Aug 19 2011

It Was 20 Years Ago Today Part II

Many of these ’20 years ago’ posts will begin with a short intro by the 2011 me, followed by a post by the 1991 me. If these intros distract you, I’ve set up a mirror blog at where you can just get the posts from the younger me.

I was happy to get the positive feedback on this idea from Wessie, one of the great bloggers on this site. Though I wrote about my first year in my two books, I really didn’t get into all the details. Maybe ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ has 50 pages about my first year and ‘Beyond Survival’ has maybe 20 pages. The book I always wanted to write was a complete tell-all about my first year. It would be at least 300 pages, I’d figure. To write something like that, the way I write, I’d need about 900 pages of rough drafts to cut down to 300 good pages. This is the nice thing about a blog. I can just write my stream-of-consciousness drafts, not worry about how boring or tedious they might be, and just hit ‘publish.’ The truth is that when it comes to real polished ‘writing’ I’m very slow. It takes a few months for me to write a good 5 page essay. But blogging isn’t really writing. For me, it’s more like typing. So I’m a pretty fast typist at about 80 words a minute, so I can bang out a blog post like the one you may or may not choose to continue reading, in less than 30 minutes.

During my actual first year, I did not keep a journal of any kind. I did not have the energy when I got home to do anything but pass out on the couch from about 6:00 PM to about 2:00 AM. Then I’d get up and plan for an hour and then go back to bed, wake up at 5:00 AM and continue the cycle. So all my writing here is from what I remember or from some mementos that I saved which remind me of things. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether or not you are me), time, in a sense, stopped for me during my first year. I remember it, still, very vividly, which I truly think is a symptom of PTSD. It also explains why after 20 years, I still spend much of my waking day thinking about what I’m going to blog about for people who are generally 20 years younger than me.

This project, to reconstruct what would have been my first year blog is quite daunting. When I do something like this, I like to do it well, which will require scanning in hundreds of ‘artifacts’ and also getting back to my naive mindset from the past. Perhaps if these posts do add up to about 900 pages, when all is said and done, I might have the raw material to start editing it into a new book, which I’d like.

Again, if you don’t like these intros, just go to the mirror site with just the actual 20 year old posts.


I got a job today! I’ll be teaching 6th grade at Deady Middle School in southwest Houston. The best part is that my best TFA-friend, Jon Fish, got a job teaching English at my school so I’m pretty happy about that.

I’m still digesting all that I learned at the institute. One of our final assignments was to write an educational ‘philosophy’ based on what we experienced at the institute. The thing, I think, that was drummed into me more than anything else was that to be a truly great teacher, one has to encourage deep ‘critical thinking.’ There’s an easy, mindless way, to teach something, particularly with math. We want to avoid that way. Even though it might be the easy way to teach something, if it doesn’t encourage thought, it is really not serving the real purpose of education. I realize that a lot of the math teachers that I had as a student were pretty dry and straight forward in that way. I know that I still learned the math well enough to eventually major in it, but if I were a few years behind in my skills for various reasons and if I didn’t have a stable home life, I could see how this real boring way of teaching might not have worked for me.

The best thing about trying to get kids to think critically is that they will fully ‘understand’ the concepts meaning that they will not have to really ‘memorize’ the concepts. This will get long-lasting learning as they won’t just be recalling memorized facts, but thinking through the logic of the different ideas. Memorizing can only take you so far, particularly in math.

My plan is to really challenge kids to think about the different concepts. Even if they don’t fully understand the logic behind everything, the process of thinking about the topics will make my class a good learning experience. Since I’m not in this to just be an OK teacher, but to be a great one, this is something I feel pretty strongly about.

The institute was very fun. The people in my group were great. The instructors were very wise. One person I really liked was Guy Stella, who had been a principal for about 10 years. I also liked Rick Sjoquist, who had been teaching for about 15 years.

At the end of the institute, some friends and I put on a skit that I wrote where two of the deans tried, in vain, to teach a rough class (I played one of the students) and then Wendy Kopp also tried to teach the class unsuccessfully. Finally, a new corps member tamed the class.

I am pretty puzzled by Wendy. She’s this 24 year old Princeton dynamo, but she reminds me of a die-hard sorority girl. I have NEVER seen her dress in anything but pink from head to toe. It’s hard to take her that seriously. So in our skit, we spoofed her

Here’s part of the script:
Wendy: Give me a ‘T’
Class: T
Wendy: Give me an ‘F’
Kid #2: You better not give me an ‘F’
Class: F
Wendy: Give me an ‘A’
Kid #2: You better give me an ‘A’
Class: A
Wendy: T-F-A. T-F-A.
Class: T-F-A. T-F-A. T-(switch emphasis to the ‘F’) F-A-T. F-A-T. F-A-T. (taunting Wendy.)
Wendy: Oh my god. Are you calling me fat? I must be huge! (runs off stage)

Well, at least this organization is pretty laid back since we didn’t have to get our script approved, and everyone seemed to like it.

In response to one of the comments from one of the other posts, about 25 1990 Corps Members who had just finished their first year came to the institute. First, one 1990 person spoke to a group of 30 new corps members. Ours seemed completely shell-shocked. Then they had a panel discussion with 5 of them and four were completely frazzled and talking about how hard it was while one of them was like “I found that my best lessons were the ones that I improvised.” I hope I have an experience more like his.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

High School

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