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Jack teaches sixth-grade Language Arts in a building housing Grades 5-8 with an enrollment of 320 students. The middle school lies at the edge of a town with a population of 2,300. Surrounding the town are vineyards, corn fields, and wooded areas. Though this is a small district of 935 students, during the 1990s it received national recognition as an exemplary district.

The district in which Jack teaches has been part of his life for 28 years and is the place that will witness his last days as an educator. Jack plans to retire from teaching within the next few years and then look for new challenges. When reflecting on retirement, Jack commented:

I have so many teacher friends who have retired. When you run into them, they are so glad to be out. . . . I plan to do something else, but I will not be the person at the cocktail party saying I’m so glad to be out. I really will be kind of sad. (Vol. II, p. 36)

This sadness will be tempered with feelings of satisfaction at having devoted his career to one district:

There is something proud about saying you have spent a chunk of time in a district. . . . There is something that is personally satisfying to me about that. . . . I can say . . . that I made a commitment through thick and thin, through the ups and downs of school boards, colorful superintendents, some really unusual building principals, and all sorts of varieties of kids. (Vol. II, pp. 35-36)

In spite of devoting himself to one district, Jack likes change and new challenges. He has assumed various responsibilities within the district, state, and nationally which have kept him growing professionally and personally. These experiences have allowed Jack to build of his life a stately home. The table is set, dinner is waiting, and Jack is welcoming us inside. We have an opportunity to learn and grow as we explore the rooms in his home. There is warmth inside, and the rooms are filled with priceless treasures, inviting nooks and crannies, cherished mementos, bathed in shadow and light.

Jack’s Story

The Early Years

Jack’s earliest memory is a pleasant one which happened when he was 2 1/2 years old. His parents moved from an apartment into a house:

Moving was a good experience for me because it allowed me freedom. My parents [and I] lived in an apartment, an upper flat, and I had to be quiet because the lady downstairs did not like noise. I can remember moving into [our] house and going crazy, having fun running around. . . . [I was] fascinated by the fact that there was a china cabinet built into the dining room. I could sit in the bottom of the china cabinet and play which I thought was kind of fun. I kept my coloring books and stuff in there. (Vol. II, p. 119)

Jack’s elementary school years were not good years for him. He said, "I really did not fit in as a kid" (Vol. II, p. 119). "I was very shy. I had a depth-perception problem. I simply could not see a ball coming at me so that is why I wasn’t any good at sports. I just felt that I never fit in" (Vol. II, p. 127). By the time he reached second grade, he explains,

I was a non-reader and in the low group, . . . the buzzards or whatever you want to call them. By fourth grade it just got to the point that school was really hard. I tried really hard, but I never got any place. (Vol. II, p. 120).

School became more enjoyable for Jack once he entered sixth grade. In the years that followed, some of his teachers played a crucial role in altering his view of school and ultimately changing his life:

I had a great sixth-grade teacher. She liked to do plays and things like that which excited me. I thought that was really cool. I had an excellent seventh grade teacher, a social studies teacher, whom I also had for eighth grade. (Vol. II, p. 120)

This social studies teacher believed in Jack, which motivated him to work hard on projects:

I can remember doing projects for him and being really turned on by his acceptance of what I did. I kept always pushing [myself]. That is also the very first time I ever skipped school. [I stayed] home to work on a map. . . . I spent the whole day in my dad’s darkroom making a Civil War map on his enlarger. (Vol. II, p. 120)

Though Jack enjoyed some of his teachers and was motivated to work hard on certain projects, he said,

I was a terrible student. I worked really hard, and I think I was probably the first ADD kid that they ever had. I could never stay focused. I would bring home everything from my locker. I would spread it all out. Nobody taught me any study skills. Basically it was a huge effort at trying to stay afloat and I was not doing it unless I really became focused. (Vol. II, pp. 120-121)

In ninth grade, each Wednesday was "group writing day" and Jack’s teacher wrote "abstract things on the board [for us to respond to] and [I thought], ‘Couldn’t I be sick?’ but I always did really well" (Vol. II, p. 121). Jack’s teacher recognized his abilities and encouraged him by observing, "You have some good writing skills" (Vol. II, p. 121).

The other high school teacher who built into Jack’s life was also an English teacher, a female he had in 12th grade. Jack reflected:

I admired this woman for two reasons. One, I thought she was extremely intelligent. The other reason that I admired her was the fact that she did not have to work. She drove [45 to 50 minutes] everyday. Her husband was a stock broker. . . . She made everybody else, by her appearance, look a little shabby, but that is just because of who she was. . . . I thought, "Now this is what I really want to be. I want to be somebody that has some standards, has some knowledge that helps kids reach their goals and extend themselves" (Vol. II, p. 121). Though she never said this, her attitude in the classroom was . . . "I don’t need a job. I am here because this is what I love doing . . . . I have some knowledge that you might want to know. I think . . . I can help you along the way." (Vol. II, pp. 36-37)

One of the books Jack remembers reading in high school was Silas Marner; however, the memory focuses more on the teacher than on the book. Jack said,

[This teacher] could walk on water as far as I was concerned and so I happen to remember that story. I can remember him as one of those teachers that knew so much about what I was interested in. When I was in his class he had so much to say, and he said it with a sense of humor. (Vol. II, p. 65)

In the mid-1960s while enrolled in a university, Jack moved out of the dorm and into an apartment with three other guys. He remembers, "It was a disastrous experience, totally disastrous. I had no place to study" (Vol. II, p. 121). At the time Jack was taking a writing course and it was extremely difficult for him to write because of his living situation; however, the instructor cared enough to be understanding.

She said, "[Jack], why can’t you just get the papers to me. You can bring them to my house." I never took advantage of her, but [my papers] were never on time. They were always half a day late. I would have to wait for [my roommates] to go to class in order to sit down and type my paper because I had no place to take my typewriter. [My professor] knew my schedule, and I told her, "I don’t have class on Tuesday morning. I will have the paper in at 11:00." I always did. It was just too bad that I could never go to [my apartment] to work. It was like I was a prisoner in my own home. (Vol. II, p. 121)

Jack also reminisced about another college professor who impacted his thinking and increased his interest in Language Arts. Jack described an encounter with this teacher:

You would meet him in the parking lot and you would say to him, "It’s a cold morning!" And he would say, "I’d say it is brisk!" And you know for the rest of the day you would think, why didn’t I say brisk because that’s really the word that encapsulates it. (Vol. II, p. 37)

As I listened to Jack describe these teachers, I couldn’t help but notice similarities between things his teachers had done and what I saw him doing in his classroom. Jack also recognized this connection and spoke of it. He actually tells his students:

I think I have some stuff that you might want to know. I can’t get you to where you want to go, but I can push you along the way. My kids know I drive an hour every day to work, an hour here and an hour home. Why do I do it? I guess I really like what I do. (Vol. II, p. 37)

The fact that Jack enjoys teaching is evident in the way he relates to his students. I was also impressed with the fact that on the initial survey he completed for me he indicated that he strongly agrees with the statement "I genuinely enjoy going to work each day."

These teachers’ sense of humor and love for students that Jack remembers are also incorporated into Jack’s own classroom and teaching philosophy. He stated,

Your curriculum is important, but . . . the kids need to know that you are a people person. I guess if you’re not a people person, you can have the best curriculum knowledge and you’re going to be missing the boat with the kids and with yourself because you’ll never laugh at your job. (Vol. II, p. 65)

Meeting the World

In 1969 Jack was drafted. After Basic Training he moved to San Francisco as a military policeman, but he soon had the opportunity to work as company clerk. Though Jack lived in San Francisco for only 18 months, this experience did much to shape his view of life and the world. He describes it as both "a neat time" and as "a very upsetting time" (Vol. II, p. 39).

Jack grew up in the Midwest in a two-parent home with one younger brother in a suburb of a large industrial city. Though his middle-class parents spent much of their 2-week summer vacations traveling with their family in the United States, Jack’s stint with the military showed him the world was much different than he thought it was. He said, "I think I was a judgmental person before California. I think I was a judgmental person growing up. I grew up in White [suburbia]. How could you not be judgmental about racial things?" (Vol. II, p. 40). In another conversation we had, Jack described his time in California: "It taught me that [the world] was not as self-centered as I thought [it] was. I thought the world pretty much revolved around me so [that experience] was kind of a new awakening for me" (Vol. II, p. 122).

Jack reflected on events which transpired during his job as a clerk:

The Presidio of San Francisco was a receiving point for [soldiers] who had been in Vietnam and had less than 60 days left. . . . The crap they made these people do after sending them on two tours of duty in combat situations [was awful]! I thought, "You can’t treat people like this." Nobody has the right to humiliate people even though some of these people were pretty unusual. They were pretty unpolished. But some of them lived in swamps and rice paddies and had nothing to eat or had not been able to shave or shower for months. . . . It was a very upsetting time for me. Many times I helped people out when I could have gotten myself into a lot of trouble. There were conversations I listened in on and let people know what was coming. These people were being purposely set up so they would fail and could be dishonorably discharged. I am thinking, "Wait a minute. They only have this little bit of time left and look what they gave. They are screwed up. All the marbles are not clicking, but they are trying to readjust to a society that does not . . . see the need for this conflict. Do we really have to play with their minds here in this environment?" That was my first exposure to the ugly side of the world. (Vol. II, pp. 39-40)

Gaining a more realistic picture of the world as a whole impacts the way Jack views people, including his students, today:

I found some compassion along the way. I think [the military] was basically where I started seeing life differently. [Before California] kids were black and white. There were good kids and there were bad kids. [I do not see] kids today as black or white. They struggle everyday to get to school. They struggle everyday with their homework just like I struggle everyday, just like you struggle everyday. We are all struggling people. I am not going to judge anybody. (Vol. II, p. 40)

Becoming an Educator

In 1971 Jack became part of the district in which he currently works. Though Jack’s initial certification was in secondary education, the district filed a waiver and as Jack describes:

I spent six months subbing in sixth grade for a teacher whose husband had cancer and was dying. And you know, I absolutely loved it. . . . The age group was perfect and so that’s what prompted me to go back and get my elementary certificate. (Vol. II, p. 38)

This presents a sharp contrast to Jack’s experience as a secondary teacher: "I absolutely hated secondary education. I felt like a policeman" (Vol. II, p. 35).

Jack’s first full-time teaching position was in fourth grade. When I asked him to describe his classroom and teaching approach at that point in his career, he explained:

You would have seen kids in groups because I’ve always been a person who likes kids grouped for interaction. There were learning centers around the room because I was self-contained. I used [learning centers] as a way of dividing math up into groups. . . . I was a demonstration classroom helping teachers to learn how to mainstream special education students into the classroom. (Vol. II, p. 35)

Some of Jack’s colleagues during these early years of teaching served to soften his view of others. An important turning point occurred in 1974:

I had the best elementary principal, and she is still my dearest friend. . . . She is now a superintendent of [a large school district in the Michiana area]. She is an absolutely remarkable woman. She basically told me I had the potential to be a good teacher, but I need to work on some of my people skills. And I said, "Excuse me." She said, "Yeah!" and proceeded to list about five million of them. She was brutally honest and I appreciated that. (Vol. II, p. 122)

This principal was willing to not only mentor Jack in his people skills, but she also mentored him professionally:

When I was a new teacher and did not know all the ropes, did not know when I was 12 years old as a teacher, somebody gave me the benefit of the doubt and took the time to explain the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s. (Vol. II, p. 63)

Another person who deeply influenced Jack during these early years as an educator was a fellow teacher. Jack noticed her kindness and set out to make the qualities of giving others the benefit of the doubt and treating them with respect part of his own life. Jack described Susan:

I cannot imagine [Susan] being an unkind person. . . . She was the type of person that would always see the other side of the kids which does not mean that she was always perfect, but she always said, "But look . . ." and I admired that. (Vol. II, p. 65)

Continued Growth

Though Jack found teaching enjoyable and grew professionally and personally while teaching fourth grade, after 7 years he recognized the need for a change:

I can remember . . . the last day of school. The students were all gone. And I was putting things away in a closet, and I thought to myself "I can’t do this one more year. There is no challenge left in this job. I really need to move on." (Vol. II, p. 35)

These thoughts coincided with an opportunity to become a curriculum coordinator for the district. This administrative post appealed to Jack and he remembers thinking, "Let’s try this; it could be really exciting" (Vol. II, p. 35). This position did bring new challenges and opportunities for him:

The district was woefully [behind] in the area of language arts. They were in the dark ages. We were still using basal texts that were [outdated] and still had people cranking out purple worksheets. Writing was something we called penmanship. (Vol. II, p. 35).

For the next 12 years Jack worked as a curriculum coordinator. Not only was he actively working to improve curriculum and instruction within his district, but he also branched out to become involved in both a regional and international professional organization. Jack pointed out, "The professional opportunities outside the district allowed me to come back and do my job better" (Vol. II, p. 38).

One of Jack’s proudest professional achievements occurred during these years. He started Kaleidoscope, a literary magazine, for the district. For 5 years he published this magazine which contained a piece of writing from every student in Grades K-8. Jack then took this project to a state organization, and they adopted his idea and magazine name. Kaleidoscope is now published at the state level.

Jack explained his motivation for seeking professional involvement beyond his district: "So many people that I was working with at the time [did not view] education as . . . a profession. . . . I really wasn’t getting any professional nourishment in my district so I went elsewhere" (Vol. II, p. 37). His involvement in the state organization increased and he eventually became president. He commented, "It was the first time I had ever run for something and did what I said I wanted to do" (Vol. II, p. 124). As president, Jack was responsible for the state conference. Planning these conferences, brought not only professional but also personal satisfaction to Jack.

These stretching professional opportunities came to Jack during a time of great personal upheaval, divorce. Dealing with the divorce, Jack says,

put me into therapy. . . . [I had been] in a situation where I did not acknowledge who I was as a person or understand that the world is made up of a whole lot of different people. I was an out of control person for about 20 years as far as temper. I was a doer. . . . I would mow my lawn three times a week to get rid of the tire marks on the lawn. I was a really frustrated individual. After therapy, my personality basically changed. . . . It was a really wretched experience, but in the long run it worked out really well. (Vol. II, p. 123)

By 1993 Jack was ready for another change:

I thought . . . I do not want to start all over. . . . I do not need to prove myself professionally. I have made my mark as a person in the state. . . . The issue really was that I felt I needed to get back to kids. Even though I had been in an administrative job and I still worked with kids. [But] they were not my own . . . that was something that was missing. (Vol. II, p. 36)

Jack began teaching sixth-grade Language Arts, his position during my study.

Jack’s personal life evened out during this time also. He noted, "I returned to the classroom, I met my partner [Steve], and liked that balance. . . . I say to kids, you have to make sure you keep life as a balance" (Vol. II, p. 128).

Jack’s Classroom


Even before I began visiting Jack’s classroom as part of this study, I was able to visualize it. I had supervised a student teacher in Jack’s classroom. The room, and Jack himself, remained much as I remembered from my previous visits. The room is comfortable, not cozy or cutesy, and lacks educational clutter prevalent in many classrooms. Was this intentional or coincidental?

My first formal classroom observation occurred during December, and Jack’s classroom had its own tree, decorated by students in his advisory group. The rest of the classroom appeared oblivious to the season, however. Many of Jack’s bulletin boards displayed posters, some of them framed, about reading. One of my favorite posters proclaimed: "The World Belongs to Readers." A free-standing, brown lattice wall created a cozy library corner complete with its own rocking chair. Individual student mailboxes located close to Jack’s desk were also located conveniently for students’ access. A number of filing cabinets, some two- and some four-drawer, were scattered throughout the edges of the room and labeled with numbers. Their location indicated that these cabinets were most likely for student rather than teacher use.

I was most intrigued, however, by the number and size of live plants growing in Jack’s classroom. Two huge ferns perched on top of filing cabinets, a ficus tree stood proudly in the center back of the classroom, and other plants were nestled around the library corner. It appeared that Jack was hoping to add another plant to his collection because a slip was attempting to grow roots in a plastic water bottle. Jack also had a table lamp on his desk which was often glowing though its light seemed insignificant due to generous overhead lights and natural light provided through the windows by Jack’s desk.

The arrangement of student desks in Jack’s classroom was constantly changing. Since they were individual desks with an attached table, they were easy to move. Jack also had a few tables with chairs for students to occupy during class. The desks were often arranged in some type of group formation though Jack did have them in straight rows during one of my visits. Students did not have assigned seats, but I noticed that many of them chose to sit in the same general location.

Jack’s room always appeared neat and tidy during my visits. Often before one group of students left his classroom and the next group arrived, Jack moved rapidly around the classroom straightening desks, and checking for scraps of paper or forgotten possessions. One day Jack happened upon a pile of scraps on a desk and though students were already exiting, he stopped them and called their attention to the mess. As students cleaned up the bits of paper, Jack said, "I had a gerbil once that did this" (Vol. II, p. 17). Another time as Jack pointed out personal belongings to a student, he commented, "It’s a good thing I’m your mother" (Vol. II, p. 53) as the student retrieved them.

During my second visit to Jack’s classroom, I sensed disruption and an undercurrent of turmoil in the hallway. Jack was not at his usual spot by the door to welcome students. When one of the students asked if I was the substitute, I knew something was amiss. Another student informed me that Jack was down the hall which immediately alleviated my concerns about his absence. Jack quietly explained the disquiet in the sixth-grade wing; they were dealing with a drug-related discipline problem that day. Jack motioned me into the classroom and said, "My home is your home" (Vol. II, p. 27).

Jack again introduced his view of the classroom being his home when he explained his beliefs about its decor. When he first began teaching, he decorated his classroom much like the traditional elementary classroom with bright, colorful bulletin boards, objects hanging from the ceiling, and things scattered along the walls. This changed when his district experienced an influx of Montessori-trained teachers. Jack explained his metamorphosis:

I started looking at that Montessori approach. . . . I really did not want my classroom to look like a school room. I thought, "Where in your house do you have bulletin boards? Where do you have things hanging from the ceiling unnecessarily?" (Vol. II, p. 57)

From then on Jack determined not to clutter up his classroom and to be intentional about the items he chose to display. During my visits, I saw little student work covering the walls of Jack’s classroom; however, he does like to display their work and does so periodically.

Students make posters advertising their favorite book. Most of the time I put [their projects] in the hallway. . . . There is more traffic so kids can see them [and] I do not want a lot of [things in the room]. . . . I am not a "clutter person" and I think for a lot of these kids clutter is their middle name so it makes it easy for them to come in here [if there is less clutter]. (Vol. II, p. 58)

Curriculum and Instruction

Routine and variety describe the learning experiences Jack plans for his 65-70-minute blocks with students. Basic learning experiences for Language Arts can be broken down into Daily Oral Language (DOL), Spelling, Reading, and Writing. While these at times appeared as discreet activities, they are also integrated. At times moving from one of these aspects to another meant clearing students’ desks, at other times they flowed naturally from one to the other with little fanfare. Jack and the students frequently referred to content learned from previous experiences, making connections with the current topic, and creating continuity. These connections were made naturally and consistently which served to integrate the entire Language Arts experience; however, I would like to break apart the learning experiences and describe some of the activities which Jack did with his students.

Daily Oral Language

Each Language Arts block began with DOL. As students entered the classroom, Jack slid a transparency on the overhead projector. These transparencies had three sentences for students to consider. The first two sentences need corrections and the third sentence was called a "kernel" or simple sentence and students were to expand that sentence by adding phrases of their choice. These phrases were to tell how, when, where, and/or why, giving more details and making the sentence more interesting.

Jack’s students appear to have the routine of beginning Language Arts with DOL down to a science. After choosing a desk, students found their notebooks and began correcting DOL sentences. As students worked, Jack moved around the room monitoring progress, giving assistance, and encouraging on-task behavior. Jack’s gracious assistance to students included asking their opinion about sentence corrections. A student pointed to a sentence and asked, "Is that good?" Jack responded with, "Is that the right question to ask? You tell me" (Vol. II, p. 27). Another time while looking over students’ corrections, Jack paused and asked a student to orally read the sentence he was correcting. After the student read his work, Jack said, "You stumbled at the same place I stumbled" and mentioned that sometimes word order causes "road bumps" that make a sentence difficult to read (Vol. II, p. 27). Jack then suggested the student continue working on his sentence to eliminate road bumps.

The task of correcting DOL sentences was undertaken by the entire class. Jack began by calling on a student to suggest a correction after which Jack wrote the correction on the transparency. Sometimes Jack called on another student and other times he asked students to call on each other. Students eagerly waved their arms indicating that they wanted to share a correction with the class. During occasions when students chose each other to make corrections, they tended to fall into the rut of selecting students who had already given a correction. Jack would then say, "Remember, there are lots of people here to be called on" (Vol. II, p. 18). During one class, a student indicated that the class had made all the necessary corrections. Jack responded, "Only in your dreams!" (Vol. II, p. 28) and students continued their quest to find all the mistakes. Jack also gave hints during these exchanges when students struggled to find all the errors. Following a student’s incorrect suggestion, Jack said, "No, but . . . you are thinking in the right direction" (Vol. II, p. 28).

I was intrigued by students’ responses to the third DOL sentence which allowed them to add their own ideas and use creativity. Often times as many as half of the students eagerly waved their arms hoping to be one of the four students selected to write a new sentence on the board. These waving appendages were also accompanied by "Pick me, pick me!" (Vol. II, p. 28).

As students wrote their sentences on the board, Jack commented, "Remember that part of your communication skills is having your writing legible from different parts of the room" (Vol. II, p. 28). Another time he pointed out, "It is a distraction to [students writing on the board] if you comment on their work" (Vol. II, p. 28). Jack also quickly scanned each of the four sentences and at times quietly pointed out errors to individual students.

Jack used students’ DOL sentences to discuss ways of improving sentences in students’ personal writing. One day Jack asked a particular student if she wanted to add more to her sentence since she had heard the other three students’ sentences. She responded, "Do I have to?" and Jack replied, "There is nothing in life you have to do but eat and breathe, but I would suggest you expand [your sentence]" (Vol. II, p. 18). Though Jack asked that students not change the kernel sentence he gave them, it was not unusual for students to make some type of alteration. After one student changed the kernel sentence, Jack pointed out that the student actually made the kernel sentence better as a result of the changes.

Jack often appeared pleased with and complimented students on their work: "When we first started adding to kernel sentences, you wrote short sentences and now we have people writing rich sentences and going into more detail" (Vol. II, p. 28). One day Jack asked students to reflect on which of the four sentences gave a more detailed picture of the event described. He requested they not state their observations publicly, but to reflect on the question. He then referred to the sixth-grade writing rubric and explained that the rubric’s reference to interesting sentences means sentences that provide detailed description and paint pictures in their minds.


Some type of spelling activity often follows DOL in the Language Arts block. Students’ spelling word lists consist of 18 words targeting specific spelling strategy and eight content area words. When giving students the pretest, Jack made comments and gave them hints to help them be successful. He talked freely about the spelling words following a specific strategy and alerted them when the strategy changed.

One day Jack gave a set of five words, then said, "Did you do something different with these last five words? Let’s see how astute you are. It changes slightly in the last three words." Stephen spoke up, "I know!" to which Jack asked, "Who said ‘I know’?" When Stephen identified himself, Jack said, "[Stephen] and I need to have a bonding moment" and approached Stephen’s desk. After looking at Stephen’s paper, Jack remarked with surprise and delight, "Oh, you do know!" (Vol. II, p. 94).

The pretest was immediately corrected. Jack orally spelled the words while simultaneously writing them on a transparency so students could check their own work. After completing a group of words which followed the same pattern, Jack stopped to discuss the pattern with students. When he moved to the next group of words, Jack changed the color of the transparency marker. Jack recalled Stephen’s success in identifying the spelling strategy during the pretest and asked him to explain to it to the rest of the class.

Students also have what Jack calls spelling packets. They consist of a number of pages similar to what one would find in a spelling workbook. Students were periodically given pages in their packets for homework, and these were then reviewed in class at a later date. Sometimes Jack asked students to write answers to the spelling homework on a transparency. When using this approach, Jack required students to say the spelling word, write it, and orally spell it. He periodically reminded them, "For those of us who learn better by hearing, would you spell the word?" (Vol. II, p. 19).

Jack’s students also have individual spelling logs. Jack explained their purpose: "[Students] do a strategy in their spelling log. They write the strategy without looking at their packet. Usually I give them a word or two as a clue and tell them, ‘You can use these two words as examples’" (Vol. II, p. 109).

When students write about a particular spelling strategy, Jack allows them to choose their own method of organization:

[Students] can do [their] strategy either in paragraph form, as bullets, as a map, or whatever. . . . I really push the idea that there is no one way to organize your thoughts. It is how it makes sense to you so that you can retrieve the information. (Vol. II, p. 110)

Students then study spelling words with a peer, followed by the final test. Any words students miss on the final tests are written correctly in their individual spelling dictionaries. Students also cross-reference each word they enter in the dictionary so they can review the strategy which matches each particular word. At the end of the quarter or semester, students choose words from their spelling dictionary, review the strategies, and then Jack gives them an individual spelling test. This gives students a "second chance" at spelling the words correctly (Vol. II, p. 109).


It is important to Jack that his students learn how to talk about books so he provides ample opportunity to practice this skill. As part of the school’s reading curriculum, Jack has a series published by Great Books Foundation called Junior Great Books, but Jack chooses not to use these books until the second semester. During the first semester he uses picture books since they are easier to comprehend, and he teaches students how to talk about themes and to enjoy books. Once students are comfortable with these skills, he uses the Junior Great Books. He believes this approach allows students to better transfer listening, reading, and discussion skills to longer texts.

Jack was very excited about his reading plans for the month of December. He explained that in the past his class has often quickly read some literature about the holidays, but he always felt dissatisfied since this lacked depth. This year he decided to do something different. He elaborated, "I’m doing this for myself because I want to do it. I’m following my heart rather than what I should do as a teacher" (Vol. II, pp. 8-9). Jack read a number of picture books to his class about homeless people. These stories focused on reaching out to others and individuals giving of themselves to those around them. Students were then asked to make connections between the books they listened to and the Christmas holiday. One student informed Jack that he could not make any connections between the books Jack had chosen and Christmas. Jack responded with, "If you are looking for trees and Santa, there aren’t any connections. But maybe there are some other connections to make" (Vol. II, p. 9).

I visited the day Jack read December by Eve Bunting. Before showing students the book, Jack asked them to remove everything from their desks, creating a sense of anticipation and adding significance to the upcoming activity. Each student also received a "strip" which consisted of a 4.25-inch by 11-inch paper. This strip provided space for students to record observations, wonderings, links to literature, and links to life as Jack read the book.

Jack introduced the book: "Does anyone want to speculate from the cover of the book?" (Vol. II, p. 20). Students gave various suggestions while Jack mostly listened. He then read the book and showed students the illustrations. Some students sat and listened as Jack read while others wrote busily on their strips. At one point a student softly made an observation which Jack overhead. He responded, "That is a good observation, whoever just said that!" (Vol. II, p. 21). Students who had not completed their strips by the end of the book were given a few extra minutes to complete them.

The next time the class met, Jack asked students to move into self-selected groups. He set the following criteria: Not all male or all female members; groups need to be inclusive when someone else asks to join; and groups need at least three members, but no more than four. In these groups students discussed their observations and wonderings. They were asked to focus on things that are important to the story, and compare group members’ individual observations and wonderings. Each group also received a "group strip" on which to, by consensus, record group observations and wonderings. Groups’ responses were largely profound and insightful with some trivia tossed in. Jack closed the activity by complimenting students on their thinking and commenting, "It is not an easy story" (Vol. II, p. 30).

When Jack uses the Junior Great Books, he picks and chooses from the suggestions included in the teacher’s manual. He observed, "[The publishers] really make [the curriculum] pretty fool-proof for the teacher who is real uncomfortable with this [approach]. . . . I kind of like to find the things that interest me the most and go with them" (Vol. II, p. 106). Jack also asks students to complete the strips while reading stories in the Junior Great Books. A section in students’ reading logs provided paper for personal reflections on stories they read. One day students read a story entitled "Allah Will Provide" in which Bou Azza notices that a certain snake does not need to work in order to have its needs met. Bou Azza decides to follow the snake’s example and quit his job, believing that Allah would provide for him and his wife. His wife is unhappy with this choice and assumes the responsibility of searching for food. During her search she discovers a pot of gold coins which will provide amply for Bou Azza and her during the rest of their lives. Bou Azza concludes that he made the right choice in quitting his job because Allah provided the gold coins for him and his wife.

Jack gave students 10-12 minutes to reflect on this question: Why is Bou Azza content once he decides to quit working so hard? Students wrote their reflections in the designated section of their reading logs. The class then discussed the question as a whole group. These are the ideas I heard expressed in the discussion. Student refers to various sixth graders who chose to contribute their thoughts during the discussion.

Jack: "Why is Bou Azza content once he decides to quit working so hard?"

Student: "He didn’t like working so hard."

Jack: "Does that cause problems in the story?"

Student: "Things got rough at home. His wife was upset. She took over."

Jack: "Let’s get back to the question."

Student: "Bou Azza thought he did not have to work so hard because the viper did not. The viper hypnotized the bird. Bou Azza thought that if he just sat still in one spot Allah would provide for him."

Student: "Bou Azza was a couch potato."

Jack: "That is a word for the 1990s but certainly not in the original translation. Why doesn’t everyone just stop working because Allah will provide?"

Student: "That is kind of a bad message in a kids’ story."

Jack: "A bad message just for kids?"

Student: "Adults too."

Jack: "That’s a good observation. [Mark], I will call on you next because I know you have a lot to share." (Mark was talking to peers pretty consistently during the class discussion, but when Jack asked him to comment, he gave an off-the-wall response.)

Jack: "I’m not sure how that fits in. Can you give me the context?"

Mark: "Maybe someone prepared a treasure hunt for Bou Azza."

Student: "Someone could be like the Aztecs, bury gold and forget where they hid it. Then years later someone could find it. Allah could make a treasure hunt for us."

Jack: "That would be fun, but there are some things that you know at your age are not real. Let’s put an end to the treasure hunt idea since there wasn’t one in the story. There’s a message here that we would like to work with and unpack."

Student: "The snake did have to work to hypnotize the bird though it looked like he didn’t. Some people don’t work today but they still survive."

Jack: "What do we call that today?"

Student: "Welfare."

Student: "Street people."

Jack: "Clarify that. Let’s jump back to the welfare idea. We need to be careful to say some people on welfare since there are people who really need to be on welfare."

Student: "Some people hunt through garbage to look for food."

Jack: "Are they working?"

Student: "I guess they are."

Jack: "We’re out of time but not out of ideas." (Vol. II, pp. 88-89)

Jack closed the discussion by telling students they had interesting ideas and that some of the other Language Arts sections had not "jumped into the story" the way this group did (Vol. II, p. 90).

A few days after I listened to the class’ conversation about Bou Azza, Jack reflected on his practices and beliefs about the Junior Great Books Series:

[I asked the students], "Why does Bou Azza feel comfortable once his decision is made?" . . . [This question] gives me some insight into how well the kids read the story. I do not want to ask a bunch of literal recall. I would find that cheapening the story. But on the other hand, when kids can write three-fourths of a page and tie in [aspects] of the story, you just know that they have read [it]. It is really easy for me to get a grasp of who did the work and who did not. If [students] have [a story strip] they can make some connections [as they read the story]. I just think it makes the story a little richer for them. If nothing else it forces them to think beyond just, plop myself on the bus and read this story for class. The program in Junior Great Books . . . forces kids to think. It allows for good discussion and sometimes for not so good discussion. . . . The other thing I like about Junior Great Books is that it gets students into some other types of literature. It forces kids into some more sophisticated material than they might normally read. There are really no right answers to so many of the questions [in the Junior Great Books]. The purpose is testing your value system and your belief system and how well you can support what you say. I like that as opposed to [finding] the right answer. (Vol. II, pp. 106-107)


Jack designed the Sixth Grade Reading Log which students used to record reflections on various selections from the Junior Great Books Series. These logs have three other sections. The first section allows students to record books they have read during sixth grade and information about these books: title, author, genre, reasons for choosing the book, reason for abandoning the book, and with whom the book was shared. During one of my visits, I overheard one student sharing a book she had read with another student. After listening to her opinions, the second student signed his name in the first student’s reading log. Section two is entitled "Responding to Literature" and lists 19 questions for students to consider when writing a journal entry about literature they have read. A number of lined notebook pages await students’ thoughts. The final section is called "A Plan for Reading." It includes space for students to reflect on their reading skills and set goals for themselves. There is also a form for students to set a summer reading goal. Students who reach their summer reading goal and send the completed contract to Jack by August 15 receive a certificate to put in their portfolio and are recognized in the school’s newsletter. The first year Jack tried this, only five students received a certificate; however, during the most recent summer 22 out of 63 sixth graders completed their reading goals.

Celebration Logs are also part of the sixth-grade Language Arts curriculum. Each student has his or her own three-by-five inch spiral-bound notebook. Jack got the idea after meeting and reading Byrd Baylor’s Celebration. He tells students they can create their own celebrations. Once each week they "have to write a date, an event, and why it is important to [them]" (Vol. II, p. 42). Jack reads only the "why" section of students’ entries. Students insert a paper clip indicating where Jack should start reading. The Celebration Logs allow students to record events and thoughts which can later be developed into a longer paper. Jack also tells students that their logs are a record of things that happened during sixth grade, things that are happy or sad, things they want to remember or things they would like to forget.


Jack’s students incorporate their writing skills into all other aspects of the Language Arts program. They use writing skills in DOL, in clarifying spelling strategies, in reflecting on their reading selections, and in their various logs. They also spend time on specific writing assignments.

During one of my visits, Jack’s students were sharing persuasive essays in peer groups. To write these essays, students took a position on an issue of their choice, identified three supporting reasons, and ordered these reasons from least persuasive to most persuasive. The entire essay was to be five paragraphs long.

Each student in the group had a specific job: Reader, questioner, praiser, summarizer, or suggester. The student reading his or her essay became the reader and the other jobs rotated as well. Each reader also needed to complete a "Group Writing Conference Response Sheet" which included the reader’s name, summarizer’s comments, questioner’s comments, suggester’s comments, and the praiser’s comments (Vol. II, p. 75).

Among the topics I heard students addressing in their essays were: Giving students homework, animal experiments, coed sports, background checks for foreigners, women running for president, and adding bagpipes to the middle school band. The quality of feedback students received from their peers varied from group to group. I heard students saying things like: Where is the conclusion? What is your introduction? You should not use "fans" and "also" so much; and two paragraphs repeat each other. Other suggestions included specific ideas for improving writing, using facts instead of opinions to support a position, stating the position clearly in the introduction, and ideas for strengthening a case.

One group spent almost the entire time giving feedback to a student who had written about giving homework. Two group members immediately noticed that this reader did not actually state his opinion; he was riding the fence and giving both reasons for having homework and reasons for eliminating homework. The summarizer reflected this problem when she stated that she did not think she could summarize what the reader had said because she was not sure what he was actually saying. The remaining group members disagreed about whether the reader was for or against homework. Jack helped this group by asking questions, which got students to articulate suggestions in a manner the reader could understand and use.

While most of the students appeared to value their peers’ feedback, others got defensive and chose to explain why others’ ideas would not strengthen his or her essay. One group had a member who did not appear interested in participating in the assignment. He was given the job as summarizer but refused to summarize the reader’s ideas. His said he had not heard what the reader said, and another group member had been staring at him. His peers kept urging him to at least say something and they would then help him, but he adamantly refused.

Toward the end of group review, Jack wrote the following words: First, Also, Another, Besides, Finally, and The most important. He explained that these are transition words and could be used to connect ideas and help the essay flow more smoothly. Jack suggested using "first" in students’ second paragraph; "also," "another," or "besides" in the third paragraph; and "finally" or "the most important" in the fourth paragraph. Then some groups continued giving feedback to each other, other groups dispersed and students worked on altering their essays based on feedback received, and a few students were far enough along in the writing process that they sought out one peer to use Jack’s writing rubric for additional feedback.

Jack debriefed students by asking them to talk about what good things had happened in their groups. The majority of students indicated that feedback they received was very helpful. I heard comments like: I realized I needed to change my conclusion; I became convinced of my classmate’s point of view which gave me ideas on how to make my essay more persuasive; Hearing others’ writing style gave me ideas about improving mine; and I discovered that my opening paragraph needs to be changed. Before dismissing students, Jack reminded them to complete the last draft which needs to be typed or handwritten in cursive using black ink. Students also needed to ask one adult to use the writing rubric to review their essay.

When Jack reflected on his writing practices, he explained, "I want to see if by the end of the year kids can actually notice that their writing has changed" (Vol. II, p. 103). He has found that helping students discover ways to improve their own writing works best. His process "is not . . . threatening to kids because they get to play with their own work" (Vol. II, p. 103).

DOL activities and teaching students how to analyze their sentences are tools Jack uses to help students grow as writers. He has seen students become more creative and free to share sentences they have written during DOL since giving them kernel sentences to expand. Initially students responded to Jack’s request with "I can’t do this. What do you mean?" (Vol. II, p. 101). Jack attributes part of students’ growth to "feeling safe in the environment" (Vol. II, p. 101). When students regularly practice writing sentences that vary from the monotonous subject-verb pattern and are encouraged to use different words in their writing, it becomes easier for them to write interesting sentences with a clear voice as capable and mature writers do.

Jack teaches his students tricks of the trade:

I tell them that they have really good ideas but butcher the ideas by putting them down in very short, choppy sentences. . . . [If] you have two sentences that are kernel sentences, two that begin with some of the same words, or you are repeating the same words, that is cheapening the quality of your writing. (Vol. II, p. 101)

Students do a sentence analysis before submitting their final draft to Jack. This is done by numbering each sentence then recording the first three words of the sentence beside the number. As students analyze this list, Jack tells them, "If you see repeated words, you know that you have an obligation to fix them. Because if I see them, I will have the obligation to mark your work down" (Vol. II, p. 101).

Jack also asks students to count the number of words in each sentence. They talk

about the fact that if you come up with 19 or 20 words that means it must be a pretty full sentence. [If you] come up with six or you come up with 40, what do you think you probably have? . . . [It] is [a] technique kids can walk away with and if they wish to put forth the extra effort, they can actually get some real insights about their writing. (Vol. II, p. 102)

Some students who opted to write a peace essay for a contest realized when they analyzed paragraphs that three of the five sentences in a given paragraph had the word peace as one of the first three words. Jack encourages them, "You do not have to change them all. Maybe there is a sentence that you really love that you do not want to change" (Vol. II, p. 103). Sometimes students will discover that all of their sentences in a given paper are kernel sentences. They know this indicates a need to rearrange and change at least one sentence in each paragraph. Students are quick to ask Jack for assistance, but he is just as quick to ask them to try it on their own. Jack explained, "I want them to use [these techniques] on their own. It is not going to work if my classroom is the only time they use them" (Vol. II, p. 103).

Classroom Management

When I attempt to describe Jack’s classroom management, I feel a bit like the preservice teachers I have the opportunity to mentor. They often inform me that their supervising teacher has no management plan because there are no discipline problems. These supervising teachers control the classroom so subtly and unobtrusively that it is challenging to describe their method. Jack is like that. I seldom saw students acting inappropriately in Jack’s classroom, but I consistently saw students following routines.

Jack makes it clear to his students through what he says and through his actions that he enjoys being with them. By listening to Jack’s stories or brief comments about students’ lives or special challenges specific individuals face at home, with peers, or academically, I became aware that Jack knows his students well.

Periodically when Jack did need to address student behavior in the classroom, his approach was direct in a nonabrasive way. One afternoon students were busy creating more noise than usual. Some of the noise was from student movement, some of it came from conversations, and some of it was noise that middle schoolers mysteriously make regardless of the activity. After 20 minutes of this, Jack said, "Excuse me. I would like to have everyone sit down. Everyone. Fifty-five minutes is too long for this much racket!" (Vol. II, p. 86). Students did quiet down and the class resumed at a lower decibel.

Jack’s nonabrasive direct manner of confronting students about their behavior sometimes had a twinge of humor also. One morning I arrived between Jack’s advisory time and his first Language Arts block. As students settled in for Language Arts, Jack casually mentioned new contracts students had received. One student said, "What contracts?" Jack’s tone included surprise and concern when he said, "Who said that?" The student felt safe enough to raise his hand, and Jack asked if his advisor talked to them about the contracts during advisory. In an offhanded tone, the student said, "Oh, yeah." Jack looked relieved and jokingly said, "It is only seven minutes since advisory and you’ve already forgotten . . ." (Vol. II, p. 50). Later Jack informed me that he had received a grant to take the sixth grade to see "Oliver Twist" at a community college. He wanted students to realize that their behavior before and during the field trip needed to be appropriate, so the sixth-grade teachers established a plan for holding students accountable by using contracts.

Jack is committed to seeing his students through a gray, rather than black and white, lens. He often referred to this as being liberal and recognized that it affected classroom management:

I don’t think that anything can be broken down to a black and white issue, especially with kids at this age. There are always intervening things going on that you need to consider. If nothing else, the fact that they are only 12 years old. . . .You have to remember they are 12 year old kids! . . . I would like to think that before I pass judgment, I kind of flip the coin over and say, "Okay, now have we really looked under this? Have we looked at the reverse side of this? Is there anything else we need to consider before we pass judgment?" . . . I would like to give kids a second chance. Rather than saying, "Becky, your behavior is inappropriate. You have got to have this written warning." I would rather sit down and say, "Okay, what is our problem here? Why is this occurring? How can we overcome it? Maybe what we need to do is try to problem-solve and let you come up with a strategy or two to [make sure we do] not have this happen again." This does not mean it will not happen again because students are only learning and they are only 12 years old. They are not perfect so I guess I would rather bend the rules sometimes. Yet you [the researcher] have been in my classroom long enough to know that . . . I do not have discipline problems in my classroom. (Vol. II, pp. 62-63)

Through unsolicited comments, several students expressed their feelings toward Jack. These conversations with students often arose from their curiosity about my presence in their classroom. One male student asked whether I was there to evaluate Jack. When I explained my purpose, the student expressed relief because he did not want Jack to lose his job. Another student wondered if I was planning to replace Jack. After hearing the purpose of my visits, this student informed me that he was glad Jack was not leaving the classroom because Jack is a good teacher.

I had no such conversations with female students; however, I do not see that as an indication that the girls liked Jack less than the boys. I see it as an indication that Jack is able to develop a different kind of relationship with the male students which the boys relish since their elementary school years are dominated by female teachers. Jack confirmed my thoughts:

Guys see school as being a woman’s world. . . . I used to have kids come into fourth grade and teachers would say, ". . . These boys are just awful." But I did not have a problem with them. . . . I have no interest in a lot of stuff they are interested in, but I am male as opposed to female so I just approach things a little bit differently. It was kind of developmentally where they needed to be, and I think it is the same way on [the middle school] level. . . . Guys come into my classroom and there is a different sort of thing going on. I think they appreciate that perspective. (Vol. II, p. 38)


Making Choices

Jack’s deep belief that middle schoolers are capable of making decisions and should have the opportunity to make choices is the result of reading Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruchman the summer before beginning his current assignment. In this book Jack saw young adolescents making life or death decisions for themselves and other humans. As each school year begins, Jack discusses his philosophy with his students:

You will not always have choices on everything that you can do, but whenever there is an assignment I will always try to give you an option so you do not feel that you are backed into a situation that you cannot get out of. On the other hand, doing the work is not a choice. When it is an assignment you are . . . required to complete it or there are consequences. (Vol. II, p. 112)

Jack believes that "kids feel they are pretty much respected as young people . . . when they have a choice in what is going on at school" (Vol. II, p. 113).

Students are given freedom, but it is freedom Jack has given to them. Jack said,

Kids assume it is their structure. I give them the framework and they put in the pieces to shore up the structure (Vol. II, p. 41). I try to empower kids, to say, "You are accountable. There are things I cannot do for you, things I could do for you, but I choose not to because in the end that is going to be an enabling behavior." (Vol. II, p. 33)

By allowing students to make choices, some of which will be better than others, Jack has a natural opportunity to teach them how to deal with mistakes and poor choices. He tells them, "You may choose the wrong [option] but you can learn from it. We learn from our mistakes. Making a mistake is not bad" (Vol. II, p. 34).

Jack expressed concern that the very structure of schooling in America teaches students that they have no choices to make:

So many kids come to school on the yellow bus. They get dropped off. They are handed a schedule. They do the schedule. They do it everyday for 180 days. They get on the bus and go home, and school is over. They never once made a decision about anything in their lives. Adults do not function that way, and we do not grow as people if everything is planned out for us. (Vol. II, p. 34)

School Is Life

Allowing students to make choices is connected to another belief Jack holds deeply: He believes that school is life. Jack said, "I think that school is really about teaching kids about life and so I use language to connect to life" Vol. II, p. 33). He went on to explain his belief that

school is basically society under a magnifying glass. The problems we have at school are really the same problems we have in society. . . . There are little people . . . and big people trying to control them. . . . If you think about what goes on in school, it is the same stuff that goes on in society, and kids can come to appreciate that. Kids can appreciate the fact that they really are responsible for each other regardless of ethnic background, gender differences, or whatever [differences] there may be. (Vol. II, p. 34)

As a Language Arts teacher, Jack believes learning skills to use language effectively is a crucial aspect in everyone’s life. He acknowledged that some of his students may choose to write for a living, but

if they do not earn their livelihood from language, maybe they will use it as a way of clarifying their own thoughts, as a way to be introspective, . . . and grow to be the person they can be. I think language is such a powerful tool and offers such potential to people who have command of it (Vol. II, p. 6).

I want them to be literate. I want them to use language. I want them to understand that language is powerful and their success is based on their ability to convey thought. . . . I do not want them to just be ready for seventh grade. I want them to be ready to go out the door and become members of society. (Vol. II, p. 115)

Because school is life, Jack plans learning experiences for students that "are not school-based as much as life-based or personal growth-based" (Vol. II, p. 58). One example of this is an employability unit Jack designed:

The guidance counselor came in and talked about employability skills. Then we talked about how to do an interview, and students conducted an interview with someone they consider successful. . . . They wrote their notes, filed their notes, and now we . . . are working at writing a five-paragraph paper. . . . I could have done that assignment in a much different way, but I wanted it to mirror the fact that I want them to start thinking about career choices. I want them to look outside the school setting at people they might consider successful, and also see how things they do in school actually flow over into real life. (Vol. II, p. 58)



Gray Lens

Jack’s time in San Francisco with the military changed his view of the world and his perceptions of people. As a result of his beliefs, Jack said, "I know I am branded a liberal" (Vol. II, p. 40). For Jack, "liberal is being gray" (Vol. II, p. 62), it means "to look at both sides of the coin" (Vol. II, p. 40), and that change is always an option. In the classroom, being liberal means that Jack is committed "to giving kids a second chance" (Vol. II, p. 62). Jack’s liberal beliefs are seen in his interactions with students and adults alike.

Periodically Jack gives his students a DOL test. It consists of 10 sentences for students to correct and rewrite on a sheet of notebook paper. The majority of students are able to complete the test in the time allotted; however, I noticed Angie found it difficult to complete her task. As the end of the period approached, Jack checked to see how much she had completed and told her she needed only to rewrite 2 of the 10 sentences on her notebook paper. When Jack dismissed the class, Angie was again falling behind the others in gathering up her materials. Jack helped her get organized and record assignments before she left. After she exited, Jack told me that Angie is very disorganized and gets distracted easily. He feels that Angie’s mother adds to Angie’s problems by not being organized herself. Though he sometimes feels impatient with Angie, he looks at her home environment and chooses to treat her with compassion.

After I observed Jack’s class discussing a piece of literature, Jack told me about Jessie. Jessie finds it difficult to respond to a question without

slipping all over the place, but many times she has wonderful answers. [Jessie] was a special education student until last year. She told her mother, "Mom, I know if I work hard I do not have to be a special education student." She did not work hard the first marking period . . . and we had a conference. Her mother [told Jessie], "It is up to you. Either you get B’s and C’s or you are back in special education." [Jessie] is doing B and C work [now]. Her contributions to the discussion, if you can get over the giggling and the nonsense, are very good points. What was so disheartening [yesterday] was that [Jessie] was in her giggling mode. It set off the other kids so our discussion was not as focused as it could have been. But . . . [Jessie] made her points and they were validated. That is what is really important. (Vol. II. pp. 107-108)

Jack’s parents are elderly with a variety of medical and physical conditions which sometimes make it a challenge to see them through a gray lens. Jack described a recent issue he had to deal with:

My mother is driving me absolutely crazy right now with all the health issues. It could blow my mind, but I stop and think, "Wait a minute. She is doing the best she can with the memory loss which has occurred." . . . She is supposed to be taking these pills once a day. Technically she should be out of them, but she isn’t which means she did not [take one daily]. . . . When I asked my mom, "Do you still have any pills left?" She said, "Oh yes, I have a few" and counted out 20 of them. I thought, "This is not good!" So I decided to buy a 28-day container and I labeled it with the month and days so she just matches them up. She is doing the best she can. She is frustrated by her own lack of memory. She would not purposely want to [omit her medication]. Why get on her case about it? (Vol. II, p. 64)

The Classroom, My Home

Jack sees his classroom as his home. The American Heritage Dictionary (1993) defines home as "an environment offering security and happiness." Jack’s classroom is a safe place where students are encouraged to share their ideas, where making a mistake and learning from it is acceptable, and a place where laughter and happiness are intermingled with hard work.

Developing relationships with others is valued in Jack’s classroom: "Teaching is a relationship. You have to have something to teach, but you have to build relationships with kids" (Vol. II, p. 61). "The kids need to know that you are a people person. If you are not a people person, you can have the best curriculum knowledge and you are going to be missing the boat" (Vol. II, p. 65). Part of Jack’s relationship with his students includes being a role model for them.

Jack’s classroom environment is important to him. He chooses to decorate with items one might find in a house. He prefers to think of the classroom as a learning environment, a place where individuals can learn from each other. Jack himself is an essential part of the classroom environment. He assumes an unpretentious air though he has been recognized at local, county, state, and national levels for excellence in teaching and education. A quick grin sends the message that he has a sense of humor, and his respectful interest in others says, "I value you and your input. I am interested in knowing more about you." Jack has the ability to put others at ease because he is at ease with himself.

Reflective Educator

During my first conversation with Jack about this study, he told me "the best thing ever said in education is that we need to be reflective persons" (Vol. II, p. 1). For Jack, reflection appears as natural as breathing, and he expects his students to be reflective as well. One of the reasons he agreed to mentor a student teacher was because it gave him "an opportunity to look at [himself] in the mirror one more time" (Vol. II, p. 60). He chose to become part of this research project because it was something he had never done before and not to participate in it would have been a missed opportunity to grow. Not only does Jack reflect on the big picture of education, but he also looks at each day in the classroom. His lengthy commute to and from school allows ample opportunity for reflection.

Self-talk is an invaluable part of Jack’s reflection. He sees the two going hand-in-hand. This aspect of Jack’s life has allowed him to become well-acquainted with himself and to be comfortable with who he is as a person and a professional. It allows him to experience great satisfaction with all he has accomplished in life while simultaneously reaching toward new and challenging horizons.


I asked Jack how he had changed and grown during his 28 years as a teacher. During his early years as a teacher, Jack was content-centered but is now child-centered:

I guess the biggest difference between then and now would not be the physical, it would be the attitudinal. I think I was more curriculum driven. . . . I knew kids were important, but there was a curriculum they just had to have or they would die because nobody else would give it to them. It was a pretty narrow focus. My philosophy in the 1970s was that I was a teacher, I was in charge, and I pretty much charged around the room doing that! I was a good teacher, but I wasn’t having as much fun as I do now. (Vol. II, p. 33)

It is obvious to those who enter Jack’s classroom that he loves being there and loves being with his students. His life experiences allow him to accept students as they are while also challenging them to grow academically and personally. Students in turn love and respect Jack for who he is. Together they create an environment conducive to learning and growth; it is a safe haven for all of them. It is their home.