Chalkboard Champions and Hurricane Harvey: Wading into Rising Waters

As empathetic Americans look for ways to help fellow citizens forced to cope with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas teachers are undoubtedly wondering what they can do to help ease the distress of their precious kids when they return to the classroom.

As usual when I hear news stories about storm damage, I am reminded of a book I read which tells the tale of a remarkable teacher who opened a school for New Orleans evacuees following Hurricane Katrina.

When surging flood waters from Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of families to flee from their homes, New Orleans residents had their minds more on survival than on whether their children would be missing school. But when a group of evacuee parents who landed in New Iberia, Louisiana, realized they would not be returning to their homes any time soon, they knew they had to find a strategy to help their children cope with their enforced and unexpected exile. They pooled their financial resources and hired a fellow refugee, teacher Paul Reynaud, to establish a one-room school for their children in an abandoned office building. The story furnishes valuable lessons for dealing with this latest example of nature’s fury.

The book is entitled Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember.The author of this intriguing true story is journalist Michael Tisserand, and the volume was published in 2007 by Harcourt. You can find the book on at the following link:

For other intriguing stories about remarkable teachers in America’s sometimes turbulent history, check out my book Chalkboard Champions. You will find it on the web site for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Teacher Dolores Huerta: The Champion of the Migrant Farmworker

thLike many people who have heard of farm labor leader and civil rights advocate Cesar Chavez, I have also heard of his right-hand woman, Dolores Huerta, vice president of the United Farm Workers Union. But did you know that she was also an elementary school teacher?

Raised in Stockton, California, Dolores graduated in 1955 with an AA and her teaching credentials from the College of the Pacific. After graduation, she accepted a teaching position in a rural Stockton elementary school. She had been teaching for only a short time when she realized she wanted to devote her talent and energy to migrant farm workers and their families. “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children come to class hungry and in need of shoes,” she once explained. “I thought I could do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach their hungry children.” After one year, she resigned from her teaching position, determined to launch a campaign that would fight the numerous economic injustices faced by migrant agricultural workers.

Joining forces with the legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, Dolores organized a large-scale strike against the commercial grape growers of the San Joaquin Valley, an effort which raised national awareness of the abysmal treatment of America’s agricultural workers, and she negotiated the contracts which led to their improved working conditions. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although there are several fairly good juvenile biographies of this extraordinary woman, there is no definitive adult biography about her. The closest thing to it is A Dolores Huerta Reader edited by Mario T. Garcia. This book includes an informative biographical introduction by the editor, articles and book excerpts written about Dolores, her own writings and transcripts of her speeches, and a recent interview with Mario Garcia. You can find A Dolores Huerta Reader on I have also included a chapter about this remarkable teacher in my second book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve courageous Teachers and their Deeds of Valor.

Should you read Harper Lee’s new novel?

Like almost every other Language Arts teacher in America, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Harper Lee’s new novel, a freshly-discovered sequel to her Pulitzer-prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird. The release of the new book, Go Set a Watchman, comes amid controversy about the portrayal of the character Atticus Finch, long revered as a noble and humane man who, in his quiet and unassuming way, fights for justice thfor the African American community in Jim Crow South, despite the perils of such a stance. Critics of the new book assert that Atticus is not so noble in Lee’s second book.

Here’s what I think. To Kill a Mockingbird fits the definition of a bildungsroman; that is, a novel that describes and interprets the process of growing up as experienced by the main character, who is almost always a child. In Mockingbird, the child is six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, known affectionately as Scout, the daughter of Atticus Finch. Now, most people would concede that one of the most universal experiences when growing up is recognizing that parents are not perfect. Scout, who clearly and unabashedly idolizes her father, is not confronted with this fact of life until, in Watchman, she returns to her home town on vacation as a twenty-six-year-old New York City dweller. The novel is not really about how Atticus changes; it’s about how Jean Louise changes. How she continues the process of growing up. In this way, the novel is an unusual kind of bildingsroman in that it describes and interprets the process of growing up as experienced by an adult character.

This new book is not likely to win the author another Pulitzer prize, but it does masterfully turn characters that might, upon close examination, appear to be somewhat flat into more round characters. By that I mean less one-dimensional and more multi-dimensional. More human. And Lee does make an attempt to explain the Southern perspective regarding the Civil War, and although I can’t say I understood that explanation very well, I can say that the discussion is very timely when considering the recent debates over what it really means to fly a Confederate flag over government buildings in the Deep South. And, considering the revelations about Atticus presented in this new book, the novel adds to the ongoing conversation about the blight of racism, in both overt and subtle forms.

Read Go Set a Watchman. You’ll find much to think about. After all, isn’t that one of the primary functions of literature?

Meaningful Learning with Technology

51HSVz3SS2L._AA160_The text Meaningful Learning with Technology by Jane L. Howland, David Jonassen, and Rose M. Marra, Fourth Edition (Boston: Pearson, 2012) was an engrossing read. The target audience for this book is elementary or secondary school teachers who have an interest or intention of incorporating technology into their instructional programs. Written from a constructivist viewpoint, the book was probably aimed at both beginning and intermediate technology users; teachers well-versed in classroom technology would probably find most of the material a review of what they already know.

The stated goal of the book is to describe and demonstrate a variety of ways that technology could be used to engage and support meaningful learning for. This goal is described in depth in the initial chapter, which defines the characteristics of meaningful learning, describes the components of pedagogy related to technology, and contrasts learning from technology to learning with technology. A lengthy discussion of instructional technology standards and how technology can be used to foster 21st century skills is also incorporated.

The volume is slender, but it includes chapters on all aspects of an instructional program. These aspects are grouped into nine broad categories which the authors have labeled inquiring, experimenting, designing, communicating, community building, writing, modeling, visualizing, and assessing. Each chapter provides topical objectives, relevant introductory information, recommendations for how technology can be used for that particular aspect, and descriptions of several software programs that relate to the topic of the chapter. In some cases, the authors present case studies showing how actual teachers have used a specific technological program in their classroom. Photographs, diagrams, charts, and tables further illustrate the material. Each chapter concludes with a short summary, a listing of the NET Standards and the 21st Century Skills that are addressed in that chapter, discussion topics, and a list of references. The book concludes with an epilogue containing a handy list of common sense criteria for deciding when and what types of technology to consider for specific learning tasks. Finally, the authors provide an appendix offering sample rubrics for assessing characteristics of technology to ensure their utilization will result in meaningful learning.

The authors do not provide step-by-step instructions for how to use each of the software programs described, nor do they purport to. Rather, they discuss the learning theory supporting the inclusion of technology and the benefit of technology on the overall learning process.

What did I gain from the book? A review of some learning theories and concepts I have already studied. A reinforcement of some educational philosophies I have already embraced. An in-depth exploration of NET Standards and the list of 21st Century Skills. An articulated rationale and a set of guidelines for incorporating educational technology in my classroom lesson plans. An expansion of my knowledge about educational technology tools for content areas other than Language Arts. A revisit of some software programs I have experimented with previously. An exploration of some software programs I have never heard of before. That’s quite a bit, actually.

Praise for Chalkboard Heroes

lens17912345_1327988825teachers-are-heroesPraise continues to mount for the new book, Chalkboard Heroes, a collection of inspirational biographical sketches recognizing twelve teachers from American history who were both exemplars of the teaching profession, pioneers, social reformers, protectors, and role models of society.

Donald L. Johnson of the Cameron High School Alumni Association says, “Terry, what an excellent job done on the chapter for Prof. Henry Cameron!  You actually brought him to life and gave him an identity and an existence. I commend you for your research and writing ability.”