Friday, October 21, 2011

My Way or the Highway

Recently, Vicki Davis wrote a nice blog about 10 ways to be a terrible teacher. Right off the top of my head I would add failing to plan lessons well and giving busy work, but "my way or the highway" has to be added to the list.

Back in the 80's, I was teaching 10th or 11th grade general math. In the back of the class sat Scott Harris (name changed for privacy). His body language and facial expression mirrored what I had been told, namely that he was just waiting until he was 16 so he could drop out of school.

One day, as I showed a new skill and the method for solving the problem, his expression soured and his head shook in disagreement.

Puzzled by his actions, I said, "Scott, what's up?"

Frowning, he mumbled, "Nothin..."

"It must be something or you wouldn't have made a face. Come on. What is it?"

We went back and forth like this for a little while until he finally relented and said, "That's not the way I do it."

"OK, show me how you do it."

"Why? Teachers never let me do it my way. I have to do it the way they do it."

"Well, that's not the way I work. If your way works, I have no problem with it."

Still with a look of disdain on his face, he came up to the board and showed me a method I had never seen. We did a half a dozen problems and every one of them came right. Try as I might, I could not come up with a problem that couldn't be solved using his method.

I said, "That"s cool! As long as it works, you can use your method." I though I saw a glimmer of a smile as he went back to his seat.

He did well on the quiz and we moved on to the next skill. After I showed the class how the problem was solved, I turned to see Scott shaking his head again. When I asked him about it, he once again said, "That's not the way I do it."

We repeated the same scene from the week before and to make a long story short, it was repeated many more times during the year. In fact, after about the third time, I had an assistant teacher in the class. I would show the class how to solve the problem and then invite Scott up to the board to show us the "Harris method".

He thrived in my class, but unfortunately, as far as the system and his previous teachers were concerned, Scott was a failure. I believe that Scott was a math genius. He certainly had a far greater grasp on math relationships than I did. I couldn't help but wonder whether his gift (or curse) extended to other subjects.

I wish I had a happy ending to this story. I tried to have Scott assessed for his abilities, but the system had already written him off. They figured he would be graduating, quitting, or failing soon. So why bother?

Scott had not failed. The system and some poor teachers had failed Scott!

I don't know where Scott is today, but I hope that like so many geniuses before him who were failed by the system or terrible teachers, that he is thriving, sitting in some office as a CEO, and doing things via the Gurtinak method.

So Vicki, please add "my way or the highway" to your list.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

It Really Stinks!

I started teaching in 1969 on an emergency certificate. I was a liberal arts major with no teaching courses under my belt. In order to get my permanent certificate, I had to go through the paper chase and take the necessary courses.

Of course one of those courses was supervised teaching (practice teach for those who are already teaching). I would be observed twice a week and once every two weeks, all of the teachers in the program would meet for a three hour group session at Farleigh Dickenson.

The teacher for that course was Bob Linette, then the Superintendent of Rockaway schools. I never met him before or after completing the class, yet I will remember his name until the day I die, because three words from him on our first day of class, confirmed my beliefs and helped set the direction of my teaching for the next four decades.

There we were, about 15 of us seated in a circle. He posed a question. I was seated on his right and one by one, starting on his left, he asked for our answer. The question was, "What do you think of the American education system."

For those of you who weren't even born then, there were very few mandated tests and those that were given, confirmed our scores were right up there near the top.

One by one, each person extolled the merits of our educational system. When it got to me, I simply said, "It stinks!"

After the collective gasp and silence, he asked me to explain what I meant. I asked everyone to tell me which part of their day was the math part, which was the science part, and which the English part. I said that if we were supposed to be preparing kids for life, school needed to be more like life. In life we solve complex problems and work with others. I continued for a while and when I finished, he uttered the three words, "You're absolutely right!"

That was the start of my journey. If he had told me I was crazy, my path might have been more difficult, but because I'm stubborn and determined, it wouldn't have changed my opinion, because I was teaching in a district where Jim Moran, the then Assistant Superintendent felt the same way as Bob Linette and I. He took me under his wing and nurtured the rebel in me rather than squelch it.

I traveled a path that few others had the opportunity to travel. Over the next 10 years, I had the good fortune of working with like minded administrators in some truly unique situations.

There are some amazing storied to tell, but I'll save those for another day or days.

That was 1969. If I was in the same situation today, I wonder how those other people would answer that question. I know that I would answer differently. I would have not said those same three words. I would have expanded a bit and said, "It really stinks!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Phone Call from a Non-Existent Number

At 2:49 PM, the phone rang. No one was on the other end. Hmmm... Must have been a wrong number. At 8:06 PM the phone rang again. Same number and same silence.

Since it was a California number, I didn't want the three hour difference to result in another wrong number in the middle of the night, so I called the number back. I was was greated by, "Welcome to Verizon Wireless. The number you dialed has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service..." HUH? How can I be getting calls from a disconnected number?

With my curiosity peaked, I tried a reverse phone number lookup. Once upon a time, you could get this for free, but I quickly realized it is one more thing that has been monetized. Now you have to pay for it. Forget that!

I could simply block the phone number. With Verizon I get five free blocks, but why should I waste one on a disconnected Verizon number. They need to fix the problem, but before I called customer service, I wanted to do more research.

Next I tried typing in the number as a Google search. BINGO! As I when through the results, it quickly became obvious that I was not alone; not by a long shot! It appeared that not just a few, not just a few hundred, but probably thousands of people had, and are experiencing the same thing. Not only that, it has been going on for years!

Now I was REALLY curious.

At 8:42 PM, I called Verizon Customer Service. I explained what I had found to Brad, the rep on the other end of the line. I told him that I knew I can simply solve my problem by blocking the number, but that thousands of people were having the same problem and I wanted to find out what was going on for them and the thousands of others who may experience the problem in the future.

After I gave him the number and he did a look up, he told me the number appeared "Temporarily Unavailable", whatever that meant. We continued to have a pleasant conversation about next steps. He offered to block the number for me and created an NRB ticket on the number that would go on to the network people to investigate it.

I thanked him, but told him that I wanted to be able to follow up on the ticket to find out exactly what was happening. He said I could call up in about a week to check on the status of the ticket, and that was where I left things with Brad.

I plan on following up in a week, but with my curiosity now in high gear I decided to spend a few bucks and use Intelius.com to see what I could find out about the number. When I visited the site, I found that it would cost me $4.99, but if no results were found, it would cost me nothing. Expecting it to cost me nothing, I continued only to find out that there were three different results for that number, but no indication as to whether any of those results were current.

Not knowing whether the results were current ticked me off. If the results were not current, I had just flushed $4.99 down the drain. Hmmm.... That would be a nice way for them to make money. If you sell old (useless) information, it's not likely you would get no results. I wonder...

Armed with names and addresses, I went back to Google. I found out about what I expected; namely that plenty of other people had spent money to find out who was calling. The first question that popped into my mind after see this was, could this be a scam to make money for the companies that have monetized the reverse phone lookup? Something just isn't right here!

I don't know what's going on and I don't know if I ever will, but I do know that I am not going to let this die here and now. I will post more when I find out more.

Oh, and in case you are interested, the number was (310) 429-5382. Do the Google search and see what you think.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sirius... Seriously?!?


My new car came equipped with Sirius radio and a free 1-year subscription. It runs out at the end of this month, so I went online to renew. It was a simple process right up until I went to click the submit button. At that point, I began a journey into the Twilight Zone to the corner Frustration and Aggravation.

Since I couldn't order online, I had to use the phone. A process that should have taken no more than 5 minutes, took what seemed like a day and a half, but was actually just shy of a 25 minutes.

Part of the problem was that he had computer problems and had to put me on hold twice, but that toward then end of the journey. The thing is that this would not have bothered me in the least, except that by that point I was ready to rip the radio out of the car and hurl it skyward in an attempt to bring down one of their satellites.

From the beginning, he knew I had done everything up to the point of clicking submit online. In fact he was looking at my transaction online. Instead of simply processing it and change to an invoice instead of auto-renewal, he felt compelled to (or was required to) explain every detail of every option and every step to me twice, and attempt to sell me a new product or service with every other breath he took.

Had I not interrupted him at least three times, and finally ask him to stop trying to sell me things, I know the call would have lasted at least ten minutes longer.

Probably the thing that bothered me the most, were two hidden charges that got added on near the end of the process, just prior to his computer refusing to process my order. The first was a royalty fee that took the advertised price up another $30. (I failed to read the fine print in their offer.)

The other was a $2 invoice fee that they hit me with because I didn't want them to automatically renew and process my credit card at the end of the term. At that moment, I knew what the bull feels like as the picador jabs him in the neck with his lance.

Whether it be mindless representatives or mindless corporate policies that dictated the procedures I had to endure, I do not know, but they need to examine one or both, because, Sirius, seriously pissed me off for no good reason. They turned a satisfied customer into an angry one. That's no way to do business, seriously!

Update March 8, 2011 - Sirius Response

Dear Mr. Wolinsky,

Thank you for contacting SIRIUSXM. Please accept our sincere apology for the previous encounter over the phone and we hope that this incident will not permanently affect our partnership. Our objective is to provide excellent service to all our subscribers and our Listener Care Representatives are adequately trained to assist customers with the issues. We are saddened to hear that you were not pleased with the service you received, but we can assure you that our representatives will convey the Company’s guidelines in a polite and friendly manner. Please keep in mind that your concern is a priority and we value you as a customer.

We guarantee you that our team does not take pleasure in embarrassing or distressing a customer. All of our customers are appreciated and each subscriber plays an active role in the growth of XM. This issue will be forwarded to the relevant department and your concerns will be investigated. This will, hopefully, further enhance the service which we provide.

We are committed to providing you with the best in customer care. If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to send an additional email or you may contact a Listener Care Representative directly at 1-800-XM RADIO (800-967-2349).

Thank you,

Brent
Sirius XM Email Listener Care Team

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Tip of the Hat to Mr. Dougherty

Today I read Mary Ann Bell's blog. She talked about creating assignments that are fun to grade and don't encourage plagiarism. She mentioned that this kind of assignment isn't new and cited Dr. Goode's class back in the 60's.

As I read, I was transported back to the 50's and my 9th grade Social Studies class taught by Mr. Dougherty at J.P. Cleary Jr. High. He was fresh out of the marines and I enjoyed his class. It was partly because he was a role model in many ways, but I don't remember a lot about the way he taught or the subject matter. None-the-less, there was one aspect of his class that stands out in my mind as something I remember fondly. It was the punishment assignments.

I tended to talk a bit during class, which sometimes got me in hot water. It wasn't just in Social Studies, but it seemed that his class resulted in the more heat than others. I suspect it was because I didn't mind his punishment assignments. In fact I enjoyed them.

No, I'm not a masochist. The fact is, his assignments were creative. They were the kind of assignments I wish other teachers had given. Instead of writing, "I will not misbehave" 500 times, his assignments were usually essays, but not what you might expect. Instead of topics revolving around why I should behave in class, he knew I already knew that, he chose topics like "Life Inside a Ping-Pong Ball", and "I Was the Bullet that Killed Abe Lincoln."

There was no grade attached to these assignments, but I spent more time on them and enjoyed them more than any assignment I ever had for English.

So I thank you, Mr. Dougherty, for you punishment assignments, ethics, your creativity, and your patience. They not only helped 9th grade more interesting, they helped shape the way I teach.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Different Look at Bullying

Sir Ken Rogers is one of the world's leading proponents for changing the way schools educate. I've seen dozens of his videos and never cease to be inspired and motivated to continue the work I've undertaken for the past 40 years, namely to change schools. Today, thanks to him, new research on empathy and two animations from the Royal Society of the Arts, I came away with a significantly different view of a subject bullying, something that I have been struggling with for years.

I've often put a lot of blame on schools for the frequency of bullying, but that blame has been because I felt that schools lacked a systemic approach to the problem. Today, after viewing these two animations, I believe it is not simply because we lack a systemic approach to dealing with bullying. I believe that our entire system of education is largely to blame and if we were to change it based on Sir Ken's model, there would be a significant drop in bullying without doing anything different to directly address the issue.

The first animation I watched, thanks to zefrank.com. dealt with new brain research on things called mirror neurons and their function. Like some of the great leaps in science, the cells and their functions were discovered accidentally. Watch it yourself and think about the kind of light this research throws on bullying.

After you watch that, watch the animation of Sir Ken making his case for school change. Keeping the previous animation in your mind as you watch, ask yourself how the first animation can inform us on how to make the changes Sir Ken outline. Envison the end product of that process and ask, "How we get there from here?"

Royal Society for the Arts Animation - Empathetic Civilisation



Sir Ken Rogers - Changing Education Paradigms

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Handy Manny and the Great McNugget Compromise

We babysit our grandson, M, every Friday. He is one of three reasons we moved up here to NH. The other two are his parents, my daughter and my son-in-law. The three of them bring us tremendous joy, love, and happiness. (Side Note: - We refer to my grandson as M, because we all agree that his digital footprint should be as small as possible.)

As grandparents, we do what most grandparents do with their grandchild. We spoil him. One of his treats is a McDonald's Happy Meal, but mom and dad don't want that to become a habit. Jill and I understand, but are torn. We don't want to be the bad guys and we don't want to make mom and dad the bad guys.

To be honest, I completely understand not wanting Chicken McNuggets becoming a fixture of his diet, but it he looks forward to the Happy Meal prize even more than the food. It pains us to have to take that away.

So what do we do? Is there a good compromise? Actually, there are a few, but I thought it was rather ironic that on the day they asked us not to make McDonald's a regular thing, M. and I were watching a TV show that taught kids about compromise.

We were watching Handy Manny. If you are not familiar with Manny, he is an animated handyman whose eight best friend are his his saw, flashlight, pipe wrench, hammer, pliers, standard screw driver, Phillips head screw driver, and tape measure. He has conversations and adventures with all of them. Now if my handyman talked to his tools, I would be concerned. However, kids have no problem with it.

Anyway, today Manny was building a fence for one of the townspeople, but there was disagreement between the man and his neighbor as to the type of fence needed. One wanted a 6' solid, green fence and the other wanted a 5' white picket fence. To make a long story short, the compromise was a 5' solid fence with a 1 foot lattice work on top with one side painted green and the other white.

Taking a cue from Manny, we're going to come up with the McDonald's compromise. Instead of taking him to McDonald's for McNuggets at 11:30, we'll take him a 10:15 for oatmeal with fruit and he'll get his prize for eating the oatmeal.

What's that you say? There are no oatmeal Happy Meals for breakfast. Well, you're right, but the prize will come from the Happy Meal I buy and consume myself the day before.

That should make M happy, satisfy mom and dad, make Manny proud, and give me a junk food fix I miss since starting Weight Watchers. (I'll still stay within my daily point allowance.)

So that’s what I learned from Handy Manny, though I still think holding conversations with your tools is a bit much.