|From the Author of:
Inspirational Teacher Stories
“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”
I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.
I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”
I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society”. Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!
In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced - equal parts ignorance and arrogance.
As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant – she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.
She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”
I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”
“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”
“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.
“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.
“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.
“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”
In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.
“I send them back.”
“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”
And so began my long transformation.
Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.
None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.
Copyright 2002, by Jamie Robert Vollmer
Come with me to a third grade classroom…
There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It's never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they'll never speak to him again as long as he lives.
The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, "Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I'm dead meat."
He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered.
As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy's lap.
The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, "Thank you, thank you, Lord!"
Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the
The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful.
But as life would have it, the ridicule that should have been his has been
She tries to help, but they tell her to get out. You've done enough, you klutz!"
Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, "You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Susie whispers back, "I wet my pants once too."
May we all see the opportunities that are always around us to do good.
Extracted from Reader's Digest (Asian Edition), April 1991, pp. 47-48.
Mr. Whitson taught sixth-grade science. On the first day of class, he gave us a lecture about a creature called the cattywampus, an ill-adapted nocturnal animal that was wiped out during the Ice Age. He passed around a skull as he talked. We all took notes and later had a quiz.
When he returned my paper, I was shocked. There was a big red X through each of my answers. I had failed. There had to be some mistake! I had written down exactly what Mr. Whitson said. Then I realized that everyone in the class had failed. What had happened?
Very simple, Mr. Whitson explained. He had made up all the stuff about the cattywampus. There had never been any such animal. The information in our notes was, therefore, incorrect. Did we expect credit for incorrect answers?
Needless to say, we were outraged. What kind of test was this? And what kind of teacher?
We should have figured it out, Mr. Whitson said. After all, at the every moment he was passing around the cattywampus skull (in truth, a cat's), hadn't he been telling us that no trace of the animal remained? He had described its amazing night vision, the color of its fur and any number of other facts he couldn't have known. He had given the animal a ridiculous name, and we still hadn't been suspicious. The zeroes on our papers would be recorded in his grade book, he said. And they were.
Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would learn something from this experience. Teachers and textbooks are not infallable. In fact, no one is. He told us not to let our minds go to sleep, and to speak up if we ever thought he or the textbook was wrong.
Every class was an adventure with Mr. Whitson. I can still remember some science periods almost from beginning to end. On day he told us that his Volkswagon was a living organism. It took us two full days to put together a refutation he would accept. He didn't let us off the hook until we had proved not only that we knew what an organism was but also that we had the fortitude to stand up for the truth.
We carried our brand-new skepticism into all our classes. This caused problems for the other teachers, who weren't used to being challenged. Our history teacher would be lecturing about something, and then there would be clearings of the throat and someone would say "cattywampus.''
If I'm ever asked to propose a solution to the problems in our schools, it will be Mr. Whitson. I haven't made any great scientific discoveries, but Mr. Whitson's class gave me and my classmates something just as important: the courage to look people in the eye and tell them they are wrong. He also showed us that you can have fun doing it.
Not everyone sees the value in this. I once told an elementary school teacher about Mr. Whitson. The teacher was appalled. "He shouldn't have tricked you like that,'' he said. I looked that teacher right in the eye and told him that he was wrong.
The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?" He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." To stress his point he said to another guest;
"You're a teacher, Susan. Be honest. What do you make?" Susan, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied,
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make a C+ feel like the winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder.
I make them question I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math and perfect their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you have the brains, and follow your heart, and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, must pay no attention because they just didn't learn.
Susan paused and then continued.
"You want to know what I make?
I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make?
Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - babysit!
We can get that for less than minimum wage.
That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan-- that equals 6 1/2 hours).
Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.
That's $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).
What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute -- there's something wrong here! There sure is!
$50,000. $50,000/180 days
--a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name..
Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered. "I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much," were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on ...
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.
The church was packed with his friends. One by one, those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. She nodded: "yes." Then he said: "Mark talked about you a lot."
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.
"We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.
“Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."
All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."
Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album."
"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary"
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: "I think we all saved our lists"
That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be.
So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.
Fifteen years of