Don’t Blink! It’s A Dog and Pony Show

4.28.15 Dog & PonyI never tried to be difficult or argumentative, it just came out that way.  Teaching, like much in life, always seems to be a balancing act between either standing your ground for what you believe is right, or going along to get along.  In standing my ground, I’d always ask questions.  These Socratic style inquiries always seemed to me to be obvious or logical: ‘How is this training going to help me or my students when, I assure you, it doesn’t fit them or me?’ or ‘Where are the parents and students in this ‘Let’s hold all stakeholders accountable’ reform?’  I could go on, but you get the picture – I hope.

My questions brought me nothing but enmity from the powers that be downtown.  Ms. Curtis told me that I got mentioned (in absentia) at a district sponsored training she attended.  They started the training by going around the room and having each teacher tell their name, subject they taught and what school they worked at.  When Ms. Curtis told them that she worked at West Hollywood, the administrator gave a ‘knowing nod of the head’ and said, “Oh!  You’re friends with DeVuono!”  Curtis told me later, with no small amount of alarm in her voice, “I was damned just for knowing you!”

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Don’t Blink! The Truth is Mo’ Stranger Than Fiction!

4.22.15 OMG iStock_000023209114_FullI’m a Troublemaker

I told you before, my boss told me I was being watched downtown because I’m so highly qualified, too highly paid and too much of a troublemaker!  What this means is they could/might/will walk on campus at any time looking for some reason to overcrowd my classroom, transfer me, or worse.  What made this particularly nerve-racking was knowing that many administrators erroneously believed that they were expert enough to judge any teacher in the blink of an eye.

Don’t judge teachers in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, this erroneous belief is supported by science!  In his wonderful book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell explains the area of study known as rapid cognition or ‘thin slicing’, the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye.  He makes a very convincing case and I agree with most of his well researched findings.  When talking about evaluating teachers he refers to a study out of Harvard by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in which they assert that students were reliably able to judge a teacher’s effectiveness by watching a ten second video!  Wow!

I would not want to be judged that way, and yet I was.  Rather than argue about the misuse of their science (I read Ambady & Rosenthal’s paper and would be happy to discuss details), let me share two stories of ‘thin slicing’ gone wrong and a masterpiece of classroom mischief that turned into a comedic thermonuclear meltdown which, thankfully, did not get ‘thin sliced’.  Judge for yourself if you would like to be evaluated in the blink of an eye.

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Diploma vs. Education

4.15.16 The_Wizard_of_Oz_Ray_Bolger_1939Have you ever seen the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of OZ (the one with Judy Garland)?  Does that sound like a strange question, seeing as The Wizard of OZ is generally considered as one of the best-known films in American culture?  I like to use it to teach but, believe it or not, most of my students had never seen it!  True!  I’d mention the Scarecrow from The Wizard of OZ when teaching the Pythagorean Theorem or the difference between a diploma and an education and my kids would look at me with expressions of confusion as genuinely muddled as if I had suddenly begun speaking Klingon.  Oh, my dear under-cultured children!  They also didn’t get the reference to West Side Story when I’d quote, “I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.”

You, however, have seen The Wizard of OZ (or even if you haven’t I’ll review enough for clarity) so let’s talk about what The Wizard of OZ can teach us about the difference between a diploma and an education.  This is important because here in Los Angeles (and I believe elsewhere) we are being told that high school graduation rates are up.  Sounds good, but don’t be fooled by this statistic.  It grieves me to say this but, getting a diploma does not always mean you got an education.

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #3

Grunge Skull CrossbonesBorrowing trouble

I’ve said it before.  We all do stupid things.  Back when I was much younger and a pretty girl could talk me into just about anything, I loaned my credit card to a ‘friend’ for her deposit on a car rental.  She assured me I’d incur no charges.  One month and eight hundred dollars later I was chanting that advice about borrowing and lending that Polonius gave to Laertes.  I thought I knew better but I let myself get distracted.  I never made that stupid mistake again.

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #2

Caution tapeI was stupid.

I’ve said it before.  We all do stupid things.  One year, during an icy winter in Chicago, my van was spinning its wheels in a parking lot.  My brother and I got out to push the van off the ice, leaving the van driverless.  That was stupid.  The wheels caught and the van took off.  Fortunately, I was able to catch up to the van and stop it before it did any damage.  I know better but I let myself get distracted.  I never made that stupid mistake again.

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