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 said, "What part of your day is the math part? Which part was the science part, and which the English part. Aren't we supposed to be preparing kids for life? School needs 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 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 I'm stubborn and determined. It wouldn't have changed my opinion. Fortunately 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 40 years I had the good fortune of working with like minded administrators in some truly unique situations. There are some truly amazing storied to tell, but I'll save those for another day.

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 two words. I would have expanded a bit and said, "It really stinks!"