Tag Archives: train

Sink or Swim, Teacher!

28 May

When I was in college, the most useless classes I attended were in Curriculum and Instruction. However, one of the things I took away from them was that teachers have different approaches… and most of them get thrown out once you hit the classroom.

Now you may be wondering why I hate Curriculum and Instruction (or C&E, as I called them). As a budding high school teacher, I was expected to take three C&E core classes. The first one was all about the “formal lesson plan;” how to write objectives, timing, activities… and put them in a complete package. The second was modern issues in education; the professor was great at discussion and presenting different ideas… but years later, I realized he never used a lesson plan. He literally appeared and just ad-libbed a topic from there. The third one was Social Studies specific, and focused on using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in the classroom.

None of these eggheads had any idea how to actually run a class… and because they never taught us classroom management, I almost quit before my student teaching experience was over.

The old adage is that 75% of teaching is classroom management; if I’m to be fair, we had half a day covering that topic. Three semesters of training; all of it useless. Why? Because it’s really hard to emulate a bunch of crappy students. The “sink-or-swim” model had been the only way to actually teach teachers how to teach. Nowadays, they’ve realized a first-year “mentor” program is helpful. If you partner an experienced teacher with a new teacher, they’re likely to improve.

In theory, that’s what the student teacher experience is supposed to do, but I had two supervising teachers who were so checked out that they didn’t provide any assistance. In one, she held her class in line through fear, so when I loosened restrictions, they went crazy. In the other, when I actually taught them something, they thought I was the best teacher ever. One day, things got so bad, I was ready to walk out of the school mid-class and never look back.

So how did I end up teaching five more years, then teaching almost 15 in corporate settings? Substitute teaching; it reminded me a) what I loved about teaching, b) I had no responsibilities outside the classroom, and c) it was a safe setting to practice classroom management. Coordinators at the district office are so desperate for substitutes that a warm body will suffice; in other words, the best substitute teacher is the one who shows up.

So there was zero pressure to perform; you had already achieved expectations by being there. If things went really bad in one class, that’s all right, you never have to go back there again. Meanwhile, I learned techniques and tricks to how to manage a class by sheer repetition. I discovered different teaching styles just from the lesson plans that the regular teacher left behind. I experienced different administrative styles by showing up at different schools. I learned more in five months of subbing then I ever did in classes.

Just like no one knows how to teach leadership, no one can teach teaching, but people have made a lot of money pretending they can. Heinlein used to have many of his characters get a Doctorate in “soft” sciences (especially Education) because you could generate pure BS in your papers, and no one would call you on it. For example, one of his characters wrote her dissertation on:

‘A Comparison of the World Pictures of Aristocles, Arouet, and Dzhugashvili considered through interaction of epistemology, teleology, and eschatology.’ The actual content was zero, as honest metaphysics must be, but I loaded it with Boolean algebra, which (if solved) proved that Dzhugashvili was a murdering scoundrel… as the kulaks of the Ukraine knew too well.

I gave a copy of my dissertation to Father McCaw and invited him to my convocation. He accepted, then glanced at the dissertation and smiled. ‘I think Plato would be pleased to be in the company of Voltaire… but each of them would shun the company of Stalin.’

Robert Heinlein, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, p. 36

I didn’t really appreciate that joke until I did my own graduate work in Education. Oh… my… God… the amount of BS I learned how to generate was insane… but that’s a story for another day. What do you think? Is there a better way to teach teachers? Did you have a better experience than me? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Perception vs. Reality

12 May

One of the great dangers is letting our thoughts become our reality. So at my new job, I get a very nice benefit; I get a bus/rail pass. Considering my job is downtown, it makes far more sense to use it, but I was surprised on how many co-workers would not.

The reason they don’t has nothing to do with timing or location… it’s “the light rail is smelly.” They were afraid of dealing with urine-stained seats and homeless people riding the rails. The truth is… there’s none of that. I rode it this morning and everything was spotless, no smelling people, just people on their way to work. But people were convinced that it was that they didn’t want to ride it.

It just struck me as a very unusual complaint, probably by people who hadn’t taken the light rail in years. Buses… okay, you may have a point, but generally the buses in my neighborhood are pretty clean. I was really just taken aback by the weirdness of that argument. There are plenty of reasons that people might not take the bug. I have to drop off my kids. What if there’s an emergency? I need to get home quickly.

What’s prevented me in the past is the inconvenience angle. When I lived in outer Cincinnati, I took the express bus to work, only a fifteen minute walk to the stop, shot me downtown, and then there was a shuttle to take me to work. Cheaper, easier, and much less stressful. Then we moved from beyond the beltway to a much closer burb. I rode my bike to the bus stop, shot on close to my job on the local bus, and then waited for the bus at the end of the day to take me back. And waited. And waited. And when it showed up, there were three in a row, because all the refugees from downtown slowed down the bus.

This honked me off so much, that I just rode home one day… all 11 1/2 miles of it. I did it, felt exhausted, but made it home in one piece. After that, I did it on purpose. Then eventually, I took the bike down to work as well as back up and only rode the bus again when I broke my hand. Because it was simply faster.

So I’ll admit, I’m taking advantage of the light rail because it’s gonna only a little more time and save me a whole ton of money. Plus I love trains. But thinking that it’s “smelly” when it’s not? I think there’s an impression of the last time you rode… or the impression that you think you remember from one incident long ago… and that colors your actions. It’s a strange thought, but so often gets applied to many subjects. The same way that the first thing you heard about a subject becomes the absolute truth, despite any facts to the contrary.

Does this happen to you? Let me know in the comments below! Then once you’ve done that, why not pick up one of my books? But if you’re not convinced of my writing to spend $1.99, download one of my stories for free!

Preparing for the Wrong Possibility

7 Apr

I could get angry about California teachers doing active shooter drills, while distance learning on Zoom, but it made me think about my own prepping instead. Like teaching students to shelter at home, maybe we’re all preparing for the wrong thing.

My family are lazy preppers, so although we actually do have stockpiles of food for emergencies, I’m worried that we don’t have the one thing that actually matters. Water. We live in Arizona, so although we’ve got all this dried and dehydrated food, to eat any of it requires the one thing we don’t have in abundance in the Sonoran Desert. Mind you, we have the temporary solution of the local pool to give us hundreds of gallons, but I think all of us realize that’s only going to last us a couple weeks, maybe a month.

However, that’s a difference of goals between me and my wife. I’m thinking about surviving for years–total collapse of society–versus surviving for a month–temporary collapse of infrastructure.

My wife’s scenario is far more likely, I’ll grant her that, but I’m also thinking any level of infrastructure collapse means we need to buy a gun. Preferably a shotgun, which allows for minimal shooting skills, and maximum effect. Yet that’s a bridge too far so far… because the likelihood that our kids will get out a real gun and play with it and maim/kill themselves is far higher than the infrastructure collapse. The solution for that is to get a gun safe–or at least something you can lock it up–but now we’re reaching a cost level that’s not really acceptable for us. We can buy a pound of beans for a couple bucks every month–we can’t buy a whole gun “infrastructure” without hurting our bank account.

Now let’s apply this to something I know well: education. American high schools are designed to prepare their students for college, which is great, if your students are going to college. I decided to look up the numbers: in 2017, 2.9 million students graduated from high school, and 1.9 million (67%) enrolled in college that fall, including students aged 16-24 who graduated from high school within 4 years of beginning 9th grade or completed a GED. Now that applies to the majority of folks: In 2018, 93% of adults between the age of 18 and 24 and 89.8% of adults over the age of 25 had completed a diploma, GED or another equivalency credential. So you’re only leaving out 10% more of people for whom college is not an option.

Okay–so that means for just over half (57%) of all American students, they are getting the education they need to progress. Except that here’s the next fact: the national college graduation rate is 46%; bachelor’s degree seekers graduate at a rate of 60%. So… only a quarter of all 9th graders entering high school this year will actually graduate with a college degree. You’d think that would mean “Maybe we should train our students to prepare for the workforce, rather than than college, since that’s where most of them will end up.” But they can’t–because high school teachers don’t know how to do that.

Try this phrase on for size: “teachers teach as they have been taught.” When I went through teacher training, I went into my classroom doing lecture, because… that’s what I had been doing for four years previous. I had to reteach myself how to teach by using a variety of activities, half of which I made up because I couldn’t find relevant resources. How are we supposed to teach consumer education to our kids when the teachers themselves don’t know how credit cards work? Or taking loans? Or how to do your taxes?! Plus the teachers themselves went to college–they don’t consider any other career path valid. A beginning welder will make more than a beginning teacher and with far less student debt, and generally start a couple years earlier.

The teacher will look down a blue collar worker, since they didn’t have the well-rounded experience that they had. Well, you can get drunk with age-appropriate folks anywhere, in my opinion. Considering my kids want to get into the arts, why on Earth would I want them to go to college?! A college degree in their chosen fields gets them absolutely nothing. If/when they realize that being an actor/waiter is not a good career path, they’ll be able to go into college a couple years wiser, and won’t treat it as extended high school.

So this post went in a very weird direction, but so often in life, we’re preparing for the wrong thing. Where are the blind spots in your life? Let me know in the comments below! If you want to see what the future looks like, check out my books! But if you’re saving up for that gun safe instead, and $1.99 is too much, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Enjoy!

You’re Going Nowhere

1 Apr

The idea of public transit in the US is wonderful–too many cars, too few roads/lanes. But outside of the certain urban areas, it doesn’t get much traction. Why? Because the timing simply doesn’t work.

The first problem is waiting; it’s a pain in the butt. With a car, you get in whenever you want and you go. With public transit, you are dependent on other people. There’s a schedule and you have to be there at that time or you have to wait. Honestly, bus schedules are more of a “suggestion” anyway, because they’re dependent on traffic and the number of riders.

Then there’s the bus itself. I personally love trains–light rail, subways, Amtrak–absolutely love riding them. Any time I can make an excuse to ride them, I do. Buses… not so much. When choosing between an amazingly clean bus and an amazingly dirty train, I’ll take the dirty train every time. Why? Because the train only stops at designated places; the bus stops any time someone wants off. Of course, that’s the local bus. There are express buses which only have designated stops… but it’s still not as fun as a train.

Most places I’ve lived, when I have the train option, it doesn’t go where I want to go. If I work in Corporate Acres, but I live in Lesser Middlesburg, the train station is in Upper Middlesburg, it goes downtown, then you have to switch to go to another train to get to Corporate Acres. So I have to “park and ride.” When I lived in Cincinnati, I lived outside the highway ring, and took the express bus downtown, and then my company had a shuttle direct to campus. It was very convenient. Then we moved to a closer suburb. I was going to ride my bike to the bus stop and take the bus in. Going into work was fine, but then catching the bus back meant I had to wait, and wait, and wait… because everyone who got on the bus downtown had to get off before it got to me. After a while, I started just riding home the 11.5 miles. Then I realized, “Oh, I can ride faster than I can take the bus,” so I became a dedicated bike commuter for three years. (Then I changed jobs.)

When I worked in Baltimore, there was a light rail direct from the airport to where I was staying. Great! Except my flight got in after midnight, and the last train left at 11:30. Oops. So, taxi it was. When I caught my flight, I could take the light rail, but otherwise, everywhere I wanted to go… I could walk faster than waiting for the “Charm City Connector.” The bus was really nice–but it’s never where you needed it, and never where you wanted to go.

That’s the problem. US was built for the car, and our urban sprawl is based on being able to get there by car. So unless there’s a geographic constraint (such as New York City and San Francisco) or there’s simply too many people between you and your objecive (Chicago, Washington D.C.), it simply is faster to take the car than the bus. Even if you get enough trains to where you need to go, the price tag is often more than the return you will get from it. With COVID and working from home, this is even more true.

But that’s just my opinion– where did I get it wrong? Can public transit work in the US? Is it doomed from the beginning? Let me know in the comments below! Meanwhile, of you like my writing, pick up one of my books. But if you’re still not sold, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

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