Category Archives: Business

Can you name all of the kings and queens of Europe from 1400-1650?  Apparently knowing this information is important enough for a major test.

I know in my job as a teacher I have found it useful to know some of the leaders of Europe.  The theatre was not well received until Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed it enough to have plays performed in her palace.  Her successor, King James I, actually sponsored Shakespeare’s troupe of actors.  Knowing this has allowed me to sleep peacefully at night.  Knowing this has allowed me to earn more money.  Knowing this has allowed me to win friends and influence people.

Seriously, I question why our students need to memorize this information.  It seems illogical.  Most will store it in short-term memory, do well on the test, and forget it.  My wife did this throughout high school.  She earned “A”s in history, yet has no clue on when WWI or WWII was or who was involved.   And, the knowledge or lack of had not been that important in her career in banking or her running several businesses.

Our state and, subsequently our schools, spend a great amount of time and money on preparing for tests.  I have had many students perform poorly on a test; however, when given another way to demonstrate learning or knowledge, they are able to be successful.

In the work place, do we want someone who tests well?  How many jobs require yearly standardized tests?  Don’t most jobs pay more for experienced workers?  And experience means trying something and learning from it.

Perhaps we should be testing a little less and preparing for life-long learning.  The kind of learning we all do every day.

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Write Right

“”Why do we have to write this essay?”

“How long does it have to be?”

“When is it due?”

Teaching writing to ninth graders takes patience and perseverance because kids come to class with a range of abilities. Most of the students arrive already knowing how to write a five paragraph essay complete with an attention grabbing introduction, thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Meanwhile, some students show up not sure what a thesis statement is or how to begin in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader.  A few students still do not understand what a paragraph is.  And one or two still have not figured out how to bring a pen or pencil to class.

Nevertheless, I begin the writing process, which is a lot more complicated than when I was a freshman.  I remember using the most amazing gadget ever invented to write my essays – the erasable ink pen!  I could wake up at 5 a.m. and ink out a “B” paper in an hour and a half.  Now, I show examples of essays to the students, help them brainstorm ideas, give them time to write rough drafts, and then take them to a computer lab to type the essays.  Of course, the kids today run into the problems of not being able to log on to the school’s server, the keyboards having the letters in a different order because of someone’s idea of a joke, or even having the entire school’s server down.

This week we suffered through the problems in the computer lab with some students having to improvise and write in ink on notebook paper.  It felt so “old school,” without the erasable ink, though.  I wonder whatever happened to those kind of pens?  

Needless to say, most of the kids did a great job of adapting to the problems and coming up with solutions.  Some figured out how to log on using the generic “student” account.  Those who were able to log on emailed their work to themselves.  I was proud of the kids for their patience and perseverance.

As any manager or boss knows, some workers will show up knowing how to do the job, some will have an idea, and some will be clueless.  Some employees will have a problem and fix it themselves, some will seek your help, and one or two will not even notice there is a problem.

We encourage and compliment those who arrive prepared with knowledge and show initiative; we guide and lead those who need it; and we begin the firing (or flunking) process with the guy with the pencil up his nose.

This morning, I saw all of this.  Well, not the pencil up the nose, but one young man was trying to watch YouTube instead of writing.  Since I cannot fire him, he gets extra special time after school with me to make up his lost work time.  (See my earlier post “Detention Again.”)

According to statistics from the federal government, so they must be accurate, 85% of jobs require writing.  However, a more important lesson was how to deal with adversity and to be able to adapt, improvise, and overcome the obstacles thrown before them.



Filed under 21st century skills, Business, Education, Lessons from students

Detention Again

I am the detention supervisor at school.  When kids are late to school or class, they serve a half hour with me after school.  In the business world, we would pretend to be Donald Trump and tell them, “You’re fired!”  However, we can’t fire students.  We can only try to help them change their behaviors.

I also monitor what the school calls Quiet Study Time or QST.  Basically, it is a 105 minute detention.   Imagine the movie Breakfast Club; kids receive QST for chronic tardiness or class disruptions.  The only difference with the movie is that I never leave the room.  Students have to work on school work or work I provide.  They do not eat, sleep, text, listen to ipods, talk, or exchange notes.  Last week I had to kick three guys out; two for sleeping/putting their heads down and one for eating candy.

I usually see students who serve once and learn to change their behaviors.  Nevertheless, I have also seen the same kids for the same reasons.  One young man even called me “Coach” as if this was his extracurricular activity.  It sounds funny, but when he was with me, he did complete his homework.  There were others like him who seemed to only do work when they were serving their detentions and QSTs.  Then, I invited them to come in to do their work even when they were not in trouble.  They laughed at first, but I told them that they would be allowed to go as soon as they finished their work.  After all, they were not in trouble.  I think they told their friends they were in trouble and got their work finished.  For some, getting in trouble, or looking like it is cool.

Another benefit is I am able to help students with their English and history homework.  Today, I had a young lady ask me for help in math.  I looked at the letters and numbers, and they did not spell any known word I have ever seen.  Since there were only three of us in the room, I escorted her to her math teacher.  She was able to get correct homework help and come back.  She was thrilled that she was able to finish her work.

So, should a person who makes a mistake be immediately terminated?  Or, should he or she be forgiven?  It is a difficult decision every boss asks.  My experience has been to get to know the person.  There may be something causing the attention-getting behavior.  So, we try a new approach to manage the person.  If the behavior does not change, then termination will have to happen.  Sometimes, we have to admit that a leopard does not change its spots.


Filed under Business, Education, Lessons from students

Technology Guru

When I first came to Pickerington, I was amazed that it had a computer lab that was open to students during their study halls and lunches.  I was thrilled when I learned that English teachers monitored the lab as a duty, instead of monitoring study hall or lunch.   I guess we were chosen because the computers were only being used for writing back then.  There was no Internet connection.

Our technology department did not trust us to do anything with the computers.  If one printer broke down we were not supposed to switch the computer preferences to the other printer.  They even went so far as to try to password protect it.  It is not a good idea to choose a password from Greek mythology and then assign a mythology nerd to monitor the lab.  I figured out the password twice and was then told to stop.  We were even micro managed to the point that if a printer ran out of paper, we were not to load it because we might break it.  The technology department lost the focus on the computer labs purpose.  It became something to control and make us all look with wonder and awe at the great job they were doing.

Besides cracking codes and passwords, I had fun in the lab.  I enjoyed the duty because I was able to grade essays, help kids with writing assignments, and get to know students in a different way.  Some students came to the lab to avoid study hall.  Some students only came to type an essay.  And some students lived in the lab and came during study halls and lunch.  One young man was Pat.

Pat was a great kid.  He was not a trouble maker, but he did enjoy trying to fix printers and computers with the technology departments knowledge.  I encouraged him to take things apart and try.  I was taught if something is broken then try to fix it.  If you are not successful there is nothing lost; so it is still broken.    I also looked at it as an educational experience for Pat.  This was his passion.  Why not let him learn in school about something he loved?   Lastly, I knew it might make the micromanager mad.  (We all have a little rebel in us.)  Well, Pat fixed many computer and printer problems.  Teachers would ask him for help before they went to the technology department.

When we do not allow people to think for themselves, they do not grow.  By encouraging Pat to fix problems even though it may have been against the wishes of someone else, I was allowing him to learn through his own experiences.  Micromanaging only creates blind followers, not innovators or thinkers or risk-takers.  No successful business can last with only one person thinking for everyone.  It takes the creativity and diversity of many.

What happened to Pat?  The last I heard was he was on the West Coast working for Apple.  I wonder what Igadget he is working on…


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When are you happiest?

When am I happiest?  What a great question!  I could use it in a Socratic discussion at school and  learn learn about the students.   We do it at our dinner table with questions like: “What is your favorite animal and why?” or “Which TV or movie character is most like you?”

I am going to take the Charlie Brown-wishy-washy-way out of answering the question.  I am happy with a cup of coffee in the morning and the newspaper or blogs to read.  I am happy playing soccer or light saber fighting or board games or video games with my boys, and I am happy swimming laps with my daughter.  I am very happy cooking dinner, even if the kids don’t like it.  (After all, that is why PB&J was invented, right?)  Of course,  I am happy discussing our daily schedule, future plans, hopes, and dreams with my wife.

I also love my job.  I am happy talking to freshman, teaching them writing skills and helping them appreciate a variety of stories.  I enjoy sneaking in lessons that make them contemplate their own values, and I love making them think – in the hope that they will solve all of our problems one day.

I guess I am usually happy.

Of course, I do have unhappy moments.  My kids misbehave occasionally, my wife gets mad at me, and I even make dinners I don’t like once in a while.

Nevertheless, everyone has happy and sad days.  When I began teaching, I told a mentor that I would mark on a calendar if the day was good or bad.  If too many days were bad, I would find another profession (probably one that made more money).  So far, my calendars are overwhelmingly good.

It is how we deal with the bad days that make us stronger.  We have to adapt, improvise, and overcome our unhappy days, whether it is at home or work.

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Getting Feedback

Feedback from clients and customers is imperative to improving products and services.  This is a simple, tried, and true business strategy.  Guess what!  Many teachers also use it.

My first year of teaching I gave back tests to students.  My idea was to review answers and have students learn from their mistakes.  I soon learned that students could care less.  In fact, they forgot about the test within five minutes after its completion.  Luckily for me I had Omar in class my first year of teaching.  He loved when we reviewed the tests.  It was obvious he did not prepare for any test, as he never did any work in class.  Nonetheless, he was ready to argue every answer as I went over it.  His goal was to use the entire period to discuss a test and do no other work.  The rest of the class would lose interest, and Omar would enjoy the attention and avoidance of other classwork.

It only took me two test review days to come up with the anti-Omar plan.  I decided that I would review the test giving the correct answers and allow students to write a persuasive argument on why the question was misleading, bad, or confusing.  Students could also look up passages from the text to support their argument.  This eliminated wasted class time for the amusement of one or two students and forced students to write persuasively with specific supporting examples.  Interesting enough, Omar did not feel the need to argue any more, since it was going to take effort.  However, the quiet and conscientious kids loved this method to respectfully explain their answer choices.  This feedback also let me analyze the test questions.  After all, it is possible for a teacher to write a bad question once in a while.

Another example of listening to my clients, or students, is when a few gave me ideas for projects.  The latest suggestion was asking me to allow students to create a song about the novel Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.  Thus, I created enrichment activities for the students that included the song idea, creating a movie trailer, creating a slide show using, or interviewing a veteran of the war in Iraq.  I do not know how many students are working on this extra credit assignment right now, but I listened to the clients and gave them an opportunity.  Now, it is up to them.

I enjoy feedback from my clients.  I also know that many teenagers want to find the easiest way to accomplish work.  (Truthfully, so do I.)  Nevertheless, I realize that sometimes it takes hard work.  But, those of us with customers or students need to listen them for ideas.

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Redo Two

After contemplating whether to have students redo a writing assignment and discussing the idea with an intervention specialist I work with, I decided a redo was necessary.  Thus, I am changing my lesson plans for the rest of the week.  Being a teacher requires flexibility like a gymnast.  It also has to be a trait in most occupations because daily “routines” hardly exist: technology fails, people get sick; bosses want the work – yesterday.

I am going to give the paragraphs back to the students and have them highlight similarities with a model paragraph I wrote.  Then, I am going to give them a new topic over today’s reading assignment.  In addition, I will share two possible topic sentences and four vague supporting ideas.  The students will have to pick two supporting ideas, present them as specific supporting details with one example being a passage from the novel and the other being a paraphrased example.  This will help them next week when they write their essays, and the body paragraphs look exactly like this assignment.

With this redo, I hope the students realize the importance of using valid and specific examples, understand the expectations better, and create thoughtful, insightful, and well-written paragraphs.

Sometimes, we all have to try, try again; unless you are skydiving.

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Sometimes when I golf I like to take a Mulligan.  Sometimes, I like to take many Mulligans. Most times, I just don’t bother to keep score.  Redoing something is a necessity in life.  I have had to repaint my basement six or seven times.  I can not remember all of the colors except for gray.  My wife had trouble living with the gray walls because it made her feel like she was in a cave.  Being a Neanderthal, I liked my man cave.  In the end the basement became the kid’s play room, so I had to redo my idea for a man cave.  (I now have a corner of the garage that I share with a spider I named Charlotte.)

Today in class I gave an in-class writing assignment inviting students to show their assessment of a dinner meeting between a Major in the U.S. Army and a Sheik in Iraq that takes place near the end of the novel Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.  I asked students if they agreed with the Iraqi that a different war was going on now.  After reading the paragraphs, I can see many students would like a redo.  Some did not fully understand the question.  Some did not fully support their opinion with examples from the novel.  Some, obviously, did not complete the reading assignment.

The problem I face is to whether or not to have a redo.   Did I not explain the assignment well enough?  Could I have modeled it differently?  Should people unprepared get a second chance?

I know in every work place leaders deal with similar problems.  A major difference, of course, is that at work results matter.  In school, learning is what really matters.  So, I will hold kids accountable for this assignment, to teach the assignment again, and have students redo with a different question.  I continue to learn that people comprehend tasks at different rates.

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The start of 2011-12

The last four years have had me in a cynical mood for the first-day-district-wide meetings.  However,  today, I was pleasantly surprised.  Our interim superintendent did not speak down at us; instead he talked about our TEAM. And, we got the great news that we are an EXCELLENT WITH DISTINCTION school district.  To be honest, I am not sure what all of these labels mean, since we try to avoid labeling children, but I can tell that teachers worked hard to help students succeed.  And, someone somewhere cares about our label.  I just know that my four kids learned and accomplished something because of their teachers.  (Ok, some of their success was genetics from the maternal side.)

Sometime during the meeting, I became won over while our guest speaker talked about education.  You can get an idea of what Jamie Vollmer said by visiting his website:  I also suggest giving a copy of his book to any one who thinks they know what is wrong with education.

So, today I learned that some business people can learn that education is different than business, that upper levels of leadership can shine, and I should not be so cynical.  Now, to work this into my classroom next week…

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