Thursday, September 09, 2010

I'm Not Who You Think I Am

This post is in response to a few conversations that have been weighing on my mind lately. Recently an article was written in that accuses Will Richardson of chastising parents and teachers for not having the correct vision for demanding change in their and their childrens' classrooms. In that , one of my from the end of last school year is quoted along with comments from the same post, where I explain many of the struggles I experienced trying to incorporate the very things I've been preaching (and continue to preach) for years. The premise of the ISTE article is that what so many edubloggers are preaching are not really viable in the "real world." I don't necessarily agree with that and , however there's a more recent post of his where he refers to . Alec Tweeted his observations and was unhappy with the arrangement of the desks, the fact that the teacher said they'll need to learn the rules this year, and lots more. Lots of people in the . What we, as parents and teachers, tend to forget is that even a great teacher may not be a great speaker. That terrific teacher might be really good in the classroom with your kindergartner (despite the rows) but maybe isn't so good at explaining herself at Open House. Maybe she's also very nervous and is telling the parents what she thinks they are most interested in. Tweeted back to Alec that instead of being upset, why not ask "why?" after all, she says that her desks are in rows too.

Read Will's post AND the comments because reading it all made me realize this about myself: I suck!

I must be a fraud. I'm not who you think I am!

People in the edublogger community who once thought I was a great teacher would be appalled if they came into my room! Why?

  1. I also have rules about sharpening pencils. Have you ever had 6 students get up to sharpen their pencils while they should be working on something else. While they are sharpening they are horsing around? All the while you are trying to read with a small group of students? Truly, there HAS to be some organization in a classroom. My rule? Sharpen pencils in the morning and afternoon. Otherwise, take one of my golf pencils (you know the short ones with no erasers?)
  2. I also thank parents for sending in white board markers and copy paper because I've already spent $800. of my own money this school year alone. Every little bit helps. By the way, I still need sticky notes, if you'd like to send me some. I'll thank you too.
  3. I often use the textbook as a guide or [GASP] teach from it, because I HAVE to teach to standards and I have to teach 5 subjects every single day and I don't have time to create a project-based activity for every single lesson.
  4. If I had a parent send me "helpful" emails and copy the principal on them, I would find myself watching my words with such a parent more carefully than I would ordinarily like. 
  5. If I had a parent who told their child he/she can ignore my homework because the parent felt it was unnecessary.... the child will still be held responsible for the homework.
  6. My students have assigned seats. They are allowed to talk when the talk is meaningful and productive. They are not allowed to talk when someone else is speaking to the group. My students are sitting where "I," THE TEACHER, determine each student can do their best work.
And there's lots more rules! Yes, I have rules in my room. Sometimes I even have to invent more based on some things that occur repeatedly. Often times, I can let rules go because I see the students have adapted beautifully. 

And you know what? Despite all these terrible things I do, practically every day I hear from one or more parent that their child is so happy to be in my class. I also hear from former students and parents and administrators and others, but then again, what do they know? 

They're not edubloggers.



Nice post, Lee. I have a draft post sitting in my Edublog account right now about the backlash against teaching "compliance" in school. Guess what? Everyone in a while, we all have to comply with rules. Kids need to learn that. If it's the ONLY thing I'm teaching, then I'm doing it wrong. But it is a lifeskill to be taught in certain circumstances.

As a teacher starting her 2nd year back in the classroom after more than a decade in other tech positions, I feel the same pull and push from both sides that you feel.


Oops, sorry. That should be "Every once in a while...". Passion and rushed typing leads to typo's. ;-)


Well, if having rules and consequences makes you suck, I am right there with you. I also have assigned seats when they are warranted, which is often. GOOD teachers do all of these things your said in response to the students they have in their rooms. From what I read in Alec's tweets, he seemed more concerned about what the teacher said than the order of the chairs.

I had a recent rant on my blog about the people 'in' edtech who don't actually work with students who seem to have all the answers. I know in my heart that YOU have a good share of the answers for YOUR kids in YOUR classroom. The people who rant about the way it 'should' be typically aren't DOING it in a classroom. I am not intending to implicate anyone in the conversation last night, but there is a huge dark movement of 'experts' who know so very little about my sweet children in my room.

Sure, everyone should TRY new things to reach the kids and I do more than most. But, sometimes, the textbook is the way for some kids to get a grasp on information that YOU will be judged on via high-stakes tests. That is a simple fact that everyone who spends 8-20 hours a day in classroom knows.

Keep inspiring us with the unique spirit you bring to education....because if you are like me, you will take the reality of love and respect of those parents and, more importantly, students to heart and leave the pontificating experts to hash out what could have been.


For the record, while my initial reaction was to the desks, it was what was said afterwards (and throughout the night) that made my fears deepen. I've kept most of these things to myself because I don't feel it is fair to the teacher to specify any further, out of context, from one-side of the story.

I know rules and a sense of order are important in teaching & learning, and any judgment based on *only* the classroom seating arrangement or say 'pencil sharpening' rules wouldn't be just or fair.

And my story, and my approach in all of this, is from the parent perspective - a parent in this case who has had the privilege to have seen literally hundreds of classrooms, and the best and worst of practice possible. For my children, I just want to do what is best for the them - and I'll do that as a vocal and active parent with full knowledge of the options available to us.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Lee. I like you "suck". Without rules and expectations that are clearly known, the high school classroom is CHAOS! Keep on keepin' on! @mikespeaksout


I remember my daughter's kindergarten teacher. She spent my conference time talking about Joey, another student in the class that she loved. I finally told her I didn't care about Joey. Tell me about Ali. Our next meeting included the principal, at her request. I was "that parent" for opening up my mouth. BTW...Ali LOVED kindergarten, loved her teacher, learned to love reading and writing, played with friends, did math and couldn't wait to go each day. I wish every year was filled with teachers who couldn't talk to adults but loved the kids.


You've earned it again...You Rock! We've taught together for years, and I believe that I've actually used some of your rules in my classroom. Our classrooms aren't open classrooms where the kids can work in a Montessori-like environment. We need the rules given the pressure we are under on a daily basis given the standards that need to be covered before the year is out. Keep doing what you're doing; I've got you covered!

Anonymous said...

Actually you are a perfect wonderful grand teacher......and not everyone rallied around Alec. There were many "give the teacher a chance" as well.

My favorite part of your blog post was the very last line -- "I also hear from former students and parents and administrators and others, but then again, what do they know?
They're not edubloggers."

Touche, Lee.

If nothing else, the "blogosphere" lately continues to show me that they have lost a sense of reality when it comes to being a teacher.

Kindness, encouragement, understanding, and being non-judgmental has faded big time.

I believe that Alec was knee-jerking and will become a parent who will support that teacher 100%. It was the other comments, and blogposts that alarm me.

But then, what do they know, they are edubloggers!?!?!

Great post, exceptional post.

Thank you!!


I'm going to push back here... and I'll focus on the 'pencil sharpener' piece because that was my comment on Will's blog about Jakob's teacher. Know that I'd have this conversation with any teacher at SLA.

I'd argue, this isn't about having rules and consequences, because I'm in favor of that. It's about setting rules that get to the behavior you want. What you want - I'm extrapolating from both our conversations over the years and your comments in this entry - is a respectful classroom where students are focused on learning as much possible. That's an awesome goal. And yes, having kids get up to sharpen their pencils ad nauseum is a huge distraction. So how do you get what you want without proscriptive rules?

Could you say, "Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"

Could you say, "If you have a heavy hand and need to sharpen your pencil frequently, please keep a hand sharpener in your desk?"

Could you say, "The goal of this classroom is to make sure that everyone can work well, and the noise of the pencil sharpener can be a distraction, so please try to take care of it before school or after coming in from lunch / recess?"

How can you make even the ways in which we ask students to behave into a lesson about creating a learning community that is respective and strong?

In the end, it's not about the pencil sharpener, it's about how students understand their role in a learning community. We can -- and I believe should -- empower them to own that community in as many healthy ways as possible.


So that stopped me in my tracks. :0)

Can I ask, do you also talk to parents about the great ways you try to use technology to connect their kids and create meaningful learning in the classroom?

Do you talk about your own passion when it comes to your own learning?

Do you talk about how much you love watching your students learn?

Do you share with them your willingness to share and participate in these types of conversations online?

My point is that rules about sharpening pencils and putting desks into rows and using 10 lb textbooks are all much easier to swallow as a parent if I know the teacher loves learning and loves (as much as he or she can) my child. Is that an unfair expectation, to want my child in a room where learning is the focus, not rules? And is it unrealistic to think that should be expressed in some way, either in person or some other way?

That first grade teacher I mentioned never went beyond reading the rules off the handout. And I'm guessing Alec's experience was similar. I'm not expecting my kids' teachers to be great speakers, really. But I do want to get some hint at their passion, something I'm almost positive you share. Whether that happens at back to school night or in the stories my kids tell doesn't matter that much.

I really do understand the conditions under which most people teach, how difficult it is. But I also can't not advocate for my children, in as respectful a way as I can. I'm not chastising those teachers in any way, but I am asking them to consider these ideas, and inviting them to explore some new ways of thinking about learning within the classroom constraints they are already under. If that makes me "that parent" so be it.

I sincerely do appreciate this response, fwiw. And I sincerely doubt that you suck.


Every teacher is different. Every experience is different. I have two girls at home, one grade apart from each other and they NEED different things from their teachers. And to be honest, those teachers need different things from. The one last year didn't need me at all and the other I was able to comfortably make suggestions and even go in and teach a few lessons with the students. We can't make everyone happy all the time. It's impossible. But, we can do our best and believe in ourselves.

YOU don't suck.


I followed and participated in the Twitter discussion last evening. At no time was Alec rude nor did he ever show a lack of support for the teacher. He certainly never made any statements anywhere near as strong as saying she "sucked." He was simply being a concerned Dad, concerned about his little girl. What is the problem with that? I have the exact same concerns with my daughter's 3rd grade teacher. Every night she brings home "busy work" for homework and talks about how they've done nothing in class but sit in their chairs and listen to the teacher talk. As a father, am I not allowed to be concerned? As an educator myself, am I not allowed to talk to her teacher and criticize a bit without her thinking I'm telling her she sucks? We're teachers. Criticism is part of the job, whether it's from admin, parents or the students themselves. We must be able to listen to it and allow it to help us grow. It has nothing to do with anyone "sucking" or "not sucking."

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I am so glad to read this. I was having one of those "UGH!" as a teacher days. I never give homework except for study guides before test. Today so far of my 110 students, only 42 did the study guide. The kids chose a 0 out of 25pts. I have been sitting here today as they redo these study guides thinking "dang I suck" and "I must have bad pedagogy." BUT I do not have a choice. I must give study guides before each test. I mostly do it to cover my butt with "that parent." If I had a choice my students would not even have a test in this unit, but they must, so the class (and I!)are having to deal with the consequences. I guess as teachers we know the perfect/ideal way things are supposed to be and the way we have to or even like to do things. That does not make us bad teachers! It does not make us suck. We have to follow rules, so do our students. I think what I have the hardest time with as a teacher is students AND parents thinking rules do not apply to them. I am a bad rebel, but if I do not have just reasoning behind that rebellion I am just as bad as them. So study guides and unit test here we go!

Also, I think kids need some structure. I have ADHD and as a student I would have not survived a class that did not! Nor could I survive teaching a class that does not.

My new administrator started our meeting about AYP & state testing before school started with this "We did not make the rules, but we have to follow them." We have to teach standards, we have to give test, we have to, period.

By the way, my kids are reading out of the text book right now while I type this. It had a informative section with cool pictures about the unit I start tomorrow. (See there I goo feeling like I had to explain myself for doing the uncool thing)


The same conversation after Open House or first day of school for our children was sparked by posts from Wes Fryer and Darren Kuropatwa in 2006!!!. You can read quotes on my post".
Below you will find my response from four years ago. Just for the record... Nothing has changed in the past four years, although two of my children have moved on to University. Open Houses are still full of frustration for me...

From November 6th, 3006
I feel exactly the same way as a teacher and parent of three daughters (1 in Middle School and 2 in High School). I went to three different open houses, sat through almost 15 different teachers and was impressed with 1 (!!!). That one teacher talked about her passion for her subject and how she planned on passing that on to our children. You could see her eyes sparkle when she talked about her classes. ALL the others had nothing else to say, but how they tested, what they behavioral rules were and what the students could expect as a consequence if they broke those rules. They talked for 5-7 minutes about “houskeeping? items, such as where the basket was to turn in late work etc. Most of the time they ran out of things to say. I increasingly grew frustrated and the same words that you used to describe your feelings “Who will teach my children the real sense of learning??. I am working so hard to open the world and learning up to my own students, but my own children are being left behind with short sighted, over-worked, lost their direction, non- passionate kind of teachers.
After all three open houses were over, I sat down with my three girls and expressed to the my concerns. I told them that their job was to go to school and “hand in? what each teacher expected of them so they could get the grade, the credits, the diploma. The real learning would have to be up to them though and I would do anything possible at home to support them, by making sure that I shared the things that I am passionate about with them. We also sacrifice a lot, compared to some of their friends who seem to go to Disney World every other week and buy homecoming dresses worth hundreds of dollars. All so I am able to take my children to visit friends and family around the world during the summer months. Priorities for us is to make sure they see other cultures and experience real learning.


Very interesting post and comments. I think you and Alec are coming from different places with regard to rules. I started to leave a comment but it evolved into a blog post. I hope you'll take a look at it:


For the record, this post was never meant to bash anyone, least of all Alec or Will, who I have great respect for (and probably should have been more clear about that in my post, however emotional I was). My intent was to focus more on the comments left on Will's blogpost as well as the recent conversations happening lately around the blogosphere and twitterverse where we, me included oftentimes, are quick to judge.

@Will In answer to your question, I spent most of my Open House talking about conversations, collaborations and projects we will be doing this year. I spent about 5 of the 60 min talking about our rules. I sent home that stuff on paper and in email. I handled my Open House like a conference presentation, interactive and all. Most of my slides didn't have more than a few words. They instead had great photos of last year's kids doing projects and this year's kids working so far. The parents loved it. I'm not saying I'm a great speaker but most teachers aren't aware of how to present like that. Putting up a slidedeck of their qualifications, list of rules, etc. is all they know.

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I appreciate everyone's perspective here. I am totally in favor of parents who are advocates for their children. Sometimes that means that we need to listen to what they are saying and take a moment to reflect.
It's the same way with colleagues. We are all in this together - parents, students and educators. We are all part of a huge puzzle that makes up our learning community.

As educators we need to advocate especially about the things we believe in - the things we know about good teaching and learning.

We all make mistakes. We often do things the way we have always done them. BUT, we all need to be reflective and open to other ways of thinking. Everyone's ideas are building the collective wisdom. It's not about what he thinks or she thinks. It's about what is best for kids.

As an administrator, I was recently approached by a teacher who was overwhelmed by something I was advocating. Thank goodness she felt comfortable doing this (of course, it is a critical part of our learning community - to be able to approach someone even when they don't agree). What I was doing added stress to her life. The last thing teachers need is more stress. My actions were well-intentioned but I needed someone to hit me over the head hard enough to stop me in my tracks and make me think. In the long run, what I was doing didn't really matter all that much. I have reflected and revised my actions - and it's all good.
I think we often have to catch our breath and think about what we do each day. Does it represent our philosophy of learning and teaching? What is the impact of our actions?
Everyone has made good points here but let's look at what is going to make a positive impact on kids, how we can strengthen our learning community and build a collective wisdom.


Love all your rules. Some people just don't get it I guess. I have 55 Rules (Ron Clark's) I use every year. My parents and kids love them and tell me that. I have several families where I have taught all of their kids because they like my rules and ways. This year, out of 22 children, 16 were parent requests to be in my room and under my rules. :-)



First, I *hate* it when you make that face like the one you lead your article with. Reminds me of Miss Craig, my 10th grade Latin teacher.

So, yes, I am not at all surprised to find disagreements like this in the edublogger world. We (you) all come from different settings, different parental expectations, different student populations, and have differing levels of administrative oversight/support. There have been plenty of blog postings and admonitions I've read over the years that I just completely disagreed with, usually on practical terms. Hands-on, project-based, new-digital-age learning each and every day, with children directing their own learning?

Sounds lovely! Especially when espoused by consultants and drop-in artists who come to preach their own particular brand of EduPhilosophy. Nice of you to visit. I'll be with the kids for another 178 days after these workshops are over.

So yeah, I get your frustration, and you can be darn sure that Mr. Cavanaugh always ran a pretty tight classroom, with plenty of practicing the more difficult tasks for the middle schoolers I taught (walking down the hallway without disturbing other classes, lining up for the bathroom, turning in work, making up work, work expectations, how to work in groups, and how not to stand at my desk asking permission to go to the bathroom if you're about to throw up).

And yes, I had a project based classroom where time was spent building core knowledge (in a textbook), reading, thinking, talking, drawing, writing, singing, going outdoors, and lots of activities to hit all those learning styles.

But you can be darn sure that my classes were never unruly and that learning happened as efficiently as I possibly could make it happen. One of my proudest accomplishments as a teacher was only writing one disciplinary referral in my last 8 years of teaching--and this in two of the "toughest" middle schools in our district. My students knew that when they stepped into my classroom they would find order and purpose and that I would be prepared and that I cared for them. That alone was a profound when you consider the home lives most of those kids faced.

So yeah, right. You really are a rotten teacher. One who gave up a job with more prestige and money to go back to the classroom 'cause it's where you knew you belonged.

And to the edublogosphere. Please! Keep giving teachers great ideas and maintain the excitement level needed to have enthusiastic them out there working with kids. Ideas are fabulous and so is lots of discussion. Just don't be too quick to be "disappointed" in teachers whose shoes you have not walked in.





Well, first of all I need to declare publicly that my respect for Chris Lehmann has gone up appreciably based on his response and practical suggestions for more civil, learner-centered alternatives to teacher-created arbitrary rules. THAT was a masterful demonstration of why educators should take him seriously.

Lee - I’m wondering why you felt compelled to write this defense of your teaching practices? If I told you that I disagreed with your pencil rules or seating chart, would you change your practice?

Please read the rest of my reply and comment if you wish on the terribly important issues raised in Lee's post on my blog - I was unable to post the entirety of my response here.


I think you are pretty much who I think you are. You're a teacher.



What does that mean?


This discussion reminds me of a book launch I went to a couple of years ago about mythopoetic pedagogy.

The incredibly overpriced book may be found here -

and a description of mythopoetic pedagogy may be found here -

Essentially, a teacher's personal myth about teaching and learning creates their pedagogical practices.


Hi Lee. This topic seems to be a very hot topic. I have often thought about this and the debate that follows... I am a staunch middle of the ground person. I like structure, routines, rules, rows, silent individual work. That is what I liked as a student and that is what I still prefer as a teacher. However, I also realize that there is a need for collaboration, group work, discovery, exploration, and experimentation. I believe that there is a place in education for both of these things. I, too, have to teach to a set of given outcomes and therefore have to make sure that I have a plan of action for my classroom. I try to allow for quiet, individual work AND group collaborations in my classroom. I adapt these activities as I get to know the students in my class and their own needs. In my class, I also have ways to sharpen pencils, ask questions, borrow books, etc. I tend to call them procedures rather than rules. I equate them with driving procedures. There are "rules" that you need to follow in order to make our roads safe. We drive on the right side of the road, we stop at red lights, we yield when merging. It would be chaos if we didn't. My classroom would be chaos with 27 kids and no "rules". So, I'm with you there. I would like to think that I am open enough to accept concerns from parents who didn't like the way I do things either. I might change my ways, I might not, but I'd like to think that I would always be willing to listen. (And I have had occation to do that!) Anyway, thanks for letting me share my 2 cents.


I share your frustration, and I respect you as a teacher. I've been pushing online edtech envelopes for more than 16 years. Yes, I'm a blogger, and so are my 3rd graders. This is also my 30th year as a classroom teacher, so I've seen a lot come and go. There are so many things to respond to, but I'll just say this one thing.

If you have not taught in a classroom in the last two years, you absolutely do not know what it is like to be a teacher today. Doesn't matter if you're a classroom observer, a consultant, an ex-teacher, or even a specialist.

You gotta be down there in the trenches with the troops (and the generals in your ear) to get me to listen when you start dishing out advice.

Lee, I'm listening to you. Hang in there, and thanks for your rant. - Mark

ps - we try to use other words besides suck in my class. My current fave is stink. :)


It's not about how the desks are arranged or whether students have textbooks or laptops. It's about having a positive relationship with students so that they feel confident their teacher will support them as they learn. Rules can help that, especially if students understand the why of the rules. (even better if they help write the rules!) Would putting laptops in classrooms on tables arranged in a circle suddenly make us all great teachers?


Boy do I love reading the thoughts of those removed from the classroom and those still in it. Totally different perspectives. Different senses of reality.



I'm curious as to why you changed point number 4 from what you originally posted?


Also let me clarify that it was this point that stuck out to me as a parent whose daughter just started Kindergarten and wants to help the teacher (since I'm in the same district) but doesn't want to be overbearing. :)

I have enjoyed reading and re-reading your post today.


>I'm going to push back here... and I'll focus on the 'pencil sharpener' piece...Could you say, "Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"

No, you couldn't.

Because in a class of 34, 29-33 kids will pay attention to that and be respectful of others.

And 1-5 will not. Because they're lives suck in other areas, or they're immature, or they just don't like your shirt that day.

"What?!! Mtch! It'll just take a minute!"

"Oh my GOD, what the f*ck is your problem? Its MY pencil!"

"Oh I forgot." [15 weeks in a row]

And, most of all:

"Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"
"Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"
[other students giggle]
[first student turns accidental obliviousness into class act]
"Jose, I'm explaining right now! Please wait a second!"
[more giggles] [flow of lesson long gone]

Alec's comments, and the above "reasonable alternative" are a clear illustration why I have over 300 educator blogs in my Google Reader, but less than 10 of them are out-of-the-classroom "educators".

I have a class website, read blogs & write one, and started an afterschool Scratch programming club, among other tech uses.

So it's a good thing I don't read too many edtech people, because they would drive me back to slates & writing in the dirt.


Wow, I used the wrong form of "their". Twice. That's really quite embarrassing. :-/

GeekyMomma, thanks for telling it like it is. Balancing respect for human autonomy with respect for human right to learn is a hard job for a classroom teacher. And, evidently, really easy for a non-classroom teacher :-P

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Good question about #4. I changed #3 and #4 slightly on the advice of someone I highly respect. He kindly emailed me with sound advice about how it could possibly jeopardize my own job.

BillS said...

I can't believe the discussion has actually come to this. The whole discussion would never happened if Alec or Will were not high-profile folks with a loyal PLN following. Really... who cares about what Alec thought? He is one person who has a set of beliefs in perhaps a classroom with an experienced teacher with another set of beliefs. As the comment thread here and over on Will's blog shows, everyone has their own beliefs and set of expectations. Deal with it. Do what you must. This dilemma will never end, whether it be in schools, in churches, or in political offices. But really, we're going to bring this discussion down to the level of pencil sharpening rules and desk arrangement??

Sorry, but there are bigger fish in the sea to worry about.


[This is long, so I'm turning into multiple comments. My apologies, Lee.]


I've started this comment about four times, each time trying not to react out of anger, and I'll admit, it has been harder than I'd like to do that. So forgive me if at any point, this comes off as angry.

First thing... I'd like you to examine this statement you made because it fascinates me on a lot of levels:

Because in a class of 34, 29-33 kids will pay attention to that and be respectful of others.

And 1-5 will not. Because they're lives suck in other areas, or they're immature, or they just don't like your shirt that day.

First, if taking a more collaborative / humanistic approach works with, by your own calculation between 85% - 95% of the class, why not take that approach and then deal with the 10%? What might happen if the 90% of the class understood their shared responsibility for creating a powerful learning atmosphere because of the way you treated them and made it less o.k. for the 10% to act out by refusing to give them an receptive audience?

Secondly, yes, some of our kids are disruptive for the sake of it (the 'color of your shirt' part of the comment, but yes, as you acknowledge, some of our kids have incredible pain in other parts of their lives. For those kids, the idea that you would just expect them to follow the rules blindly is frustrating. Marcie Hull, one of our teachers at SLA, talks all the time about how we have to remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and how some of our kids have to feel safe and cared about before they can learn.

Inviting kids to truly own their classroom by making them understand the "why" of teacher decision making and by inviting them into the decision making process as much as possible is a powerful thing. What worries me about your comment - and again, unlike Lee who I have met and talked to multiple times over the past couple of years, I know you only from your comment and from a very quick look at your blog - is that there is an assumption that the kids can't handle that, and there I profoundly disagree.

Let's be clear on a few things... classrooms need structure, and actually, I believe progressive classrooms need structure even more than traditional ones. But we can get to that structure in a lot of ways.


Also, small scale authoritarianism works. I have no doubt of that. That doesn't make it right. We - again for very understandable reasons sometimes - rush to efficiency when it comes to classroom management, but efficiency isn't what we necessarily what we should always be chasing. We should be teaching toward understanding, but that's not just in our subject areas, it's in the lessons they learn about life too. In the many conversations with students about discipline, I always try to end with "Is that fair?" and/or "Do you understand why?" because it is important to me that they do, even if it takes longer that way. If students believe that our rules are arbitrary and capricious, they may follow them because they have to, but they won't internalize them and learn how to be a better person.

There certainly is a strong movement within education that argues for an authoritarian classroom. The whole KIPP movement is based on that, and some of my favorite edu-debates are when the CEO of KIPP Philadelphia and I go out for beers and talk about that. I'm comfortable with the idea that there are people who disagree with me, but I think the debate is worth it. But I think that's true in the classroom too.

And in the end, we could debate about who is still a "teacher" and who isn't, and therefore who is and isn't qualified and justified in commenting on classroom rules, but I don't think that's really worth the time. You may not think that, as a principal, I have the right to comment on classroom policies, because I'm not "in the thick of it" every day anymore. O.k. you don't work at my school, so you have every right to dismiss my thoughts.

But that's my child in your classroom. I've only got two of them. I send them to school every day with all of the hopes and dreams and fears a parent can have. I want them to grow up strong and fearless and wise, and I want your classroom to help them do that. I respect that you work hard, and I respect that teaching is an often impossible task. But I also want you to respect that we may differ about some ideas, and I would hope that you respect me enough as a parent to listen to those ideas. The parents of the children in your classroom send the best of themselves -- their children -- to you every day. And yes, both the parents and the kids are flawed and make mistakes and are frustrating on so many levels. So are you. So am I. It's part of being human, and we should - even at our most frustrated moments, celebrate and remember that.


And now let's make this even more personal, because, well, I am a parent. I read your blog entry about your bathroom policy, and I want to share with you how appalled I was on a very, very personal level.

My younger son had a third of his colon taken out when he was less than a week old. It will, for the rest of his life, affect his digestive system, and it probably means he has to go to the bathroom more often. He also has low vision, which means he'll be sitting in the front of your classroom and using larger-print books (we hope) or braille. He might have some other physical issues as well. All of this means that he has an IEP. He is special needs. Let's assume for the moment that you, as a caring yet authoritarian teacher, understand that and allow for an exception to your bathroom policy for the visually impaired kid with the bladder problem in the front of your classroom -- and yes, I just wrote it that way deliberately, because that's what you've just done to my son. Your authoritarian classroom management style has made sure that every kid in that classroom sees that *he* gets an exception to your rule because he's different.

I'm a parent, and I don't want my child treated that way. And you can be sure that if your classroom rules meant that my child was humiliated in any way and I felt that your response was in any way dismissive of that, every email I sent to you would be cc:ed to your principal. Unapologetically.

Taking the time to construct classroom policies - dare I say rules - that are humane, constructivist and understandable means that you get to understand more of what the kids are walking in the door with and it means kids get to see you as human as much as you get to see them as human. It means that the kids will believe that you are on their side. And it means that the kids who need something different from you, either because of a formal IEP or because of any of the myriad reasons we can both imagine, won't have to be made to feel different in negative ways in your classroom.



Bravo Chris!

My daughter suffered from a terribly painful skin condition and the sort of psychological trauma associated with being an unattractive adolescent with bad skin, hair loss and pain.

She often wore a scarf to cover her head - a fact well known to the school administration and nurse.

When the Vice Principal yanked the scarf off of my daughter's head for "violating the bandana policy," how was I supposed to react? Take it in stride because the teacher was just enforcing rules?

Should I have sued her? Should I have resorted to violence?

What should I as a parent or uncle do when the good teacher makes my child cry or doubt her competence?

Teachers must not only take responsibility for their actions, but consider their impact. It is simply insufficient to say that the teacher needs to do a better job of explaining their rules or pedagogical practices via PowerPoint or a Wiki. Being able to explain pedagogical beliefs in an authoritative fashion must always be subordinate to doing the right thing towards the children in your care.

This is a great discussion, but we are still dancing around the question of good and bad teaching.

If there is no clearly identified bad teaching, there can be no good teaching.

Increasingly, I view these questions in theological terms or right and wrong.


AMEN!!! I agree with you 100% in the fact that you have to have RULES to survive a day as a teacher, especially in the Elementary (K-6) world. I don't think you are a failure because of those rules, but a success.

I agree the tech side of things is great, but sometimes you have to revert back to the "old fashion" way to do things to get some stuff done! There is nothing wrong with having and actually using a textbook, especially if you are not lucky enough to teach in a 1:1 environment.

Keep up the good work, and keep posting inspiring thoughts for the rest of us to try and catch up to your "sucky" teaching! You are awesome!


So... here's what I am learning through this post, related posts on others' blogs, and the comments throughout:

1. While I know Lee primarily through her public image - which is very positive, this post punctuates her constant, and perfectly natural, struggle she has balancing this shift that we all write about with the day to day management of classrooms. This only reiterates for me what a transparent, reflective educator (Which Lee is) does - reach out the collective knowledge of the community for feedback, encouragement, and growth.

2. I love the fact that folks like Gary Stager and Chris Lehmann can push back and extend my thinking. And this isn't a Chris and Gary thing, but it's the fact that anyone can now extend my (our) thinking.

3. There are some teachers who have commented on this post who I would not want my children having.

4. As a parent and an educator, I need to be more vocal in my concerns... not because I might be right, but because my beliefs provide dimension and depth to the discussion. What I have most appreciate about being transparent in my learning is the fact that I can know gain multiple dimensions to individual issues - which empower me to make more informed decisions.



You know what--as a parent, all I want is for my child's teacher to care more about them as a person and about their learning than about the rules.

As an ideal practice, I do agree wholeheartedly with Chris's approach to building a classroom culture of community about mutually agreed behaviors. Even if it takes more time to agree about what those are, they'll stick because the students know they're important. And I wish that I'd known how to do that when I was in the classroom, and it's something I am trying to learn better every day in my current job.

Frankly, I'm not to keen on this distinction being made in some of the responses between those out of the classroom and those in it. I'm a librarian, but I see teachers from A to Z working with their classes and I teach some of their classes as well. I actually have found that I've learned more about teaching "out" of the classroom because I've had the pleasure of working with so many different teachers and observing and learning from them what I do and don't want to do in my own teaching.

I also have learned much in the last few years from what Surani calls these so called "edtech" bloggers about how my own teaching could be so much better.

Does it matter where the self-reflection comes from as long as we mindfully ponder ways we can improve our teaching and classrooms? I don't think so.

This isn't about us against them, really.

It's about loving our kids. Teaching our kids. Learning with our kids. And always believing that we don't know everything and that we can always teach better.

We'll never have the "perfect" approach, the "perfect" set of rules or the "perfect" belief system-- and if we do, it means we've stopped learning anything.


I've been a parent for 21+ years and a teacher for about half that time. One thing I've learned is that everyone has a bit of "suckiness."

So here is what I try to do to keep a balance, just in case my children (my family or my students) encounter a less than desirable environment. I try to give them strategies that will help them feel empowered and will help them take ownership of their own lives, their learning, and their community. This is something that they can take with them no matter where they go.

I think, for the most part, children understand what is fair and want to be a part of maintaining a fair environment where they can learn and thrive. If you ask them, they will tell you if your pencil sharpening rule is fair or not, and why. They will tell you if they want kind of homework would be best for them. They will tell you how they want their desks so they can learn best.

Compliance is necessary at times, that’s true. But, especially for our young adults, compliance without thinking is a dangerous path. When my 21-year-old daughter was a senior in high school, we received a phone call at about 7:30 in the morning. It was the principal of her school and my daughter was with him. He placed me on speaker and proceeded to tell me how my daughter “was having a hard time with the school rules.? As the conversation continued, I could hear my daughter in the background inserting her comments into the conversation. She refused to yield, insisting the rules made no sense and therefore did not apply to her. I was both mortified and impressed that she was able to defend her position. There were several other “uncomfortable? incidents that year, but her "push-back" attitude has served her well on more than one occasion.

While her methods are not always desirable, she has become a thinking, independent person. And she will definitely let you know if you are doing a good job, and if you suck!

Let's make sure we respect our children enough to empower them to be a part of the discussion, the learning environment, and their own well-being as the grown-ups continue to try to figure it all out.

S King said...

So many things to comment on here - with the original post and with the comments! I must premise my response by saying that it is not personal. I do not know you and do not want to judge you - I am simply responding to how I received the message of your post.

1. As a teacher, I believed in structure and rules AND I believed the purpose for the rules/structures were to teach students how to interact in a group/social setting respectfully and collaboratively in order to create a positive learning environment. I did not believe they were to create compliance and respect for 'authority.' I worked and still work with some teachers who impose rules on children for their own convenience or because they believe children need to learn to obey rules to become 'good citizens.' I know teachers who have structured, well-managed classrooms where lots of learning takes place and those in the classroom respect one another - children and adults alike. I also know teachers who have structured, well-managed classrooms where little learning takes place and the surface "respect" for the adult is based on fear. Yes, there are times when compliance is necessary - I do not want everyone doing their own thing during a fire drill or when driving on a highway. But how about teaching children the difference? How about finding a balance?

2. I know many teachers who receive positive feedback from parents, teachers, and administrators. That does not necessarily equate to their being an effective educator. Sometimes, the positive feedback is due to the child receiving an 'A;' sometimes it is due to the teacher "handling" a disruptive student by embarrassing and humiliating them; and sometimes it is due to the teacher treating a child as an individual and providing a wonderfully supportive learning environment.

3. I shudder at the 'us' vs 'them'; right/wrong; 'either/or' view of many things - either you have rigid rules or chaos; either you are in the trenches and know what things are "really" like or you a pontificating expert. Gary Stager's comment about a teacher's belief systems/myths determining a teacher's practice is becoming more and more evident to me and more troubling. Do we see this in other "professions?" Does it have as much of an impact on the futures of those on the receiving end?

4. I think Chris L. summed up my final thought about accepting feedback and concerns from parents when he said: "I respect that you work hard, and I respect that teaching is an often impossible task. But I also want you to respect that we may differ about some ideas, and I would hope that you respect me enough as a parent to listen to those ideas. The parents of the children in your classroom send the best of themselves -- their children -- to you every day. And yes, both the parents and the kids are flawed and make mistakes and are frustrating on so many levels."

I do not know you and do not want to assume that your comments about how you handle parents who question what you do meant that you think no one should dare to question you or your practices. However, I must say that my takeaway was that you believe you have some supreme authority and knowledge and anyone who dares to question you will be looked upon with disregard and distrust. If my child were in your classroom and that is how you came across to her or to me, I would feel compelled to explain to my child that they will find both good role models and poor role models as they go through their life and they can learn from both kinds. The lesson they would learn from your modeling would be that some people feel superior to others and are arrogant - do not become that type of person.


I appreciate everyone's comments and the conversation is really thought provoking; however off-track it may have become doesn't matter much. I want to clarify that I have no problem with any parent advocating for their child. I have two grown boys (17 and 20) who have at times needed me to intervene in their school lives in the ways that we are speaking. I encourage parents to be involved and I encourage my own students' parents to contact me at any time if they disagree or have a problem. The key is choosing your battles.

What I tried to convey was that if you, as a parent, simply think you can do it better and therefore start sending me "helpful" emails and copying the principal on each one (I was referring to a comment left on Wes' blog), then to me that is uncomfortable and not well-accepted. I would venture to guess that anytime you start copying the principal on emails, before we've had a chance to had a primary exchange, it will feel antagonistic right away. I understand that parents sometimes copy admins immediately or go straight to the principal immediately because of some history with other teachers, but to that I say we all need to stop generalizing and give each new teacher a chance (and act mature).

The other thing I tried to convey is that if you tell your child that you don't agree with my rules or assignments and therefore you will make sure that he/she doesn't have to comply, you are undermining me to your child. Instead you should talk to me about it and we might be able to reach an agreement, but in the end you should support the teacher's decision. It's just not healthy for your child to sit in a classroom and feel superior that he doesn't have to do something because his parent wrote a note.

I don't see a divide between us and them; in the classroom and out of the classroom. I've been both. I would never bash anyone who is out of the classroom trying to support those in the trenches. Believe me they are extremely hard working people busting their butts to make life easier for us! And shame on all of those teachers who are encouraging that divide.

What I am seeing though is a difference between elementary and secondary teaching experiences. With as many comments this post has received, I've also received numerous emails, tweets and private tweets from others. This is apparently quite a hot topic and on lots of people's minds. I've learned a lot from this conversation and it has me thinking quite a bit. I hope it's done the same for all.

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I hope you're last response wasn't a call for the discussion to end. I think it's one of the richest ones since educators began blogging. I think that the discussion has been remarkably focused, even if I would prefer more direct questions be answered.

That said, I agree with you and disagree with you on two points.

1) Cc:ing superiors is a dicky thing to do. MOST people know better. It would be swell if you're superior would ask the person not to go over your head unless as a last resort. We've all had it done to us, but it's best to take it in stride.

2) What IF what you as a teacher does with/to my student offends me in a serious fashion, we talk and you decide to proceed as usual?

What THEN is a parent to do? It would be discourteous for a child to be disrespectful towards a teacher, but when a parent and/or a student is being ill-served by a teacher's behavior, rules, pedagogical mythology that does not mean that the teacher is being undermined.

In fact, I don't understand where teachers got the sense that they have such authority to be "undermined."

If a teacher does indeed feel so powerful and righteous that their classroom is their castle, then I would expect them to start publicly rebelling against standardized testing, district mandates, IWBs, homework policies, grading, tracking or other miseducative practices that diminish the quality of education a teacher wants for her classroom.

In other words, if you have the power to tell a student or parent to toe-the-line, then you should have the power and courage to tell the system to take their mandates and shove 'em.

If a teacher displayed such courage, I suspect that even more students and parents would be your ally.


This is a very interesting discussion by a group of well meaning educators. There are many ways to do "teaching" right. As long as the teacher is focused on what is best for the student, many approaches are very effective. Give me a teacher who works hard for students, be they authoritarian or relaxed and I will be a happy parent. I want a teacher for my child that turns them on to doing something they couldn't do before. My kids have had excellent teachers who were very authoritarian, yet cared deeply for each student; conversely, they have had teachers with a "rules get in the way" approach and have grown immensely. There literally hundreds of ways to do "teaching" right, as long as there is caring, passion, and a sense of direction, I will be quite happy with the teacher my child is assigned to.

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You just made (IMHO) a very important contribution to the discussion.

All of my comments have been based on a desire to avoid adversarial relationships between teachers and students or teachers and parents.

Nicely said,



Is this video related to this topic?


wooooooow....what a post to come across in the middle of the night!
I commend you for your passion and ability to discuss what you're thinking and a former teacher, who is now an admin...but most importantly a mom, it's clear what a bear trap situations like this can become. I wanted support from my parents when I taught, and the easoest way to establish tht support was proving tht i genuinely cared about their child. EVERY child...wink wink. Once tht was clear, everything else i did made more sense to all involved. My one rule (to make me look good) was apied daily in a dozen different ways. Some days were better than others and every day made me grow...
As an admin now, what I most hope to convey to my teachers is tht thy are teaching someone's reason for everything. There is a picture on their mantel of THT very careful of what you say and how you say it, because it's only natural tht if start off witjh all the negative, you're going to get a defensive parent off the bat.
Teaching is about relationships. If you care about them and what you're doing, i believe you can teach them anything. Whether it be how to behave in a structured environment or how to add...each child is different .

I also agree, tht there is a difference in primary vs secondary education. I also am so proud to be a part of a PLN tht can discuss, debate, and share on such an important topic..lastly, i blame alllllllll typos on the 12 week old "reason for everything" tht i'm holding in one hand, as i'm typing this on my phone at 3am in my other hand, :)


I'm thinking about my local elementary school, where there are two teachers for each grade. As it happens, for most grades, one teacher is fairly progressive and the teacher is fairly traditional (for lack of a better term). Of parents who request one teacher or the other, the split is about 50-50. All of them are happy.

Now I'm thinking about two teachers from the founding year of our middle school. One was unresponsive to students' needs and adopted highly questionable educational practices that lacked rigor and placed students at risk for their future. The other was highly responsive to students' needs, creative in educational approaches, and prepared students well for the future.

Oh, wait. Both teachers were me. It depends on who you would have been talking to.

Bottom line, different kids need different approaches, different parents want different approaches, and different teachers use different approaches. I would argue it's the job of all concerned to assume best intentions, understand and recognize differences of opinion, and find some sort of common ground. Part of that may have to be recognizing a student's learning style and and a teacher's style may be a poor match, but hey, everyone can learn from everyone. In the end, though, if as a teacher I am drawing on research as well as 25+ years of experience, conversations, and reflections, at some point that has to count for something. Similarly, if as a parent I think a teacher is doing what they sincerely believe is best even if it's not remotely the way I would teach, I need to be respectful of that. Utter disrespect I would not tolerate. And my son knows quite well how I teach and what I believe in. But he also knows quite well my advice will almost inevitably be, "The teacher is doing his/her best. Your job is to do your best."

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My comment was not a call for the discussion to end. Did you ever see "White Men Can't Jump?" there's a great scene in there where the Woody Harrelson asks Rosie Perez if she wants a glass of water. She jumps all over him wondering what he "really" meant. Finally he says, "Sometimes a glass of water is just a glass of water."

In answer to your #2, I agree that there are times when you should go to an admin and stand your ground. But Gary, not over whether your child has to do 20 minutes of homework a night or is being asked to create a diorama which you feel is pointless. Talk to the teacher about it but in the end, if the teacher still feels that a modified assignment is not appropriate then I think its important that you tell your child that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to or agree with . Better yet, at 10 years old, I'm not sure they need to be on that discussion at all yet.

As for teachers rising up against standardized testing, plenty do. I do. I know lots who do. It's a fight that is exhausting because you know as well as I do that nothing is going to change because big money is tied to it.

Unless it's a local battle, such as what occurred here last year in our district where our parents and teachers literally took down our new Chief Academic Officer using FaceBook (search "Testing is Not Teaching"), I really think we just have to ride out the storm and when we close the doors to our classrooms do what we know is best. For the record, I don't even mention the word FCAT all year until we get really close to the test and have to make sure they understand how to bubble in correctly on the answer sheets. Unfortunately, there are many (too many) teachers on our staff that are younger and have been brainwashed into believing that the test is gold and their measurement of whether they are a good teacher or not is how their children score.

Also in response to any concerns that I truly suck... I don't. I know I'm a great teacher despite having some rules that are not a NOT arbitrary and I love all my kids and they learn a lot even on standardized test which I could give a crap about.

My post was in defense of too many teachers who end up feeling badly about themselves based on judgments by those of US in the edublogger community who are very quick to judge. In many ways we alienate the very people we're trying to encourage. I've had people come to my presentations at conferences and tell me they just left another one and feel deflated. My goal is to encourage, inspire and hope that at least one person (but how nice if every person) in there could bring back something they could use the next day. Don't we all want that? Are we achieving that?


I'm wondering why everything is framed in "problem, disagree, battles". Why is that the focus of contact? Could it be possible that a parent actually understands your challenges? that they would like to help? that those emails are a way of reaching out to help (though I agree sans cc to admin)? that they could be an ally instead of an adversary?

To steal Shirky's phrase... there is a huge "cognitive surplus" that lies within parents. We have so much more to offer than sticky notes (not that we won't provide those too!). The question is how do we engage at that level? How do we move beyond labeling parents as either a luddite or a troublemaker .. and find some sort of middle ground?

When my 9yo came home last year terribly disappointed that she had moved from a dynamic, project-laden, tech-infused classroom to one that was traditional, text-book based and no tech or projects to be found .. my advice to her was as follows...

'Every teacher has something unique to share with you .. it's your job to figure out what that is'

I'd like to challenge teachers to think the same way about parents.


Lee, I had tried to be vague in my reference here but I realize on elsewhere I failed miserably. However it brought a hypothetical fear into reality for me and that was disturbing. I still feel there is need for more discussion around the issue as it is a deterrent for a lot of parents (myself included).

I have edited my previous post out of respect because like others here I really don't buy that you "suck" at all.


Thank you for re-publishing your comment here. Your efforts and contributions to this conversation are much appreciated.


There certainly is a lot to think about within this discussion. I'm glad, both as a parent and teacher, to read through it as the school year begins - and before our back- to-school nights.

I hope teachers welcome discussions with parents. If parents don't understand what I'm doing, I want them to ask. As with any group, sometimes there's agreement and sometimes not. When teachers are faced with parents who disagree, they should be able to explain why they're doing what they're doing in the classroom, whether it is simply board policy and/or based on sound research, their own observations of their specific group of students, or past professional experience. Parents, too, should be able to answer the question of why they disagree if they're going to object to what is being done in the classroom, and their objections, too, should be based on school board policy, sound research, or specific concerns related to what they know is best for their child. (And if board policies or laws need to change, a whole other route should be taken of course.)

There are times when teachers or parents disagree and the disagreement cannot be left as is. I've been in this situation a few times. The rule, policy or situation was wrong - simple as that. I always try to discuss and listen and explain, but there really were times when wrong was wrong, and I had to work to get things changed. (As parents, that is when we left the child out of it until things were settled.) This is such an important, and tricky, thing to teach and live and I don't at all like to be in these situations. But my situations were minor compared to what some throughout history have faced.

Most of the times, though, if I disagree, I understand that disagreeing doesn't actually mean the same thing as having to get my way. It's when adults, and sometimes the children (my older daughter sometimes for sure as she got older), think the two are the same, that the partnerships can be strained and relationships might need to be mended before productive work can be accomplished.

I would like to say again, though, that it is everyone's responsibility to be a thinker as is appropriate for your age and situation. For example, if you think the bathroom policy in your kindergarten is wrong, it is OK to tell your mom. And if you are a principal or board member and don't understand why your teachers want computers in their classrooms, it is OK to do some research and listen to those with experience. And it is OK to make sure that everyone invested knows that it is OK to think, respectfully think and discuss, even if they don't agree with you.


Nothing too deep here - but I'd be very pleased if my child was in your classroom.


My name is Len Jenkins. I will be summarizing my visits to your blog, for a class.

The class blog link is

My blog link is

I enjoyed reading your post. Rules are always needed because if the kids can't break the rules, who knows what they will try to break. As long as the students are learning life skills and indirectly(or directly) how these rules relate to life in general, what harm is being done? Great post, and I look forward to reading more.


I needed this! Thank you for stating how truly difficult it is for a classroom teacher to find that perfect mix of organization, tech, and grand ideas we make every effort to implement. Yet, I'm glad for the part that I CAN do, despite the rules that assist along the way.


Lee, this is such a great conversation with so many thoughtful things said. Thank you.

Thanks also for the the comment you left a few days ago, "... Unfortunately, there are many (too many) teachers on our staff that are younger and have been brainwashed into believing that the test is gold and their measurement of whether they are a good teacher or not is how their children score."

I'm seeing this at my school too, and it's really frustrating. Not sure what to do...


"I'm Not Who You Think I am" Food for thought as a special education teacher. I do feel student find comfort in rules. They know what is expected of them. If they choice not to follow direction they know what the consequences are. My students tend to monitor each other. Encouraging their peers to stop! I have a great attendance rate for special education student My students population they tend to be hall walkers usually. I give them extra points if they don't engage when their peers are acting out. I try not to be loud as a teacher because I am loud to begin with. I us my voice when I play and when I correct my students I talk low.


Not anything too deep here...and a little overdue...but Thank you!
I saw those tweets, too that night but didn't chime in cause I'm personally child-free by choice and it seems if you're child-free you don't get a say in convos like this ("what do you know - you're not a parent!") even if you are a teacher, auntie, daughter, etc.

But this was/is a great convo to have and thank you for starting it. It's brave you are! I also hope you win an Edubloggers award for it, as you've deservedly been nominated by one awesome educator, Carolyn Foote! Cheers!


Its really a nice blog.


Sounds very interesting! I will check this out!


As a teacher starting her 2nd year back in the classroom after more than a decade in other tech positions, I feel the same pull and push from both sides that you feel.


It is thretening wonderful to read your article. I appreciate your style.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled across this discussion after viewing the post on bullying. WOW! Made me realize that the "ivory tower" may be transforming into a "cyber tower". Like most things in life good teacheing (and, for that matter, good parenting) is about balance. Striking the correct balance is the trick.


Another insightful post Lee. I feel like I am on the same plight.