Monday, February 28, 2011

Hail of a Day

Never ending

Spiral Stair

New Step

Hail on the front steps

Hail of a day and a hell of a week. I was out in my shop when the hail came in yesterday. Lots of noise on the tin roof. Didn't accomplish much while I was out there either, as far as that goes.

Got quite a bit done this past week, however. Got the spiral staircase stood up, the steps aligned and the new balusters cut. Should be able to have those welded on in the next few days and then start bending the railing. Moved ten desks through the shop last week. I've also been working on my curriculum mapping. Had a pleasant chat with the boss about that. I went in to see him about a question I had and he had just received a phone call about a couple of knuckleheads in a class upstairs. I thought we could walk and talk while he went to investigate - should be a real easy one. That didn't work out at all. Apparently the interruption by the little hooligans pissed him off quite a bit. I'll try again today. Had a chat with one of the assistant principals the other day as well. He just passed the buck - should have seen that one coming. Also had a chat with the tech guy about my grading system on the computer. He gave me the order has to come from "on high" thing. So I'm still stuck in the middle on that one. Three tries, three no goes. I really like the ease with which things get done. Did put a couple of hours in on the old curriculum thing at home this weekend, though. Depending on how things go with the boss, I should have all that monkey business taken care of by Spring Break.

I'm flying to Virginia in about a week and a half for Jimmy's fight. I did a little packing this weekend. I'll only be home for a few days prior to leaving for Italy so I want to have everything pretty much ready to go by next weekend. The Golden Gloves starts the week we fly to Va. so we'll miss the first night of the fights. Not sure if we have anyone scheduled for that night or not. You only get about a weeks notice. Going to be busy, that's for sure.

Have a good week and remember not everything you read in the papers about education is the teacher's fault. We get lots of help.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sophia & Moodle

Photos from here: Might want to wait until you get home to check out the website.

I'm trying to get my taxes and a couple of other things finished before I start my travels to Virginia and Italy. I've got a little bit of shopping to do yet and I have to do some curriculum mapping BS at school. That will be followed sometime soon by Moodle for my lesson plans. The school corporation wants everything we do on computer. I think they're worried that all the good teachers will drag up and the corporation will actually have to furnish curriculum for the new teachers. I'm sure whatever we post will be backed up somewhere so it will never go away unless the corporation wills it so.

I've had a couple of short training sessions on Moodle, and if you were so inclined you could spend a lot of time preparing something that the students, the administration and you could use. Don't really see that happening with me, however. Right now it's just another chore that needs to be done. However, it could be the avenue I follow if I decide to get real ambitious in video taping lessons and putting my lesson plans up for all to see. I'd be a little more inclined to do just that if I was given some time to perform these things. And if I could personalize my homepage with a picture of Sophia looking back at me, that might make things a little more pleasant, also. Or, maybe I'll just do the minimum on Moodle and copyright everything else. If they want it, they can buy it from me. If I have to do all the work on my own time, that should make it mine. Interesting thought, that. All the teacher's lessons copyrighted. I kind of like that idea. I think I might pursue that angle a little.

I added a link to the Traveling Pirate. Our former Union Prez's big adventure in Spain. Good stuff.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Plan B

Photo from here:

Retirement Plan "B".

The following was sent along by my colleague Kevin:

Superintendent Bennett:

In reference to the article below, “State Earns “A” on Advanced Placement Exams,” and in light of other factual data on the true performance of Indiana public schools, how can you and Governor Daniels, in good conscience, take the positions you hold on the performance of Indiana public schools?

In my 31 year career, I have taught or administrated in private/parochial schools in Detroit, Michigan and South Bend, in three nationally recognized high schools (SB St. Joseph’s HS, Penn High School, Valparaiso High School), and in three urban schools (Elkhart Memorial HS, East Chicago Central High School, and Highland High School). I earned abachelors’ degree in Economics from Kalamazoo College (a highly regarded liberal arts college in Michigan), a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame’s Graduate School of Business, and I am within weeks of defending my doctoral dissertation to earn a Ph.D. in Education Leadership from Western Michigan University. I was recognized as the IASP District 1 High School Principal of the Year in 2007. I am a graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Principal’s Center. I tell you this not to brag about myself (because if you met me, you’d see that I am a humble man…my students and staff would confirm that perception, I believe) but to establish my credibility as a successful lifelong educator with a diverse background of experience who has invested heavily, both personally and professionally, in my chosen vocation not for selfish, financial gain (as our governor might lead the public to believe) but for the improvement of educational opportunity for the full spectrum of students.

I believe that my diverse experience affords me a unique perspective. I can make this statement with the wisdom and knowledge gained from my years of experience has afforded me: You cannot blame schools for the ills of society; nor can you expect schools to fix society’s ills. By privatizing public education, you will only exacerbate the division between the society’s educational haves and have-nots. You will succeed in totally decimating communities that are already left behind as wreckage churning in the wake of the exit of private industry and business, who abandoned ship when it no longer was profitable to operate in those settings (witness South Bend, Elkhart, and East Chicago). If you’ve taken the time to read Diane Ravitch’s latest book, you’ve been exposed to the counter-arguments to your position. How can for-profit educational ventures be expected to act any differently? As rational human beings, conventional economic theory will tell you that these business concerns will eventually make the same decisions. At that point, the public schools, which are the sole, remaining anchor of many of these communities, will surely stand as hollow and tragic ghosts of the past, just as the vacant steel mills and factories do in so many communities across this state. At that point, children and communities will truly be left behind. Vouchers will see to this.

Face the facts: Both the governor and you have obvious conflicts of interest tied up the privatization of public education. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, it is a widely-known fact. The tragedy of your agenda will play out long after you are gone. How you sleep at night, I do not know.

To quote a famous biblical figure, “You know not what you do.” In my opinion, you have betrayed the public trust.

I don’t expect that my comments will change your minds or agendas. I do, however, hope we still retain the liberty of holding and voicing our personal opinions and dissent without fear of reprisal. This is the climate you have created.


Patrick D. Weil

Patrick D. Weil
Highland High School

As Mr. Weil has so eloquently stated, we're doing a pretty fair job educating the masses right now. Dismantling the system is not the solution. It'll be interesting to see what they have in store for us after this. I'm thinking insurance and pension plan are the real target. I see dark clouds forming on the horizon.

There's always Plan B, I guess.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another Day In Paradise

In addition to my spouting venom at the politicians last week, I actually did a little something. I started on the spiral stair during Open Shop. I cut the hand rail and the balusters all off. I picked up some more 1/2" square for the replacements and I was going to get a piece of 3/16" x 1-1/2" for the handrail and the frame for the extra step but they don't stock it. I was going to head North and get a piece but I'm thinking I might just as well go with 1/4" x 1-1/2". It won't be that much harder to bend. As soon as I get the new step made and slid on, we'll stand it up and start fabricating. I need to pick up some anchors to fasten it to the floor before we start working on it first, however.

You can tell that spring is almost here because I fixed my first rim of the season. Big diameter rims and low profile tires just don't agree with potholes. I should have taken the photo before I ground the weld down. The rims are made of a good grade of aluminum and they always weld up real pretty. The only tricky part of the job is straightening them out. I put them on the anvil and beat them into submission using a couple of hammers and the anvil itself. Ear protection is a must because they really ring. This one went pretty quick - about 30 minutes start to finish.

The boss is a railroad buff and happened in while I was working on my lantern. Thought he'd do me a favor and let me fix one for him, as well. It was pretty rusty so I sandblasted and painted it for him. They're goin' to miss me when I'm gone.

The top photo is the Color Guard that was at the cemetery Friday to lay Marty to rest with military honors. Marty was the husband of my wife's sister. Due to the convoluted nature of that family, I never really got to know the man that well. Kind of a shame, that. Seemed like the kind of guy you would like to call your friend. He was in the Air Force, Navy and the Army Reserves. He served in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars as a Corpsman and he was an extremely talented artist. By all accounts, he was a good husband, father and grandfather. All in all, a life well lived.

I've lost two out of three of the sister-in-law's husbands in the last month or so. Marty made it to almost 75 but Patrick was only 46. I'm almost exactly in the middle, age wise, for whatever that's worth. I'm hoping for another 25 years or so, at the least. I'm starting to feel the accumulation of the years but that's just the natural progression, I guess.

I've got the day off today for Washington's birthday as well as last Friday for the funeral service. I'm planning on working in the shop a little and doing a few odds and ends. We watched one of the grandsons Sat. night and Sun. morning. I didn't get much done but it was definitely time well spent. We went for a tractor ride and then hammered nails and drilled some holes on some scrap wood. We'll be watching the other one next weekend. Once again, won't get much done while he's here but that's OK. It's all about priorities and the grandsons trump most everything else.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bitchin' Tank

Surly sent me this photo from here. Absolutely gorgeous craftsmanship. Enlarge the photo with a click and take a good look see. Appears to be a steel tank that has the insert braze welded together. Really impressive work. If they teach this at a charter school, I might revise my opinion of them a little bit.

I've used the bully pulpit here to rag on the idiot politicians about all I can stand for awhile, so I'm going to get back to posting about some of the things we're doing. I started in on the spiral staircase for the barn project the other night at Open Shop. I cut all of the old hand rail and balusters off since just about everyone of them was bent a little and I need to change the spacing on the rise of the steps. I took a couple of photos prior to the dismantling and will post some updates as we progress.

Enjoy the weekend. Spring's on the way and Italy beckons.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It'll Get Better - But It's Going To Be Awhile

Nothing Italian -
Just a Beautiful Photograph

Photo from here:

It looks like the State of Indiana is bound and determined to pass legislation for educational "reform". It's not going to be pretty and it's not going to be effective. It looks like a very thinly veiled attempt to break the unions by eliminating collective bargaining and protecting teachers from unfair evaluations. It's really a shame what they are planning to do and it will have extremely long range effects on the ability of good teachers to do the job for which they were hired to do. My buddy Kevin passed along a piece from the Washington Post that says it all much more eloquently than I can. I strongly urge you to read it. It will only take a couple of minutes.

Regardless of what happens, I'll be done in a couple of years and I won't have to deal with the silliness of it all. Unfortunately my grandchildren will, however. Fortunately they have parents that place a high value on education and skills training in high school. My son and several of his buddies all took machine shop in high school with one of the greatest teachers a young man could have. My son used his training as the jumping off point to earn his papers as a journeyman machinist and he has been very successful as a result. Likewise his buddies. Not all of them became machinists but have used the skills and the work ethic taught to them by Mr. Keyes to succeed in their own way as well.

So the sun will still rise in the East, set in the West and occasionally we'll be privileged to a beautiful shot of the moon like the one in the above photo. There will still be schools and there will still be teachers who give it their all every day for low pay. But some kid will stop them in the grocery store some day and thank them for keeping them in school or giving them a pair of mittens and that will make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oxy-Acetylene, Sort Of

When I checked the stats a week or so back to see who, where and how many were checking out Shop Teacher Bob, I noticed quite a few hits were for oxy-acetylene posts. I just finished a weeks worth of oxy-acetylene cutting instruction with my beginning classes. This is always somewhat traumatic. I try
to instill in them a serious respect for the equipment and the potential for danger without scaring them into running like sissies every time the torch pops.

Part of the instruction process is a written and a performance quiz. For an "A" on the performance quiz, they have four minutes to turn on the tanks, light the torch, cut a piece of 1/4"x2" flat bar, then turn off the tanks and bleed everything down. One guy finally threw in the towel after 7-1/2 minutes without being able to light the torch at all. A couple of the guys in one class are pretty competitive with each other and after the grading wanted to try a little friendly show down. The one guy choked and the other guy did a 2:30. So like in the Cincinnati Kid - "You're good kid, real good, but as long as I'm around ....."- I took on the winner and posted a time of 59 seconds without breaking a sweat. 40 years of experience has to count for something.

Next year we're supposed to have a video production class of some kind going. I'm going to try and see about taping some of the instructional things I do. I'd like to write a "textbook" of sorts as well. Have short video clips or written instructions available for them for things like the torch. Just something short and sweet that hits the safety concerns and how to light the torch and make a cut. Have the same thing for setting up the MIG, TIG, Plasma, track torch, etc. There are commercial things available, of course, but I'm looking for something they could refer to at a later date or if a kid is absent, he could get the short version of what he missed. I put together some instructional booklets like this a few years ago but I could do a lot better with the advances in technology. Maybe put together a CD with most of the units on it and the kid could take it with him when he goes.

Wonder if she'd be interested in helping with the project?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gina Lollobrigida

Happy Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Educational Fix for Indiana

As promised, here's the fix for the educational system starting with a couple of items from a list I received from the ISTA:

  • that Indiana teachers rank first in the nation for credentials in teaching what they teach (in other words in CONTENT certification which the Governor said should be THE priority. We subscribe to a higher standard – that both content and teaching skill are important.)

  • If Indiana were a country, our 4th and 8th grade math students would rank 7th highest IN THE WORLD.
So, let's start the improvement process by recognizing that Indiana teachers are highly qualified both by the No Child Left Behind federal guidelines and just plain common sense. It's also obvious that if our eighth graders rank 7th in the world, obviously the situation is not as bad as it's being painted in the press.

Next up, let me tell you that I've been teaching "shop" classes for 35 years with my time split just about equally between an inner city environment and a suburban/rural one. My comments will be colored by my experiences, as well as the fact that I firmly believe in offering students technology/STEM classes, of course, but also art, band and physical education. Now lets move on to making things better.

In Indiana the local school superintendent no longer has to follow the traditional track of teacher, administrator, superintendent. This can be a real good thing. Education is a business and should be run like one. Huge sums of money change hands every year in the quest to educate young people of our communities. Someone needs to make sure we're getting the most bang for our buck. Granted, allowances need to be made for all the human factors involved, but it's possible to track progress and see what's working and what isn't. At our school, we try to compare ourselves to ourselves. That way the slightest improvement can be celebrated even if it's not statistically significant or we're still below what others are doing. They have programs to do it the right way. So the first thing we need is a strong leader at the top with excellent management skills.

Next thing we need is a decent school board. There are pros and cons to both elected and appointed school boards. I've worked for both. Regardless of how they get there, they have the same obligations. See to it that all state and federal guidelines are met, allocate the funds in a fair and equitable manner and negotiate fairly with the staff and support personnel. Our school board and superintendent really dropped the ball on this one last year. We still don't have a contract and the likely hood of a fair and equitable contract being offered in the future is highly unlikely. When I first started here, the union and the board agreed to take state average of settlements, plus one percent. No arguments, no hostility. We had a real good superintendent and board. Things went smoothly and the teachers were all treated with respect. If the state manages to revoke the right of teachers to collective bargaining, you soon see what a terrible idea that was as well as what a terrible school board can do.

It's also the board's responsibility to see to it that the buildings and grounds are properly maintained. You don't have to have the Taj Mahal but you need a place that is conducive to education. If you have to choose between funds being spent on a huge athletic complex or the classrooms, everyone knows where the money should be spent. I realize there is never enough to have everything everyone wants. Make the tough decisions as fairly as possible and keep pushing onward and upward.

School leadership. This is the big one. In all my years I've worked for only a couple of principals that were worth their salaries. Many of them leave the classroom and become administrators simply because bossing adults around pays better than bossing third graders around. To hear them tell it, however, they were the greatest educators since John Dewey. Of course not all of them become principals because they can't cut it in the classroom or they want to boss people around. There are some very good principals out there. Not enough of them, however. I have a lot of respect for the job they have to do. They, or someone in authority has to be at every school function. Basketball, football, track, choir. You name it, they need to be there. They also need to deal with discipline matters. That runs the whole gamut of things in this day and age. Everything from a couple of girls getting into it about some boy, calling child welfare because some kid's old man whacked him around again, to dealing with weapons. So I admit they have a tough job.

Because the job is tough, it takes a special kind of person to deal with the day to day events and lead faculty and students to the promised land. School needs to be interesting and fun to as many people as is humanly possible. It should also demand excellence from all parties involved. From a teacher's perspective, here's what I want:

Give me the supplies, equipment and facilities to do my job.
Support me when dealing with some whack job parent.
Support and show some interest in the work my students perform.
Do the same for me then get the hell out of my way and let me do my job.
If you value what I do, keep record keeping and paper work to a minimum.
Let's not have meetings unless there is a specific outcome we need to get to, remembering that if you don't want to get things done in an expedient manner, form a committee. On the other hand, if you really want to have things run smoothly, form a management team including the teachers in the decision making process.
If you make a rule, enforce the rule. You shouldn't need too many.
If you spend all of your time dealing with ten percent of the school population, get rid of at least five percent. Institute the ten run rule for office trips. If a kid shows up in the office ten times, games over.
Be visible. I worked for one guy and a Sophomore asked me who he was after he came in the room. Kid was on the second year of his high school career and didn't know who the boss was.

Last thing. Everyone needs to stop listening to the latest and greatest educational research. If you want to know what to do, look at Finland. Check out Big Picture Learning. Look at the Sloyd system. Go way back and look at Manual Training. Get the students involved in things they are interested in and present the material as much as possible with a hands on approach. Elementary school teachers don't bore the little darlings to death every day with hour after hour of lectures. Why would a high school teacher do that. With all the electronic stimuli the little scholars are surrounded by, they now have attention spans like snail darters, for God's sake. Give them something to do. We have a retention pond at one of the schools. Stock it with fish and start a fishing club. There are hundreds of things that can be done to keep kids interested. There are auto shops that run a drag racer. Give exit exams to students who quit. Hunt them down and find out why they don't like school. Do the same things for young teachers that quit the profession. Find out why they spend four years in college only to quit after four years on the job. Then fix it!

In conclusion, things aren't as bad as Mitch and Tony would have us believe. They're politicians and they have an agenda. All politicians need to be watched. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, after all. If good leadership exists at all the levels (state, local school boards, school administration), most of the teachers will perform admirably. We can deal with the students, we don't have time to deal with the silliness, incompetence or laziness of some slug administrator, especially some yahoo who thinks he's so much smarter that his teachers because he was able to escape the classroom and we didn't. We're here by choice, knucklehead. Not by default. And if you really want to know what's wrong and how to fix things, ask the nice elementary teacher who's been wiping running noses, doing playground duty and putting on Christmas programs for thirty years. She knows what's best and what causes the disconnect with education for most of the kids. She'll be reluctant to tell you because she doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But she knows.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Eyes Have It

No explanation needed here.

Photo Calculator

In my quest to put my photo equipment together for the upcoming trip, I came across a do-it -yourself exposure calculator. I have lots of old cameras that have no metering device for calculating the proper exposure as well as a couple of meters that use exposure value numbers. With the little calculator shown in the photo, it's possible to take an exposure value number and translate that into a shutter speeds and f stop combination or use the written description to assign an exposure value to whatever it is you're photographing.

I usually use the "sunny 16" rule as a starting point for my exposure valus and guess how many stops I need to open up the lens for any other exposure. Usually I get pretty close and with black and white film you have a little latitude any way. If I'm not sure and I really want to make sure of the exposure I bracket the shot by taking an extra shot or two with a different exposure combination - either by changing the f stop or the shutter speed. Even if the camera has a meter it's sometime better to override it in certain conditions such as back lit subjects or a subject in the shade. The little calculator will take a little bit of the guess work out of it.

I'm hoping to get into the darkroom pretty soon and print up a few things. I've got some nice negatives from a couple of my trips and a couple of other things that I'd like to see printed up. If I get something worth bragging about, I'll see about scanning them in and posting them.

A friend and colleague quit the school at the end of the first semester and is heading for Spain today. She has a blog that she writes when traveling and you might want to check out her big adventure. She was great to work with and all of us in the school corporation owe her a large debt of gratitude for all the work she did on our behalf during the last two very difficult years.
Best wishes Traveling Pirate and I'll see you in Italy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Clueless Policy Makers

The State of Indiana is proposing some absolutely terrible changes for school systems. Some of these are offered as "suggestions" and others will unfortunately become law. My career is almost over, so I have nothing much at stake anymore. Depending on how you look at it, that makes my opinion either extremely valuable or next to worthless. If you choose the latter, now would be a good time to bail out and hopefully you'll return to the blog in the near future.

Assuming that someone is still reading, I would just like to say I'm sick and tired of reading in the paper about how teachers are doing a terrible job. I've always maintained the only thing wrong with public education is that it's open to the public. While that's an exaggeration of the situation, the fact remains that public schools do a very good job of educating the masses. Every day millions of kids report to school from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds and bring all their excess baggage with them. It makes no difference if the kid comes in hungry, tired, stoned, depressed, has physical or mental disabilities, was up all night because the cops were at the house because dad was drunk and slapping mom around again, or the kid is just passing through on the way to the next crop that needs to be picked or awaiting sentencing for sticking up the gas station. And while it would be so much nicer if they spoke English, that's not a requirement either.

So the schools do what they can to educate the huddled masses with the resources they're given, which in the Sate of Indiana was $300 million less than promised last year. In addition to the 3R's, the schools also offer club activities, vocational programs, athletics for both genders equally, and way too often, grief counseling. And if a kid goes to a private or charter school that does not offer these things, he's entitled to play on the football team or join the band anyway.

Private schools and charter schools have much more freedom to deal with the most difficult of students to educate. Their answer can be as simple as go away. If you're a trouble maker, we don't need you. If you're a private school, you don't always have to make "reasonable accommodations" for a severely disabled student. If a private or charter school has the freedom to educate students without the burden of excessive regulation and be able to be much more selective with their clientele, they should be giving the public schools a good old fashioned ass kicking. But they don't. Private schools maybe, charter schools, no way. In the State of New York, the graduation rate in 2009 for public schools was 77%. For charter schools it was 49%. Don't believe me? Look here.

There is a lot of room for improvement in the public schools. There are some absolutely terrible teachers who should be run off. Do not, however, blame the unions or tenure for preventing that from happening. Nobody gets tenure over night. If it takes six consecutive contracts, that means the administration had at least five tries to either help the teachers get better or to get rid of them. Nobody takes a job like teaching with the intention of knocking them dead for five years so they can coast the next thirty-five. The real question is: why do so many good teachers leave of their own free will within the first five years?

Assuming then that at least 90% of the teachers are doing a good job, what is the problem? How about piss poor leadership at most all levels of education? How about the same thing when it comes to parenting skills? How about our lawmakers who know next to nothing about most topics they are asked to vote on? You really think those mopes understood the 2000 pages of the health care bill? You really think they read it? If they are authorities on health care, you think they are authorities on all matters military, infrastructure, economics, education and all the rest? Most matters now boil down to some childish pissing contest between red states vs blue states with the winners position be decided upon by what some lobbyist told them in the first place.

What can we do to fix this? Stay tuned for another stimulating diatribe with extremely simplistic solutions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Almost a Whizbang

Not sure what this was for but it's obviously Italian and it's got a motorcycle on it, so that's good enough for me. Audax is a word I'm familiar with from cycling but not motorcycling. Maybe if I knew what sara di regolarita or Porretta terme meant it would make more sense.

"Mr. Sluggo" bolting
things together

Top view of the Whizbang
Apple Grinder

The apple grinder is about done. I need to get a couple of things for the electrical hookup, make the apple corral for the top and pick up a piece of tubing for the discharge outlet and it'll be a Whizbang Apple Grinder. So far all I had to buy was a few 1x4's, a 1x6, some carriage bolts and the coupler. So when it's all said and done, I'll have less than 50 bucks in the thing. If my scrounged disposal works, everything will be roses. If it doesn't, it will be easy enough to slide a new one into place in spite of the cost.

The cider press frame is all wood, so I'm going to farm that job out to the woodshop here at the school. I was going to make/purchase a big acme screw for the pressing mechanism but I think I'll just make the thing like the plans call for using a screw jack. You can find those at the junk yard for $5.00. After he gets the frame done, I can make a sheet metal pan for the bottom to catch the juice out of stainless. I'll need to make the "slatted bucket" or whatever you call it where the actual pressing occurs but that shouldn't be much of a stretch.

Starting and finishing. It's a beautiful thing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Indiana Education Proposals - A Rebuttal

The Colosseum

The following was sent to me from one of my colleagues and addresses the issues facing teachers in the State of Indiana:

"If you value education, this letter is a must read. Written by Craig Blume, a former Pioneer School teacher and current ISTA representative, it lays out what is happening to k-12 education in Indiana and what is to come if we do not act now! He nails it on the head. Take two minutes and read it. It is worth it."

Current Issues for Public Education

As all of you know, public education and teachers are taking a real beating in the media and public arena. Superman movies, Oprah, NBC news, and the list goes on and on. Then you throw in a governor and superintendent of public instruction who are anything but complimentary towards teachers and it doesn’t take the proverbial brain surgeon to realize that YOU and YOUR CAREER are under attack. There are many issues being addressed in all of this, both at the national and state level. Not to lessen the importance of the national issues, but as the election looms on the horizon, it is clear that the state-wide issues are far more critical and immediate as they relate to the future of public education as we have known it for virtually our entire careers. I want to share with you just a few of these issues and information that we know to be true based on the actions and statements of our state leaders.

· Funding shortages (Fed $ replace State $) The governor has on two previous occasions used federal stimulus monies to replace state money allowing him to place money into the reserve account and somewhat bypass the intended use of those funds. We fully expect him to do something similar with the new Jobs Bill money. He also announced a $300 million dollar across the board cut just before Christmas last year, catching schools off guard and unable to make the necessary adjustments in their budgets in a manner that would not disrupt education. Many were forced to reduce staff and programs resulting in a total loss of approximately 2900 jobs state-wide. A majority of teachers and other school employees saw their salaries frozen and insurance costs being shifted away from the corporations and onto them. That $300 million dollar reduction will now be the new base as they build the next state budget with even more cuts being expected on top of that. Expect to hear very little about funding issues until AFTER the November elections and then you will hear all about revenue coming in under projections and how there is a need to make more cuts.

· Evaluation of teachers and principals based on student test scores. This issue is one of those coming at us from both the national and state level. The governor and superintendent of public instruction have consistently stated that teachers and principals must be held accountable and that student test scores should be the means to determine success (growth). Let me just say that I challenge you to produce any reputable research that shows that tests designed to assess what students have learned will also accurately measure the quality of a teacher. Nowhere in this discussion has there been a serious acknowledgment of the “baggage” our students are bringing to the classroom and the difficulty teachers have trying to remedy ills that start at home. Have you seen any legislation that will hold parents accountable for their role in the education of their children? I think not!

· Salaries of teachers and administrators based on test scores. This goes hand in hand with the evaluation and accountability issue, with the same rationale that is not backed up with any credible research. In fact, research is showing that merit pay does NOT result in better test scores ( So, as I understand this theory, if a doctor has a patient that dies, the doctor’s pay should be cut and his record would show a deficiency in his ability to care for patients successfully. His record would then be published in the paper for all to see (close to the obituaries, I bet). I certainly would not expect to hear an outcry such as “I did everything I could under the circumstances, but the patient was very ill when he arrived.” We know that would just be a silly excuse and a simple avoidance of accountability. How dare the doctor not take the blame for something beyond his control?

· Vouchers / Charter Schools. Ok, let’s get this out in front to start with. Tony Bennett’s wife is in charge of the Charter School program for the state of Indiana. Probably no need for any concerns about intent or bias with this issue. The current administration has made it abundantly clear that education should be based on competition and letting the free market system dictate what happens (give them a voucher and let them go to the “good” schools where the “good” teachers teach). If they determine that you are a poor teacher (using those pesky test scores and growth models) then they believe that information should be made public and allow parents to select only the teachers they wish for their children. Oh, and they should also be able to select a school for their child based on an A thru F scale. I have yet to see an explanation of what the logistics for that would look like.

· Legislative reforms that Supt. Bennett calls “rigorous teacher education standards” that would compel teachers to master the subjects they teach. My first reaction is one of insult. Do teachers REALLY not know the subjects they teach? During the 29 years I spent in the classroom I can not recall a single time when I was unsure WHAT to teach, but I recall clearly the challenge of HOW to teach my subject successfully during each and every class period. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe that teachers should and must have a command of their subject area, but I also believe that a “master teacher” is not a master of his/her subject but of HOW to teach that subject effectively.

· DOE revocation or suspension of teacher licenses based on accusations only. This is a lengthy story, but the short version is that the DOE (via an administrative judge who is an employee of the DOE) recently suspended the teaching license of a veteran special education teacher for two years based on accusations that had not and still have not been proven in a neutral court (guilty until proven innocent). I don’t know if this teacher is actually guilty or innocent of the charges, but I can tell you that I would feel much better as a teacher and citizen of the USA if she had been determined guilty BEFORE her license was suspended. If she is in fact guilty, let the courts do their job and THEN take the appropriate action regarding her license. I might add that the current administration tried unsuccessfully to get legislation passed last session that would in effect do the same thing to your teacher retirement; revoke your pension based only on an accusation of verbal or physical child abuse. It is really scary when one of the most sacred tenets of our judicial system (innocent until proven guilty) is being denied to teachers.

· Loss of collective bargaining rights if PL 217 repealed. In mid September, Tony Bennett delivered a speech to the State Policy Network in which he boldly stated that “they” planned to push the legislature to repeal Public Law 217, which is the law that gives teachers the right to collectively bargain, engage in discussion, and have a means of resolving contract disputes via a grievance procedure. He was absolutely clear about their intentions. I wanted to provide a link for you to listen to the speech in its entirety (hear it directly from the horse’s mouth so to speak) but I discovered that the video is not available and “the clip you are looking for has been removed.” As best I can determine after doing some snooping, Tony Bennett’s speech is the only one missing from the SPN Annual Meeting video archives. Hmm? (Here is the link in case you want to try yourself - FYI – I sent Livestream an e-mail asking them for an explanation for the missing video clip but have not yet received their replyL

· Loss of seniority rights. In the same “unavailable clip” he also stated how terrible it was for good teachers to be laid off solely due to seniority while bad teachers were left in the classroom. Of course, in a world without seniority rights it would be “very unlikely” that money or personal issues would ever be used to determine who got laid off, so no need to worry about this if you are a top of the scale teacher who happens to have a school board member upset with you. Relax, you can always retire and draw your TRF pension. Oh, that reminds me, did I tell you that they are now discussing possible revisions to the TRF, including things like a “Rule of 95 or 100” and rewriting the formula that produces your pension amount? It must have slipped my mind.

· Loss of due process rights. What a nuisance and impediment to quality education when a principal actually has to have a reason to fire a teacher. It takes far too much time out of a day to spend time evaluating teachers, especially if you already know who is doing a good job. The current administration would really like to remove those protections the “nasty teachers union” has put into place to protect those terrible teachers from ever being fired. No mention yet of the role the local administration plays in the evaluation process of those “terrible” teachers who are lurking the halls of our schools.

· Freezing or the reduction of all salaries and benefits. We beat them to this one didn’t we? Teachers already “got it” and have made substantial sacrifices that the schools needed to protect programs from the chopping block and save countless jobs belonging to their colleagues. I am certain the thank you’s are coming, just be patient.

· State mandated health insurance. This one defies common sense. There are only a handful of schools in the state who currently pay as much for health insurance as the state plan now costs. Why would any school corporation move to a plan that costs more, provides lesser benefits, calls for more employee out-of-pocket expenses, and takes away their ability to make local decisions regarding their coverage? What the governor isn’t telling you is that he needs all of you healthy teachers to subsidize the unhealthy state employees who are racking up enormous claims and driving up premiums. If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Governor, we’ll pass and continue to work cooperatively with our local school corporations to continue offering our teachers the coverage they need and deserve.

· Declaring “no more room for excuses,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has called on educators to stop clamoring for money and devote their energy to providing better service for their “customers”. This one really gets my dander up and as most of you know, I don’t have much dander to disturb. Give me an example of one of those excuses, Mr. Bennett, as I don’t recall hearing any in this neck of the woods. While you are at it, give me the name of one of those “clamoring” educators. We can’t seem to find any around here. All of the local contracts that got settled this past year were for ZERO % and some without an incremental raise for experience. Now the dander is rising. How dare you imply that our teachers are not “devoting their energy” to their classrooms. How dare you make such an insulting remark based on no first-hand knowledge. Do you REALLY know what time these folks arrive at school in the morning, what time they leave at night, how many hours are spent daily at the kitchen table preparing lesson plans and grading papers, and how many weekend hours are spent in classrooms? Do you really know or are you simply trying to make your light shine brighter by making someone else’s appear dimmer? How dare you. And now to my final point that I believe captures the essence of the problem with your view of public education. You use the word “customer” as if you are discussing a blue light sale at K-Mart. Excuse me, Mr. Bennett, but those “customers” happen to be real live human beings who are the children and grandchildren of more live human beings. They deserve far more from an elected state official whose job it is to promote and improve PUBLIC education. Your business model for education is not what is best for human beings.

· Let me close with a few thoughts. First, I am so very sorry that education has become a purely partisan issue in Indiana. It is a constitutionally guaranteed function of our state government, but has now sunk to the darkest pits of partisan politics. It’s not supposed to be about Democrats and Republicans; it’s supposed to be about educating our children. Shame on all of us for letting this happen to our children. We have the ability and responsibility to correct this, and our children’s future depends on us doing so. Because education has become partisan and because the current administration has clearly stated their intentions and plans for public education, I believe it is imperative that all teachers make sure they cast their votes in November for candidates who will honestly represent the wishes of the people and who will cast their votes for legislation that will truly benefit students over promoting the ideology of their party caucus. Don’t let yourself be sucked into a political battle that is far more likely going to benefit a hopeful presidential candidate’s political aspirations over the interests of our children. Please do what is right while you still have the chance!!
Political agendas can be scary things. Maybe if the legislators just took a moment to realize that the biggest thing wrong with public education is that it's open to the public. None of these kids check their problems at the door, they bring them to school every day. And now, at least at my school, everyone is "too busy" to get us what we need to teach. Three months wait for a purchase order for a couple of grinding wheels to come in? Really. Someone with some common sense is going to have to take the reins pretty soon or we're all doomed. I'm talking education at the local, state and federal levels. "They're all Bozos on this bus, buster."

Words to Live By


"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

– Jack London

Photo and quote from here:

So, did you ever want to write a book? If so, what kind of book? Fiction, how-to, children's? What do you need to write the great American novel beyond "It was a dark and stormy night"? I wrote a book and edited a book. Both were short little things. The one I wrote was a short history of a little railroad that ran through the county. The other dealt with the little Harley Sprint/Aermacchi racers. I didn't write anything much but I compiled things from others into a handy little ditty everyone with a racing Sprint should have in his collection.

That being said, I've been thinking about what it would take for me to write a book. I'm going to be retired soon, so I should have plenty of time. I can type something like twenty words per minute now that I'm using almost all of my fingers. I have a fairly good vocabulary. I know enough about sentence structure to string some words together, even though it might not always make sense to anyone but me. I read Stephen King's On Writing a few years back and I've got a copy of The Elements of Style by E. B. White and W. Strunk. I took a couple of courses on writing in college but looking back, I don't think that's much of an asset.

So do I take the advice of Jack London and go after inspiration and club it like a baby Harp seal? There's a writer's group in the county and they publish a collection of their works annually. Maybe start there? Start jotting down things now as I think of them and put it all together after I retire? I read a book about twenty-five years ago a buddy loaned me about the Detroit school system. It appealed to me because of the similarities between the Detroit schools and Washington High School in East Chicago where I started my career. I wish I could find another copy of that one. Every day at E. C. "Dub" was kind of like the movie Cooley High. Or, I could write a "I'll tell you what's wrong with education" scorcher. Actually it's not too hard to describe what's wrong with education. It's fixing it that's the problem. If I take that route I might have to get a PhD. You have to have the credentials, you know.

As you can surmise, I've had a lot of time for thinking lately due to the snow. If I knew I was going to have all that time to lounge around, I would have planned a little bit. When you don't know what the weather or the school corporation is going to do, that's a little tough. Plus, when I got done shoveling I was too tired to do much more than think anyway. It should be back to work as normal this week. I'll hopefully finish the apple grinder and get back to stamping out ignorance like Smokey the Bear does wildfires.

Claudia Cardinale

(Technically Tunisian)

Think Italy
Think Spring

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The photo is from a photographer's website. He's got some really nice stuff available for a reasonable price. Do yourself a favor and buy some art.

I'm brushing up on my photography skills and deciding what equipment to take with me to Italy. I developed 5 rolls of film yesterday that I had laying around or were in cameras. I haven't been in the darkroom for quite some time but it's long past due. I'm taking my digital but I also want to take a film camera. I normally take an old folding camera on my bicycle trips. They're lightweight, don't require any batteries and they take surprising good pictures. I have a little Canonete 35mm rangefinder that is my normal point and shoot camera. It was the "go to" setup prior to the digital. It takes nice pictures, it's compact, it's quiet, and because I've used it so much it's easy for me to shoot quickly with it. The lens is a 40mm which is towards the wide angle side of a normal 50-55mm that is considered standard for 35mm.

I have a couple of SLR options in 35mm, as well. I'd like to have a wide angle lens like a 28mm for street scenes and inside buildings. I have the Konica that I repaired. I've got several lenses for it, including a 28mm. It's not near as compact as the Canon but I would have more options that way. I also have a Nikon with a small zoom lens. It's the cheapy plastic model but that makes it a lot lighter than the Konica. Maybe I should spend an afternoon shooting pictures using both cameras and then come home and develop the film right away - compare the negatives while the camera comparison is still fresh in my mind.

Maybe I should start doing some packing and see how much room I'm going to have. They told us one medium sized suitcase and a carry on bag. When it comes to taking up the least amount of space the Canonete is the hands down winner. I've got a little table top tripod that I take along and the lighter the better for that too. I don't want to wait until the last minute for any of this. I'm working Jimmy's corner the week before the Italy trip and I need to make sure everything on the homefront is ship shape prior to my leaving as well. These are the kinds of problems it's nice to have.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Blessings of a Blizzard

Gaetano Belloni

Even though the blizzard brought lots of disruptions to millions of lives, including my own, it did bring a little down time for lots of people. For me it was a good chance to catch up on the reading and watch some old movies on TV.

Like Caulfield, the comic strip character, I too read a book about our founding fathers. Mine was Virtue, Vanity & Valor: The Founding Fathers and the Pursuit of Fame by Eric Burns. It looks at a few of the most well known signers of the Declaration of Independence from a personal standpoint, examining the character traits the made them the great men they were in spite of having a few flaws. While focusing on the heavy hitters such as Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and a few others, I did learn about James Wilson - "the only person in the history of the United States ever to hold the positions of member of the Supreme Court and fugitive from the law at the same time". As long as I'm mining the mother lode of books dealing with our Founding Fathers, I'd like to read a little more on Patrick Henry next.

As soon as the sun gets a little higher, I'm going outside to take care of the animals and do a little more snow shoveling. I was outside yesterday for about four hours straight dealing with the snow. In a combined attack using tractor, snow blower and shovel, I managed to get a good path every where I needed to go and get the lane opened up. The snowblower managed to quit on me again. The thrower part locked up for some reason. I bought the thing used about ten years ago but it was only used about twice by the lady I bought it from and I haven't used it all that much either. I probably won't need it anymore this year, so I'll either take it to school or wait until summer and have a look at it. Normally I just shovel the sidewalk and around the vehicles and run the tractor to take care of everything. When you've got drifts a couple of feet deep in heavy snow, however, the snowblower is the way to go.

I can see that winter is going to be the thing that drives me to a little place in the city when I'm a few years older. Even though most of my time was spent on the tractor yesterday, I was still a little sore last evening. I managed to fall on my face the day before wrestling with the barn door, which of course never helps. The roof drips melted snow onto the ground right where the big door slides along and manages to freeze the door to the ground and build up a spot about 6" wide and 10' long that I have to chip away before I can open the door. I need to either get a gutter over the door or park the tractor in a different building. It usually is a problem only once or twice a year but that's getting to be once or twice too much.

The old tractor worked like a champ yesterday but like me, it too is getting old. It's a 1952 and the oil pressure isn't what it once was. The snow was higher than anything I had tried moving in the past and it didn't roll off the blade but mostly just stacked up until the wheels spun on the tractor. If I'm going to stick around on the farm, I need to work on all of these mechanical issues as well as keep myself in decent shape. Seems like a lot of work for maybe three or four days a year. For some strange reason, I enjoy doing it, however. I like being outside and sparring with Mother Nature a little bit. I realize that she's got the knockout punch and will win if she uses it but dealing with a storm like this makes me feel like I can control my own destiny. I'll never climb Mt. Everest but I can shovel a driveway that's a 1/4 mile long. This old shack is over 100 years old and they didn't have snowblowers or 4 wheel drive or gas heat. If they could handle a winter storm, I sure as hell should be able to.

Keeping the Pioneer Spirit alive by sitting in front of a computer!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowing Still

Gina Lollobrigida

Getting restless - it's a two post day.

Snowing outside still and I mean it's snowing! I went out this morning about 9:30 and it had pretty well quit snowing. I had to push the back door open but it wasn't any where near the 18-24 inches they were talking about. I was almost disappointed. I then had to shovel the inside of the barn to get the snowblower out. The wind had piled up a drift right inside the closed door. I got the snowblower fired right up and headed out to cut a path from the barn to the house via the chicken coop. Everything was going well until I sheared the bolt on one side of the thrower gizmo so only half of the thing was throwing snow.

It's amazing how much more difficult even the simplest tasks are to complete when everything is cold and snow covered. I had to kneel down in the snow and stick my head in there and, of course, I couldn't see a darn thing because of a combination of not being able to get things in the proper orientation for the bifocals or because the glasses were fogging up. And because the pin was a snug fit in the shaft it took me about ten minutes just to find where the piece was broke off in the shaft and then get it where I could whack it with a punch to knock it out of there. About the time I got that all taken care of and retraced my steps, it started snowing again. I was going to open up the lane with the tractor but decided to hold off a little. It's just as well. It's snowing sideways again with great big flakes as I write this (2:30 local) and it would have all been drifted over. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me tomorrow. I like being outside in the winter but it's supposed to get real cold on the back side of this snow. We might get 18" before it's over. From what I've heard on the Weather Channel, this is number three on the all time snowfall list in Chicago.

I'm thinking I'll have the rest of the week off for sure now. I should be able to get all caught up on the magazines and finish off another book - I'm working on number seven or eight for the year already. I'd much rather be working in a nice warm shop building things, however.

Working a Theme

Since, like a couple of million other people in the Midwest, I'm snowed in and can't do much other than shovel myself out, I figured I'd waste even more time on the computer than I normally do and do a little research for my upcoming trip. So if you're thinking Italy, Sophia's a given. Then there are the scooters, Vespa and Lambretta most notably.

When I was younger, the motorcycle magazines always had a few scooter ads. Vespa used to put out a really nice calender every year as well. Maybe they still do. Most of the ads featured good looking girls or a young man of college age. While the ads didn't appeal to the same group as the Norton or BSA ads, I always thought it would be pretty cool to have one. With the increasing price of gas and the aging population, scooters seem to be experiencing a resurgence. Of course there are many manufacturers of scooters out there - Harley even made the Topper once upon a time - if I was to get one, it would have to be Italian.

(No photo credits, I just put in a search for scooters and snagged the pictures.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Where Do They Come From?

I was reading Grumpy Unk's blog as I normally do, and he posted a bit Friday about how people come to his site. The search that led them to his site was pretty funny and got me to wondering if anyone actually reads this one of mine other than the few hardcore friends and family members that I'm aware of. Turns out, quite a few more than I thought and from all over the world.

Looking at the "Stats", last week there were fifteen Pageviews on the subject of railbikes, ten on the apple grinder and six each on Planet Junior and Oxy-Acetylene torch. The page views came from a search of some sort and from all over the world - Germany, France, Indonesia, South America and South Korea, as well as the USA. I didn't bother cross checking to see who was looking for what but it's pretty interesting that someone from both Argentina and Australia happened across Shop Teacher Bob. It's too bad my chest is still bothering me, I could make my railbike trip I was planning and post that. When Andy was working on his speeder, I met the president of the organization that owns the tracks and he had no objection to me riding the rails. Maybe I could be the number one railbike blogger of the universe!

So if you're looking for a blog that's written with both sentence fragments and run on sentences, fuzzy photographs, and highly opinionated discourse on a variety of topics selected solely because they appeal to me on that particular day, keep reading and thanks. If you're interested in "huge 2 foot turds", check out Unk.