Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 26th Friday: Teaching vs Rocket Science

“Teaching is not rocket science. In fact, it is far more complex and demanding work than rocket science.”
Richard Elmore

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach for a day as a result of our annual “Holiday Presence” tradition, in which all administrators in our district substitute teach for one day for a teacher selected at random. A few weeks ago our superintendent, Dr. Mike Lubelfeld, taught 7th grade math for a day. Last year, I thought my assignment--subbing for Lynn Surico’s advanced classes--was fun, yet grueling. This year, I again found myself feeling both energized and exhausted by the day’s end. At this point, I am pretty sure I agree with Elmore: subbing for a rocket scientist would be a whole lot easier!

This year, I subbed for Brad Greenberg, an amazing teacher in our district; as a result, I found myself teaching PE with Kindergarten and 2nd grade students at Walden School, Kindy and 3rd grade students at Kipling School, and Adaptive PE students at Caruso Middle School. Wow! What a day! By the conclusion of the day, I had certainly gained new insights into just how challenging Brad’s schedule can be and a new appreciation for how awesome he is at thriving in this role. Of course, having taught for 18 years, I am fully aware of just how demanding the job of classroom teacher is, regardless of grade level or content area. At the same time, I was a bit surprised at my level of exhaustion by the time I was finished. Reflecting on the day, I was reminded of many aspects about our noble profession, including these three simple observations:

Teaching is hard work. Honestly, when I looked at the extensive plans that Coach Greenberg left for me, a part of me considered blindfolding myself, tying one hand behind my back, and going at it; this was going to be a piece of cake! 20-minutes of Kindy PE? What could be easier; it would be over before I knew it, right? Wrong. The skill we focused on was jump roping. I had students at both schools who could execute 20 or more consecutive jumps correctly. I had others who could not even swing the rope from behind their bodies to the front of their bodies. I even had one student who could not grasp the rope handles correctly. Differentiation, anyone? All these divergent learners did have one thing in common, however: they each wanted my undivided attention on their individual performance. In Volleyball, I had two students cry, one because of an injury, another in anger after arguing with the opposing team about who had won the point. In adaptive PE, none of the children were fully verbal and several were in wheelchairs and walkers, yet we headed to the fitness room to work on cardio and weights. This was a challenge!

Teaching is fun. Despite the challenges and a few best laid plans that went awry, I had a blast. The joy of kindy kids showing me what they could do is hard to beat. Joining in periodically to participate in volleyball, jump roping, and games like Space Invaders and Sharks and Minnows was fun and the kids seemed to enjoy having me participate alongside them. Consoling a child who was frustrated and another who was hurt made me feel I had accomplished something. Modeling how to do something and then watching a student actually improve their performance after providing feedback was exciting. As a final added benefit, wearing a Bama T-Shirt to work was pretty cool, too! This was a happy day for me!

Teaching is better because of nice colleagues. After 20 minutes of working with Kindy kids on jump roping, I cannot tell you how excited I was to see Rebecca Dushman show up at my door right on time! I appreciated Glenda Lacefield reminding her 2nd graders to say “Thank you” to me for teaching them. In between classes, it was so nice to be able to chat with colleagues like Tom Hoy when I went to the fitness center, Dee Gibson in the hallway at Walden, Marianne Getz, who provided emotional support at Kipling, and a roomful of colleagues who cheered me up in the staff lounge at Caruso. Even Mr. McConnell, the principal at Kipling School, helped me by setting up the volleyball nets. However, the best example of kindness was the amazing team in place at Caruso in the Guided Instructional Classroom (GIC) for students with significant special needs. To be frank, I contributed little, if anything, to the learning during this block of time. Katie Erbach and the entire GIC team carried me completely without complaint. I am sure they will be excited to have Brad back, who actually helps in some way, but I certainly appreciated their patience and kindness in regards to my ineptitude. In our district--as well as schools everywhere--we are fortunate to work with extremely nice and caring colleagues!

So, teaching (as if we did not already know) is hard work. Yet it is also quite fun, and is made even better because of the nice people with whom we work, both students and colleagues. Every morning, shortly after I awaken, I send out the following Tweet, more as a reminder to myself than a suggestion to anyone out there in the Twitterverse who might happen to see it:

"Work Hard...Have Fun...Be Nice...Today!" As I substitute-taught for the day, I was reminded of the importance of these words. I am proud to work with kids and adults in schools who model these three actions each and every day. Doing so is another way we Teach with Passion!


  1. Dr. Zoul,

    First, let me say BRAVO! I really like the gift of "presence." Your district has come up with a concept that not only gives back to the staff, but also impacts the leaders perspectives. Great idea!

    You made several points that I thought were spot on. You spoke of lesson plans...Coach Greenberg clearly understands the importance of being prepared. A day can be truly hijacked when the plans are inept. Second, teaching is hard work! You got that right! I attended a community forum a few weeks back and I could not believe how many people bashed on education for having 3 months off in the summer. It was a sad day to say the least. Finally, you spoke of nice colleagues. This is the part that many take for granted. The culture in a building can make all the difference. It sounds like Mr. McConnell and the staff at Walden, Kipling and Caruso are thriving in a district that has a positive learning culture.

    It should be no surprise that culture is healthy when the leaders give their presence to the kids.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Ben,
      Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and the shout out to our district! Work Hard, Have Fun, Be Nice!