Monday, October 27, 2014


We know that there are many things in life that cannot easily be measured. There are folks that resist that notion. Do you remember when performance meant something that was visible, that you practiced for and that was put on display to be witnessed, understood and enjoyed by others? Think theater, here, or dance and music. Now school performance refers almost exclusively to standardized testing.. even though we know standardized testing is a poor measure of future success and indicates almost nothing with regard to the traits of character that matter most.

A lawsuit in California is challenging teacher tenure laws that keep crappy teachers in place, where they bore kids leading premature death of interest. Administrators can't fire them, or shame them into retiring, and so the idea that some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have put forth is that teacher tenure be denied those teachers who do not perform at a level determined by the standardized test scores of their kids.

I ask you if there have been teachers in your life that have meant something to you that could not be directly measured? You can use the comments area of this blog to reply.

I can remember the last day of wood shop in junior high school, when my 8th grade shop teacher and I conferred over a nail that had missed its mark and left a small split at the side of a book shelf I had made. He said, "Don't worry about it. You have done well." Teachers are often there for those important moments, and to put their performance on an arbitrary statistical index would be a crime. It certainly is a crime, too, that teachers who don't give a damn about their kids can't be expelled just as easily as a child might. But the true test of a teacher's value may not actually appear until years later, when just a few encouraging words are remembered.

This morning one of our parents was telling me about the sword her daughter made in wood shop last year. She and her family still love it, and last night when a strange truck drove up into the yard,  and her mother was away, my student grabbed the wooden sword as the best protection at hand. She is so proud of that tool, and that she made it herself, and there will be no standardized test necessary to measure the impact of having made it.

Make, fix and create...


  1. I've been following your blog for a few months now and I really enjoy reading about and seeing photos of what goes on in your school. I also enjoy reading about the reading you have done concerning how to teach children effectively. And, I give a large amount of credit to you for furthering my interest in woodworking over the past 15 years or so.

    However, I did not enjoy reading your drivel about the issue of teacher tenure in California. I am so disappointed and saddened by your thoughtless and poorly informed comments that I don't know what to say, other than...

    I only hope that you will learn a little more about the issue, apply what you have learned to what you already know about teaching and then provide thoughtful commentary in your blog. If you are interested in a dialogue on this issue I would be pleased to engage.

    John Kinnear

  2. John, I would like to know where I missed the point? Surely poor teachers should be dismissed. Surely, good teachers should not be held accountable to standardized testing alone. There are two very real problems... one is that often good teachers are dismissed, and poor teachers kept on the basis of seniority alone. The other problem is that what some propose as a fix... holding teachers accountable to standardized testing as the sole measure of their performance is narrow minded and destructive.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my intention, when I praised my shop teacher for his last words that have stuck with me my whole life.