stop reading this and do it right now. Reading about it won't help. And if your excuse is that you don't have time, just go do it now. What you actually don't have time for is reading blogs on the internet. You'll see how much better you feel and then you'll think, "gee, I should do this more often."

Honestly, you don't know how much this can improve your life until you've tried it yourself. You'll obviously have more physical energy and stamina, which will help you in the classroom. But possibly the most beneficial thing about exercise is that it actually makes your thinking much clearer. You can think better and concentrate longer.

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.
- John F. Kennedy

That's all I'll say because honestly, you won't get it just by reading about it. Just go for a jog or something right now.

Diet is important too. Eating a lot of fat and sugar makes you sluggish. I have mixed feelings about caffeine. It definitely boosts energy and concentration in the short term, but destroys those things in the long term.

Springtime!

In the dead of winter, I'm much less disciplined about my workout routine. Going to a gym and mindlessly trudging along on a machine is pretty boring. But in the past few weeks, it's gotten warm enough for me to get out on my bike, which is really fun. You know, the fresh air, the birds, the lakes, the smells, the sunsets, all that stuff.

I guarantee that your teaching will improve when you're physically active and eat healthy foods. Every other part of your life will improve as well.

March 26, 2009

Flipping The Bozo Bit

flip the bozo bit v. Decide that someone is a clown, and stop listening to them.
From Joel on Software: How To Be A Program Manager


Once the bozo bit has been flipped, it's an almost permanent situation. Once it's on, it's on. Unflipping the bozo bit is a rare occurrence.

Don't Flip the Bozo Bit

Sometimes people annoy me and I'm tempted to flip the bozo bit on them. Even students. But I never do it. Flipping the bozo bit is the most blatant form of the ad hominem fallacy. It's counterproductive and only tears down your team. If you flip the bozo bit on someone, you basically end the relationship and create an antagonistic situation, which can be fatal to an organization, especially if the bozo bit is flipped on one of its leaders.

Some of the people I've been tempted to flip the bozo bit on have turned out later to be among my most valuable team members.

What If The Bozo Bit Is Flipped On You?

In my two years of teaching, three students have flipped the bozo bit on me for reasons which may or may not be valid. One student just decided that he didn't like my class, so he flipped the bozo bit. Another student was stuck in the way that the previous advisor ran our organization, so she flipped the bozo bit on me. For a while, I thought Kevin flipped the bozo bit on me too, but now I don't think he actually has, although he certainly would have a reason to.

If someone has flipped the bozo bit on you, should you just give up? Is it possible to regain any credibility after that point?

After The Bozo Bit Has Been Flipped

The answer is yes, but it's very difficult. You will never be able to unflip the bozo bit yourself; only the other person can. The way to do it is to not flip the bozo bit on them in retaliation. Respect and courtesy earn courtesy and respect. If you treat people with respect and courtesy consistently and are persistent in your efforts, your bozo bit can be unflipped. But it will take some time. Don't try to get them to unflip the bozo bit – don't try to force it. Just be respectful and courteous.

George Bush: Leading With A Flipped Bozo Bit

Most of the country flipped the bozo bit on George Bush during his last years in office. What impressed me was that he kept his chin up despite his unpopularity and despite the difficult situation he found himself in. He carried himself with grace even when the country overwhelmingly threw his party out of office. He did not get bitter. In fact, he did just the opposite. He steadfastly stayed the course with his policies, confidently made decisions, and graciously welcomed the new administration. I'll stay silent on his policies, but this aspect of his leadership style is something I admire and look up to.



More Information On Flipping The Bozo Bit

Jim McCarthy: Dynamics of Software Development
Amplifying Your Effectiveness
Set The Bozo Bit
Wikipedia: Bozo Bit

March 15, 2009

Crossing Paths

When I worked in community theatre, the last performance of a play always came with mixed feelings. You worked closely with the same group of people for the last two months. All of you put your best efforts into the production. There were successes and failures. Then, one day, it’s all over. You all tear down the set and go home. Part of you is relieved, part of you is proud of what the group did, and part of you is sad that it’s over. The end of the school year is less than a month away, and I’m already anticipating a similar experience.

People who work in theatre a lot take this as part of the job. It becomes easier with each play you do. You’re sad to see the production end, but you know that more adventures lie ahead.

I wrote that during my student teaching experience. The end of my first year teaching evoked similar emotions, and this year is no different. I can't imagine DECA without this group of kids; I can't imagine the school store without this group of kids. I feel like next year, after these seniors leave, things just won't be the same. When I think about DECA, I'll always think about this group. To me, these people are DECA. I couldn't ask for a better group. And I'm not just saying that – I did not feel the same way about last year's students :)

The logical part of my mind tells me that this is all nonsense. It tells me that next year will bring all sorts of new joys and new challenges and new students. It tells me that I've gone through many, many, transitions before, and I've always been happy after the change. But still, I've got this annoying nostalgic thing going on in my brain.

It's almost unfair. You work all year building relationships with a group of people, and then they all leave, never to be seen or heard from again. Does it get easier? Veteran teachers tell me no.


The answer, of course, is to not hold on too tight. Life is a journey – the fun comes from experiencing it from one present moment to the next, not about reminiscing about the past or thinking about the future. The landscape of my life is full of lots of wonderful people. Wonderful people whose paths have crossed mine for a brief period of time. I look back and remember them all fondly. People from my hometown, people from college, people from my previous jobs. I'm extremely grateful for having had these people in my life.

Ultimately we are all solo travelers. When our paths cross with the paths of others, those are times to be cherished. But all paths inevitably diverge. Don't hold on too tight. Just keep going and see what other paths you'll cross next.

Is this post a bit over-the-top? Maybe. That's why I'm not a professional author. The general principles hold though. Teaching involves emotions. This coming from a stone-faced Rational.

March 11, 2009

Messing With People's Lives

Teachers are sometimes forced to make very difficult decisions which have big effects on the lives of their students. This is one of those things that you don't find out until you're actually a teacher.


Last weekend at our state DECA conference, I told Kevin (not really!) that he would be banned from the national conference because of a discipline issue. He was pretty bummed out but also remorseful about what he had done, and he accepted the consequences. Two days later, he not only qualified for nationals, but actually won first place.

I ultimately concluded that my original decision was incorrect, a mistake, and today, I told Kevin that I'd love to have him come with us to nationals, and by the way, sorry about all of the confusion.

Now, I'm leaving out a lot of details here – there are many things that you, the reader, don't know – but the original idea seemed like a good one at the time. However, now I'm convinced that my ultimate decision was the correct one. Anyway, none of that is really the point of this article.

Tough Calls

The thing is, I really wanted Kevin to come with us. Teachers aren't supposed to have favorite students but let's be honest, we all do, and Kevin is one of the top students in DECA. He worked hard on his event. He gets straight As and has been nothing but helpful and friendly all year. I really wanted him to come with. He deserved it. I hated telling him he couldn't go. I didn't want to do it. But these tough decisions were part of my job, and I had to follow through and make the call. In fact, my fear of showing a perception of favoritism toward this student was one reason I was so hard on him initially. My logic here was clearly flawed.

But It Was A Mistake

In my old job as a software engineer, I worked on a computer all day. If I made a mistake, I didn't hurt anyone's feelings. I could go back and fix a mistake on a computer. Mistakes then certainly didn't affect people's lives.

When teachers make mistakes, people are involved. I caused Kevin a ton of unnecessary stress because of my mistake. He's understandably upset. Teachers need to make these difficult calls, and our decisions can substantially impact a person's life, and mistakes actually can hurt people.

Not allowing him to attend the national conference would have been an even bigger mistake, though. He would have missed out on a great opportunity that he'd remember for the rest of his life, just because his advisor said so.

Are you willing to accept that kind of responsibility? Are you prepared to mess with people's lives? For me the answer is yes, as long as I learn from my mistakes and make less of them in the future, but this is a responsibility that I didn't really know was involved in teaching before I got into it.

March 6, 2009

The Tenure System

The tenure system does not make practical sense for K-12 educators. It is nerve-wracking for non-tenured teachers, takes legitimate and necessary power away from administrators, rewards underperforming veteran teachers, and harms students. In my state, a new teacher who teaches for three consecutive years in the same district automatically receives tenure.

Non Tenured Teachers

The first three years of a teacher's career are pretty much an all-or-nothing proposition. If a teacher makes it past the three year mark, he knows that he's set for life. If he doesn't, he knows that he has to start completely over from ground zero. These are big stakes. A teacher's first year is filled with enough stressors the way it is. He should not have to worry about a looming Judgment Day on top of it all.

Administrators

Before they let a new teacher get to three years, administrators must be pretty darn sure they want to keep a new teacher around, because after three years, they're stuck with him. In some districts, teachers are watched like a hawk during their third year, with administrators constantly popping into the classroom. Other districts have reputations for dragging new teachers along, only to drop them right before tenure kicks in. I really can't blame administrators for this. If they're being forced to keep someone on their teaching staff, they have a responsibility to make sure that person can perform. Non-tenured teachers know that administrators do this, which sort of freaks us out.

Underperforming Teachers

Every school has some faculty members who simply shouldn't be teaching. Some teachers get burnt out, some don't care about their jobs, and some don't even like kids. Tenured teachers really have no incentive to improve their craft or even maintain an adequate level of performance, because they know that their jobs are basically safe no matter what. This keeps ineffective teachers on the teaching staff when they should be let go.

Administrators need the power to motivate these people and remove them if necessary. The tenure system takes that power away.

Students

This, of course, has the effect of harming students. Students are stuck with poor teachers who should have quit years ago.

Where The Tenure System Does Make Sense

The tenure system does make sense at research universities. It's important that professors and researchers be given academic freedom to explore fringe, controversial, and unconventional ideas, both in the classroom and the laboratory. This is often how social and scientific progress is made. If these positions were subject to chest-beating politicians and administrators, this academic freedom would be lost.

However, the type of learning that takes place in a K-12 system is different than what happens at a university. In the K-12 system, the protection of academic freedom (which tenure creates) is less important than keeping a motivated and effective teaching force (which tenure destroys). For better or worse, there is virtually no need to protect academic freedom in K-12 systems, because K-12 educators are mandated to teach a state-approved, standards-based curriculum. Tenure, a devise whose purpose is to protect academic freedom, is being applied to an institution in which that protection is unnecessary. We're getting all of the drawbacks of the tenure system without any of the benefits.

February 13, 2009

Nerds

I found an excellent article which may help teachers understand the nerd mindset. In Where Are All the Rationals?, I talked about these students and how their personalities are completely different than almost all of their teachers'. I suggested that teachers might do well to learn more about this type of student.

As a nerd myself, I can tell you that this article is pretty spot-on as far as describing nerd psychology goes.

So - here you go! Enjoy!

The Nerd Handbook

February 8, 2009

Where Are All the Rationals?

Some students want to be engineers. Some want to be computer programmers. Some students want to be researchers, scientists, business strategists, professors, judges, economists, pilots, inventors, writers, and financial planners. Unfortunately, these students have very few, if any, role models in the public school system.

David Keirsey believed that personalities could be placed into four large categories: guardians, idealists, artisans, and rationals.

Artisans are observant and pragmatic. Their greatest strength is tactical variation. Their most developed intelligence operations is either expediting or improvising.

Guardians are observant and cooperative. Guardians seek membership or belonging and are concerned with responsibility and duty. Their greatest strength is logistical intelligence. They excel at organizing, facilitating, checking, and supporting.

Idealists are introspective and cooperative. Idealists seek meaning and significance and are concerned with finding their own unique identity. Their greatest strength is diplomatic intelligence. They excel at clarifying, unifying, individualizing, and inspiring.

Rationals are introspective and pragmatic. Rationals seek mastery, and self-control and are concerned with their own knowledge and competence. Their greatest strength is strategic intelligence. They excel in any kind of logical investigation such as engineering, conceptualizing, theorizing, and coordinating.

Without a doubt, most teachers are Guardians or Idealists. A few are Artisans. Very rarely will you find a K-12 educator who is a Rational. In fact, Rationals make up only 5% - 10% of the entire population, and these people almost never choose K-12 education as a career.


All Rationals share the following core characteristics:
  • Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
  • Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
  • Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
  • Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

Rationals are rare, but we do have Rational students in our schools. They are an underserved population. These kids go to school and are a taught by adults whose personalities are completely different from their own. Most teachers don't understand their mindset, and I've seen students become visibly frustrated about this. Almost all teachers are "people people" with little interest in technical or theoretical pursuits. On the whole, I'd have to say that this is a good thing, even for the Rational students. But it's true that these students have hopes and dreams and ways of thinking that none of their teachers can remotely relate to. They pick up on that.

Before you send me any hate mail, I do want to say this. It's vitally important for a school to have a wide variety of personalities on its teaching force. We need Guardians, Idealists, and Artisans. Homogeneity is boring and dangerous, and it's not a very good way to educate kids or open minds. It's important that all students, regardless of their personalities, have someone they can relate to. It's also important that kids be exposed to personality types other than their own.

Teachers should have awareness about this though. We're all trained on how to handle individual differences among students. In college and during workshops, we're trained how to work with ELL, ADD, EBD, learning disabilities, gifted & talented, medical conditions, GLBT, different races and ethnicities, different religions, SES, the list goes on and on. Why aren't we given training on personality types? I don't mean to suggest that Rationals face the same kind of challenges as ELL or GLBT students, but they do deserve more attention than they're getting.


Keirsey's four temperaments are closely associated with the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator. This instrument has received criticism from social scientists, and the Big Five Personality Traits is widely considered to be a much better theory. While the MBTI may not be a totally accurate model of reality, it is accurate enough for the point I'm trying to make here, which is that there is a slight mismatch between teacher personalities and student personalities.

P.S. Brent Spiner is an amazing actor.

February 4, 2009

High School Theater and Community


One reason I decided to become a teacher is that I was drawn toward the sense of community one gets by working in a school. By contrast, the business world is made up of “rational maximizers of self-interest” (not my phrase, but one that I like). I worked within corporations for six years during and after college and was somewhat depressed about the individualistic attitude of the whole thing. Schools aren’t like that.

The school’s drama club performed a production of The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman. I’ve been involved with community theater in the past and thought it would be fun to see this. It was amazing. The actors, singers, musicians, and crew were incredibly talented.

When I was at the play, I recognized actors and musicians from some of my classes. All of these actors and musicians were supported by an engaged audience of parents, teachers, siblings, and friends. Where can you find that kind of support in the business world? You can’t.

I was encouraged by the amount of support that the school gave to these performers. But the sense of community went beyond that. In the audience, I was able to talk with some other teachers that I work with during the day and meet some of the parents. In business, the culture is usually “what can you do for me”, but at this play, the attitude was “look what we’re doing together”. It’s really a completely different approach to life, one that I find much more fulfilling.

February 1, 2009

The Metablogging Post

My friend is an amateur radio operator. He has a shack full of thousands of dollars of communications gear, which he uses to talk with other amateur radio operators about their communications gear. The whole endeavor seems incredibly pointless. Sort of like using a blog to talk about blogging. But everyone is entitled to at least one metablogging post, right?

Why I write:

"Writing may not change the world, but it might change you." – John Dufresne

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates


There are many valid criticisms of blogs, bloggers, and blogging:
  • Blogging is a sure sign of narcissism.
  • Bloggers are just in it for the money.
  • Bloggers are chasing fame.
  • No one cares what you write.

The main reason I write is to reflect on my experiences as a teacher and grow as a professional. In the military, a debriefing is an essential part of each mission. Debriefings allow teams to analyze what went well, what went wrong, and how they can improve next time. That's my goal in blogging as well. It's my way of debriefing and learning from my mistakes. The way to grow professionally is through experience and deliberate reflection. Experience without reflection does not result in growth. Principals have told me that their best teachers are the reflective teachers – the ones who continually monitor their own techniques and seek ways to improve.

That no one else cares about my professional journey is probably a valid point. However, I don't mainly write for other people. I mainly write for myself. In fact, I started writing professional journal entries a full two years before this website was born. No one read those journals except me.

Having a public blog rather than a private journal has some advantages. First, it keeps me accountable. I've set a goal to write at least one article per week. Because I have readers, I feel more accountable to that goal than I would if the journal entries were just for me.

Having public readers also forces me to improve my writing skills. In fact, I've set this as a personal goal, and I've expanded into other types of writing since starting this blog.

The benefits of this blog accrue mainly to me, but not entirely. One goal of mine is to inform new and prospective teachers about what it's like in the trenches. When I was considering teaching as a career, it would have been very helpful to talk to a real live teacher about her experiences. My career change was one of blind faith; I didn't have a clue what I was getting into. Luckily I found out that the career change was a great move, but I didn't really know that going in.

Blogging allows us to connect with other teachers, too. During the school day, we don't get a chance to socialize much with adults, much less reflective and intelligent adults that generally make up the edublogging community. Being able to read and comment on other teachers' experiences is awesome.

So here I am, another blogger blogging about blogging.

January 29, 2009

Favorite Teacher Movies (With Clips!)

Most teacher/school/student movies are totally formulaic and bland, but there are some good ones. Here are my current favorites:

Charlie Bartlett
This is a hilarious movie about a high school student who appoints himself the head psychiatrist and doles out advice to all of his classmates, using a bathroom stall as his office. Very entertaining and a good laugh. This movie would be nothing without Anton Yelchin, whose superb acting has impressed me in other movies as well. I'm really looking forward to his role as the young Chekov in the upcoming Star Trek movie.


Charlie Bartlett at the Internet Movie Database


Rushmore
Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray star in this story about a high school overachiever on academic probation. Also there's a love triangle. Another Wes Anderson movie. Quite similar to his others.


Rushmore at the Internet Movie Database


Chalk
This movie does for teachers what The Breakfast Club did for students. Students have their own groups: the jocks, the nerds, the preps, and the Goths; it turns out that teachers do too. The movie brings out the inner demons of teachers. The evolution of the characters is to watch.


Chalk at the Internet Movie Database


Dead Poets Society
This one really is a classic. It's inspirational and uplifting without being trite. Robin Williams carries the role of the teacher superbly, as expected. Carpe Diem!


Dead Poets Society at the Internet Movie Database


The Man Without A Face
Another classic. Stereotypes are easier to see than reality. This movie goes past the stereotypes and knee-jerk reactions and shows the truth. The book is also wonderful, although it has a slightly different focus. The movie was changed to be less controversial and more digestible for mass audiences.


The Man Without A Face at the Internet Movie Database


A Beautiful Mind
My fascination with economics and John Nash's theories is a reason I enjoy this movie. Honestly, game theory is a compelling field to study. This movie offers a glimpse into the world of academia from the perspective of both professors and students.


A Beautiful Mind at the Internet Movie Database


The Emperor's Club
We used to play this trick on our math teacher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws5is2gjuW4. Kevin Kline gives an outstanding performance.
The Emperor's Club at the Internet Movie Database

Airplane!
Not a teacher movie. But it's the best movie ever made, so I have to include it.


Airplane! at the Internet Movie Database


What are your favorite teacher movies?

P.S. I'd like to specifically point out that Dangerous Minds is not on this list. I didn't like that one. It's a great example of how to make another formulaic inspirational teacher movie.