Cobb teacher: Leading the Culture Committee

Cobb teacher Ryan Lund Neumann sent me this wonderful essay. Enjoy.

By Ryan Lund Neumann

If I only knew then what I know now.

Sometimes the old adages are true. Even if they are fragments. Six years ago, I was a brand new teacher. Fresh out of graduate school, juiced up on rhetoric and radical ideas, not only was I convinced I would change a student’s life for the better, I was going to change the whole darn teaching profession for the better.

I would, no matter how arduous the journey, no matter how ridiculous the interruption, find a way. Somehow. Someway.

I would, no matter how arduous the journey, no matter how ridiculous the interruption, find a way. Somehow. Someway. It was going to happen.

So, I decided I needed to challenge myself.

“You’ve gotta put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, Ryan. If you really want to find out what kind of person you are, you have to venture into uncharted territory. You have to put yourself out there in ways you never have before.”

And so I did. I accepted a job at South Cobb High School in the fall of 2006 and for the first time in my life, I was the odd man out. A boyish man amongst women. A minority. An introvert.

“Me? A teacher? Really?”

I was forced to become social. Had no choice. I had to speak. I became a “yes” man. At the end of my first year, I was an Assistant Cross Country Coach (a sport which I knew nothing about), a Georgia High School Graduation Test Tutor, the newly appointed chair of the Culture Committee, which consequently meant I was also a member of the School Improvement Committee, and other unofficial things like counselor, hall monitor, exterminator, student-dropper-offer-person, and so on and so forth.

At the end of my first year, I was exhausted for sure, but I was also in love. Probably the most dysfunctional relationship I have ever been involved with.

I knew nothing about school culture when I finished my first year of teaching, but in the five years since then I know this: culture determines everything. If you don’t have a cohesive school culture, you’ve already lost. Not talking the battle either, I’m talking the war.

If I only knew that before I got to now, I would have known what to do when I was appointed chair of a Culture Committee I knew nothing about. I might have been able to stop myself from discrediting myself but more importantly, I would have known what to say.

Some teachers want power. Some want a paycheck. Some want to pay it forward. And look, it’s not even that simple. There’s about 50 grays of shade in between those three statements alone but here’s the thing, there are those who simply want to be great. And you know what, that’s the only thing you really need in education. Good people who want to be great teachers. You get some good people doing genuinely great things and you don’t have to dwell on all that other garbage. Everything else will fall into place.

Great teachers aren’t in it for the money. They’re not in it for the unions or the politricks, and they don’t care about the different verbiage of standards. At the end of the day, it’s as vague as this: great teachers want to make a difference. That’s it. They don’t need merit pay or test scores or fancy new federal agendas. They don’t conspire to alter standardized answers. Get a few great teachers and the next thing you know, their department is great and then after that, other departments are great and then before you can mark, “Proficient,” on a teacher’s annual performance evaluation, the whole school is great.

If I only knew then what I know now I’d say this, “Culture is Key.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

54 comments Add your comment

Peter Smagorinsky

June 16th, 2012
5:53 am

Ryan is a terrific writer. He’s written a provocative narrative of his teaching experiences that’s funny, smart, and insightful. Below I’ll paste in the amazon link and the three reviews that have been submitted so far. Congratulations to a great guy, top-tier teacher, and fabulous writer.

5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Thoughful, October 17, 2011
By JAuxer – See all my reviewsAmazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: What Had Happened (Paperback)
Honest, easy to read, and entertaining. I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. Each time I started a chapter I would think about the title of the chapter and try to figure out what it meant. I was surprised every time. His writing style drew me in, made me laugh, and always had a deeper meaning then what I originally expected. I recommend this for teachers and non-teachers. It will take you back to High School and force you to remember those times when you thought certain teachers were the coolest ever or the craziest (or when you thought certain classmates were so funny because they gave the teachers a hard time)…but from the teacher’s perspective. It made me want to go back to those teachers who I really liked but never really showed it and tell them “thank you”. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Report abuse | Permalink
Comment Comment

5.0 out of 5 stars funny and real teacher’s memoirs, February 22, 2012
By LJC (North Carolina) – See all my reviewsAmazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: What Had Happened (Paperback)
This book came highly recommended by one of my good friends that happens to be a teacher. I’m not a teacher and the author, Neumann, was new to me so it took me a while to get around to reading it. However, once I finally started, I didn’t put it down until I finished it about six hours later. The witty, heady, modern writing goes down like a smooth beer and is highly entertaining. Basically, it is a compilation of teaching experiences, observations, and overheard conversations in a modern urban high school written from a young English teacher’s perspective. Although it will be most appreciated by educators, the wit and wisdom conveyed by the anecdotes, quotes, and insight within was totally relatable to anyone that has been in high school. I was smiling or laughing out loud throughout practically the entire book, but it wasn’t so topical as to be be trivial or boring. Its a quick and highly recommended read. I’ve gifted it to three of my favorite teachers. I’m looking forward to more work from Neumann! Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Report abuse | Permalink
Comment Comment

5.0 out of 5 stars “What Had Happened” – Neumann, October 31, 2011
By Chris Anderson – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME) Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: What Had Happened (Paperback)
“What Had Happened” is a very good read about the true adventures of a High School English teacher. It grabs your interest from the get go and moves quickly with interesting stories from his day to day experiences.
I highly recommend this book.


June 16th, 2012
7:26 am

The third and fourth paragraphs are nearly identical. Not sure you need the third paragraph.

Teacher Songs 2012

June 16th, 2012
8:18 am

Great piece. I enjoyed reading it. it reminded me of my lofty goals when I started teaching over 25 years ago. We all want to ignite that spark inside a child and see that fire in their eyes burn brighter as we hold hands and follow the yellow brick road to a future of endless creative possibilities. There was such a positive culture in the schools when I started and I never believed that it would come to what I see in many places now. But, I see those little cherubs in pre-k and I cry because they just want to learn. And, we still don’t get it. Education should be a major investment for our country, not the testing part…the nurturing part.

I just dislike being placed among those who feel that they are the be all and end all of educators. They judge others by their own set of criteria which they have developed by placing themselves on the “I am a teacher martyr’ heap. “You are not staying an additional 30 hours a week after school so you are not worthy” they cry. “Your voice inflection doesn’t sound humble enough. You drive a car that is too flashy for a teacher. Why are you in a union? Your employer will always treat you with respect and make sure that you have optimal benefits and a fair wage and not too many furlough days. You should be thankful that you are serving our children. One does not complain, one just works harder.”
Did I miss something? Are the administrators, education boards and politicians angelic? Are they fairy god people? Do they have wings and wands?
I’ve stayed my share of 55 hour and 60 hour weeks which includes sponsoring of clubs and other organizations. People think its perfectly normal for me to work all week, conduct 10 hours of tutorial, supervise at a game on Friday or Saturday, a recital or play Saturday night and attend a prayer breakfast with students from my school on Sunday. You don’t get one dollar more and the furloughs just keep a coming. I just don’t advertise and I am older than time.


June 16th, 2012
8:53 am

We need competition. The government monopoly on our school system practically guarantees stagnation. Just think back to the days when AT&T had a monopoly on our nation’s communications network. We had high prices and a lack of new products. If the AT&T monopoly had persisted, who knows if the internet would ever have come into existence. Well, it is the same with education. As long as we have a virtual government monopoly, there will be no real innovation and prices will stay high. Get me out!


June 16th, 2012
9:01 am

Standards have certainly fallen since 1970, my teachers were not the greatest, mostly average for a rural area, but they had standards for writing and communications. They would never have used he word “garbage” in a public communication, neither written nor oral. I suspect by today’s standards, some of them would have qualified as great teachers, but there were merely average for their time, and I suspect somewhat sub average for the standards of the previous 30 odd years. But my class of 170 or so still managed to produce a couple ceo’s, some MDs, a bunch of lawyers, and at least two engineers, along with the usual mix of alcoholics, druggies, and criminals.


June 16th, 2012
9:33 am

Buzz, I fail to see how “competition” helps. Schools aren’t a business. They are a *right* guaranteed by each state’s constitution.

Restaurants compete. They succeed in some areas, and fail in others. If you are a smart business owner, you don’t put your money into a business in an area that it is almost guaranteed to fail. In education we don’t have this luxury. Everyone needs good schools. The people who long for competition most often mean they want schools where kids who want to work (or have parents who will force them to) can compete for limited enrollment opportunities. The problem is the kids whose parents won’t or don’t fight for them. These kids will never end up in Charter or Private schools. They’ll end up in schools that continue to fail because they come from a background that either doesn’t value education, or doesn’t have time and energy to instill the respect for education most successful students have.

If there were a true competition in education, smart competitors would set up shop in good neighborhoods with a lot of parent support and they would run great schools for the kids who don’t have to work as hard to succeed because their parents have already instilled in them the importance of what they are doing.

Who wants to build a fancy restaurant in a housing project? Not what I would call a smart business plan. You put your business where you think it will succeed. Public schools do not have that choice. They are built where there are students.

But to your example: How do rural and poor areas get communications networks? The FCC makes them build the infrastructure. Does the Department of Education make private and charter schools take on the behavior problem, chronic absentee, mentally or physically disabled student?

There is no governmental monopoly. You can build your own school, there is just no money in doing it. Now, I think with some creative and quite probably controversial plans public schools could be forced to compete. But it would mean coming up with inventive (and probably expensive) alternatives for kids based upon their abilities and interests. It would mean strict rules at the school level to enforce discipline for behavior and attendance in way that would no doubt leave some children behind.

But all of this distracts from the point that Mr. Neumann was making. “Culture is Key”. We have politicized education. We have overregulated education. We have blamed everyone for failing schools (except uninvolved parents, because they vote for the guys who dispense the money to schools). But there are teachers who care. While they are involved in many other things, they ultimately care about the kids they teach. All of the rest is often just a distraction from what should be their focus, but that is the reality.


June 16th, 2012
10:31 am

We have extended taxpayer funded free public education to some 14 plus years, from PreK to 12th grade, with negative effect on student achievement. Instead of adding years to public education, perhaps we should be subtracting some. What exactly is the point to warehousing people against their will in a public institution where they do not want to be, and in which they refuse to cooperate in efforts to educate them? I suggest we drop all publicly funded preK and K classes, and not start first grade until age 8, an age at which more children are ready to learn. Let the children then choose to drop out at anypoint at or after age 16. Ten years should be more than adequate to teach the reading, writing, and computing skills needed. The pace of learning has become too leisurely, there is no urgency, so let us generate a little urgency by reducing the time available for a free public education.

atticus joad

June 16th, 2012
10:50 am

yeah. OK. Pretty Fluffy Piece. Obviously, he’s an English teacher. A lot of words to say pretty much nothing.


June 16th, 2012
10:52 am

It is encouraging to read remarks from teachers like this who truly care about the difference they make in children’s lives. Keep up the good work.

What is truly appalling in this forum and many other is the use of lies, half-truths, and innuendo to promote a destructive agenda to rob our children of a good education.


June 16th, 2012
10:52 am

Reading some of the comments on blogs is making me cynical and grouchy. I read Neumann’s book–awesome! Submitting this inspirational message to a blog is like casting pearls before swine, in the case of “Solutions” etc. But thanks, Neumann, for brightening my day. Hope you write another novel.


June 16th, 2012
10:59 am

madaboutmath – A novel is a book of fiction, Mr Neumman’s book is suppose to be about his experiences in public education.

a "C" paper at best?

June 16th, 2012
11:07 am

@PeterS: So Ryan’s a “terrific” writer? Bit of overkill there maybe, Pete?

Peter Smagorinsky

June 16th, 2012
11:26 am

C paper, I’ve read a lot of Ryan’s writing. He’s terrific. Buy his book and see for yourself.

Peter Smagorinsky

June 16th, 2012
11:29 am

And he’s a terrific artist, too. I’ve had him draw the cover art for two of my own books.


June 16th, 2012
11:31 am

To answer my own question “What exactly is the point to warehousing people against their will in a public institution where they do not want to be, and in which they refuse to cooperate in efforts to educate them?” : I believe the purpose is to force the taxpayer to pay ever increasing amounts of money toward education, the children are being held “hostage” by the public education establishment to ensure their own prosperity. After all, the State pays what, say 5,000 dollars a year toward educating each child, so the more children you have in your county school system, the more money you can extract from the state. Plus local property taxes make up the remainder of the per child cost, fewer children in public education makes the per child cost average higher, gotta hide that from the taxpayers.

Ron F.

June 16th, 2012
11:39 am

You know, you would think even the critics of public education, which this blog is rife with, would appreciate the simplicity of the message here. He’s not talking politics, he’s not blaming the parents for every ill of education, and he’s not complaining. He’s just stating the simple truth that will always be the foundation of education- dedicated teachers. Reform the system any way you want, and without teachers of this caliber, you’ll still have a failing system. Maybe, just maybe, if we listened to the teachers here and elsewhere who are truly dedicated to educating our children, we’d be able to agree on what can be done to improve education. My fear is that only after we’ve run off too many dedicated, great teachers will we realize our mistake. No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we do to prove our devotion, if you can’t learn to see and appreciate the good among us (and there are many), then you better have a backup plan for how you’re going to recruit teachers you deem worthy. The bashing here isn’t going to do it.

Ron F.

June 16th, 2012
11:44 am

“gotta hide that from the taxpayers.”

So how’d that work out for FSA? I’d say their “hiding” of the taxpayers money was pretty bad. All I’m seeing so far is that what we’ll end up doing is trading one “warehouse” for another, and the new ones will have less accountability to taxpayers and more freedom to hide the money any way they want. I know you’ll be able to choose your warehouse and the other members of it, but how will you keep the system accountable and honest if we can’t do it now? How’s that going to improve anything?


June 16th, 2012
12:16 pm

As Many of the readers here have already previously noted, Mr Neumman is providing an example as to what it means to be personally involved with his community and his school. However, I am very very skeptical about buying in to such widespread belief of such real results to be achieved through such community involvement, Especially, when we hear statements made by many politicians and potential leaders of the Republican Party. There is a growing sentiment by many of his neighbors, who are fervent supporters of the Republican ideology feel an immediate need to eliminate the Department of Education, altogether. Not to mention their unwillingness to support even the modest plans of financial support of those who want to pursue post secondary educational goals with federal assistance.

As silly as that sounds, it is true. The Republican party and its supporters are for withdrawing any and all financial support from America’s public education system completely. I do not have to, nor do I want to go into all the havoc that one decision alone would mean to furthering the education and improving our kids skills with other nations and countries around the world. We all can hear the laughter now, upon hearing the often false lip service, we hear from many popular people from that side of the aisle making claims about American being so exceptional in comparison to the rest of the world.

My question to Mr. Neumann, is where is he and his advocacy on this very important and crucial issue? For if he has none, all of his efforts will surely be in vain.

Proud Teacher

June 16th, 2012
12:37 pm

With the tremendous pressure on teachers to prepare students for the standardized tests only education- the quality teacher, the teacher who loves to teach the individual student in front of him, the one who demands integrity and principles in the classroom – will become fewer and fewer. What is described in this article is exactly the kind of teacher and teacher-student relationship that is missing too often in today’s classroom. We need to bring back the neighborhood school and allow teachers to set the bar higher than minimum basic skills designed for one-size-fits-all students. Those students sitting in the desk are not numbers, the are real human children who need an adult to educate them and not just train them for a rote life in society that does not exist. None of us are robots – yet.

Peter Smagorinsky

June 16th, 2012
1:08 pm

Bernie, how are Ryan’s efforts in vain, when he teaches Georgia teenagers? I doubt if they think so.


June 16th, 2012
1:16 pm

Peter, I think you are in need of a bit of reading and comprehension assistance….really! you are being betrayed by your comments….:)

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 16th, 2012
1:29 pm

Well-said, Ryan.


June 16th, 2012
2:16 pm

@Bernie: If you did “a bit of reading” and sought “comprehension assistance” yourself—you might come to better understand the electorate you swim in. You might even come to comprehend why you as a white(?) male are a vanishing species at those Obama-Biden-Pelosi rallies you attend.


June 16th, 2012
2:29 pm

Jeez, unless there has been a major change with me…I fail to comprehend the validity of your comment! I think you may need to inquire with Peter as to where he will be attending that course and JOIN him.

Besides, something tells me good ole Peter is try to help Ryan sell a few more copies of his book! that usually happens more on Fox news than here.

Miss Management

June 16th, 2012
2:56 pm

I think I missed the point. Can someone explain it? What was his point?

[...] of the day, it’s as vague as this: great teachers want to make a difference. That’s it.” (more)    Comments (0) Return to main news [...]


June 16th, 2012
3:13 pm

Miss Management, I encourage you to go read the very first post here. its more of a shameless plug for all to rush out and purchase a book of a pretty much unknown author versus a commentary.

Hillbilly D

June 16th, 2012
3:37 pm

There’s about 50 grays of shade

Shouldn’t that be shades of gray?

bootney farnsworth

June 16th, 2012
3:48 pm

I wish Maureen could install a filter which automatically boots out anything which states something is all the (fill in the blank)s part.

bootney farnsworth

June 16th, 2012
3:50 pm

I would toss out the dept of Education tomorrow if I could,

our kids are slipping further and further behind yearly. obviously the DOE isn’t doing its job

bootney farnsworth

June 16th, 2012
3:53 pm

competition is an old and intellectually dishonest dead horse

unless you live in a community which has outlawed home schooling, private schools, religious schools, alternative schools, ect

there already is competition – and a lot of it


June 16th, 2012
5:17 pm

Solutions–if you actually knew what you were talking about, and had read the novel, you would know that it is a novel based loosely on his experiences. He took artistic license and changed names, etc. Many novels have autobiographical elements, but are still classified as novels.


June 16th, 2012
5:17 pm

@bootney: It’’s your dissembling about competition which is intellectually dishonest.

And a curiosity … which suggests you were asleep during the entire period leading up to the collapse of Eastern European communism. Or perhaps still in diapers?

And if you think your beloved K-12 education monopoly is loved by those who must entrust their own children to it—come and side with us tuition voucher proponents, and put it to the test.

Or does the thought of parental choice leave you with nightmares of working for tips in restaurants?

— GwinnettParentz

bootney farnsworth

June 16th, 2012
6:46 pm

@ Gwinnett

sigh….you can lead an ideologue to logic, but can’t make them think.

if you wish to redefine competition to suit your worldview, nothing I can do about that. you have every right to fight for your right to be ignorant. a wiser person, however, might not choose to exercise said right as openly as you do.


not sure anyone here has denied public ed is the big dog on the block, I haven’t. not sure anyone here has denied we have multiple problems. sorta the point of much of these blogs. and not sure anyone here denies justifiable parental issues with public ed. we do get testy when held up as the scapegoat for matters well beyond our control.

it has been explained to people with your apparent opinion time and time again why your pie in the sky idealistic view of vouchers isn’t workable – not to mention completely impractical – but it would seem this crowd shoves their fingers in their ears and chants not listening.

if you refuse to accept any opinion of your own, do any research beyond your talking points, there is nothing we can do to help you.

odd how you felt the need to go after me personally instead of trying to deal with my points in a logical manner. actually come to think of it, not so odd at all.

any you may well get your wish. GPC (where I am) is slated to lay off somewhere around 200 people since Anthony Tricoli spent us into oblivion. many of us will not be employed at the end of the month.

will that make you happy?

but don’t worry, I’ll not be working for tips anywhere. you don’t need the competition

bootney farnsworth

June 16th, 2012
6:47 pm

funny how someone who can’t spell parents correctly is so critical of education.


June 16th, 2012
7:36 pm

@bootney: Indeed, four more years of government by “community organizer” may leave us ALL waiting tables for tips. Including all those butt boys of his over at the AJC—if there’s any justice in the world.

Hoping your Chinese is up to the task?


June 16th, 2012
7:54 pm

madaboutmath – I might have read the book if it had been autobiographical, but a fictional account of teach does not offer much. Regardless, my hypothesis is that a significant part of the decline in education over the last 40 plus years can be accounted for by the significantly lower average teacher IQ. Human potential has not declined, the children are still genetically the same today as they were 50 and 100 years ago, but the high IQ women who went into teaching 50+ years ago now have better options, and their places have been taken by people with lower IQs. If my hypothesis proves true, then screening teachers for low IQ may help improve teaching, at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The “dumbing down” of course work has now extended well into the college ranks, what was once the best National higher education system in the world had been significantly degraded, and continues to decline every single year. Just as civilizations rise and fall, so too do educational systems, and ours is in significant decline.

Ed Johnson

June 16th, 2012
8:09 pm

Yes, culture is key. Consider a culture that knows, honors, and embraces that…

“Relationships are important in education. … If you’re able to touch [students'] mind, fine. But if you can touch their heart, then the mind contact lasts longer and goes deeper, I think.”
–John Hunter, public elementary school teacher and creator of World Peace Game

World Peace and other 4th Grade Achievements (Documentary Trailer) (3:02)

John Hunter: Unknowing Can be the Beginning of Wisdom (18:24)

Colonel Jack

June 16th, 2012
9:16 pm

@Hillbilly D … It just shows to go you …

Dr. S

June 16th, 2012
9:23 pm

Solutions, please research the Flynn Affect which states that IQs in general are steadily climbing upward. I would say that the same IQs go into teaching (or better if you agree with the research behind the Flynn Affect!) that did back in “the day”. Its just that now, it’s really not as respected nor does it pay as well as other, less gray hair-inducing jobs.

Also, as far as criticisms of the essay go, it was meant to be a light piece, not a heavy-handed journal article with footnotes. Mr. Neumann is a creative writer, and a fine one. Also, make sure all the words are intact and spelled correctly before harping on someone’s writing. Mahalo, y’all.

p.s. To whoever said he must be an english teacher, because he used a whole lot of words for nothing: BRAVO! I love a sense of irony. Do you perchance work for The Onion? I LOVE that paper.

Dr. S

June 16th, 2012
9:25 pm

p.p.s Also love the statement that high IQ women are leaving teaching, but not men! Think I’ll go burn my three college diplomas now.


June 17th, 2012
3:51 am

I say self-instruction and deschooling society are key.

Peter Smagorinsky

June 17th, 2012
5:40 am

Just noting that Dr. S and I are not the same person.

Note that profling will post the same thing, no matter what the essay of origin is. Well, that surely goes for others as well, but s/he is posting the same mantra on Sunday morning’s essay as well, irrespective of the original content.

Peter Smagorinsky

June 17th, 2012
5:45 am

One more thing: Of course I’m trying to get people to read Ryan’s book with my opening post. Shrewd observation there, Bernie, among your many shrewd observations.

As madaboutmath notes, Ryan’s book is more fictionalized than fiction, with the primary fiction being altering people’s real names. But the experiences of how it feels to teach are very real. Ryan very authentically relates the absurdities of life as a public school teacher. And yes, I’m trying to get you to buy it, not only because it’d help Ryan pay the bills in the absence of a generous living wage, but also because it would help readers get behind the rhetorical fog surrounding education and into the lives of the people who make our schools work.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

June 17th, 2012
9:31 am

@Solutions “Regardless, my hypothesis is that a significant part of the decline in education over the last 40 plus years can be accounted for by the significantly lower average teacher IQ. ”

Well, this high IQ teacher still has had to deal with being physically assaulted by students, cussed out by students and parents, threatened by parents and students, undermined by adminstration, overly large class sizes, a lack of classroom materials, outdates text books, teaching in the south with a broken air conditioning system for months, etc. But I am sure all the problems in education are due to less intellegent teachers. Right.

Mr. Todd

June 17th, 2012
9:53 am


I was sitting on the front porch of a crappy house for sale on an open-house Sunday afternoon, trying to be a patient real estate agent. The only people who came to see the house were other real estate agents.

All of a sudden I got a good and curious feeling in my gut and heart and mind and soul and started thinking about what it might be like to be a substitute teacher at the school near where I live for kids who have learning, behavior, and emotional disorders, and then I decided I wanted to do that for a while and that’s how it all got started. I figured I could make a lot more money being a substitute teacher than what I was making as a real estate agent who didn’t sell anything.

So you make a phone call to the school and make an appointment for a personal interview with the headmaster, and then if that goes okay the human resources lady gives you an application and some other papers to fill out and then they run a police check on you at the police station and will let you know.

Come to find out you don’t need a Masters degree or a dang Ph.D. You should have, however, a high degree of courage and understanding and self control and wisdom and tremendous mental and physical durability.

It takes about three weeks to find out if you’re going to be a substitute teacher. I finally got a call from the human resources lady at the school and she told me my application was accepted, that my police check came back clean from the police station, and that I was now on the on-call list. My name and number is on the list, she said, and every teacher and principal has the list. But let me make absolutely sure we have the best phone number for you.

I told her I have only one phone and it’s always in my pocket.

Other teachers and principals are invaluable to rookie substitute teachers, too, and answer your questions before you ask them. They know what you’re wondering.

Before my first day I promised the school and the kids and the teacher I was substituting for that I would try to make a difference the best I could. I also silently promised the parents I might not ever meet that I would do my best. That if there was a moment when I could make a difference, a better one, I would.

I think I made a difference as a substitute teacher. God, I hope I did.

I got scheduled in advance—days, weeks, and even months in advance. Sometimes I got called the night before. Sometimes I got called the morning a frantic principal needed me to fill in that day for a sick teacher and I had to get cleaned up real fast.

I tried hard to be good at subbing. Most days there was actually some real teaching, some supervising, too, and whole a lot of just getting them through the day. Real teachers, at the end of most days would give me a kind look and say, So you survived, huh.

One time a regular teacher said to me about a sixth grader, who was standing right there beside us in the great room of the middle school, “You should have seen her when she got here two years ago.” And then the teacher put her hand on the sixth grader’s shoulder and said in a tone of voice as if it would be the last thing she’d ever say, “Now she’s my miracle. My miracle.” I found out that teachers get to have those moments a lot. Even substitute teachers.

Some people say teaching is a calling. That if you don’t feel you’ve been called to teach … don’t damn do it.

I got called more than I thought.

Thank you for calling.


June 17th, 2012
12:42 pm

DR S – A doctorate in education isn’t much of a degree, it certainly is not in the same ball park as a PhD. As for male teachers, there are far fewer of them today, but in the past men had far more options for a career than women, so maybe the male teachers of 40 plus years ago did indeed have lower IQ’s than their female coworkers, on average. The men still ruled the roost though, there were not very many female principals or superintendents. High IQ women who wanted a career were pretty much limited to education or nursing. That has changed for women, hence my emphasis on the effect of high IQ women not going into teaching as a career. Your reluctance to even consider that lower average teacher IQ is part of the problem is itself a problem. As for my grammatical and spelling errors, this is a casual blog, not a scholarly journal, I see no need to proof read and spell check.

Dr. Monica Henson

June 17th, 2012
2:05 pm

“Get a few great teachers and the next thing you know, their department is great and then after that, other departments are great and then before you can mark, ‘Proficient,’ on a teacher’s annual performance evaluation, the whole school is great.”

This summary, despite its deceptive simplicity, is the absolute essence of what it takes to build a great school. It’s why there are urban charter schools that have been able to succeed greatly in a few years where other public schools have failed for decades.

It’s also why it’s so darned hard to do it in a district public school. Charter school administrators have the ability to build a faculty from scratch. If you can hire three or four powerhouse teachers at the beginning and build your faculty around them, they are like champion roses that lift the beauty and quality of the entire garden. If you have the freedom to weed out any mistake hires that threaten the culture, it enables the garden to continue to flourish. This is next to impossible to accomplish in a traditional public district school.


June 17th, 2012
3:59 pm

I have got to agree with you Dr. Monica Henson, the HR department is a problem in all large companies and organizations. If you need to fire the poor performers, HR gets in your way every time, well beyond what Federal and State rules require. The easiest and best cost savings would be to abolish all HR departments.