What gets lost each time a teacher retires.


In what is a confluence of events, Teacher Appreciation Week falls at the same time many veteran teachers are retiring. Some are celebrated with parties and dinners.

Last night I drove up to the northern suburbs to attend a dinner being held to honor three retiring teachers I worked with for a long time.

Together they represent over eighty years of teaching experience.

All three were extremely skillful at teaching. Each was unique. Each was driven by their personal stories and experiences. All were knowledgable in the theories and best practices of the field.

Sue wove her family “Douglass Stories” into her teaching. They were a part of her approach to small group reading instruction. She connected what was in the book to her own life and shared her life stories with her students. One colleague recounted how students in Sue’s room who were not sitting around the table with Sue would stop what they were doing to try and listen in.

I remembered how Lisa, a first grade teacher, would marvel me with her talent at translating student writing using invented spelling. It was all gobbledygook to me, but she understood every word. It was most important to her that students felt that they could express themselves with words, even with words they themselves made up.

Suz would hold an annual picnic on the field or in the gym where each student would bring a blanket and two lunches. One for themselves and one for an invited guest. Like the art teacher, for example. The lesson was how to be a host. You can be assured that hosting skills would never appear on the test, but Suz thought it was important and so she taught it.

Over eighty years of teaching knowledge, best practices and experinece will walk out the door in a few weeks.

When I retired in 2012 I thought there was something crazy about an education system that could not find a way to capture the knowledge accumulated in a career of teaching practice when the teacher retired.

In a small district like the one where I, Sue, Lisa and Suz taught, many retirees come back as subs.

Being a substitute teacher is a definite skill which I appreciate.

And many of us retirees are just fine moving on to other things.

Like blogging, podcasting and travel.

I asked an old retired friend this morning how his wife was doing and he said she was still suffering from FOMA.

“What’s FOMA?”

“Fear of missing out,” he said. “I’m fine just sitting doing not that much. But she needs to be out and in touch with everybody.”

This morning I am thinking about this:

While a good skill set is required to be a substitute teacher, and there is nothing at all wrong with moving on, is there a way to make use of decades of  teaching practice, knowledge and experience that gets lost each time a veteran teacher retires?




Illinois’ teacher shortage and pension theft.


In spite of the teacher-shortage-deniers, some Illinois school districts are having some serious staffing problems.

Lawmakers request the State Board of Education turns in its research to help address the shortage in just a few months. A group of Senators sent a letter, hopefully to speed up the process.

Members of the Senate Education Committee are asking for ISBE to give the crisis more attention. They would like them to hand over their report of findings and recommendations by March 1.

Initially, ISBE said it could take up to a year to turn the reports in. The findings will include information about pay disparities, what went wrong to create the crisis and how to get more qualified teachers into the classroom.

Lawmakers say, with more than 2,000 teacher vacancies in the state, they can’t wait much longer.

A few days ago there was this in the Peoria Journal Star:

According to a 2015-16 school year survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, 75 percent of districts surveyed had fewer qualified candidates than in previous years, especially in rural districts and those in central and northwest Illinois.

Furthermore, 16 percent of schools canceled programs or classes because of the lack of teachers — mostly special education, language arts, math and science classes.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, there are currently 2,013 unfilled positions in the state. The total includes teachers, administrative staff and school support staff.

I could write a dozen or more posts on the reasons for the state’s teacher shortage.

Actually, I have written them.

State Senators like Andy Manar are calling for easing the licensing procedures, but remains silent on Illinois’ use of edTPA, an expensive and educationally unsound pre-teaching scam run as a profit center for Pearson.

Compared to when I first started teaching, evaluation procedures have been developed, with support from the state’s teacher unions, that are demoralizing and de-professionalizing. 

The teacher shortage crisis is not helped by the continuing threats to pensions for incoming teachers.

A recent report shows Illinois is facing a teacher shortage. But changes to teachers’ pensions — including cutbacks on the state’s share of contributions — spells uncertainty for anyone going into the profession.

When the Illinois General Assembly approved a budget last summer, they also agreed to cut back on about $500 million to the state’s pension system. This might sound like a good idea if the money is allocated to pay for other needs in the immediate future. For teachers, however, it means the state might not be able to cover their pensions.

Richard Ingram, executive director for the Teachers’ Retirement System, says these pension changes will only exacerbate the state’s teacher shortage.  “Kids that are coming out of school today, that want to be teachers… are getting the message that hey–if you go and teach in Illinois, you can forget about the certainty of a future pension and you’re going to overpay for it,” he says.

Teachers contribute nine percent of their salary to their funds– but only seven percent is used. The additional two percent is “subsidized” to cover some of what goes into Tier 1,  Ingram says. This is money Tier 2 members will never see.

The teachers’ retirement system is the largest of Illinois’ five pension system. Together they totaled close to $130 billion in unfunded liabilities.



My old high school pal Les Perelman is on a mission: Expose computer scoring of student writing. Babel is babel.

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Les Perelman.
I’ve known Les Perelman since we were students together at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

Since then Les has been a leader in the field of inter-disciplinary writing, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was a teacher for many years. But the issue most close to his heart and head these recent years has been the dangers of computer scoring and automated marking of student writing for the purpose of evaluation.

I posted his Babel Generator several years ago on this blog.

My friend Les Perelman and some grad students came up with software that generates gibberish. They named the program BABEL,  the Basic Automated BS Essay Language Generator.

Why would MIT grad students want to generate gibberish?

To demonstrate the problem with computer-based scoring of test essays.

Les submitted the results to AES, Automatic Scoring Engines.  

“It works spectacularly well in producing nonsense that received high scores from various AES machines,” wrote Les.

Based on his reputation, Les was commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation in Australia to review a report by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) into automated NAPLAN marking of persuasive writing tests.

A leading US education academic has warned that it would be “extremely foolish” and even damaging to student learning if NAPLAN writing tests were marked by computers next year, as education ministers across Australia back a move to online marking.

Les Perelman, an internationally renowned expert in writing assessment from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said a report on automated marking of NAPLAN was “so methodologically flawed and so massively incomplete” that it could not be used to justify any use of automated essay scoring of NAPLAN.

Apparently babel is babel no matter if it is scored in Australia or the United States

Teacher Appreciation Day. Mr. Battaglia.

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I’ve written about Mr. Battaglia before.

Mr. Battaglia at Fairfax High School in L.A. We met again a few years ago at a get together of friends from the class of ’66.

I was not an easy student and when Mr. Battaglia assigned us each to select and read a poem to the class I chose Allen Ginsburg’s Howl which I was certain would get me sent, once again, to the principal’s office. Our principal then was Jim Tunney, later to become head ref for the National Football League.

When I was done, Mr. Battaglia said nothing but called me up at the end of class and opened his desk drawer and pulled out a copy of Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate, 350 pages translated from the French about the Chinese Revolution. “Let me know what you think,” he said. “By Monday. We will talk about it.”

It got me to read Malraux’s Man’s Hope, about the Spanish Civil War on my own.

A great teacher.

Finger painting as fun, learning and an act of resistance.


An old photo appeared on my Facebook page this morning. It was a picture I took of my students finger painting in 2012.

I reposted the picture and wrote:

“Looking through some old pics of student art work I am reminded that one of the things that drove teacher-hating trolls the most nuts was that I, an elementary Art teacher, was paid a full teacher’s salary for “finger painting with kids.” So I always made sure that during the school year that is exactly what I did. And post it. Kids love to finger paint and it is messy! And I was paid in full.”

It is true that we finger painted as an act of resistance to teacher-bashing.

Well, at least I did.

I’m pretty sure that my kindergarten and first grade students did not follow the latest debates about standards and outcome-based instruction, PARCC testing or guided learning.

They cared less about where I was on the salary schedule.

My art room had large formica tables that sat four kids, two on each side. I would walk around with a bottle of laundry starch and pour a puddle in front of each student directly in front of them and then repeated the walk with colors of poster paint.

A piece of paper could be pressed against a final picture making a print. But I liked the fact that the image was temporary and changeable with the wipe of a hand.

An observation about art in elementary school Art curriculum:  We don’t have our students draw enough.

Sure. They draw what they are directed to draw: Flowers, landscapes, houses, people. That kind of thing.

What I found was that my students in kindergarten and first grade didn’t really draw from observation and less from direction. And no matter how often I would point out that eyes were not circles with dots in the middle of another, bigger circle, that was how they drew them except to satisfy me.  They drew from stuff that they saw in their heads and they did it as an act of story telling. My students would draw stories in real time, often telling their stories aloud as they drew one thing on top of another. If night came, they covered the entire picture with black crayon. If morning came, the sun would appear.

I don’t think we treat drawing as story telling in school seriously enough. Although I also fear treating anything in school too seriously as it may appear on the test.

Finger paints are a perfect medium for this.

And the clean up was the most fun of all.

I handed out soaking wet sponges to clean up all the laundry starch and paint. By the way, laundry starch dries fairly quickly but can be reconstituted with a spray water bottle.

Some students loved the dry colored starch that appeared on their hands like a pair of gloves.

Some hated the tactile sensation.

When we were done everything was gone. Nothing to hang up. Nothing to take home. Nothing to grade. Nothing to evaluate.

Nothing but the experience.


Making things complicated or difficult for the sake of making things complicated or difficult, well, that’s just stupid writes NYC Educator.


-I stole this post from NYC Educator and I don’t think he would mind.

I’ve heard from various and sundry administrators that there must be an aim for each and every lesson. I do write one, as supervisors are always fiitting in, out, and about, but I’ve never agreed that it was necessary. For one thing, I don’t like to brag, but I’m a high school graduate. The fact is I never saw a single one when I was in school. When I taught college, where such things are not mandated, I never gave a second thought to bothering with one.

I’ve written before that an aim, if I didn’t know what I was doing, would not clear it up for me. And if I do know what I’m doing, reducing it to an aim is unlikely to make it any clearer. I now have a co-teacher, and we have dueling approaches to what constitutes an aim. I’d say that neither of us is wrong, but of course, being me, I tend to favor my approach. I suppose I wouldn’t have been using it otherwise.

I actually have multiple goals when I design a lesson. One goal, to be quite honest, is to trick the students into achieving said goal without having them realize what they’re doing. That sounds a little complicated, but it really isn’t. I’m a language teacher, and if you observe the best language learners, they happen to be babies and small children. They don’t have any aim written on any board. They just soak up language like sponges, and they do it automatically without any prodding whatsoever.

I can’t mirror that exactly, of course, and my students are teenagers. They haven’t got the language learning capacity of small children, but they’re still a lot closer to it than we plodding, miserable adults. I can speak Spanish fluently, having spent a few summers in Mexico, among other things, but I learned almost nothing in high school Spanish. I remember an entire year memorizing the preterite, and being completely unaware that it was past tense. The teacher never saw fit to mention that. Who says preterite for past tense?

I try to teach via usage. I ask questions. I make students question one another. I write and steal little stories. I have a picture story that teaches past progressive, e.g. I was driving to work yesterday. There’s a story about a student who was thinking about difficult final exams and got into an accident because he wasn’t focusing. So the aim I came up with was, “What were you doing?” As a DO NOW, another requirement for which I see little need, I ask, “This morning at 6 AM, I was driving to work. What about you?” This forces my students to use the structure, and also relates it to their lives.

My co-teacher, on the other hand, writes the aim, “How do we analyze a story?” Her argument is that this is the sort of language they might need to use in college. I suppose you might see things like these in Common Core Standards, tantamount to the Ten Commandments. You see, in the unit plans, another exercise without which I could teach just as well, you have to reference standards. Using her aim, we could reference high school standards. Using my actual goal, which happens to be correct language usage, we have to go all the way back to second grade standards.

There are a number of factors that make us think differently. I can see the validity in both arguments, but I also very much favor simplicity whenever it’s possible. Just because my professional life is mucked up with frivolous and redundant complications, that’s no reason to pass them down to my students. When rules are tossed in front of me, it’s my inclination to find ways I can work with them, and that’s what I do. I can freak out and jump up and down about some things, but not all of them.

I do not believe in concepts like rigor. I believe in joy, and finding what makes you happy. I have nothing against hard work, and I do plenty of it. But making things complicated or difficult for the sake of making things complicated or difficult, well, that’s just stupid. As a rule, I oppose stupid. I don’t think it’s my job to prepare kids for lives of tedium and drudgery. I think it’s my job to help them learn English, of course, make them love English, and also to try and awaken some spark that makes them love being who they are. I want them to do something that they love. What makes me a good role model, in my estimation, is that I’ve found something I love to do and so can they.

Now I’m sure I’d have no place in a Moskowitz Academy, where they test prep until they pee their pants. But hey, until Charlotte Danielson’s insane rubric and the crazy tests on which I’m rated get me bounced from this job, I’m gonna keep doing it the best I can. I hope I help some kids along the way, because whatever we end up writing on the board, that’s my real aim.

The education governor is clueless about teaching and learning.

My goodness. A five minute video demonstrating the unique way your classroom learns.

Five minutes.

Maybe thirty students in five minutes.

For a while when I was still teaching the professional development buzzwords were differentiated instruction.

The concept had a good and bad side to it. The good aspect was that it created an awareness that all children learn in different and unique ways.

It takes a skilled and talented teacher to be able to respond to that fact. That’s why not just anybody can do it.

The bad side of it was that the education bureaucrats turned implementing differentiated instruction into a rubric to be observed and measured without differentiation.

That’s why we call them education bureaucrats.

There was the irony of dozens of teachers sitting in the LRC while a paid consultant (if the district had the money to pay for them) showed a powerpoint with circles and flow charts that were suppose to visualize differentiation. Y’know. For those who learn visually. There were handouts for those who learn. . .from handouts. And the droning voice of the consultant for those who learn best from drones.

Of course, differentiation became a line on the rubric/check list when a principal did classroom observation and evaluations of teachers.

Not much more than a club to beat teachers up with.

I recall one year when we filed a grievance against a principal over an evaluation of a first grade teacher who was accused of failing to differentiate during the principal’s one 45 minute classroom observation. The teacher was implementing the district’s curriculum of whole group reading instruction at the moment the principal walked in.

Take away all the fancy pedagogical language and you would know it as reading a story aloud.

To her first grade class.

Good practice as one of many good practices a good teacher would use.

So Bruce Rauner, who has his name plastered on a charter school and has paid for many more, believes you can demonstrate unique teaching and learning in a five minute video.

Nope, governor. Just nope.

Random thoughts. My EpiPen.


This morning I read Dave McKinney’s Reuters story about how Mylan manipulated allergy bloggers, mostly mothers of children with serious allergies, into lobbying state legislatures to require schools to stock epinephren injectors, the main one being the brand, EpiPen.

Then Mylan jacked up the price to $600 a twin pack, helping them become a billion dollar company by cornering the market by selling 90% of the epinephren injectors.

A free market indeed.

McKinney tells a sordid tale.

Unrelated to the profit-gaugers in Big Pharm, this all reminded me of my little corner of the world that was not at all sordid. Just a little scary. It says a lot about what teachers are asked to do and what we do in spite of our fears and hesitations.

Remember this as you read stories about the greedy teachers union bargaining a contract.

Years ago I had a student, one among many over the years, who was severely allergic to bee stings.

All the teachers who had this student were rounded up in the nurse’s office and handed an orange and an EpiPen. This was to be our training.

We practiced stabbing the orange with the EpiPen.

“You have about a two-minute window if Billy gets stung,” the nurse explained.

“Two minutes. Or what?”

The nurse lifted her head and look at us with that look.

“Holy shit,” one of my colleagues blurted out.

She turned to me, as I was the union rep in the building.

I understood her fear. “We have Billy in front of us. We have to do what we have to do,” I said.

Over the years I have had lots of different medical stuff on and in my desk. Stuff for allergies. Stuff for diabetes.

I had lists of dozens of children with a range of medical conditions with a red cover marked confidential.

What to look for. What accommodations to make. How quickly to act.

As the Art teacher in the building who saw every student, I needed to know all of it pretty much by memory.

“If Nancy starts getting suddenly drowsy, get her to the nurses office. Don’t send her with another student.  You must take her. You have about two minutes.”

Two minutes.

What I was to do with the rest of the class was never really explained.

Juice boxes. Orange flavored sugar tablets. Medical emergency bags brought by the student to hang on the Art room door.

Just in case.

A teachers job.

Mr. Battaglia and the peace dividend.


1966 classmate Susan Moore and my modern lit teacher Mr. Battaglia. Photo: Fred Klonsky

It is Fathers’ Day and we are home from our week in California.

Hollywood, Ojai and Venice by the sea.

The ostensible reason for the trip was my unofficial 50th high school reunion. We got together ten years ago, and now – as many of us are heading for our seventh decade on the earth – they become more meaningful, if only for the chance to say how good we look.

Most of us are still here, although we have lost a few of us since the last time we gathered ten years ago.

How sweet that Mr. Battaglia came.

Battaglia was my senior modern lit teacher. Back when I had him he was in his late 20s and had only been a teacher for a few years. He is one of only three teachers whose names I still can recall: Miss Evans, my Art teacher. Mr. Arnot who taught international relations. It was 1964 and our class argued over the war in Vietnam nearly every day. You would not be surprised to know that I was in the minority as one who opposed the war.

And then there was Mr. Battaglia.

The story on Battaglia was that I purposefully tried to cause trouble by reading Allen Ginsburg’s poem, Howl, aloud, in class.

Which included the lines,

…who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman’s loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake…

I mean, if that wouldn’t get me sent to the principal’s office, what on earth would?

But aside from a few embarrassed laughs from a couple of boys in the back of class, I got nothing. When I was done, I sat down without a word from Battaglia.

When class was over, Battaglia called me to his desk and handed me a copy of Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux, a long book on the Chinese Revolution translated from the French. Battaglia told me he would like my opinion of it by Monday.

I shared that story with Battaglia last weekend at our gathering. He laughed and said that he had no memory of it.

Battaglia taught for a decade or so more and then became a LAUSD administrator running some of the magnet school programs. He retired two years ago, two years after I did.

A story in the Los Angeles Times from 1993:

Backed by federal “peace dividend” money freed by the end of the Cold War, Los Angeles school officials plan to establish a math and science magnet school in the San Fernando Valley aimed at hearing-impaired students–the first program of its kind in the city.

Scheduled to begin this fall, the program will also be open to hearing students, mixing them with deaf and partially deaf youths in classes to be held at Granada Hills High School and nearby Cal State Northridge, which boasts a renowned deaf education program.

Teachers will emphasize applied math and technology just as they do at similar math-science centers, which are among the Los Angeles Unified School District’s most sought-after magnet programs.

The Granada Hills program, which will cost an estimated $275,000 to get off the ground, will initially serve 180 high school freshmen and sophomores, about half of whom officials expect will be deaf or partially deaf students. Currently, the district serves 2,000 hearing-impaired youngsters, who either take regular courses alongside their hearing peers with the help of assistants or attend special classes.

Eventually, the Granada Hills school will serve 350 to 400 students, according to Richard Battaglia, the district’s magnet school specialist. As with all of the district’s 107 magnet programs, youngsters must apply for admission, and officials plan to develop a process that will grant hearing-impaired applicants some priority.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Josephine F. Wilson, director of the nonprofit Hear Center in Pasadena, which serves hearing-impaired people throughout Greater Los Angeles. “We want our kids to be exposed to what every other kid is exposed to.”

Magnet programs were created to provide students with a voluntary integration experience and an opportunity for specialized studies.

Technically, the Granada Hills program is being funded by the California National Guard–playing an overseer role for funds channeled from the defense budget.

At the request of Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles), Congress appropriated $10 million from the defense budget last October for the cash-strapped Los Angeles school system to spend on youth programs, taking the money from the “peace dividend” reaped from reductions in the nation’s military forces following the end of the Cold War.

Because it was too late in the budget process to remove the money from the Defense Department, the Pentagon was directed to make the grant. And because, under federal law, a defense agency must oversee the spending of funds from the defense budget, the money was routed to the California National Guard to administer.

“Thank God for the National Guard,” said Board of Education member Roberta Weintraub, who represents Granada Hills. “Without their money, this program wouldn’t have come about.”

“It’s just like Santa Claus is coming to town,” added Battaglia.

The school board formally accepted the funding package last month, clearing the way for establishment of the Granada Hills magnet school, a new math-science center at Revere Middle School on the Westside and other programs focusing on applied math and engineering, as dictated by the grant, which provides $1.6 million for magnet education.

Officials also plan to channel the money into upgrading math and science “enrichment” programs into formal magnet school centers at Dorsey, Fremont, Jordan, Roosevelt and San Fernando high schools.

There was a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War that went to schools.

What a concept.

We should bring that idea back.

One B-2 stealth bomber costs $2 billion.

Sell one and that would keep Chicago schools open for a while.