‘Fitz’ starts his 50th year of teaching

James Fitzgerald began teaching social studies at Chicago’s Hubbard High School in 1966. Going on 50 years later, “Fitz” is still on the job teaching law and coaching the mock trial team, reports WGN-TV.

I can’t get WGN’s video to embed properly, so here’s a Chicago Public Schools “teacher feature.”

It includes a former student, who had a baby in her senior year. Fitz, who left home after his father’s death in eighth grade and relied on a coach’s help, said he’d always be there for her. She now teaches social studies at Hubbard. When Fitz can’t teach any more, he plans to turn over his law program to her.

Trans teacher wins $60K, say ‘they’ rules

Leo Soell in their fifth-grade classroom in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregonian

When Brina Soell became Leo, the fifth-grade teacher asked coworkers to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” or “he.” Soell, who identifies as “transmasculine and genderqueer,” complained of harassment, reports the Oregonian. Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to give Soell $60,000 to settle emotional damage claims, add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, clarify policies about transgender teachers and mandate trainings for all principals.

Sexual harassment policies are moving from telling people what not to say to demanding that they “must say certain things,” writes Scott Shackford on Reason.

New York City has threatened employers with heavy penalties if they don’t ensure their employees address each other (and customers) by the pronoun of their choice, including “ze/hir” and other non-standard pronouns. The directive also applies to landlords and tenants, professionals and clients and business owners and customers. Everyone is supposed to ask everyone and remember who’s what.

Requiring people to say things they don’t wish to say violates free-speech rights, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

When the government is acting as sovereign, telling us what we must or must not say on pain of coercively imposed legal liability, the First Amendment is at full force. That force, I think, should preclude government commands that we start using new words — or radical grammatical modifications of old, familiar words — that convey government-favored messages about gender identity or anything else.

He notes that Soell complained of harassment, in part, due to other teachers “refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves” (emphasis added), as well as posting “messages on Facebook that denigrate transgender people.”

Palestinian honoree teaches through play

A Palestinian teacher’s play-based methods have won her a $1 million global education prize, reports Diaa Hadid in the New York Times.  The Varkey Foundation chose Hanan Hroub for developing educational games for children traumatized by violence.

When a reporter visited her West Bank classroom, “second-grade students were not focusing on their assigned task of scrawling math problems on balloons,” writes Hadid. “They were popping those balloons.”

The teacher put four marks underneath a frowning yellow face.

“No, Miss! No! We will concentrate, we promise!” piped up a girl named Shurouq. Ms. Hroub and her charges discussed why they felt distracted, and promised to do better.

Not all is fun and games, reports Hadid. “Some Israelis have denounced her as part of a Palestinian education system they see as inciting violence, and noted with dismay that her husband assisted in the killing of six Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1980.”

‘Tough’ teacher suspended for insensitivity

Michael Maynard, an award-winning language arts teacher, was disciplined after students complained  he made inappropriate and critical comments. Photo: Brendan Fitterer, Tampa Times

Here’s an interesting story from the Tampa Bay Times. AP English teacher Michael Maynard, 62, has been honored for teaching excellence — and suspended and transferred for insensitivity. Rather than accept the three-day suspension and reassignment, Maynard has taken a leave of absence.

“I’ll call you out. No one has ever called them out before. No teacher. How dare they?” Maynard said. “You might have worked hard on it, but I’m looking for good work. It’s not about get ‘er done. It’s about get ‘er done right.”

. . . “The kids aren’t getting abused. They’re just whining,” he said. “That’s what they do.”

Maynard cares about his students’ academic success — they tend to do very well — not about their personal issues, writes Jeffrey Solochek. “But I always care about my kids.”

He has strong supporters — and detractors.

In a series of written incident forms, several students acknowledged that Maynard was a tough taskmaster who wanted to elicit their best results.

. . . Some complained that he made unfitting comments about their religion, race and sexual orientation. They said he criticized their clothing, yelled at students and called them names, and made some cry.

“Mr. Maynard is a very good teacher, one of the best I’ve had,” one student wrote. “But he isn’t concerned about others’ feelings, which is fine as an individual but not as a teacher.”

“I’m just trying to make them think for the first time,” Maynard said.

The teacher is writing a book and looking into marketing his lesson plans, while considering a return to the district. “Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than taking that average kid and making him a rock star,” he said. “They have choices now. Why else would I be a teacher?”

Is he challenging — or a jerk?

In another story, Maynard says his AP classes deal with controversial topics, such as religion, that make some students uncomfortable.

In December, a student complained that Maynard “made several jokes about oppressing women,” while another said that Maynard “sometimes says bad things about Christian-Republicans.”

Other students said Maynard used profanity, told them they never would go to college and joked that a student “must be gay.”

Teacher: You’re the ‘dumbest girl’

When Shaniaya Hunter asked a question in class, her teacher called her “the dumbest girl” he’d met in 37 years of teaching. “You know what your purpose going to be? To have sex and have children, because you ain’t gonna never be smart.”

Shaniaya Hunter

Shaniaya Hunter

Hunter, a junior at Greene County High School in Georgia, was recording the lesson on a school-issued iPad, reports Channel 2 Action News. The teacher’s remarks can be heard clearly.

The girl’s mother reported the teacher’s comments, but he is still in the classroom and the district will not discuss the case. The family has hired a lawyer.

“This is about a school system that is failing our children and allowing these acts to go on,” Hunter’s aunt, Christie Lockhart, said.

Teaching at 102

Agnes “Granny” Zhelesnik, who just turned 102, teaches cooking and sewing at a New Jersey private school, reports The 74 Million. She started teaching at 80 and has no plans to retire.

A teacher who owes $410,000 in student loans

Liz Kelley, left, and her sister and fellow teacher, Sheryl Silverberg, 45, at Ms. Kelley’s home in Ballwin, Mo. Credit: Whitney Curtis/ New York Times

“The federal government has become the biggest, nicest and meanest student lender in the world,” writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. It’s very easy to borrow for college. It’s easy to defer repayment. But it all comes due eventually.

A Missouri high school teacher owes the federal government $410,000 for student loans. Liz Kelley, 48, hasn’t made a single payment, so the interest keeps mounting.

Liz Kelley received her graduate education degree in 2001.

Liz Kelley received her graduate education degree in 2001.

She borrowed $26,278 for a bachelor’s degree in English from Maryville University, a private school near St. Louis. After graduating in 1994, Kelley enrolled in law school. That delayed repayment on her loans and let her borrow $37,000 for the first three semesters.

After a serious illness, she quit law school and decided to go into teaching. A married mother of four, Kelley borrowed to pay for child care and tuition so she could study education at Maryville. After finding a teaching job, she borrowed again to earn more graduate credits to raise her pay.

She stayed in graduate school for five years, which let her put off repaying her loans. Graduate school and child care added $60,700 to the principal and the interest kept mounting. Her debt totaled $194,603 by 2005.

In the recession, the Kelleys lost their home to foreclosure and divorced. The loans came due — but the teacher was able to defer payments for three years due to hardship. She owed $260,000.

By this time, Ms. Kelley’s children were reaching college age. One received a financial aid package that included $12,000 in Parent PLUS loans, a federal program that allows parents to borrow money for their children’s college education after the children have reached the maximum on loans of their own. She agreed, hoping to minimize her children’s debt. She briefly enrolled in an education Ph.D. program at Texas A&M before withdrawing, but not fast enough to avoid an additional $7,458 in loans.

. . . After her loan deferment ended, she enrolled in another, similar federal program called forbearance, also because of an economic hardship. The hardship this time was the loans themselves.

In a little more than a year, the final forbearance will expire. The loan servicer could garnish her wages — she teaches at a parochial school — and eventually her Social Security.

“She had taken out her first student loan 25 years earlier and had yet to make a single payment,” writes Carey. With accumulated interest, she owes $410,000. Monthly loan payments would be $2,750 for 30 years.

If she found a public school job, she could use income-based repayment, which would link her payments to her income and erase the remaining debt after 10 years. “But that would still mean a decade of what she describes as ‘futile’ payments that won’t even cover her monthly interest expenses, leaving nothing to put away for retirement.” Carey writes.

I guess she objects to paying anything, ever.

Public school teacher, private school parent

A veteran public school teacher, Michael Godsey explains why his daughter will attend private school. He wants her to go to school with classmates who think learning is cool.

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

San Luis Obispo Classical Academy (SLOCA) is a small private school in California that promotes “personal character” and “love of learning,” he writes in The Atlantic.

In 90 minutes of observing a class at SLOCA, he saw “zero interruptions, zero yawns, and zero cell phones.” All 15 students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, were ready, willing and able to learn.

That the teacher was fluent in that day’s topic, the Holy Roman Empire, was clear in at least two ways: One, she answered every question thoroughly, without hesitation; two, I could actually hear every word she said, in the tone and volume she intended. She didn’t have to yell to be heard, and she didn’t speak quickly in fear of interruption. She could subtly emphasize certain words, and her jokes landed.

He also observed a class at the public high school where he teaches English.

The educator’s passion is evident, and his typed lesson plans are immaculate and thoughtful. It’s not completely clear how fluent he is in the subject matter, however, because he has been interrupted or distracted by 20 things in 20 minutes: a pencil being sharpened, a paper bag being crumpled and tossed, a few irrelevant jokes that ignite several side conversations, a tardy student sauntering in with a smirk, a student feeding yogurt to a friend, a random class clown outside the window, and the subsequent need to lower the blinds, to name a few. The teacher is probably distracted by a disconcerting suspicion that he’s talking primarily to himself.

In public school, where “everything is both free and compulsory,” there is a “culture of coolness, the norm of disengagement,” writes Godsey. He’s willing to pay for his child to be immersed in a community that supports enthusiastic learners.

Lena Dunham tries teaching on ‘Girls’

Alexander Russo is “horrified and fascinated” by the new plot development on HBO’s Girls. After dropping out of her MFA writing program, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah decides to be a teacher.

The character says she wants to help people. Her friends remind her she’s selfish.

“Those who can’t teach” is “uttered, with an unclear amount of irony,” writes Russo.

Apparently, Hannah gets a job as an English teacher at a private school called St. Justine’s. (Dunham attended St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn.)

Will this be good for the teaching profession? Bad for teaching?

Top 10 zero tolerance follies of 2014

Among Hit & Run’s 10 Outrageous ‘Zero Tolerance’ Follies of 2014:

A 13-year-old boy at Weaverville Elementary School in California shared his school lunch (a chicken burrito) with a hungry friend. For this, he got detention. Superintendent Tom Barnett explained, “Because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals.”

. . . A second grade teacher at Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School was suspended for four days without pay for bringing screwdrivers, wrenches and other shop tools to class, and demonstrating how to use them.

A 79-year-old substitute teacher in Claremont, New Hampshire gave up her job rather than “un-friend” about 250 current students on Facebook.