IMG_0268From my long time friend and colleague, Bernie Keller:



“As a kid, my favorite sport was baseball. I was pretty good at it, too. My older brother’s favorite sport was basketball. He was pretty good and the desire to be able to beat him drove me to work hard to become better at it, but whether it was by playing baseball or from playing basketball, I learned a lesson from sports that made me a good teacher, a lesson that education’s reformers and educrats would do well to learn and follow.. These team sports taught me you need the whole team- the power hitter, the bunter, the pinch hitter off the bench, the 20 game winner, the middle reliever, the fire throwing closer, the three point shooter, the 20 point per game player, the rebounder, the sixth man- you need them all.

Any champion will tell you it’s great to be a great player, but if you want to win a championship, you’re gonna need some “not so great” guys to help you. While this may seem so simple it’s almost embarrassing to even address it, for all of its simplicity, it is evident to me that either the education experts never played team sports or if they did, they failed to learn its lessons. Whatever the case, the product of their reforms makes it clear that one of the most important elements of success for education is actually the sports concept that you need everybody.

The current education philosophy that asserts you need only to get the greatest teachers-champions if you will-, that all students must be prepared only for college, that every teacher must teach every lesson the same way, is proof to me that “they don’t get it.” As a player and a coach, I understood that one guy couldn’t win it, that you needed everybody. Teaching is no different. Teaching is not a one man show. Like those sports, teaching is a “team sport”-it needs everybody to play if it is to work as it is supposed to work. The reality is being a great teacher is more than just being able to teach a lesson or meet the requirements of some rubric. Being a great teacher involves the ability to “sell” the subject being taught, as well as to make a connection to and/or with the students

Being a great teacher means having the freedom and the ability to do what you do well, and being a great teacher is believing in and trusting in your ability so it is evident enough to your students that they will believe in and trust in you, too. Just so you know, intimidation, rubrics, checklists and threats won’t create great teachers.

Great teachers develop, and that development takes time, and that development takes others. Sometimes the others are master teachers, sometimes they are mediocre teachers with a few great lessons, sometimes they aren’t teachers at all, but every one of them adds to the greatness of that great teacher.

Great teachers aren’t going to save education. First of all, by definition of the word great, their numbers will be extremely limited. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, no matter how great the teacher is, he/she will still need “the rest of the team”- committed students with a curiosity for the acquisition or the pursuit of knowledge, supportive and committed supervisors, parents, and a community and/or society that embraces and backs education policies and policy makers who view education as more than just a campaign slogan, or a way to throw money at a problem just to be able to help their friends to make a profit, or be able to say they ‘re doing something.”

Doin’ It Differently

“As I watch the changes in education ands listen to the people talk about how the old ways and techniques are antiquated and antediluvian, I can’t help thinking about how much I learned from my parents who never graduated from high school or elementary school is as true for me today as it was when they taught it to me – things like “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, “earn your pay every day”, “Do your job and do it to the best of your ability”. The same is true about so much I learned in school- things like two plus two is four, the symbol for chlorine is Cl and George Washington was the first president of the United States. I keep watching people and listening to people talking about changing education “to meet the needs of the children”, “to make them competitive with the rest of the world.”

Let’s take an airplane for example. Let’s give this airplane state of the art technology, even as we are advocating that same technology in order to guarantee the success of schools. It is an irrefutable fact that the instruments used to guide and fly planes today are far more advanced and complicated than those used by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. There are those who would contend that a pilot who had not kept up with technology would end up crashing the plane in spite of the pilot’s prior experience flying. Perhaps that is true but what happened recently when just such a plane’s technology failed and the plane had to be landed, without the benefit of the much ballyhooed and highly praised technology, safely into the Hudson River? That pilot was not successful because of his access or understanding of technology, but because of his experience and knowledge acquired, (better known as the definition for learning), over decades of flying. While the airplane’s instruments may have changed since the Wright Brothers’ first flight, that which makes flight possible is as true today as it was when Leonardo DaVinci pondered it during the Renaissance.

As an English of English, I taught students parts of speech. Verbs were action words 100 years ago, and they are action words today. You can say it differently if you like, but in the end, verbs will still do what verbs have always done –tell you what action is taking place. Period. You can teach it with computer disks, act it out, teach it using crazy cartoon characters – it’s still a verb and it still tells you what action is taking place.

When I taught English, the most important skill I taught students was how to think because the ability to analyze and break things down into smaller pieces is how learning happens- no matter what the subject or what the skill. Machines, no matter how advanced, cannot think for us- we must think for ourselves, we have to “do the work”. I am confident that if you were to look at the school systems of the students all over the world who are beating out our students, you would find they are not focused on “making learning fun” or making it more interesting or user friendly, or even technologically advanced.I think you would find they are focused on what has always engendered success- challenging work, high expectations, student responsibility and the challenge to students to use their minds to analyze and examine what they are taught. Since Socrates, this has been the focus when it comes to learning. It was relevant and valuable then, and thousands of years later, it is still what makes learning happen.

My mother used to say, “All going to college means is that you’ve been there.” She was right. Going to college didn’t guarantee that I’d learn anything or that I’d get a degree. I had to earn it. Going to college didn’t guarantee me a job. I had to look for one like anybody else, I had to take tests, go on interviews and do whatever else I had to do in order to persuade someone that I could be an asset to them. Going to college didn’t guarantee I’d never lose my job. When I was terminated because the city went broke in the mid-seventies, I had to go out a look for another job just like everybody else.

You can paraphrase my mom’s statement to apply it to making changes or doing things differently. Simply because you change something or do something differently, that doesn’t guarantee the resulting change or difference will work any better than the old way. The idea that just changing things or making them look different or sound different, or coming up with different names or strategies, or making things technologically advanced is the way to make education better is both inane and vacuous, for change in and of itself, does not promise improvement, it merely ensures that things will not be the same.



Keep a good thought