Category Archives: Education


“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

(Not the exact question I was asked to give, but close enough.)

Sub for long enough and you get to the point where you look forward to unusual days. Last Wednesday started normal enough, but I had something interesting happen about halfway through. I was subbing for a history teacher who wanted me to show a movie on Martin Luther in the first period. No problem. Not my favorite thing to do, but easy enough. The rest of the periods were to be used as a study hall to catch up on work for this and other classes. I knew the students would see this as synonymous with ‘free time,’ but there was little I could do about that.

During the day, I am sure that word got out that this teacher was absent and the students would essentially free to do as they pleased. That was true of all the classes except fourth period. For them, the teacher had left me a long question to ask. It took most of the white board to write the explanation and the instructions for what they were to do, but I did as instructed. Imagine the consternation of the students who entered fourth period assuming they were to have a ‘free day’ only to find they were to write and thought provoking essay. You would have thought I had sentenced them all the forty lashes tied to the ship’s mast. Needless to say, managing the class for that hour was difficult as the students did everything they could to avoid actually having to do the assignment.

A number of questions entered my thinking as I wrestled with the students to keep them on task. Why was this class singled out? Was it some sort of punishment? If so, it would have been nice to have been given an explanation. Perhaps the students were being punished and they knew why, but I didn’t know and that would have been helpful information to have.

Next, I wondered at how hard they seemed to think this assignment was. To help alleviate some of their fears, I held a class discussion on the subject assigned hoping to spur their thinking a bit. I thought they had enough information by the time we were finished that writing the essay would be a snap. Sure enough, two of the students were finished five minutes after I asked them to start, but they were the exception. These were high school seniors and many of them claimed that they intended to go on to college. Did they have any idea how much of this kind of writing would be required at higher levels? Did they not realize that many of them would be answering a question much like this on their entry application? Apparently not.

I still have no idea why fourth period was singled out this way. If I get the chance, I am going to stop by and ask that teacher when I am at his school next. I can’t wait to hear his answer: it’s bound to be interesting.

Bad News for 4th Period


Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Education, Policy


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Counting Your Words

I was in church this morning when someone stood up to sing. Before the music started, the singer decided he wanted to say a few words. I have never been a fan of this “sermon before the sermon” but don’t mind if it is kept short. Unfortunately, this person wanted us to know just how passionate he was about the theme of the song and what it meant to him and how it had effected his life, and on and on. To his credit, most people forgave his indulgence once he started singing as he had a wonderful voice. Now I know I should have been listening to the words and considering their meaning, but I’m afraid I had tuned this gentleman out two paragraphs into his soliloquy.

My mind wandered to something I read this week in Gary Rubenstein’s book, Reluctant Disciplinarian. He says a mentor once told him that “teachers have only a certain number of words they can say in the year before their class tunes them out. New teachers use them up in the first month.” I thought that was particularly sage advice when I read it, and now, having sat through words I thought were unnecessary, I had a new appreciation for this bit of wisdom.

Harry Wong says much the same thing in The First Days of School. He says “the person doing the work is the one learning.” All too often, the person doing the most work is the teacher and frequently that work is being done in the form of talking. In Wong’s class, he had the work posted on the board and his students were trained to get started as soon as they entered the room. Now I know, subs rarely walk into classes so well disciplined, but I love the idea of keeping words to a minimum. Say what you need to say and let them get to work.

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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Education


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Parenting: Keeping Your Child Healthy And Motivated During Exams


Image by scui3asteveo

Finals in high school are can be incredibly stressful for your teenager – not only can they majorly affect your child’s grade, but they could play a role in your daughter or son’s college acceptance.

While there are plenty of study tips and tricks for students online (creating acronyms is a good one) there aren’t many tips being given to parents during this pressing time. Getting good grades is a great motivation for your child, but they also need your encouragement, so if you’re a parent to a stressed out teenager, here are five tips for you to aid your child and keep them healthy during this nerve-racking time.

1) Location, Location, Location

Besides being a very clichéd real estate term, this is also a fundamental thing to remember when preparing to study. Help your child choose the right place to settle down and get to work. Avoid areas of the house with the most traffic and don’t even let them think about plonking down in front of the TV.

2) Making Nutritional Choices

I recall when I was a student; my favourite study breaks always seemed to involve a trip to the kitchen, where I’d usually stare blankly into the fridge and subsequently select the easiest to eat (and usually most junk- like) food we had.

Snacking is a staple part of studying, just be sure your child is munching on the right snacks. Avoid the pop tarts, the chocolate bars, and the ice cream and instead fill your kitchen with nuts, fruit, vegetables and some dip.  Also, be sure they’re drinking plenty of water.

3) Planning for Success 

Sit down with your child and figure out how much time they need to dedicate to studying, and which subjects they need to allocate more time for. Some questions to ask your kids: which exam is up first? Which exam do they expect to do well on, and which needs more attention and focus? Set up a schedule that includes breaks and early bed times – sleep is another fundamental key to success.

4) Work Your Body and Your Mind

Use study breaks to get their body moving. Instead of giving them 10 or 15 minutes on Facebook, ask them to go for a walk with you. A brisk walk will re-energize their minds and fresh air is always helpful. Getting good grades is a great motivation in education for your child but they need breaks too!

5) Learning the Material 

If your children study best on their own, then by all means let them be, but most teens can greatly benefit from you getting involved in their studying. If they have notes or flashcards use those to quiz them on the subject matter. If not, try having them teach you the subject, especially the parts they’re shaky on. A teacher once told me; you don’t really understand something when you think you do, you only truly understand something when you can teach it to someone else.

Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they need help beyond what you can offer and if they do, consider contacting their teacher and ask if they could suggest a fellow student or tutor that could help your child out.

Are there any tips you’ve learned from personal experience for helping your child through exam season?

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The mom of a beautiful baby boy, Louise Blake enjoys spending her free time writing blog posts about parenting for companies such as Carrot Rewards.


Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Education, Uncategorized


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A Surprisingly Effective Tool for Substitutes

My wife is a very accomplished teacher with a doctorate in health sciences and the equivalent in education, so when she made a suggestion at the beginning of my substitute teaching career, I took note. Her suggestion was that I put together a brief PowerPoint presentation about my life, particularly those things in my life that my students might find interesting and unusual. She has taught overseas on several occasions and knows the powerful effect such a presentation can have. Rather than just looking like a substitute who is there to collect a paycheck, you create a three-dimensional character for yourself that your students can identify with.

Still, I didn’t know how such a presentation would be accepted here in the classrooms where I worked. I put the presentation together wondering if it would ever be used. When I was finished I promised myself that I would use it if, and when, the opportunity ever presented itself. The day finally did come along several weeks later. I was teaching at a middle school and the way the schedule was written, there was plenty of time for the presentation and the tools to show it were easily accessible.

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

I quickly went through the slides showing where I have lived (three different continents), some of my interests (I have a very broad range of interests) and some of the things that make my family unique (my oldest son is deaf, my middle son had just got married and my daughter was a cheerleader at a nearby high school.)  The whole thing took me less than five minutes to show and yet, at the end of it, and to my great astonishment, I got applause.

Buoyed by the support of that class I showed it to the next and the next and the next. As a matter of fact, I got applause in every class where I showed it. I began to show it at other schools and while I didn’t always get applause, everyone who saw it seemed to appreciate it. Some weeks later I was subbing in a high school and after the class a student came up to tell me that the day before their substitute had been a professional baseball player, but, he wanted me to know; I was cooler than that guy!

How can my rather mundane life possibly compare to that of a professional athlete? On most levels it can’t, but that is not what is important here. What this student was responding to was the fact that he was able to see me as a real person with many of the same challenges he and his peers face.

I will admit, this is not the presentation I would use to try to get a job. It is simply a fairly straightforward look at who I am as a person. Since those first days I have had the chance to show it to every age group from kindergarten to high school seniors and all have appreciated it. One of the bonuses of showing it is that it quickly earned me the reputation for being one of the cool teachers. That doesn’t mean I have compromised my standards; I suspect the rigor I try to apply in the classroom is tougher than most other subs, and yet I have this reputation that allows me to be tough and still be considered ‘cool.’

I now recommend this to all the subs I meet. Just a few pictures, an illustration or two, and if you can, work in a few jokes, especially if they are at your own expense. I end mine with a review of bathroom and emergency procedures so that showing it has some real value. (Hard for the staff to complain when you are including emergency protocols.) Just be sure to keep it under five minutes; under three if you can. That way no one can complain you are wasting valuable class time. Aside from that, give it a go. See if your results aren’t at least as good as mine. And if you find something that works better, please let me know so I can try it too.

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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Education


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A Lesson in Education Technology From a Very, Very Old Tradition

Pearl diver in Japan

Pearl diver in Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Okinawa, Japan, women have been diving for pearls for more than 2,000 years. Traditionally dressed in only a loincloth, they would dive to depths as deep as 120 feet to find the oysters and mussels that produce pearls. This work was largely done by women because they were better able to endure the cold of the depths they were diving (Women’s bodies distribute fat more evenly then men.) The work was very dangerous, as you might expect, exposing them to predators, harsh environments and shallow water blackouts.

In the 1960s, they were approached by a firm selling scuba gear. The company demonstrated that one person with the right gear could gather as many oysters as an entire village of women in a day. The results were enticing, but they also raised a number of very significant questions including which women would use the gear, and how would the profits be divided. A town counsel was called and everyone discussed the pros and cons of buying scuba gear. In the end, the decision was made reject the use of scuba and continue with their tradition.

Today these Ama Divers, as they are called, still dive for pearls, though largely for the benefit of tourists rather than for the pearls they gather. Even scuba divers couldn’t compete with the advancements in pearl culture, where thousands of oysters could be grown in shallow depths and tricked into growing pearls in a confined area where they could be easily harvested.

Technology Integration with Science Content

Technology Integration with Science Content (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

So what does this have to do with education? Look just about anywhere in the education industry and you will find wholesale attempts to introduce as much technology into the classroom as quickly as possible. There are even watchdog groups that report on the school boards that are acting the quickest to engage in these technologies. Blog after blog extols the virtues of employing the latest technological masterpiece, while those who are slower are looked down on as archaic and anachronistic. Some of these programs have good empirical data to back them up, many do not. Some programs are developed by wonderful people with altruistic motives, but many are being promoted by new non-profits that are little more than shells for large corporations who stand to make fortunes if their particular technology becomes the new standard.

With all the hype and hyperbole that is flying around right now, it is virtually impossible to find a voice that will ask the tough questions about whether or not these technologies make good sense. Unlike the Japanese Ama Divers, there are few town council meetings to carefully consider what makes sense and what does not. One of the reasons the Common Core standards, good as they may be, are getting such resistance at the grass roots level is because the proponents have A) used a top-down approach, and B) have not been completely forthcoming about who the stakeholders are and who will profit when these technologies are adopted.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with coming up with something new and making a profit on it; it’s the American way. However, using healthy political contributions to get the support of legislators in bellwether states in exchange for support for new programs is certainly less desirable.

This doesn’t mean we need to be reactionary; it just means that we need to examine the new technologies that are introduced, checking the validity of their claims carefully before we purchase them. It also doesn’t mean we need to reject a promising new technology, as the divers did, if that technology can produce better results at a lower cost. What it does mean is that teachers and parents alike should ask the requisite questions to make sure we are getting the best bag for the buck.

Progress and technology are wonderful tools when balanced with careful consideration and forethought. Let’s do the due diligence before we head down a rabbit hole that could take years to escape. It’s our future we are betting on here, and that is certainly worth our full attention.

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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Education


Great Questions About the Efficacy of Common Core

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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Common Core, Education


What Would You Do? Prescription Drugs in the Classroom

Students abuse prescription drugsOn Tuesday morning, Lakeshia (not her real name) came to school a little bit high, not on recreational drugs but on her mother’s very powerful anti-seizure medication. She believed her friends would think she was adventurous and daring for experimenting with her mother’s medication, though she had no intention of telling them the pills had come from the family medicine cabinet. By the time she got to homeroom, she was feeling a pretty good buzz from the two pills she had already taken, so she took two more in front of them just to prove they were real. She then proceeded to hand out more pills to her friends.

Fortunately for me, I was not her substitute that morning; Mr. Dickinson was. Mr. Dickinson is an old pro at teaching with more than twenty years experience. He immediately recognized the signs of drug use in Lakeshia and began making plans to help her. He sent word to the teacher in the next room that he needed help (she was on her planning period and therefore had not students at the time) and asked her to watch his students while he personally walked Lakeshia to the clinic. By this time, Lakeshia’s behavior was markedly erratic, and Mr. Dickinson was worried she might have a meltdown before he could get her to the clinic. Actually, the meltdown came right after they arrived at the clinic.

student prescription drugs The drug Lakeshia had overdosed on can cause dizziness, decreased attention span, slowness of thinking and extreme irritability in children. As soon as Lakeshia, entered the clinic she completely lost control of her wits and bolted out the door, through the double doors of the front office off school property and into the woods nearby. The school nurse, normally a quiet and reserved woman, bolted after her along with Mr. Dickinson, the principal and several others. They did not try to apprehend her, but kept an eye on her until the police could get their and use the Baker Act to get her the medical attention she required.

I heard about this incident at the end of the day as I was checking out from my sub assignment down the hall. I had heard none of the commotion, but was certainly glad this had not happened in my classroom. I was also glad to have heard how Mr. Dickinson had handled the situation so I would know what to do in the future. From this incident I have gathered the following general rules to keep handy should I face something similar:

  • Know the signs of drug use. Glassy eyes, slurred speech and erratic behavior are but a few of the possible signs of drug use, depending on what drugs they are taking. The main thing to notice is whether there behavior is significantly different from normal. This may be a challenge for a sub, but you can usually get some input from the other students if you ask properly.
  • Don’t leave your students unattended. You are legally responsible for providing supervision over the students in your care. Leaving a classroom, even in an emergency is inviting serious risk and a possible lawsuit.
  • You can’t send someone who is mentally of physically impaired to the office alone. Mr. Dickinson’s choice to escort Lakeshia to the clinic was the right choice and may have saved her from serious harm. If she had been sent to the office alone, it is possible she would never been seen leaving the school. No telling what may have happened in that case.

Think this won’t happen to you? The DEA says that prescription drugs are abused more that heroin, LSD, cocaine, meth and other drugs combined. Of the students surveyed, 25% admitted to abusing prescriptions drugs at least once. Chances are very good that at some point in your teaching career you are likely to have to face this monster. Taking note of your school’s policies and developing a game plan could save you a painful lawsuit, and, more importantly, may safe the life of a child in your care.

Note: While this story is based on real events, many of the details have been changedor omitted to protect the privacy of those involved. The story is told as a cautionary tale with the hope that it will inform others and help them prepare in case something similar happens in their classroom.

photo credit: ep_jhu via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc

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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Education


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