John Piazza

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23 thoughts on “John Piazza”

  1. …our energy would perhaps be better spent devising ways to streamline what we do….
    this is pretty much it, in my opinion…
    Maybe we create so much useless busywork for ourselves because of a need for approval that is rampant with so many people in our society. It’s so odd – we go to work thinking that if we work hard, do a lot of “stuff”, etc. then the burnout that we experience is normal and that, by working to the point of breaking, we are doing something good that our superiors – I use that term very loosely – will approve of. But we ruin our lives in seeking that approval. I am convinced that school buildings are crawling with adults who are still, in Adlerian fashion, stuck in high school, trying to get approval they never got when actually there. Look at their faces. We can’t afford to kill ourselves with work. Our work is not something different from our lives.We can’t relax in one and burn out in the other. The one overlaps with the other. A good portion of our lives ARE our work. Our work hours, if lived in frenzy and fueled by the need for approval, can easily burn up the gardens of our lives if we are not careful. And, like John said, for how much money? All those activities, all those hours grading, all those hours planning, all that energy spent in this weird kind of fear that exists in schools, the fear of messing up, it’s all so stupid and unnecessary. Look at the teachers in our buildings. Are those faces normal reflections of what we were intended to be? My life as an Advanced Placement was like that. No. We deserve to be happy in our work. Let’s not forget that relaxing and just having fun talking with the kids is, when seen by others who are still wrapped up in the fear, so odd. No wonder it’s threatening, this increased vibration going on in our classrooms. When I teach in this way, I am much happier, in and out of school. And not just happier, less stressed by far. I see our colleague who is quitting this year as highly intelligent in her reaction to the insanity around her. She realized what it was doing to her, and she made a decision not to pursue the Ci piece. That is strong. She realized that she wouldn’t be able to make it work for her in the situation she was in and, rather than going back to the old ways, she decided to hang it up. That’s honest. What is really cool, and I better stop before this turns into a ramble, is that we even have a new category called Mental Health here. That is a good thing. It is our right as teachers to refuse some of the insane stuff we have for a long time accepted as normal, and to refuse that stuff within our new knowledge of the power of comprehension based methods to bring sanity and happiness to our work.

  2. The only other teacher in my school who’s interested in CI admitted to me the other day that it just seems like too much work to do TPRS. She’s new to the building and works across the hall from our very traditional department head (who, when I announced to the group that Carol would be presenting for us next week, immediately started telling another colleague what a sham I am — in Spanish, which she doesn’t realize that I understand after two years of chatting with my custodian).
    I walked the new teacher out of our department chair’s room and into her own room and told her the truth: I spend little to no time prepping lessons and grading now. I still spend a lot of time on teaching, because I am now mentoring other teachers, continuing to read and write here a lot, keeping up a blog, and translating and writing little novels for my classes (but these activities are more “for the profession.” I could quit doing them and still teach just fine most days). I also spend a fair amount of time reading articles and listening to songs, but now I have a backlog of songs because I assign them to my kids to find and I can just take the first funny story that comes along. My assessment is mostly done on the run in the classroom. I don’t have to prepare activity pages and cut and paste and all that stuff I spent hours on in the past. I just pick my structures, talk about them, throw in a song or two, do a story, some reading, some writing, talk a little more, and go back and repeat. I don’t need my Smartboard or even the website that I keep up so that absentees can have something and so that administrators can think that I’m teaching with technology.
    I explained that if she’s feeling overwhelmed by trying to get the book and the curriculum and TPRS together, as the only French teacher in our building, she really can make a lot of her own decisions. She doesn’t really have to follow the book. No one will know! She is only in her fifth year of teaching, so she is nervous about doing this. But I thought she should know that she could feel a lot less stress and enjoy her family a whole lot more by jumping into the TPRS pool.
    She wasn’t convinced, and I don’t want to pressure her. But I do believe that our lives are stressful enough just in terms of the personalities we have to juggle in our classrooms that if we can make our school lives fit into just eight hours a day, we should really do that, especially in the years that we have children at home and during times when we could be with our significant others. After that, it’s our choice. If we love playing with this stuff so much that hours go by when we’re dreaming and writing, that’s okay. We should still get off our chairs and go get some fresh air and see movies and read books and bike and hike…
    Mostly, we should let TPRS do its job for us and make life easier.

    1. I agree, Michele. My focus went from planning something for class – activities, etc and being exhausted to focusing on my craft which led me to this inspiring community, new friends, brain-based research, standards-based grading and the list goes on. What’s been work intensive has been my personal quest for professional growth along the TCI highway which has caused not burnout but rejuvenation! The downer stuff comes from the negative vibes around us.

  3. Definitely a post I needed to see. I really need to simplify, simplify, simplify. I put in WAY MORE time than a lot of the teachers at my school. Our contract shift is 7:45-3:15 and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve come in at 6:00am and left at 5:00 pm. And I’m always bringing work home. Add on top of that I live about 50 minutes from where I teach, I’m married and have a 3 y/o, 4 y/o and 8 month old. It’s extremely stressful and tiring, my students have commented on how tired I look most of the time. I spend too much time planning….too much time figuring out what questions I’m going to ask, too much time figuring how how I’m going to make PQA last more than 10 minutes without being boring, too much time putting together SMARTboard presentations of the structures, pictures to go with the vocabulary words, typing out mini stories to read on the projector, etc, too much time typing out quizzes to print off, too much time grading things. I’ve heard at workshops that since people have started TPRS they’re planning time has significantly dropped. I believe it, I believe that I will one day get to that point, and I cannot wait. I’d like to be able to spend more time with my family and not feel so burned out all the time. I will admit, I sometimes have a tendency to stack more on my plate than I can handle. Something’s gotta give before I crash and burn
    That felt really good to get off my chest….

    1. Listen to master Ben’s eternal and ever-so-wise rants on simplicity! Positive thoughts and energy being sent your way…hang in there! Go home early all this week and chill out in the world of innocence that is the lives of your children. Just by the fact that we are here on this blog means that we all care deeply about doing our job well (if only that was enough for our bosses). This also means though that we are ALL prone to overworking, overthinking, and over-complexifying (take that one, Webster) things. Like right now…why am I posting at amost 1:30 am my time?…because I’m keeping my wife company as she makes her kindergarten lesson plans…is quality teaching with kindergarteners really dependent on spelling out in lesson plans how everything llittle thing they do in class relates to state benchmarks?? The world of education in this country is crazy. Crazy wrong.

      1. Spring cleaning in October? Ben’s mention of tossing stuff last week really inspired me. I had to be at school on Saturday to proctor the scholarship exam. I spent the rest of the day purging. If I have not needed it or looked at it in a year or more, do I really need it? Simplify is the word!

    2. Since we are all “radicals” on this site, I can invoke Gandhi, right? Everyone knows that quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So simple. Not so easy.
      Last week I spent 3 days with 27 high school kids at this conference called “Connecting for Change / Bioneers by the Bay.” I’ve been coordinating this trip for 6 years and kids always come away energized and opened up to new ways of thinking. One of the keynotes this year ws Satish Kumar, who told the story of walking from Gandhi’s grave to JFK’s grave. His journey was really about trust in the universe and trust in humanity. I’m really selling this short. He was mesmerizing to listen to, and his message is so crucial: we must make peace with ourselves, with the soil and then with society. He emphasized that unless we first make peace with ourselves we cannot make peace with the world. Of course, these are all interconnected!
      Several of our most wound up 4% er students attended his afternoon discussion. You know these kids, they not only have straight As but also do multiple sports, drama, yearbook, dance committee, etc. They are pushed by themselves and by parents and teachers who feed the frenzy by extolling their greatness and their “commitment to exellence.” But the dark underbelly reveals anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and plain old fear.
      I was surprised to see them at this session, since there are so many other choices and workshops, and these kids are “go-getters” so I would never have predicted the resonance of this particular speaker (even though this would be the first thing I’d recommend for them!) One of the things he said that stuck with me and (who knew?) with these kids was “The first step to healing is to stop!”
      I was shocked / delighted / thrilled / moved to tears when during a break, two of these students asked me things like : “How do I stop when I have so many things I am forced to do by my parents and teachers?” and “Do you think that our teachers would ever give us one weekend without homework so we can go outside and hang out with our friends?” These are kids who thrive on the pressure and who define themselves by how much they achieve. I have never heard them even wonder about this kind of stuff.
      So this was a long roundabout way of wondering if you can allow yourself to pause? Satish remided us of Buddha’s journey and how in all those years he never really “found the answers” until he sat under a tree! And then he posed the question to us: “When was the last time you sat under a tree?”
      This will sound crass, maybe, and I don’t mean it to, but you have 5 great “excuses” to slow down: you, your wife and your 3 kids 🙂

    3. Chris: I am contracted from 8-3, but I worked out a deal to come in at 7 and leave at 2. I proctor the am detention (starts at 7:15) for kids who cannot stay after. So far, I have had 1 customer and my AM partner took care of it! Pre -TCI, I would get to school early and would often still be at my desk til past 6pm sometimes later. When I look back, I must have been nuts! Traditional teaching took that amount of time! Now I get to school around 6:15. I read the blogs get my scripts ready, listen to songs for class. In the afternoon, I am walking out to my car at 1:59. It’s a whole new world. Simplify!

    4. Yes Chris this will definitely change. You are in a kind of mental trap put on you by our overall system of teacher education right now. It will change. If what you wrote is really true, than nobody would even think of doing comprehension based teaching:
      …too much time figuring out what questions I’m going to ask, too much time figuring how how I’m going to make PQA last more than 10 minutes without being boring, too much time putting together SMARTboard presentations of the structures, pictures to go with the vocabulary words, typing out mini stories to read on the projector, etc, too much time typing out quizzes to print off, too much time grading things…..
      a. you don’t have to figure out what questions you are going to ask. you will get this real fast now.
      b. PQA will fly on its own, for hours, once you get that piece. It takes a little while, about a year, and then you are up and on the PQA bicycle and no looking back. PQA is deceptively easy and like riding a bike. Once you find your PQA balance, you’re there!
      c. why people use Smartboards, and lots of CI people do, I will never understand. In my own view, ANYTHING that pulls the attention of the students into something visual, including props, is not going to lead to increased acquisition. I say dump the Smartboard or use it minimally. This is another example of how the tech push is bullshit in our area.
      d. dude, GESTURES create pictures in the mind, which images are deep, much deeper than pictures. I say drop that too.
      e. typing out ministories for reading classes takes me fifteen minutes a week. What’s up with that? You make a generic reading that is a mixture of facts from all your classes. You used the same story, right?
      f. there is that comment somewhere in response to Brian that I made I believe two days ago on how simple my grading system is. I have yet to hear from the group on that comment, but, really, it is almost no effort.
      I might comment that I hear a lot of fear in many statements against, evaluation of, TCI instruction. Fear driving decisions. Hmmm. Michele’s colleague who says it looks like too much work is just code for “I’m afraid to take on this new challenge. I was a four percenter and I don’t want to explore this vast new world that is so much more democratic that the world of the 1%ers/4%ers” (interesting similarity there, right?). Or in your message above, Chris, you seem to think that your CI will be better if you have it supported with all that extra prep work. THAT IS NOT TRUE. It’s just the opposite. CI requires spontaneity. I am not faulting you, and not suggesting that you dive in to the deep water too early, but at some point, in the natural unfolding of this approach, you will start running and dive in as deep as you can and then you will see what this is REALLY all about.
      Here is the way I grade, pasted in here from a comment, a response to Brian, a few days ago, even it is long:
      I weigh the quizzes at 75%. They are on scantron. They are yes/no. They can be from any class except Fridays, which I reserve for songs and poetry, areas way to sacred to connect to a grade. Thus, they can be from the PQA we do on Mondays, the stories we do on Tuesdays, or the kick butt reading classes we do on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I choose on any given day if that is the day it feels like a quiz will even fit. I do maybe one quiz a week, occasionally two. It keeps the kids guessing. No predictable quiz day means that ditching class is potentially a big powerful (because there are so few quizzes) fat zero in the book that can bring any grade to an F in an instant. Not to mention that if I test any more than that I then lose valuable minutes that could have otherwise been used for CI in the form of listening or reading, which reminds us of Blaine’s famous statement, or Krashen’s, not sure, that you “can’t make a pig any fatter by weighing it more often”.
      Those who look at my gradebook to see if I am a good teacher believe that I am a good teacher when they see the term “Story Content Test 1? or “Reading Test 1? with the nice, official looking CT1 or RT1 abbreviation next to it. They haven’t the faintest idea that the quiz took only three minutes to give. It looks real. It’s not. I don’t need even need to test. I wish I had a helmet with a camera on it to record what I see in their eyes in class. That is where I can tell you with extreme accuracy how much they are getting. I am Susan Gross trained and one of her biggest things is Teaching to the Eyes and I am good at it. That is how I really know what they know.
      Every once in a while, if I don’t see their eyes focused on me and my CI, I just say in English, while looking at an offender, “You’re being graded right now and what I see now is what really counts. So sit up and square up your shoulders with me and pay attention.” There is a slight rustling noise as the offender gets back into focus (I wait kids out on that). I tell them that no matter what the gradebook says, I can and will change their grade up or down and I frequently do. I just change the grade to reflect what I see in class. One kid I have is a super super fast processor and a kind hearted kid. He doesn’t score perfectly on quizzes to reflect the masterful listening he does in class. By giving him a B and not an A because of what the gradebook says sends a strong message to him: in my classroom tests are more important then human interaction. Nope on that.
      Sometimes I forget to ask the Quiz Writer to write a quiz (which is so easy for some kids, they could write 30 questions if 30 minutes if they wanted to because everything is so SLOW and easy to understand and interesting). In that case of no quiz, and this can only be done in a reading class, I may have them take out a sheet of paper and tell them to look at the projected text we just spent all period talking about as per:
      and ask them to translate on paragraph or a few lines. I would take that stack of papers to my office and sit there and, in five to ten minutes, have slapped grades up to 10 on each, almost as fast as it takes me to move the papers from the “not graded” to the “graded” pile, as per:
      The other part is a bogus 25% “participation” grade (the term has no validity but I use it anyway). It allows me that grade manipulation capacity to move the kid into line with the grade that I know they should have based on attendance and what I see in class – sitting up and squaring up with me. But that will probably go to 50% as it goes from being bogus to real as per the information we are getting here from the Los Angeles Initiative.
      Frankly, Brian, I am so glad that you decided on ultra simplicity. Indeed, a good portion of teacher burnout, of their unhappiness with teaching, is straw man stuff. They think that the Emperor has clothes. They believe all that shit from administrators. Why do people become administrators? In my view, and I say this with compassion because it is true of all of us, they have control issues. And we believe them when they try to intimidate us with the implied falsity that we must have a good looking gradebook. We work ourselves into burnoutb over something as unimportant as a grade book. I shared a moment with a colleague last week who showed me her gradebook. In the last two and a half weeks she has about 20 grades in there. I kid you not. That is sick. She even admitted it and says that five years ago it was worse. Nobody cares, Brian, nobody cares. Except maybe your family and your own need of time to heal from work. Nobody cares. It’s all a big joke.

      1. Thank you again Ben! This week I will work on simplifying. I have to admit, I was proud of myself this past week because I didn’t turn the projector on Wednesday or Thursday, and I think I did my best as PQAing those days as well since I didn’t feel tied to the SMARTboard. I will be doing some hardcore reading from PQA in a Wink! as that is the area I think I need to work on.
        New 9 weeks starting tomorrow so I will have 4 new classes of new students, kind of like starting the year all over! This time around I’m planning on not requiring notebooks so that I have clear desks, no doodling, no reading books, etc. Simplification!

        1. Good. You will find yourself starting with the Five Fingers rules, while also using the Classroom Rules on the posters page of this site. Gradually, after the first week, you won’t use the finger rules except for the one about nothing on the desks. Really enforce that one by the way. But, at the end of the first week you will be full barrell on with the classroom rules, especiall 2, 4, and 5. If you enforce them really well, in the third week and onward you won’t have any problems with them behaving properly. Model the behaviors you want. The time spent norming the classroom in the first weeks, including parent phone calls, is gold. Let us know how it goes with these new groups.

      2. This entire thread is wonderful…love the comments about the kids who attended the conference–they remind me of parents who ask me how to get other teachers onto the “no homework” bus (Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth goes for teachers as well as kids).
        But I have to disagree vehemently with one comment, Ben:
        ” . . . why people use Smartboards, and lots of CI people do, I will never understand. In my own view, ANYTHING that pulls the attention of the students into something visual, including props, is not going to lead to increased acquisition.”
        Hanging out with Laurie last summer convinced me that our kids need the visual support when they are reading. Visual support is in fact going to lead to increased acquisition. Laurie’s line is “we use language to put pictures into other people’s minds.” If kids are not able to turn language into visuals, they are not going to communicate effectively. I’m one of those who doesn’t use props and sometimes forgets about visuals. But the kids benefit enormously when we help them form a common picture of a class story or reading. They’ll create better memories of the stories with pictures. A recent training with a Smartboard guy was impressive–like TPRS folks, he said that Smartboard lessons should take the teacher about 15 seconds. He discouraged elaborate plans and time spent on anything unless we were going to use it every day.
        I hope Laurie will chime in here a bit, because this is a critical piece. We have thousands of kids in this country who don’t know how to create their own pictures because they are always being presented with pictures on line and on TV. The class needs to act, to draw, and to compare what they imagined with pictures the teacher then uses. We need to give them pictures, tell the story, and ask what pieces are missing. They need to develop that part of their brain that creates pictures when presented with communication. Visualization will help them in all disciplines. We can help. Don’t diss the Smartboard, just diss its ineffective use.

        1. I agree Michele. The Smartboard has been a great jumping-off place. We thrive in this method by bringing the “mountain to Mohammed” so to speak. These kids “speak’ screen. This is what they know. It often helps to start there.
          That being said, Michele is dead on when she says , “The class needs to act, to draw, and to compare what they imagined with pictures the teacher then uses.” In fact, her insight into this is very valuable…go back and reread it!! :o)
          We have to get them in visual mode and then build on and build with it.
          I have a mixed level, mixed ability class this year that is very hard to PQA with. They don’t have a lot in common and if we are talking about things in class we are ok. However, trying to bring in their outside interests is tough. They don’t care enough about each other (yet) to tune in and respond. I’m finding that if they email me a picture about something that is important to them, I am getting more and more of the class involved. (Pets have been very popular lol) I know have a small but growing folder of pics of things the kids love, or of the kids doing things they love. I keep pulling these into stories etc. and now there is a common visual for them all.
          Is a smart board necessary? Nope. But it can be useful. My favorite tool is the little screen that can be pulled across to hide all or part of the visual. :o)
          I think that we are going to find more and more students in the years to come who have “screen brain”. This will help us to meet them where they are.
          with love,

        2. Michele I was not clear. I meant that using smartboards is to my own mind a mystery – I don’t get that kind of technology and I am all thumbs with stuff like that. Anything that keeps me from teaching to the eyes in absolute human fashion is not something I personally would want to use. That said, I know that many TCI teachers – Matava for one – use those boards with excellent results.

    5. Chris it’s serious. When I first heard about TPRS eleven years ago it launched me into a pattern of overwork born of zeal. It was so fascinating that I neglected my family and my health. Over-dedication to work can kill. And for what? Some asshole’s approval? About six years ago my blood pressure got up to 140/110 with this being the main reason. It was so fascinating that I lost my balance! It may be happening to you. Even if this is the coolest thing to be put on the table since sliced bread, we can’t let it mess up our balance. Saying it is one thing, doing it another. We need to suport each other in not letting this stuff overtake our balance. That ain’t easy, because the work we are doing, seemingly the drab job of teaching, hides within it galaxies. And, in the interest of health and comaraderie, everybody start training for the annual Mt. Evans CI Ride to the Top, which we haven’t done yet but let’s try for next summer. It’s only 14,000 feet up, 57 miles straight up from my house. Come on, y’all!

  4. Friends, you all speak my mind. Less is more. The more we try to spin our lessons, the less we listen to what will naturally and beautifully emerge. Listening takes a different kind of time…one that blesses instead of curses. And can be done any time, any where.
    with love,

  5. Word y’all.
    If I could describe my move to simplicity in one aspect, it would be my materials. I used to have so much crap on my desk, and I now have only 4 books I feel I need (frequency dictionary, script book, literature of some sort that we’re reading or that I’m pulling from, and my ASL handbook) and really I could do without most of them on any given day.
    I watched a short documentary on how stress is the leading cause of obesity in our nation, and how it is making us ill. Then it’s more coffee and junk food because we’re sleep-deprived and have to eat in like 20 minutes. That’s unhealthy. We preach one thing in our schools and then do not allow for it to happen (whether it’s nutrition, stress, freedom, intrinsic motivation, etc etc). I know, now I’m preaching (to the choir). Thank you all for speaking your truths and giving me more confidence to speak mine to those who may not find it a palatable message.

  6. I got this from a group member today, lest we forget that we have emotionally and physically stressful jobs:
    This has been a stressful week – two half days, where we have all of our classes for 25 minutes, then have Parent Conferences ’til 7PM each of the two evenings. It really makes for a long day. I have 3 school board members children in classes, so those conferences are always a little more worrisome. Tomorrow we meet with administrators to get an update on the state’s newest assessment program that we are already expected to implement, although no real info has been available and the tests aren’t ready and no one really knows what the format will be.
    Then this week I am trying to finish up my comprehensive exams for my masters. And sometime within the next two weeks I have to come up with midterm exams for all of my classes. (We are required to give a minimum of two exams and one midterm/final exam each 9-weeks.)

  7. I am so happy that so many people responded to my posting. Ben’s blog has been so great for helping us all face our teaching demons, all the elephants in the room, all the stuff that nobody will acknowledge, but which is so intense on a daily basis that it forces people out of this profession, and destroys families.
    About a year ago I read an article written by a Princeton English professor, who was retiring early out of frustration with his recent crops of incoming students. His assessment of the problem was this: High school students who have what it takes to jump through all the hoops that are required to get into Princeton, to complete and win this rat race that is the college admissions game, are completely lacking in the skills required to appreciate literature. That is, they are unable to devote the slow undivided extended attention to a novel. They cannot not multitask, and their only sense of value, of accomplishment, of any hint of Pirsig’s “quality,” is external to them – the grade.
    When we simplify the way we teach and slow down and be present with them, we are not only making ourselves more sane and focused on what is important, but we are providing our students with a rare role model for such an approach to studies, and to life.

  8. Great comment John and of course the challenge in this is to walk into the Sick Cans that are our school buildings* filled with so many robotically sick students that caused this guy to just quit. But I have to say, I think that the Princeton guy was spoiled. I think he is a wuss. Are we going to quit on our kids because they were mistrained in other classes? Because they didn’t know how to move their minds up a taxonomy? It wasn’t their fault. It was the teachers’ fault. Isn’t that what this is all about? Putting on the shoulder pads and doing it and becoming real teachers? That guy walked. He likely wouldn’t have made it for five minutes in some of the settings we work in. Our work now is not for the faint hearted.
    *Your building may be the exception if it is the one I walked by when I was in SF last spring – up by the Cathedral – wow is that a spectacular setting to work in!

    1. Yeah, that’s my school. I really lucked out in that respect, and I don’t have to fight for CI.
      One thing I want to add, however, is that many many of the robotic kids who get into Princeton come from what look like really nice and tranquil campuses. Some of these places can be kind of like well-funded insane asylums, that use landscaping and feng shui to try to mitigate or mask the intensity, the energy, the anxiety that drives its inhabitants crazy.

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