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A Teacher First

When I first read Henry Cotton's commentary in the February issue ["Academics vs. Athletics''] on why interscholastic sports may be the number-one impediment to improving schools, I thought, "Is this guy serious?'' I usually do not react to attacks on my character and profession with retaliation, but I take great offense at many of the points he makes in the article. You see, I am one of those hurtful "soft science'' teacher/coaches he refers to. I have to wonder if sometime during his life he was either cut from the football squad or the local high school hero beat him up and took his girlfriend.

Cotton not only offends me and my profession, but I also believe he has no idea what it actually takes to become a coach. The majority of coaches in the United States are not in this great profession for the sole purpose of winning. I can guarantee that for every one of those coaches he cites as being hired for the wrong reasons, there are thousands who are there for the right ones. I believe Cotton is confusing what our mission is at the high school level with that of the big-name coaches. What is our mission? To provide another means for children to interact cooperatively and to express themselves outside the traditional classroom. Cotton insists on calling them " . . . the same tired messages.'' Would Cotton rather have them learning these tired messages in a structured program after school or the mean and dangerous messages from the streets around their homes?

I can cite numerous examples of how sports have helped release kids from their condition in life, regardless of what we might do in the classroom. These kids go on to earn college scholarships. Should we deny them this opportunity? It is a fact found in numerous studies that student-athletes are better prepared as far as managing their time, working together, and focusing on traits that make people a success both in college and the real world.

What I would like from Cotton is his proof concerning the points he has made. He offers us opinions that are not, to my knowledge, based on fact. Cotton is right in one aspect: We have a "culture driven by America's obsession with sports personalities.'' It is our responsibility, however, to direct and lead our kids in the right ways. If the school or coach is preaching the right values to his or her kids, then we have made a difference. According to Cotton, a coach's value system does not count and should be eliminated. For some kids, "coach'' is the only stable parental figure in their lives. Does Cotton really want to get rid of that?

I believe I can speak for other teacher/coaches when I say that we were hired for our teaching credentials, not our coaching credentials. Coaching is another service we can provide our district. When Cotton writes that we are valued for other reasons and "it's not in the classroom,'' he hurts and devalues why I became a teacher in the first place. Becoming a coach is an extension of teaching. Cotton must have forgotten that somewhere along his insightful career. My grandfather, a tremendous teacher/coach, told me something I will never forget, "To be a great coach, you have to be a great teacher.'' You cannot have one without the other. We believe that what we are teaching can make a big difference in a young person's life. If Cotton were to come walk a season with one of us, he would see why we are here--to teach, plain and simple.

I do not know much about Thucydides, but there is an old saying that goes like this, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull (or violent these days) boy.''

Chris Lafferty
John Glenn High School
Elwood, N.Y.

Year-Round Utopia

The most difficult hurdles year-round education faces are tradition and fear of change. I'm reminded of the Gary Larson cartoon showing lemmings running to their deaths in the sea because that is what they have always done. One little lemming, with an impish smile, wears a life preserver. Year-round schooling can be a life preserver in a crazy world of tradition if we give it a fair chance.

Your headline "Year-Round Schooling Rejected'' ["Current Events,'' February] was misleading, since a large portion of the article was devoted to positive reports. Many so-called year-round calendars are actually traditional schedules forced and staggered into different months of the year, maintaining nine months of school and three months of vacation. Those programs give year-round schooling a bad reputation and should not be lumped with other more innovative approaches to scheduling. Who wouldn't hate being off for three months in the winter and baking in a non-air-conditioned school in summer?

Imagine, however, school for six weeks and then regular two-week vacations. Imagine sharing all of the traditional vacations such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring breaks, etc. while maintaining a full month off in the summer. Imagine facing a new year without stress, knowing that a two-week vacation is coming up soon. Imagine teachers and students without burn-out because frequent breaks keep them refreshed and relaxed. Imagine students anxious to return to school after two weeks, ready and eager to learn. Imagine improved student attendance and fewer discipline problems. Imagine parents having the choice of traditional or year-round schedules within the same building. Imagine a progressive school board willing to support such a utopia, and you have Rock Prairie Elementary School in College Station, Texas.

The year-round program has been the most significant positive experience of my 22-year teaching career. No other program, training, or new idea has impacted my attitude, my teaching styles, and my approach to my profession in such a dramatic way.

Charlotte Slack
Third Grade Teacher
Rock Prairie Elementary
College Station, Texas

Faux Pas

Thank you for publishing my letter, "Question of Rape,'' in your February issue, in response to the commentary, "What's the Hurry?'' [January], by Eileen Kalinowski. I must point out that in the process of editing, you printed an error. In my original letter, I wrote, "Sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 16 is a criminal offense in Massachusetts, punishable by the maximum term of life imprisonment.'' Your publication printed this as age 18, which may be so in certain states but not in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I took a great deal of time in making sure my facts were accurate, checking with legal authorities, in hopes that other teachers would use and perhaps quote this information. Since my credibility is at stake, I would greatly appreciate admission of your inadvertent faux pas.

Bonnie Wilder
Chelmsford, Mass.

Confusing Language

By juxtaposing right under your "Doublespeak Award'' article [February] about language that is " . . . euphemistic, confusing . . .'' your "Lunch to Remember'' article about 29 teachers and staff members who ate from a spoiled giant ham sandwich and then "called in sick, complaining of nausea and indigestion,'' thus requiring lots of substitute teachers, you make it difficult to know what the assistant principal meant when you quote him as saying, "It simply emptied your whole system.''

Did he mean that the school system was "emptied'' of many of its teachers or that teachers' bodily systems were "emptied'' of their contents? As a teacher of writing, I expect the meaning of my students' words to be clear and unambiguous.

Richard Siegelman
Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Al Shanker

Your article on "The Education of Al Shanker'' [February] was a confirmation of what I've known about the man for almost 25 years in all respects. The only quibble I have is the statement that he has difficulty with small talk, whatever that is.

My friendship with Shanker goes back to 1973. In 1972, the New York State Teachers Association (an affiliate of the National Education Association) agreed to a merger with the United Teachers of New York (an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers). Along with the majority of the former NYSTA board of directors, I had opposed the terms of the merger agreement. At the first convention of the merged NYSUT in 1973, I was elected to the board of directors.

At the first board meeting, a reception was held. Shanker came over to me and said, "Congratulations on your election.'' We had a pleasant conversation that, along with other astute moves, was the beginning of closing the rift between former NYSTA and UTNY leaders and creating a genuinely united teachers' union in New York state. Shanker was the single most important person behind the New York merger. It probably wouldn't have happened without him. Within a few years of the merger, we stopped thinking of each other in terms of former NYSTA and UTNY leaders.

Just as he was in New York, Shanker has been the reason that the goal of national merger between the AFT and the NEA has been kept alive over the years. A merger of the NEA and the AFT is important not only for teachers and public schools but also for the nation as a whole. While the article mentions differences in the governance structures of the two organizations, it omits a fundamental difference between the two: The AFT's traditional base has been the cities; the NEA's has been suburban and rural. The creation of a single national teacher organization bringing together urban centers and suburban/rural constituencies could be the beginning of bringing the nation together.

Robert Cherrington
Brockport, N.Y.

Shameful Behavior

I have been both a teacher and administrator in public schools and presently am a college professor. From those perspectives, I can make defensible arguments on both sides of the tenure debate. But regardless of the pros and cons of tenure, if the events as described in your article "Tenure on Trial'' [January] are accurate, the behavior of the Patchogue-Medford School Board is nothing less than shameful.

Ultimately, the school board's greatest loss is not the legal decision in favor of the teachers to whom they tried to deny tenure but rather the loss of any productive relationship the board may have had with the district's teachers--a relationship that has undoubtedly been poisoned. Moreover, the school board's atrocious handling of the issue gave the union an ironclad rationale for preserving tenure. They could not have done a greater disservice to their cause.

As an aside, I would like to propose a friendly wager with Lewis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. If he can find three teachers from any randomly selected group of 10 in New York state who, as he states in the article, "only work five or six hours a day,'' I will fly to New York and personally hand him a $100 donation for his association. If he can't find three, I suggest he publicly apologize to teachers for his obnoxious comment.

Wallace Pond
Sante Fe, N.M.

Gender Bias?

I believe David Hill did an excellent job of portraying both sides of the tenure argument with objectivity and balance. However, I was disturbed by his decision to include a physical description of both Dawn Conetta, "a 30-year-old with long brown hair and dark brown eyes,'' and Denise McAdams, "nicely dressed in a white silk blouse, a black jacket, and black slacks.'' How can you justify this as pertinent information in an article on such a non-gender, non-appearance issue? If these two teachers had been males, would Hill have described "Don'' as having a receding hairline and "Dennis'' as dressed in a nice Izod sweater with coordinating Dockers? I think not.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was to see such information ruin an otherwise well-written article.

As an instructor of English and composition, it is my job to teach students to recognize gender bias, both in the words chosen and the manner in which they are used. Your article is going to be one of the best (worst) examples I can use to show them exactly what not to include in their writing. And while I thank David Hill for the new resource, I am disheartened that I had to find it in a publication that focuses on my own profession.

Karen Steinhoff
New Prague, Minn.

Editor's Note: Description is a staple of good, interesting writing. To write about anyone--woman or man--at length in a feature article and not give the reader some idea of how that person looks or presents him- or herself would be a disservice. At Teacher Magazine, we certainly don't save physical descriptions for female subjects. Although we could cite many examples, one sentence from David Hill's article on the University of Southern California's Pre-College Enrichment Academy in our November/December issue should make the point. "A large man who dresses with flair, [James] Fleming, who recently turned 60, was wearing a gray double-breasted suit with a white handkerchief poking out of the pocket, a crisp white shirt with French cuffs, and a gold collar pin.''

Japanese Education

I have not read Catherine Lewis' Educating Hearts and Minds ["Books,'' September] but I am responding to a reader's assertion that "the beauty of Educating Hearts and Minds is that it gets to the heart of Japanese early education at its best and shows us how a great educator of our very own, John Dewey, was the inspiration for it all'' ["Letters,'' January].

The reader is incorrect because elements of modern education existed in Japan prior to the arrival of John Dewey and the West. She is subscribing to the misconception that before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japanese education consisted solely of rote memorization and indoctrination in Confucianism. Although Confucianism was prevalent in official schools during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867), private academies called shijuku were also in existence. Shijuku contained diverse curricula and consisted of students from various socioeconomic backgrounds. In his book Private Academies of Tokugawa Japan, Richard Rubinger argues that Tokugawa private schools were a catalyst in the transition from feudal to modern Japan.

Msama Kamvazaana
Kalamazoo, Mich.


I read with great interest the article "Honor Without Glory'' in your January issue. I have had several experiences similar to the scenarios described in the article; mine came via successful grant writing and obtaining national recognition for my students. Most educators are reluctant to talk to outsiders about the infighting and jealousy that happens within a school. I commend you for your honesty in presenting this material on such a sensitive topic.

Chris Carey
Orlando, Fla.

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