Thursday, July 30, 2015

Teacher Hacking


Teacher Hacking

Brigid Schulte of the Washington Post recently wrote a favorable piece celebrating “The 21-day Timehacker Project”.

Schulte showcased a Leadville, Colorado kindergarten teacher who utilized five time hacks to get the reins on her burn-out. I think there's a good chunk of "Pie-in-the-sky" thinking in the article. I agree with the principle, but practice is a much different animal. Teaching burns. Having just exited on the flip-side of 33 years, I know this truth all too well. Through my career, I found my own "life hacks" that enabled me to manage stress and fight burnout. I was moderately successful, but still ended up battling hypertension, anxiety, family disassociation, weight gain, and genie dancing.

First, here's a summary and brief commentary on the WaPo article.


It sounds like a no-brainer, right?  I can guarantee you that if you enter the education profession without really having a passion for it, you won’t last.


Here’s the rub with this advice.  If you are in a classroom for any length of time, you quickly learn that matters presented to you by the students, parents, administrators, and the requirements of the job all matter most.  To ask an inexperienced teacher to rate and rank the mind-boggling flood of matters plated for each teacher is, at best, a life’s work.


Plans are all well and good. Frankly, this idea is unrealistic in today’s education world.

• Work 30-60 minutes every morning on lesson plans before school. On Friday, she should work a bit after school to get ready for the next week.
Many of the best teachers I know come in to work an hour or more before contract time. The morning hours are an ideal time to gather materials and visualize the upcoming day.  Working only “a bit after school” on Friday is laudable; however, “a bit” doesn’t accurately describe the actual amount of work that needs to be done.

• Put lesson plans in Google docs in order to build on them for the following year, instead of always starting from scratch.

This is a fantastic idea; one that should be incorporated in all schools.  It doesn’t have to be Google Docs, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other cloud storage services.  Most teachers have drifted away from the traditional paper and pencil planning grids to computer-based templates that are editable.  Making plans and teaching from them year after year is a troubling concept. In my experience, each year is completely new.  Each class is unique, as is each student.  You can have a template, scope and sequence, for instruction, but the details of that instruction should be tailored to meet the needs of the current class.  So, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just have the build a new one every year.

• List To-Do’s by week, not day “to add flexibility of doing them when you are in the right frame of mind and diminishing the tension of a deadline.”

Survival in the job requires a teacher to keep a mental or written To-Do list. That list must always be flexible as deadlines tend to be as fluid as the nature of the job.

• Make tasks fun

or enjoyable; they are not tasks but just part of your life. Experience them.

An admirable goal. Experiencing and being mentally present and invested your life is vital. Without that, you are merely an empty vessel. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything should be fun or enjoyable.  Life doesn’t work that way.

• Put everything back into its place so you don’t have to hunt for it.

Some are much better at this than others.  I’m good at making piles, but less good at sorting through them unless, somehow, I miraculously whittle my “To-Do” list away.


Gifts are wonderful.  Everyone likes presents!  However, when you give yourself gifts, you have to purchase them or pay for them somehow.  Of course, you could just steal your gift. Stealing, though, is not a victim-less crime.


·         Write about her worries, then tear the paper up and throw it away every Sunday.
While I’m busy writing down my worries on Sunday night, I could be catching up on grading, planning, watching Sixty Minutes, or experiencing the tumultuous gymnastics of restless, stressful sleep.

“With the time hacks, I was able to provide a much higher level of academic rigor, differentiate my lessons more, spend more time analyzing student data, and finding activities that really focused on what they needed, rather than blanket fun activities for all students,” she said. “And all because I found more time in my day.”

I’m sorry that the teacher found these particular truths through time-hacking.  I had hoped that she would find time to practice the art of teaching.  I’m concerned by the whole premise of the article, however.  The 21-Day Timehacker Project, on which Schulte reports, seeks to find ways for the teacher to avoid burnout while continuing to meet unrealistic expectations. 

The real issues that must eventually be addressed are the unrealistic expectations and demands being heaped on the plates of already over-burdened educators.  Why is the American teacher rigorously burning-out and leaving the profession after five years?   How have austerity personnel cuts and ratcheted accountability measures affected the heaping job demands on today’s educators? 

When I retired in June, my third grade level colleagues and I sarcastically joked that I wouldn’t be replaced and that the grade level, which used to be served by four teachers and an assistant, would now only be served by two teachers and no assistant.

In part two, I will delve into specific, personal life hacks that I used which allowed me to stay in the elementary classroom for a full thirty-three year career.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Broken Rope

Broken Rope


Rope a’Dope

The rope broke on my string trimmer Sunday, which set into motion an interesting story.

I ended up taking the trimmer over to John’s Mower Service on Plantation Rd.  John, an older gentleman with engine wisdom written across his wrinkled brow, explained to me the deal…

John showed me an Echo trimmer that was hanging on the shelf and pointed out the starter housing assembly on the back of the engine. This assembly contains the tension spring, pulley and rope.  To replace/repair it, all you have to do, he pointed out, is remove three or four easily accessible screws and then proceed with the simple repair/replacement.

My Poulan Pro, he said, would have to be completely disassembled.  With the tank and shields removed, the clutch assembly comes into view. The final step to accessing the starter assembly is removing a small screw inside a 3” shaft in the center of clutch assembly.  This screw, he said is sealed with Lock-tite and is extremely difficult to remove.  In fact, he said that successfully removing it is a 50/50 proposition.  If  you make it that far, you lift out the clutch assembly and are finally able to attack the repair.  In the end, he suggested that I might as well invest in a new trimmer as the cost of disassembling would cost about $70 before the repair was even attempted, and that’s IF he could get the small screw.

As John was telling me this, I found myself filling in his statements, because I knew exactly what he was about to say.  I had spent a couple of hours wrestling with the trimmer the other day.  I had disassembled the tank and shields only to encounter the clutch and shaft with the tiny screw.  I tried and tried, but I could not get that screw to budge.  That’s why I quit and decided to offer it to a professional. Failure was an option. I thought that I must be inept; that there must be some sort of mechanic’s trick to access that housing.  So, John’s words were a vindication of sorts.

That’s sort of how my day has gone.  The Blue Party Van (BPV) had difficulty starting on my way over to John’s.  She’s been a bit “cranky” of late, and as soon as she fired, the “check engine” light popped on.  I usually don’t worry much about that light as it is usually related to an emission issue; but, to be on the safe side, I didn’t turn her off on my errands.  I stopped by Sheetz to get a Diet Dr. Pepper fountain drink, but it was out of order, so I had to pay full price at a 7-11. I eventually made it home after my John consultation without further disappointment.  In the driveway, I decided to put up my windows in case the rains come this evening.  That’s when I heard a grinding crunch in the driver’s side door, and the window crashed down almost inside the door.  It’s definitely stripped a cog or something inside there and will never work again unless repaired. You probably have to disassemble the door and then remove a screw in the window’s clutch shaft.  This is unfortunate because I was about to trade in the BPV for a shiny new pick-up truck, but this and the check engine light will certainly negatively affect the trade value.

Overall though, these problems are insignificant compared to the big picture of a full and joyous life.

Thursday, July 09, 2015


A darkness surrounds me these days.

I'm not sure why; however, the fact that my health has not been great lately might be adding to it. Next Thursday, I go in for hernia surgery. My doctor will perform a traditional surgery. On the dark bright side, he said I'll be out of work at least two weeks up to six weeks. That, of course, will keep me from school through winter break. Never before have I been so happy to have my body cut open so I wouldn't have to go to work.

Work...teachers are being mauled by the financial times this year.

We are working harder to attain certain federally mandated standards (100% pass rate by 2013). Yet, we have larger class sizes, lay-offs, and fewer supplies due to the recent wave of budget cuts. We wouldn't want to inconvenience the American public by raising their taxes, however.

My job is wearing on me. Hard.

Last week, the school board voted to give teachers a one-time bonus with one-time surplus money in the health insurance account. All that was needed was final approval from the county board of supervisors (Virginia is a rare state where the school board, although elected, does not have a fiscal authority). They chose to deny the bonus.

Teachers in my school district were devastated.

On Tuesday, there is a county board of supervisors meeting at 3pm. I suspect that there will be more than a few teachers there to silently protest the snub.

My job as a leader in the teacher association wears on me and makes me feel older than I am. Oh yeah...did I tell you that the Virginia legislators will try to mess with my retirement package this spring. They may just add 5 years to my minimum retirement age (Rule of 90). :( Plus, they may vote to destroy the teacher pension program for future teachers. Let's face it...4 billion dollars in a fund sitting within sight of a cash-strapped commonwealth may be just too tempting for legislators to not raid.

I grow weary of all of this.

Project Updates

The Knee:

I was granted a release from my three month crutches and brace sentence this past Tuesday. I can walk slowly.  My rehab starts next week and will run for at least 8 weeks.

The Basement:

It's been completed.  It sort of looks like a knee surgery scar across the floor. However, we no have no currenqt crap problems.

The Deck:

This us a new project.  My teaching friend, Loretta (aka Tim) came out to measure up the project. He will resurface our deck and add some design elements.  He's also going to reconstruct our front entry and fix the darned front door.

My Mother:

She is currently battling for her life at Lewis Gale Hospital.  She appears to be shutting down, but she isn't going easily.  The scene is hard to take. Thrashing. Moaning. Calling out.  IIWII.

The Vacation:

My wife and daughter are on a New York City excursion.  They are visiting my niece and her husband at their Bronx flat.

The Knee Redux:

My wife will have her problematic right knee operated on at the end of the month. We've known for thirty years that she would need work done.  The time has come. Hopefully, her surgery will go better than mine.

Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS  July 9, 2015.

A Declaration in the United States of America,

When in the Course of educational events, it becomes necessary for Educators to dissolve the constrictive bands which have connected them with Deformers, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of educators requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all students are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Learning.--That to secure these rights, public schools are instituted among the populace, deriving their just powers from the consent of the people, --That whenever any deform becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the educators to alter it, and to institute new Governance, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect student Liberty and Learning. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that public schools long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that public schools are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such stifling regulation and oversight, and to provide for their proven methods and designs.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these public schools; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of regulation and oversight. The history of the present Secretary of Education is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these public schools. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

When Barak Obama was elected, many educators and parents thought that Obama would bring a new vision of the federal role in education, one that freed schools from the test-and-punish mindset of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind. But Arne Duncan and Barack Obama had a vision no different from George W. Bush and doubled down on the importance of testing, while encouraging privatization and undermining the teaching profession with a $50 million grant to Teach for America to place more novice teachers in high-needs schools.

During Secretary Duncan's tenure in office:

- He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools;

- He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;

- He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;

- He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;

- The Common Core tests are so absurdly "rigorous" that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;
- He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it;

- He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;

- He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;

- Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;

- He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;

- His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;

- He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;

- He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and minorities, plunging students deep into debt;

- He has regularly accused parents and teachers of "lying" to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition. If he were a basketball coach, he would have been encouraging the team to try harder and to reach for greater accomplishment, but instead he took every opportunity to run down the team and repeat how dreadful they are. He spoke of "respect" but he never showed it.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.

It will take years to recover from the damage that Secretary Duncan's policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. [Ravitch]

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Secretary of Education.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our legislators. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their Department of Education to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our meaningless mandates and chronic under-funding. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common interest, children, to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in Practice, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Keepers of the education public trust, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That these educators are, and of Right ought to be Free to practice their craft; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to spurious mandates, and that all professional connection between educators and the deformers, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as liberated professionals, they have full Power to create and modify curriculum, conclude instruction, contract Alliances, establish assessments, and to do all other Acts and Things which professional educators may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.