Dr. Bob Kizlik
Updated July 23,
This is a series of short articles on the realities of
teacher preparation, teaching, and parenting, and the sometimes complex
relationships between all three. If you would like to relate an
experience in this area, please send it to me. Hard Bark is about having the
temperament and resilience to teach as a professional. Keep the length to about 250-300
(The following story
certainly exceeds 250 words, but it really struck me as worthwhile).
for this section on your website. This is such a down to earth, realistic and
practical page. I want to relate a few things I’ve seen and experienced in my
career as a teacher, going back to the late 1960s.
I truly believe that not everyone that thinks he or she wants to be a teacher
has the skills, knowledge, and temperament to be one. I’ve seen so many, perhaps
hundreds of “teachers” who were really little more than classroom attendants.
Some came out of college of education degree programs, some were prepared by
non-degree certification programs, and others received certification by simply
passing a subject matter exam. Very few are, or were what one could call
very best teachers I knew were first and foremost experts in their subject area.
They understood the content they were teaching in many ways and could transform
it so that it made sense to their students and became both interesting and
challenging to them. Pedagogy did not trump subject matter content.
best teachers I knew did not memorize laundry lists of the sort of things taught
in schools of education. Those sorts of dos and don’ts are necessary but not
sufficient for successful teaching. The best teachers were smart, practical, and
could adapt to almost any situation. I honestly think that the best teachers are
wired at birth with a temperament that lends itself teaching. It sounds
circular, but I do believe this.
best teachers get results, regardless of the grade level and socio-economic make
up of their students. They get results with students who have miserable records
of achievements. They get results teaching in portable classrooms and in the
most modern, high-tech comfortable classrooms. They got results before
technology pervaded education, because they understand that there are few
shortcuts to effective teaching and the resultant student learning.
best teachers I knew were not automatons. On the contrary, they were thinkers,
excellent planners, possessed uncommon common sense, and had great senses of
humor. They were not screamers, could maintain discipline with almost magical
effect, and got their students to learn and achieve because they wanted to make
their teachers proud of their efforts. Therefore, they were also masters of
retirement from the public schools system, I realized I was not yet finished; I
had some good years left. Now, as I wind down my career and am currently
teaching in a charter school, I find many of my colleagues seemingly lack the
professionalism that I am used to. Many are teaching without much experience as
teachers, coming from professions such as accounting, insurance and financial
planning. I don’t begrudge them the work, but the desire to teach is
insufficient. All the reforms I have seen in my career have amounted to very
little actual improvement, whether they be in the area of curriculum, classroom
management, or instructional technique.
think it still comes down to the basic raw material of the teacher and that
fundamental wiring that is so important in the development of a “teacher
temperament.” The hard bark you mention is surely part of that all important
you for considering this.
I just had to send this for your hard bark
section. My husband is a high school teacher in south Florida. He has over 25
years experience, a master's degree in science and is National Board certified.
last year, the principal of his school retired. He was an effective leader, who
understood the partnership between the administration, teachers, and parents. He
was replaced by a man who had never been a principal, but he has connections
with the county school board. The new principal, within months, changed
practically every school policy, does not enforce rules for dress code,
tardiness, bad language, disrespect, and has little regard for academic
achievement. Three assistant principals have transferred already, and out of a
faculty of over 100, I would guess that at least 50 have asked for reassignment
next year, including three department heads. I only send this to you in the
hopes that perhaps a person preparing to be a teacher will read it and
understand that you really do need, as you so aptly put it, "hard bark."
The new principal is a joke, but he'll never be fired, it's just the way the
system works. Thanks for putting this on your site.
I'll never forget the day. It was during a final
examination I was giving to a class of elementary education majors a few years
ago. The exam consisted of several parts, one of which was a short essay on some
topic. In the directions I said to be explicit when describing the topic. A
short while into the exam a student came up to my desk and asked, "What does
this word mean?" I asked what word she meant, and she pointed to it on the exam.
The word was explicit. I explained what the word meant, and filed this incident
away. I could not believe that a college senior did not know the meaning of
explicit. I checked her records and discovered she had an SAT of 1040, which
indicates a modest level of proficiency, enough at least, all other things being
equal, to predict success in a teacher education program. Oh yes, and success as
a teacher. Maybe.
John Russell, the name of the character played by Paul
Newman in the 1967 movie "Hombre," was told, in the latter part of the film by a
man he had just shot in order to protect a group of innocent, yet cowardly
people, "Mister, you've got a lot of hard bark on you, coming down here
like that." Indeed he did, because he
was both physically tough and tough minded. He was also realistic, honest, fair,
and understood that sometimes doing the right thing involves risk. There is a
lesson in all of this for education students.
Without a doubt, young men and women entering the teaching
profession today need to have some "hard bark" on them. If they don't, the small
wounds inflicted by dealing with the everyday problems of teaching,
disciplining, planning, counseling, dealing with administrators, colleagues,
parents, and so on, mount up. If they're easily wounded by disappointment,
rudeness, and even unfairness, they won't last because these things happen, and
nothing will change that.
Knowing the meaning of the word "explicit" may not be
important in order to be a teacher, but I'll wager that those that don't know
this word don't understand what "hard bark" is all about.
Some years ago, an elementary school teacher in a county
in Florida was supervising her students outside in the school playground. Two
5th grade boys began fighting. The teacher went over and broke up the fight. The
boy who was winning the fight became incensed at the teacher for preventing him
from concluding the fight in his favor. He was agitated. Finally, he said to the
teacher, "when I come back to school tomorrow I'm going to bring a knife and gut
you with it."
The teacher was shocked, and sent the boy to the office.
The next day, the boy's parents were called to a meeting at the school to
discuss the incident. at the meeting were the boy, the teacher, the boy's
parents, the principal, the assistant principal, and the school guidance
counselor. The boy, when confronted with his words to the teacher did not
deny that he said that. He was placed on a five day suspension from school. At
the end of the meeting, the boy's mother went up to the teacher who was
threatened and said, "what did you say to my son that would cause him to want to
do that to you?"
Hard bark indeed.
In the neighborhood where I live there is a mixed bag of
people ranging from young married couples with no children, to singles, to
parents with children in grades one to twelve. There are also parents with
college age young adults who attend the local university or community college.
At the end of the main street in the development is a major four lane divided
highway. The development is upper middle class, with its disproportionate share
of $50,000 SUVs and well-kept houses with manicured lawns and shrubs. School
children go to the corner to catch the bus, and they are always accompanied by
parents. There seems to be a rotation of parents who wait with their, as well as
other children until they are safely on the bus. Several busses stop roughly
from about 7:15 AM to 7:30 AM. All is well except for one parent.
A boy who I don't know and his mother make a solitary trip
each morning to the school bus stop. They live about three blocks from the bus
stop. The boy is about seven or eight years old. Many mornings, he rides his
motorized scooter to the bus stop. Trudging behind with a knapsack full of his
books is the mother. They wait together for the bus, and all the while the
mother preens the boy. Then after an emotional goodbye, the mother wheels the
scooter back home. This scene, with a few variations, is played out each day,
and in the afternoon, of course, the mother is there with the scooter and the
whole process plays in reverse. In no way is the boy physically impaired.
Given this is likely to go on for some time, I wonder
about the hard bark the boy will need some day when his mom isn't around.