Thursday, February 17, 2011


I'm aggravated that he won. That's all on this for now.

This Calling

A fellow teacher has recently drawn a lot of attention for her blog, a blog in which she criticized the high school students she has taught. Now it has become something of a media sensation and a possible First Amendment test case.

It looks as if the resolution to this drama will turn on a technicality. It was protected speech. It was done with the use of a school computer. It was technically anonymous. It wasn't anonymous: a photograph and enough other identifiers were there.

I am saddened that what is really a pretty ugly event will turn on a technicality like those I mentioned rather than be determined by sizing up the damage done in this instance.

At my first school a decade ago, my one administrator insisted on using the term "children" when referring to our students. We were at a middle school and I was teaching 9th graders. At times, calling these freshmen "children" seemed preposterous. But consistently calling them "children" helps one treat them like children which they essentially are despite their outward behaviors. Now that I teach older students, it helps for me to think of them as children still. Perhaps as I get older I see how youthful their behavior is, how relatively shallow their life experience still is, and how they take un-adult views on adult matters.

Thinking of them as children helps me put in context what they do, and helps me navigate when they run out of bounds. Thinking of them as children reminds me of how when I was 16 and 17 and 18 I did some pretty childish things for which I'm glad I didn't have to pay adult consequences.

So, my fellow teacher erred on her blogs by failing to treat these children as sensitively as children deserve treatment. Note that sensitive doesn't mean soft or passive. Sensitive means firm at many times. Sensitive includes the words "no" and sensitive can implement consequences for wrongdoing.

There's a fundamental guide toward our actions as teachers that this blogger violated. From my earliest days in this profession my supervisors, teachers, and veteran colleagues have pushed me to confine my comments to observable behavior. It's my job to reward or sanction behavior. It's my job to draw conclusions as to how best reach a student by studying behavior. If something is wrong, I need to keep my comments focused on behavior good and bad. It's not my job to evaluate or fix character. One might argue that it's my job (and that of other teachers) to instill character as we teach, and perhaps those individuals are right. Accomplishing that is anything but a perfect science, and it's something we best do by modeling and by speaking to behavior.

We run foul of our calling as teachers when we overlook the behaviors of youth and fail to see the children on our rosters. We can address the behaviors and help shape the children. But if we attack the children, we won't do anything to help the behaviors.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Appreciation for Clark Howard

Mother nature has interrupted my last four weeks of school with a snow day each week. Today was the fourth day that I have been home alone this winter. Each day the kids' school was open, the roads safe enough for my wife to head into work, leaving me with a lot of time to study up on my economics. Ironically, I've discovered the law of diminishing returns at work, for on this fourth day at home I truly ran out of stuff to study for economics. I know I'll turn around at some point in March cursing my failure to master some obscure curve like this.

These days have given me the chance to listen to my favorite economics guru, Clark Howard. For years I've taken to heart his pragmatic, frugal approach to personal finance. He has set me wise to so many ways to save money and protect myself over the years. But what I appreciate most about him is his humble approach to his work. Apparently on Wednesdays he dedicates 20 minutes or so of air time toward addressing listeners' complaints. Listeners who disagree with his opinion can post on the "Clark Stinks" part of his website, and one of his producers reads a few of the criticisms, giving Clark a chance to respond. In the two sessions of this I've heard he's admitted to being wrong twice. How refreshing!

Unfortunately, his radio show airs while I'm at work. The local station broadcasts Dave Ramsey, a much better-known financial guru. Dave's show has become my favorite show that frustrates me. I can't stop listening to him, but I much prefer Clark's spin on personal finance. Dave overtly applies his Christian faith to his advice, which is his right. Yet I tend to look at spiritual matters as largely separate from finance. Dave is also absolutist about the evils of debt, whereas Clark is very precise about good debt and bad debt. Certainly in Clark's universe the latter is much more common than the former.

And I think Dave's obsession with all debt being bad is misleading. I'm thankful that my wife and I went into debt to buy the home that is, well, home. We have found a wonderful neighborhood, great friends, and a lifestyle that is right for us. And we've been enjoying it now for nearly a decade. We would have missed out on great opportunities for the four of us (make that five, the cat loves this house) had we simply saved until we had amassed a fortune to pay cash.

It's fairly obvious that Clark doesn't pull in the ratings that Dave does, and that saddens me. It's easy to find entertaining and informed absolutists like Dave. But I wish more of America had the patience to listen to a pragmatic self-avowed nerd like Clark, and not just on matters of dollars and cents.

I think someone made a mistake . . .

Shocked! I'm simply shocked that Yuengling wouldn't be the beer of choice for Pennsylvania on this cartogram.