From the beginning, my dream job was to teach teachers. After twenty plus years in public school classrooms in California, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Maine, I was fried. At 48 I didn’t have the energy to keep up the pace. I needed and wanted something else and something more. I resigned from the Kittery, Maine schools to follow my dream, which basically meant I needed a PhD. While Hannah took a job as an activities director in a local nursing home, I became a graduate teaching assistant and full-time PhD student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).
Hired for my first tenure-track job in the Department of Education at the Eastern Connecticut State University in 1999, I was expected to teach the Teaching Writing course among others. That was in my wheelhouse; it was my bread and butter course thanks to my own writing education at the New Hampshire Summer Writing Program. One fundamental to the effective teaching of writing is having teachers who write themselves.
During the first four weeks of the semester at Eastern, I had my students participate in a writing workshop for the entire three hour class. They would have choice in topics, write drafts, and meet in peer response groups. In the end, they would read one of their pieces at a Reading Celebration to their classmates.
To model what I believed about the successful teaching of writing, I wrote with them and read my piece at the Reading Celebration as well. Below is the piece I wrote during the fall semester of 2001 while a junior faculty member working for the State of Connecticut.
He’s Da Man!
With a shock of white hair and big enough to truly believe he played varsity basketball at Dartmouth in the Fifties, he says on the first day of this graduate level education course, “How many of you know how to write papers?” Most of the thirty plus raise their hands. “That’s what I thought,” he continues with a wide smile.
“Now, how many of you have no trouble with the relationships you have with your family, friends, and colleagues. We in the class smile, grin at each other, and not a single hand is raised. “Therefore,” he continues,” there will be no papers in this class. In fact, in this class you will be developing your communication skills and be the ones doing most of the work during our weekly class time.”
Since Charlie had the reputation of being a superb teacher, I signed up for his class on Monday afternoons. In time, Charlie joined the pantheon of memorable teachers that have contributed mightily to the teacher I am today. He joined: Mr. Bien, my fifth grade teacher at Radburn School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey who had a great sense of humor and let us play softball whenever we finished our work; Jane Hansen, a reading professor at UNH, who had us write regularly, valued my voice, and saw the good in what I was doing; Dan Garvey, also of UNH, who taught me to have students learn experientially and to value the wisdom of the students as learners by debriefing each learning experience. Simply, they inspired me.
In classes, Charlie was always giving us problems to discuss and negotiate. In one class, he gave us the classic man-goes-into-the-shoe-store-to-buy-a-pair-of-shoes problem.
“The man selects a $12 pair of shoes and gives the clerk a twenty. Being early in the morning, the clerk has no change and goes to the baker who gives him twenty ones for the 20 dollar bill. The clerk gives $8 to the shoe buyer as change for the purchase of shoes. Later the baker finds out the twenty dollar bill is a phony. The clerk apologizes and gives the baker two tens to pay back the phony twenty. How much has the shoe clerk lost?
“Now that you have heard the problem, I want you to come to a consensus as a group for the answer. There is only one answer, but get a commitment from everyone in your group before you respond.” From this experience, I learned about myself in a group setting and how to become a more successful group member. (Check the end of the blog for the one answer to this riddle.)
In another course for undergraduates, I was surprised one morning before a class with many undergraduates when Charlie said to me, “Dan, I would like you to play the role of the teacher and show us how you would deal with disruptive students.” OMG. I was petrified.
Though I had been a classroom teacher for 19 years at the time, I don’t think of myself as quick on my feet, and especially when only having five minutes to prepare. I am the kind of teacher who thoroughly plans so the class goes well; I can then freelance off my plan. But not wanting to let down one of my teaching idols, I said, “Sure.”
While I was in the hallway of Morrill Hall with the door shut, he asked three students to volunteer to be disruptive students. When I entered the class, Charlie set the scene. “I’ve asked Dan to teach today anything he wants to these three students.” I wrote on the board, “What makes for a good school?” I also wrote the schedule that included a check-in, discussion, and teacher and student writing.
As I turned to the three students who sat in a Class Meeting circle, while thirty others looked on, I said, “Let’s check in before we start. Is there anything we need to talk about before we get started?” The first thing I heard was “This is stupid.” Then a wadded up of piece of paper whistled by my ear.
“Sharon, I’ll have to remove you from the Class Meeting if you continue to disrupt.” Before I went any further another piece of paper came flying by. With the other two students turning sideways in their chairs, I remember little else of what happened next.
“That’s enough,” Charlie eventually said. He thanked us all for participating and we all received a round of applause. He then asked the students, “What did you learn and what questions about classroom management do you have?” I relaxed now that the attention was no longer squarely on me. I felt acknowledged and affirmed by Charlie’s choice and pleased that I didn’t shy away from the challenge.
Every day as I teach here at Eastern, I try to give a little Charlie Ashley to all my students.
“The clerk, the baker and the shoes dilemma” with excerpts of some of the reasoning.
One vote for $8 lost. From just north of town, our Ogunquit friend says $8 lost.
One vote for $12 lost.
Six votes for $28 lost. From the west, a good friend living out West, an English major, says he was out $28. This got a second vote from ping pong nation. A third vote from San Diego for $28. A California transplant says $28.00 unless the “two tens” are a pair of size ten shoes; then he is out $8.00 and two pairs of shoes:)
A classmate of Hannah’s said, Okay. The answer is $28. Right. I did go to the College of Wooster. I think I can figure this out, but I have a feeling that there is something we may be missing. Hannah agrees with her classmate and in fact, says she KNOWS that that is the answer.
Three votes for $20 lost.A young mother of two and her UNH grad husband thought the clerk is down $20. Eight dollars in cash and $12 for the cost of the shoes.
My high school buddy, the good doctor agrees. The clerk loses $20 overall. The baker comes out even. The crook is ahead $20. He lost the $12 pair of shoes, lost $20 to the baker, and still has the $12 in singles from the baker so he has lost $20.
Another vote for $20 from America’s Heartland – I’m going to go with $20 – He lost $20 to the fraudster ($12 in product, $8 in cash) and then $20 to the baker to redeem the phony bill. This makes it seem like he lost $40. But don’t forget, he also received $20 in $1 bills from the baker, offsetting his losses. But I could be wrong!