Posts tagged “quality schools

The Teacher in Me

Our theme for the banquet was The 70s, with quite a few in attendance, including the band, dressing accordingly. Lots of fun.

Our theme for the banquet was The 70s, with quite a few in attendance, including the band, dressing accordingly. Rob Fenderson, principal at Redwood Adventist Academy, and Albert Miller, Assoc. Supt. for No. Cal. Conf., headlined the band.

Our Education Days’ banquet and job interviews took place this past Monday and Tuesday. This annual event is designed to connect our graduating teacher candidates with potential employers. A banquet on Monday evening leads to meet and greet mini-interviews on Tuesday morning. During the introduction part of the banquet, candidates head to the microphone and share about themselves as future teachers, often commenting on what motivated them to become a teacher and the pictures they have in their heads about the kind of teacher they want to be. For those of us who saw these candidates come to PUC as Freshmen, and have watched them conquer challenges and grow into adulthood, it is special to listen to them, on the verge of being hired and beginning their careers, describe their vision for education.

We enter our teaching careers with promise, exactly like these young teaching candidates, resolved to care about kids and make a difference in their lives, however it isn’t unusual for the pressures of the classroom and the rush of life to sweep our intentions aside. For instance, I received an email last week, written by one of my former students after he read the According to the Quality School blog

I just read your post about quality schools.  Ya know, I got into education wanting a classroom much like the one described in that post.  I specifically wanted to teach in public schools because I believed a teacher who had Christ in his heart and a desire to truly help children grow and not just claim a paycheck once a month and get summers off was needed more in the public school systems than in one of our Seventh-day Adventist schools.  But 9 years later I find myself being just like one of those teachers I swore I would never be.  I often feel defeated.  I feel like I am in a battle between myself and my principal, between myself and the state department, and between myself and a system that only cares about test scores and could care less about young people.  It has been a losing battle.  I feel defeated.  I have swum against the stream for so long and I am tired and it shows.  I used to create lesson plans that were fun, lessons that focused on getting young minds to explore, to ask questions, to learn from mistakes.  Now I find myself scouring the Internet for a worksheet just so I can “cover” a skill.  The other day I caught myself refusing to “waste time” answering a question from a student because it wasn’t a topic that would be tested on the state test.  A few years ago I would have stopped everything and had the kids start reading, searching the Internet, conducting experiments, and drawing conclusions to answer that question.  I would have tossed aside the lessons I spent hours preparing to let the kids answer that question.  Instead, I actually found myself saying, “Ask me at recess, we don’t have time for that right now.”  The child never asked me the question at recess.  And I forgot all about it.  What happened to me?  Ugh!!!  Not sure why I am dumping all this on you right now. Just read that post and guess I needed to get that off my chest and maybe receive some sage advice.  Sometimes I wish I was still at PUC.  The pressures of college were nothing compared to the pressures of full time teaching in a system that only cares about looking good on paper.   I hope all is well with you and your family.  God bless.

I share this letter because I think it may capture the thinking and feeling of quite a few veteran teachers. The constant crush of classroom responsibilities and details can crowd out our real reasons for wanting to teach. Choice theory beliefs seem to be especially fragile in the midst of this “crush.” We leave a choice theory workshop or training, or maybe finish reading a book about choice theory, and are fully intent on putting these ideas into practice. And we do for a time. But then the crush hits from multiple sides, maybe home is complicated, maybe our spouse is acting weird, maybe church is stressful, and then there is always the crush of school.  This is one of the main reasons I wanted to start The Better Plan blog. I want it to be a small part of your day that keeps the choice theory ideas alive and that reminds you that there are others of us that are on this journey, too.

I’m not sure if I responded exactly right, but what follows is part of what I wrote back to my former student – “It sounds like that teacher you feel you used to be is still in you, still wanting to show up in your classroom. I believe the circumstances you mentioned are real, especially the pressure to achieve on standardized tests. There are some things you cannot change. The question is, what are some things you can change? What are some things that would help you to like going to work more? What are some things that you can do that would help students realize they are cared for and that they can succeed? Is your school or district doing much with the Common Core yet? I see the Common Core as an important step away from the NCLB emphasis. The Common Core needs teachers to teach creatively and to empower students to learn.”

I don’t think what I said was that special, yet when he sent me a reply that included the following I was reminded how easy it can be to encourage one another.

As I read your post I am astounded by the fact that I don’t practice what I preach.  “You are the only one that you can control” has been a mantra of mine for several years now.  Your advice aligns perfectly with that mantra.  That is definitely what I will begin doing ASAP, taking a closer look at what I can do instead of focusing on what is out of my control.

His final thought is good advice for all of us. What are areas in our life in which we do have influence and control, and how can we make improvements in those areas? And to my fellow choice theorists, what are some of your “go to” thinking or acting habits when the crush begins to close in on you?

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Have a blessed weekend! We are finally getting rain and fog in northern California, which we desperately need, so it should be cozy soup-eating, book reading (or blog reading), by-the-fire weather.

Have Choose a good day!

C. S. Lewis, Steve Jobs, Andre Agassi, and William Glasser. Huh?

I recently began reading a new C. S. Lewis biography[1]C. S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. The book caught my notice because of its good reviews, but I decided to purchase and read it for basically two reasons – 1) C. S. Lewis is one of my spiritual mentors and I appreciate him a lot, and 2) I am very interested in well-written biographies. A number of Lewis biographies have been written, including by people who knew him personally, but this new book is supposed to be something special. We’ll see. I have read other Lewis biographies – C. S. Lewis (1990) by A. N. Wilson and The Most Reluctant Convert (2002) by David Downing – yet now I have an additional interest in the biography as a writing form. More on that “additional interest” in a moment. I have read other biographies, too, for the same reason. I read the Steve Jobs biography, partly because I was interested in his story, but mostly because I wanted to see how Walter Isaacson, the author, formed the book and wrote about the details. It was a good read, by the way. An even better read is the Andre Agassi autobiography. I bought his book, entitled Open, because it was on sale, little realizing the excellent read it would turn out to be. Again, I was initially interested in how the book was written.

Some of you know why I have an “additional interest” in how effective biographies are written. After Soul Shapers was published in 2005, having already begun interviewing him and researching his journey, I began writing the biography of William Glasser. He has been a significant thought leader in the fields of psychology and education and a prolific author and speaker for five decades. Trying to capture his 50 year career in a book, while accurately and effectively summarizing his progressive ideas, was a challenge. Not being a full-time writer I reached for writing moments between the demands of my day job, that being a college professor, and the needs of family and home. To bring you up to date, though, last summer I completed Glasser’s biography and in December I signed a contract with the Milton Erickson Foundation for them to publish the book. My goal was to write a biography that is interesting, so interesting that even a person not that familiar with William Glasser would want to finish reading the story. Hence, my additional interest. Time will tell whether I pulled it off.

Biographies can be fascinating. Every person, every one of us, has a story. We each are made up of drama, comedy, pain, victory, fear, joy, discouragement, and hope, to name a few of our ingredients. Describing such journeys is the biographer’s challenge. Every person’s story is important and C. S. Lewis was no different. It just so happens that, mostly because of his writing, many of us are interested in his life. We are interested in other things, too, and sometimes these interests can intersect and overlap, as they did for me in chapter two of the Lewis book. The chapter is titled The Ugly Country of England: Schooldays. (Lewis was Irish, which may partly explain the words Ugly and England being in the same title.) Because of my interest in Lewis, and my interest in effective school practices, and my interest in choice theory, the opening paragraph of the chapter caught my attention.

In 1962[2], Francine Smithline—a schoolgirl from New York—wrote to C. S. Lewis, telling him how much she had enjoyed his Narnia books and asking him for information about his own schooldays. In reply, Lewis informed her that he had attended three boarding schools, “of which two were very horrid.” In fact, Lewis continues, he “never hated anything as much, not even the front line trenches in World War I.”

I would like to think that Lewis was exaggerating, but it is possible he wasn’t. One of the schools had a controlling headmaster and such people can indeed be very horrid. Lewis admitted that he was shocked by the school’s brutality and “later dubbed the school “Belsen” after the infamous Nazi concentration camp. For me, I was struck by the potential of schools to be places of lifelong learning and joy, or places of drudgery and compliance. Referring to the latter –

Lewis recalled his education at Wynyard as the forced feeding and rote learning of a “jungle of dates, battles, exports, imports, and the like, forgotten as soon as learned and perfectly useless had they been remembered.”

As an educator (a teacher of teachers, no less) these descriptions jump out at me. I yearn for our future teachers (present teachers would be cool, too) to be a part of creating joyful classrooms where useful learning takes place, places that students will look back to fondly.

I greatly admire and respect C. S. Lewis, and I am interested in the story of Steve Jobs and the development of many of the electronic tools I have come to depend on, and I very much appreciate the candor of Andre Agassi, yet as important as each of these books are, I believe strongly that Glasser’s story is more important than any of them. I say that, not because of my involvement with the story, but because, as the developer of choice theory, Glasser explained the essence of human motivation and drew a map for personal responsibility and happiness. At a time when people are desperate for effective relationships and are craving personal fulfillment, choice theory is one of the best resources for charting a course toward a better tomorrow. (I am starting to sound like a brochure.)

Anyway, the Glasser manuscript is now being edited. There is no date yet for publication. Reading the life journeys of important, famous people can be interesting and even instructive (I certainly want the Glasser story to be instructive), yet these stories, other people’s stories, are not as important as your story. You are the author of your story, a story that is unfolding as we speak. With God’s help, I encourage you to Go For It!


[1] McGrath, A. (2013). C. S. Lewis: Eccentric genius, reluctant prophet. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] Lewis died in 1963, on the same day that J.F.K. was assassinated, Nov. 22.

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