Tag Archives: Teaching

Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

For those of you unfamiliar with Amazon’s Echo and our friend, Alexa, here is a description put out by Amazon…
Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon, made popular by the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot devices developed by Amazon Lab126. … Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. 

Essentially, Echo is a smart speaker and Alexa is the voice you hear providing you with answers to most any question you might have. She’s basically a know it all that you can’t see.

With that as a backdrop, I was teaching a fourth grade class the other day and we were just beginning our math period by reviewing the previous night’s homework. Individual students would give an answer and if everyone was in agreement we’d move on. If not, we’d work out the problem on the board so everyone understood.
After James gave his answer, a couple of students sold him out and began laughing, saying he cheated because he asked Alexa for the answer. I looked over at James and his eyes were looking down and his face was red.
I was trying not to laugh because i never considered Alexa as a resource for homework but then again, I’m not a clever nine-year old with easy options available to him. So the very brief conversation went like this…

Me (smiling): James, did you use Alexa to do your math homework last night?

James (looking at his “friends”): You don’t how I did my homework!

Me: James, I’m not upset if you did, I’m just curious if Alexa helped you with your homework.

James: (looking at me with his face still red): Yeah, but after she gave me the answer, I did the problem myself. I wanted to check her to make sure she was right.

Me (trying not to laugh out loud): So you checked Alexa to make sure she didn’t make a mistake?

James: Yeah.

The class became quiet and looked at me to see what I would say but I don’t sell out clever nine-year olds who can think on their feet in front of their peers. So I simply said, “that was smart,” and we moved on.

I’m not sure what kind of lesson James learned that day, if any, or if he understood he was scamming the system a bit and might try doing it another way in the future. It’s possible.
All I know is that when I glanced back up at him a few seconds later he was smiling and his face wasn’t red anymore. I’m guessing he was feeling pretty good about himself.

And that was good enough for me.


The Brick

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door. He slammed on his brakes and backed the jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed a young boy and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost you a lot of money. Why did you do it?

The young boy was apologetic. “Please mister…please! I’m sorry but i didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.”

With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot between two parked cars. “Its my brother, ” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into the wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.” Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you so much,” the grateful child told the stranger, wiping away his tears.

Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the young boy push his wheelchair bound brother down the sidewalk. It was a long slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable but the driver never repaired the dented side door. Instead, he kept the dent there to remind him of this simple lesson.

Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention. 


Nails In The Fence

I read this little story some years ago and came across it recently. It’s one of those life lessons that bear repeating.

Nail Holes
Nails In The Fence
Author Unknown

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

Finally, Someone Understands

Andrew Hacker is my new hero. My guess is none of you know who Andrew is. That’s okay, because up until a few days ago, neither did I. You see, Mr. Hacker, who teaches political science and mathematics at Queens College is the author of a book called, The Math Myth and other STEM Delusions.


Mr. Hacker, ( my new hero), claims that adults use algebra or geometry about five percent of the time in their day to day lives. Personally, I think that number is a bit high but hey, I’m just grateful someone is finally putting the trash out to the curb here. Apparently, Professor Hacker feels the solution for our children is not more math, but less.

Thank you God.


According to my new main man, requirements like algebra, trigonometry and calculus are, “a harsh and senseless hurdle.”

Can someone please give me an AMEN?

Where was this superhero when I was going to school and developing a lifelong twitch every time someone started a sentence with, “If a train is traveling at 60 miles and hour……”
Because you need to figure that crap out everyday, right? Because you need to know the speed, stops, people and arrival times of a train, in order to graduate, right? Especially since that information is posted at the station where you buy the tickets, even when I went to school. Of course now you can just google it, but it doesn’t stop the crazies from still putting it on tests.


Hacker believes students should focus on what he calls, “adult math,”  so they become agile enough with numbers that they can calculate mileage for business expenses, understand interest rates or read a corporate report or federal budget.

What a concept, huh? Life skills taught in school that we can actually use for the rest of our lives.


Of course Hacker’s book has sparked some controversy by…drum roll please…the MATH teachers. Shocker, right? That’s like saying politicians don’t care much for fact checkers.



Give me simple math everyday and I’m a happy person. This other stuff they refer to as a language is bogus. I believe it’s been forced on us at an early age by former CIA agents who took secretive courses on cruel and unusual punishment for school age children.

Oh, and those little geniuses running around the school systems getting perfect math grades and test scores, spewing their equations ad nauseam? They were stolen at birth and implanted with chip devices that provides them with words that make no sense to the general population. Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on. They’re not normal.

Thank you, Mr. Hacker, for confirming what I have been saying for years and validating my life’s work. You’re THE MAN.


I rest my case.


If Mom And Dad Only Knew

The vocabulary word for they second grade class I had today was Putrid. 

We talked about the word as an adjective, how it sounds and the meaning. On the board I wrote, if something is putrid it is rotten and smells awful. 

When we were done I asked them to write the word in their journal along with the definition and then use the word putrid in a sentence.

Michael is one of those little boys who’s as cute as can be but can turn you into an alcoholic in a matter of hours. He wrote the following in his journal…

When my mother wakes up in the morning she smells putrid.

I stared at the sentence, then at him, then at the sentence again before asking him why he feels that way. He said, because it’s true, she smells putrid in the morning when she wakes up and looks like an old lady with glasses.

Part of me wanted to explain that it wasn’t a very nice thing to say and part of me wanted to walk away and avoid any additional information about his mom. I chose option B. I walked away. Call me a coward if you like but you weren’t there. You didn’t see the look in his eyes. You don’t know.

Of course when I was done with Michael I walked over to Holden who wrote, my father’s farts smell putrid. I nodded my head and kept on walking but Holden kept following me around saying, you don’t understand, they really do. 

It was only 9:15. The day was still young.

We Don’t Need No Education


In a 2016 national survey of college freshman, the number of students who say they will major in education has reached its lowest point in 45 years. Just 4.2 percent intend to major in education compared to 11 percent in 2000, 10 percent in 1990 and 11 percent in 1971. Combine that with poor rates of teacher retention in public schools and I think it’s safe to inform Houston that we have a problem. Baby boomers are leaving the profession and there’s no one coming up to fill those spots.

Anyone care to guess why this is happening?

Let’s start with the fact that we are raising a generation of students who feel entitled and believe teachers are powerless to control them because of litigation threats. Students have little respect for their teachers because their parents show little respect.
Parents don’t want to hear the truth about their child so bad grades are the fault of the teachers and not due to a lack of effort by the student. As a result, grade inflation is sometimes easier than arguing to deaf ears. It must get tiring for teachers trying to raise both the student and the parent. How sad is that?

So why enter a field where salaries fall well behind other professions also requiring advanced degrees?

Why enter a field where student/teacher creativity has now been replaced by standardized testing which changes every few years in order to benefit those marketing the product at the expense of children.

Why enter a field where we make evaluations based on a single test instead of a body of work over a period of months? Because everyone is a great test taker, right?

Why enter a field where teacher bashing has become a popular pastime headed up by some ignorant politicians whose only purpose is promoting their retaliation agenda against a union who decided not to back their election campaigns?

The students entering college today are the generation of no child left behind. They are the ones who remember teachers opening a manual and reading/teaching from it with no sense of creativity allowed. Young people especially in this age of technology, want to feel they can be creative in whatever field they choose to pursue. They’ve already experienced the teaching field from the other side of the desk and they’re not impressed.

Finland probably has the finest education system in the world because in large part, they pay their educators well, respect the profession and allow for creativity while keeping the workload and class sizes low. As a result, their system attracts some of the best students to the teaching field.

Most people think teachers are overpaid with lots of time off, short work days and great benefits. If anyone thinks that’s true, I’d ask you to go up to a dozen or so teachers and ask them if they would encourage anyone to choose the teaching profession today. Considering the perception that many people have of their easy lives, their answers will probably surprise you. If you’re brave enough to stick around they may even elaborate their reasons for you.

We have an education problem in this country that no amount of standardized testing is going to correct. It’s like saying the Johnstown flood could have been prevented with a patch of concrete.

Lets stop the insults, begin holding our children accountable and support ways to educate our children properly. Because as we all know….

a mine es a terble ting to wayste. 

A Five Year Old, Computers And Me

As many of you know, I’m a substitute teacher in our local school district. Today I was subbing for the computer teacher in one of the  elementary  schools and while the morning went well, my afternoon was comprised of three kindergarten classes. Yeah, everything you’re visualizing is about what happened. Me, twenty-two five year olds for each period, thirty computers and lots of untapped energy.

Anyway, as the middle afternoon class was walking in, I had this brief conversation with a little five year old girl who must have been born with attitude running through her veins.

KG: (Looking way up at me) You look like my grandfather

Me: (Looking way down and smiling) Then your grandfather must be very handsome

KG: (Shaking her head) He has a big beard.

Me: (Shrugging my shoulders) Then I guess I don’t look like your grandfather.

KG: (Looking at me defiantly) He has hair like you and he’s two hundred years old.

Me: (Still smiling) That’s nice. Its fun to still have hair when you’re two hundred years old.  Not many people do.

KG: (Tilting her head) My grandfather does but he walks real slow.

Me: (Shrugging) It happens sometimes, especially when you get to be two hundred years old. I’m surprised he’s walking at all.

KG: (Squinting her eyes) Do you walk slow?

ME: (Forcing a smile) Only after teaching your class.

KG: (Looking confused) What does that mean?

Me: (Smiling) It means I need you to count all the buttons on all the keyboards in this computer room and write down how many there are on this piece of paper. After that, I need you to count all the wheels on all the chairs. Can you do that for me?

KG (Nodding) Yes.

Me: (Smiling) Thank you, you’re a big help.

KG: (Following me) Yes I am.

Me: (Half smiling) Yes you are.

KG: (Following me) Yes, I am.

There was still 35 minutes left in the period. Care to guess how the rest of it went?

What I Know About Teaching

Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.

Those words were written by George Bernard Shaw in the early 1900’s. Aside from being a socialist, my guess is Mr. Shaw never sat in a classroom as a teacher. If he did, he may not have written something so disparaging and ignorant.

I’m not a teacher, though I have family members who are. However, in my second, semi-retired life, I have begun to do some substitute teaching, which, again, is not teaching. But I love kids and thought this might be fun. So what I know about actually working the profession can probably be placed inside a thimble.
I’ve heard countless stories over the years about parents and students. I’ve read comments made by elected officials who are so superficially clueless that it defies logic. I’ve sat in meetings with business leaders who have used this quote to drive home a point, insult the profession or attempt to stroke their own overinflated egos. This quote makes the rounds at parties, in boardrooms and homes. Sadly, it’s made by individuals who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Why? Because they’ve never sat in a classroom and unless you’ve done that, you can’t possibly understand.


You want to make the argument that teachers have two months off in the summer and another couple of weeks off during the school year? That’s true, though I know more teachers who work during the summer than sit at the beach, which is the general perception. The reason? They need to supplement their incomes by teaching summer classes, tutoring, coaching, doing clinics, working in retail, landscaping, or any other number of odd jobs.
Yes, they have a pension, if the system is still there when they choose to retire. But so do almost all government workers. You resent that? You should have chosen differently and not chased the dollar you knew you wouldn’t earn by teaching.
Short work day? You see, that’s where part of the ignorance comes in. Many teachers start at 7 or 8:00 and are there until 5 or 6:00 and then take work home with them. It’s also not unusual for work to be done on weekends or to receive calls from parents after hours. I see them come in each morning and leave each day. Their arms are filled with work.


I’ve seen teachers sit in a classroom with children who have autism and hold them until they calmed down; gently speaking with them, as if they were their own child.

I’ve seen teachers make themselves look silly in order to make a student laugh or feel better about themselves.

I’ve seen teachers make sure a child who is living in a hotel room with nine other people, care about how they might learn in that type of environment and then provide those students, on their own time, with the extra attention and help they need.

I’ve seen teachers take money out of their own pockets to buy a child a pair of sneakers or provide snacks or lunch during the day for those whose parents didn’t send any.

I’ve seen teachers shave their heads, along with their students, in order to raise money and awareness for cancer.

I’ve seen teachers try to work with a system that is intent on working against providing students the best possible opportunity to learn.

I’ve seen teachers work with students whose parents refuse to provide their child with prescribed medications, creating a difficult environment for an entire classroom.

I’ve seen teachers attempt to reason with parents who refuse to acknowledge hurtful or bullying behavior by their own child.

I’ve seen teachers understand and work with a children whose home life might be fractured and might need an outlet to express their frustrations.

Parents in prison in wealthy school districts, family illnesses, time dedicated to after school clubs, parents who are in denial about their child…the list goes on.

So you all want a piece of this…times twenty in each classroom?


Are there bad teachers? You bet. You want me to list the number of criminals in the business profession? Or any profession for that matter? Come on, lets not go there.

I’ve come to understand this one point, in the short time I’ve been a substitute. Teachers don’t teach because they want summers off or have a pension. And they certainly don’t teach for the money. It’s not that great. They chose this profession because they love kids. Your kids. It’s the only way they can do this job. You have to love kids.

So instead of giving them a hard time or making a derogatory remark, try to understand and see beyond whatever distorted perceptions are out there. I worked in the business world a long time and I understand why people want to teach.

It’s much more rewarding teaching children than working with adults who act like children.

The other day I was teaching a fourth grade PE class when a group of 4-5 girls walked up to me. I’ve been a substitute in their class several times in the past six months. Anyway, they were all giggling and then one of them asked if they could buy me. After I stopped laughing, I asked what they thought I was worth. They looked at each other for a moment, and then one of them said…priceless?

That’s when I knew I should have been a teacher.