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Volume 1 Number 8

Success and failure. Seems pretty clear-cut, doesn't it? This month's cover story/excerpt by author Richard Bromfield explores the reality of Success and Failure.
Effective Teaching by Harry Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
The Trouble With... by Alfie Kohn
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
School Psychologist by Beth Bruno
Bobbi Fisher
Afterschool Intervention
Teachers Not Camp Counselors
Silence Ain't Golden
Enhancing the Curriculum
Thailand 2000
Heroes Unaware
Links Worth The Click
Myth of the Quick Fix
Integrative Curriculum in a Standards-Based World
Student Scientists Win Spot on Mars Team
Teaching Children to be Active Voters
Letters to the Editor
Poll: Favorite Quotes
Archives: Bobbi Fisher
New in the Lesson Bank
Upcoming Ed Conferences
Humor from the Classroom
Help Wanted - Teaching Jobs
Live Events Calendar
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Chatboard Poll: Lemons to Lemonade
by Kathleen Carpenter (Contributing Editor)

From Lemons to Lemonade: Lessons Learned the Hard Way
  - or   -
Lessons Learned That Couldn't Be Taught in Methods Class

Recently Teachers.Net asked teachers to think back to their years as students and recall the least effective teachers they encountered. We challenged them to consider whether they learned ANYTHING from the "lemons" they encountered during those early years at the mercy of teachers whose methods were less than conventional and sometimes downright mean. Most respondents revealed that even the most negative role models have produced positive effects, and that today's students benefit from teachers who learned how NOT to teach. Many of the following posts reveal that educators are very good at turning lemons into lemonade.

The question:

Think about the least effective teacher you had in school. Did you learn ANYTHING from that teacher?

First-year Spanish, 9th grade, St.Louis, 1957-58, I learned what ex-lax is, because the teacher told us one day that she was mad at her boyfriend, and had baked him chocolate chip cookies, and put 'chocolate ex-lax' in instead of real chips. I didn't learn any Spanish, though, and neither did anyone else. The teacher was fired after that one year, and we all had to go to summer school and take Spanish, so we could take year 2 that fall.

I learned that if a class bands together they can get just about anything past some teachers. We snuck one of our classmates out of the room and kept the teacher from knowing till that student was more than half way to the office during a whole class lesson.

I learned how to make myself look sick enough to be sent to the office to have my temperature checked without actually having to ask to go to the office. I also learned how to walk to and from the office incredibly slowly, without looking like I was dawdling.

I learned how to stare at someone, look like I was listening, but actually pay no attention to that person whatsoever.

I learned the definition of the word "lag" (the only academic thing that I actually remember learning from that teacher).

I learned that my opinions, attitude, feelings, personality, and that I in general meant nothing to that teacher.

My classmates learned to stab each other in the backs to avoid getting in trouble by getting someone else in trouble.

I learned the saying, "There ain't no such word as ain't" and learned how to absolutely torment that teacher by saying it to her every chance I got.

I learned that reading wasn't any fun and that vocabulary lists were even worse.

I learned never to take chances, because it was better to be safe than wrong (or at least I learned to play that game... I took chances in every other grade before and after).

In other words... I learned to be even more of a real stinker than I was before.

P.S. This was my 3rd grade teacher.

She was 108 years old! NO... but in her late sixties...

I don't think I learned anything from her except how to pick on a kid (me) and how to humiliate a kid (me).

I was always singled out as the example of not what to do. I was always getting in trouble because I was being mean to somebody... but anytime I was mean... It was because the other kid had teased me first or hit me first... She never listened to my side of the story....

I missed a lot of school that year.... because I hated her so. and would pretend to be sick.....

Actually I had three tremendously ineffective teachers that stand out in my memory.

One was my eighth grade math teacher. How many of you remember "New Math"? Well, he was assigned to teach it and he had zero understanding of it. He said as much nearly every day in class. He said things like "This is just about the dumbest stuff I've ever been assigned to teach." (I have to agree it was dumb, but to say that to your kids?!) He threatened us with stupid threats -- "You quit talking or I'll give you an F." "You quit talking or I'll have the principal come in here and paddle you right here in front of the class." (Our principal paddled, but NEVER in front of other students.)

Another was my Oklahoma history teacher in 9th grade. On our first day, she glared at the class and informed us that teachers' kids could never earn anything higher than a C in her class because teachers' kids didn't deserve anything better. She believed that teachers' kids thought they could get by and do nothing because their parents teach. She was another teacher who threatened and yelled and screamed and made stupid assignments that she never corrected and gave back. The few assignments we did get back had glaring grading errors that we could prove, but she never changed any grades.

Ah, but then there was the "wonderful" PE teacher we had. She was a real corker. She dragged the health scales (doctor-style scales with the weights and all) out onto the gym floor and made each girl weigh herself once a week in front of everyone. Then she would announce everyone's weight. She made us run laps for talking. Laps meant all around the gym floor then up the bleachers and back down. Fifty of them at a time. (No exaggeration) Then there was shower time. She walked up and down by the showers and made comments about either under or over developed girls. She had her "pets" who were the cheerleaders and they generally sat and talked while the rest of us did the PE activities.

She was only at our school two years. After the first year, more than half of the girls in my class showed up with doctors' notes excusing them from PE. Me included. (My father simply went to the doctor and explained it and the doctor wrote the note.)

She was fired that next spring.

I learned how not to be as a teacher myself, and I learned that my mom was the one on whom I could depend to patiently teach me math in a way that I could understand.

My "ineffective" teachers were all in math, an area where I really needed the help. Maybe my low ability in math is what made me notice their ineffectiveness the most. One teacher in 4th grade had some kind of illness or physical exhaustion. She would tell the class, "You guys better marry somebody smart because you don't know math," and then she would just put her head down on her desk. That was the worst! I still remember it vividly, and I really did believe her at the time.

Another one had us play MadLibs and non-math related games in MATH!? In high school, one was a coach who pulled his players out of their classes to come into our math class to watch videos of their games and work on strategies. He would just assign us book work, and then I couldn't even concentrate on that because I kept hearing him talking to his team about plays.

Although I do not teach math, I know that there are students who struggle with the area that I teach (Language Arts). I don't interrupt their language arts time with my other school activities or hobbies, I don't belittle those who struggle or make them feel dumb, and if I can't get through to a student one way then I try something else. I teach them reading, writing, speaking, and listening to the best of my ability. That is my job as their language arts teacher.

Kathleen, If you think that I am going to "dis" any of those Sisters of the Notre Dame who taught me in the 1950's - 1960's - think again! We all know that they are sitting up there with "you know who" just waiting for us to pull a trick like that! Seriously, I must have been lucky because I can't remember having a teacher who was not "effective." The one thing I have never forgotten is that my 6th grade teacher gave us the l-o-n-g-e-s-t lecture because we were all saying that we "loved" the Beatles new album. Her point (when she finally got to it) was that you cannot love an inanimate thing. She believed you could only "love" people. I (politely) disagreed with her - not a brilliant move. I think I had to read the lives of ALL the saints who ever lived and report back to her! Anyway, I still (politely) disagree - only now I "love" Santana's new "album" and Jamoca-Almond-Fudge Ice Cream!

I've had so many it's hard to think of them all. Magoo jogged my memory of Miss S----, 9th grade Spanish (I wonder if she moved to NJ from St. Louis). I had her in '64. She enjoyed stock car races and would spend the whole period talking to the guys about cars. During vocabulary tests we would open our books and put them on the floor next to our seats and just copy. She never said a word about it. The next year the Spanish II teacher screamed and yelled how none of us knew anything and it wasn't his job to teach Spanish I. I ended up dropping the class because I just couldn't keep up. Another one is now a colleague of mine (I teach at my old hs). He's been there 37 yrs and students are still complaining that he can't teach. He taught me Algebra I and now they have him teaching remedial math classes (because those kids parents don't call up and complain). I heard that about 20 yrs ago they refused to give him his pay raise as a punishment. That means for the rest of his career he is 1 step behind on the pay scale. The thing is this guy has no life and has no intention of ever retiring.

Ooooh, I have to agree with Casub on this one. I know where those nuns are now. I know that a bolt of lightning will strike me if I dare slander them. Well, hmm, there are a couple who were fairly young when they taught me soooooo

I learned not to call kids cabbage heads. Sometimes we were vegetable heads, carrot heads, etc. I think it depended on what she had for dinner the night before.

I learned not to cut the erasers off of kids' pencils. My fourth grade teacher did this. We weren't allowed to make mistakes.

I learned to not pull kids out of their seats by their ears.

I learned that smacking a kid with a yard stick creates a lot of resentment. I was never on the receiving end. I did, however, deeply resent those teachers for humiliating those who were on the receiving end. I didn't even like the kids that much, but I sure felt sorry for them.

I learned that the good sisters were much kinder to girls than they were to boys. My brothers have some nasty tales to tell about their treatment. My mother, a very good Catholic, pulled two of my brothers out of the Catholic school because of the treatment they received at the hands of penguins. Ouch, I'm going to get it for that one.

Later in life I learned that the good Dominican sisters that taught me were pretty tame compared to others.

I once had an English prof compliment me on my writing skills. He said, "Someone has taught you well." So I guess they taught me how to write. I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences. Thank you to the Dominican Sisters that taught at St. Mary's in St. Clair, Michigan. (I know my grammar and sentence structure here is somewhat lax. Please don't pick it apart, I have a migraine. Guess I didn't learn about the perils of making excuses. LOL)

They did indeed teach me many things. (Or did I learn in spite of them?) I'm sure they never realized it at the time. I was one of those kids that spent the better part of my elementary years staring out of a window. I guess I also learned that some of those kids that don't seem to be paying attention are really getting something out of those lessons that we are so desperately trying to deliver.

I will try to remember these lessons as I begin the next school year in a couple of weeks.

A bully and a coward and ignorant to boot. He told us the sky is blue because oxygen is blue. Whole periods were spent listening to him rant about the communist menace and watching him humiliate--and sometimes paddle--anyone who had an independent opinion. He didn't dare hit me because my dad was on the school board, but he tormented my friend Jeanne into a near breakdown.

I guess I lucked-out. I really liked (and sometimes loved) most of my teachers K-12. There are a few instances that do stick out, though. My 8th gr. science teacher was really odd. He was doing research and constantly talked about the sex life of a certain kind of fly. This was "way" back in 1964 and we all just sat there stunned that he'd mention something like that. I remember nothing else about him or his teaching.

Something else that sticks with me: In elementary school, there was always a "naughty" boy in each classroom. Of course this was before testing and meds, so the kid was usually shoved out into the hallway with his desk to do his work and not distract the teacher or students. I remember getting in trouble for laughing a lot. We had the whole-wall type closets with the doors that swung open and we'd keep coats and boots, etc. in there. If a boy was being naughty and needed to be isolated, the teacher would push his desk in there and close the doors most of the way. Unfortunately, I usually sat by the closet. I'd get the giggles listening to him hum, make gross noises, knock quietly on the doors, run his fingers along the bottom of the door..... I was a basket case. Being the timid, well-behaved student that I was, I accepted the reprimanding for laughing instead of explaining what was making me laugh. These were also the boys that would stand at the pencil sharpener and spit through their front teeth into the waste basket. I was really impressed with that.

By the time I got to high school, we had frequent transfers from the catholic high school three blocks away. Most of the students were sick and tired of having their knuckles whacked with a ruler by the nuns. Or, they got their ears pulled or their upper arms pinched. I was lucky to have good teachers and learned a lot from most of them.

When my oldest was in geometry in the late 80's, it was weird to go to the conference and talk with MY old geometry teacher. I never did master Geometry. We spent endless class periods at the chalkboard doing work with about 8 others kids. I learned to look out of the corner of my eye to copy others' work. By the end of the year, the teacher told me, jokingly of course, that he didn't want me in the class the next year so he "gave" me a D. I told him, twenty years later, that "joke" and he was really embarrassed that he'd said that. He admitted that it was his first year of teaching and apologized that I'd remembered his lack of professionalism.

I have been taught by two orders of nuns. Taught with two orders of nuns. The Felicians and the Holy Family of Nazareth Sisters were fine examples of teachers. If you were disciplined you needed it.They were well prepared. We had multiage classrooms before they were popular. 56 in a class, second and third together. Thirty-six 8th graders for science last year gave me a rash.

But I realize the backlash in schools today from all those who weren't "guilty" and punished or punished too severely. That's why when a parent comes to me today, and questions my actions, I accept it as the right of a responsible parent. And I hope my answer clears up any "stories" that their child has embellished.

However, I came late to teaching because of the menopausal conflicts of a person who taught me. Nothing I did was right. Even when it was. I was a leader and she didn't want me to be. It tramped on her toes. I felt this teacher was "aces" as an instructor, but a witch otherwise. Mom didn't tangle much, but when she did. Never had problems with this teacher again. But...she left a bad taste.

Good News is...because of her I attempt to be encouraging, accepting, and fair. Lemons and lemonade.

The most ineffective teacher I had was 10th grade History. At that time in St. Louis, students were tracked according to ability. I was in track one...On the first test the highest grade was 5%! Nothing that he covered was on the test, and very little of it was in the textbook. By the time the first report cards were issued we were all failing! For students who had 4.0 GPA's, this was serious. The parents came to our aid by going to the principal and to the school board. There contention was there was something wrong with a teacher if everyone one in each class is failing. Armed with copies of our notes, the textbook and the tests we were able to get the grade removed from our transcripts. At the end of the year the teacher retired. The second semester I had the best History teacher in the world!

What did I learn? I learned how to give a test. Everytime I think about testing, I remember him.

My sophomore year, I had honors American Lit with a teacher that at the time was very ineffective. Her father, I think, was dying and of course that is going to make a person extremely stressed out and anxious. However, she would yell at us for no reason, just out of the blue, for very little things. Our class was very well behaved so this was quite a shock. To top it off, she had a student teacher who flirted with all the guys and it was disgusting. She never put the st. teacher in check and it drove most of us nuts. I just remember how unprofessional I thought it was to take your own problems out on your students. I remember that when I'm mad at my husband, or when I have PMS, or when my back was killing me last year when I was pregnant. Those concerns were mine and it's not fair to take it out on my students.

Interestingly enough, I had her the following year and she was fantastic. However, I found out that she smoked pot at frat parties at a local university. Consequently, that plus the previous years tirades made me look at her as not so effective. Good at teaching english but not necessarily a good teacher.

Sister Mary Hitler laid the golden rule across my palm daily. Sister Mary Mengele wielded a large wooded salad spoon. And Sister Mary Himmler grabbed my by the flesh under my chin and jerked my head back and forth. Of course, I deserved none of this, right? The strange thing is, the education was great and very helpful when I went on to public high school. The religion didn't take, however.

One day I fumbled the football in a p.e. class drill. My wonderful teacher who thought he was an NFL star stated "Man, what a loser" in front of the whole class then chuckled to himself. I never did like that guy.

No joke. I learned that I never wanted to be a teacher...but I'm a slow learner!

My first grade teacher punched me because I and another boy were giggling over a silly drawing of a house he made. To us, it looked liked a rocket ship. She didn't appreciate the smiles we had on our faces. What did I learn from her? I hated school for the next three years. This incident probably influenced my decision to become a teacher, to prevent other children from experiencing similar situations.

Sorry that some of you have bad nun experiences. The SND's know what they are doing. I had them in elem school, high school, and college. I couldn't have done better.

Actually I loved the way he taught math. We were grouped in tracks for the year. I was a poor reader so I was by default in a slow math group as well, although very gifted in this area. He was the first teacher to encourage me and give me work which challenged me.

But then one day out of the blue he explained to us how the end of the world was near. He somehow disguised it as a lesson on persuasive speaking (in math?). He had lots of supporting arguments... right from the Bible. (And despite the fact that it was a public school we were in the Bible belt where each day still started with student lead school wide prayer.) It was very convincing. We all went home convinced that after May 30, 1980 we'd all be gone. I remember explaining it to my parents crying hysterically. Of course the day came and went and we're still here.

He, however, was gone at the start of the next school year.

I think i later realized the power that we as teachers have. How students (at least some) are willing to really put their trust in us. How they take what we say seriously and for that reason it must be carefully selected.

I went to a high school with 3 Jewish students. The kid this teacher asked, "Did you go to church on Sunday?" and his 2 sisters. He replied, "I'm Jewish. I went to Temple on Saturday." She said, "That doesn't matter. You still should have gone to church on Sunday."

I learned that intolerance DOES exist. Even in America.

She also told us that human beings first appeared someplace in Europe (France, I think, maybe) and then migrated... but the Celts were the original people in the Bible... they migrated from France to Ireland.

Did I learn anything? Well, there was the reading from the curriculum we had to do. Beowulf that year, always a treat. (Of course, with a different teacher I may not have sided so strongly with Grendel.) We did Chaucer that semester, too, and let me tell you, that lady did a FINE impression of a rooster. So Chanticlear means something very different to me than he does to most people.

Oh... and I learned that if you blow your nose into your hankie, and then shove the hankie up your sleeve, your students will be thinking: "Ugh. Snot on the arm," and they won't really hear a word you say.

The less said about her perpetually slipping bra strap, the better. Some memories are just too painful.

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