The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Just Back Off and Let Us Teach

       Just Back Off and Let Us Teach came to me at the perfect time. For me, this school year was a tough one. Twenty-seven students. A brand-new state test that was taken on computers. Increased pressure when it came to achievement. As I finished boxing up my classroom (so the floors could be cleaned and waxed) I was able to take a breath, read Caroline Alexander Lewis' book and get rejuvenated.

     Lewis, a former high school teacher and principal, believes that super teachers are superheroes. Of course, there are lazy teachers. There are also uncaring and uninterested teaches who wreak havoc on who-knows-how-many students every year. Those educators give all the other teachers a bad name. Effective teachers, according to Lewis, have

C--communication skills
O--organizational abilities

     Caroline Lewis and I agree--enthusiasm is the one thing that can't really be taught... and when teachers are enthusiastic and have passion for their work, they are soaring around Superman.

     Unfortunately, teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. It's a brutally exhausting job. We frequently get chewed up by parents, but we can't bite back. We sometimes go 3 or 4 hours--every day--without having the chance to go to the bathroom. Some of us have 30 minutes to walk a class down the hall to the cafeteria, drop them off (making sure they are supervised), eat our own lunch, and use the bathroom. (And that's assuming there were no problems during the trek down the hall.) We spend many hours at home in the evening and on the weekends grading papers and planning lessons. I love my job. It's the best profession in the world. But if something is not done, there'll be a severe shortage of teachers.

       Lewis spends about half of the book discussing what makes an effective teacher, using the SCOPE acronym. She then covers some of the things that can be done to validate and retain teachers.

       Before the book even begins, Lewis sets the tone with a quote by William Butler Yeats. It says it all: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." 

       As Jose Feliciano sang, "Come on baby, light my fire." My fire is lit... don't let it get extinguished.

About Caroline Lewis:
After spending 22 years as a science teacher and school principal, Caroline Lewis became director of education for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and developed the award-winning Fairchild Challenge to engage students in environmental issues. As founder and CEO of The CLEO Institute, she applies her educational leadership skills to promote solution-oriented approaches to address climate disruptions. A native of Trinidad, she earned an MS in Educational Leadership in 1999 and is committed to elevating and celebrating the teaching profession.

Visit the author online:

About the Book:
If America wants to reform public education and regain its status in the world, it must start valuing teachers and stop the present policy of commissioning study after study and revising measurement tests every few years. That assertion is made by author Caroline Lewis, who outlines reform in her new book Just Back Off and Let Us Teach: A Book for Effective Teachers and Those Who Champion Them. Both descriptive and motivational, Lewis' book defines five skills distinctive of effective teachers called SCOPE (Sensitivity, Communication, Organization, Professionalism, and Enthusiasm) Skills. Lewis encourages all teachers to self-examine and grade themselves on their own effectiveness using SCOPE Scores.


  1. I think standardized tests have value, but they should be a generalized guide, not the be all and end all to measure achievement. I don't know what the answer is to today's parents. Would it be help full If parents had to go through a buffer like the principle with their complaints?

  2. They just don't learn, the suits at the top, I mean. They reinvent the wheel constantly and meanwhile education goes down the drain. My grandson supposedly needed a reading boost this summer before first grade. His parents were not impressed when a note from the teacher came home with three grammar errors and two incorrectly spelled words. The problem goes way back and involves many things like testing and responsibilty (the student's) and extra credit, among a few other things. Then if you really want a rant I could tell you how I feel about the neglect of fiction in the literature department! But I will spare you!

  3. I am on your bandwagon. I taught in a middle school where more than half the teachers were there to collect a paycheck, and for no other reason. But the few good teachers were frowned upon because they made the others pale in comparison. Standardized testing is not a good measure...Okay I will stop. Teach on, my friend, you are one of the genuine ones.

  4. It's true that teaching has become an exceptionally tough profession. I admire those teachers, like you, who not only hang in there but do an excellent job.

    Critter Alley

  5. Standardized testing is an awful measure of a student's understanding, and the requirements placed on teachers to teach for the purpose of scoring well on those tests has leached both teachers and students dry. Thank god for teachers like you, Sioux, who do maintain enthusiasm, but for every one of you there are ten others who "just can't do it anymore." I've seen it up close and personal with my own kids, and it is a true shame. BUT, for those lucky kids who are fortunate enough to sit in a classroom with a teacher for whom teaching is a true in-the-heart passion---in spite of the current environment---the sky's the limit for what they will take away. As you know, I was fortunate to have a teacher like that, my English teacher in high school. She taught thousands of kids over her lengthy career, of which I was but one, and a forgettable student at that. But she impacted my life like no other, and probably all of her other students would say the same. You are doing that, too. Every child blessed to be taught by you is taking away skills and passions that will stay with them forever. Be proud. You're making a difference. Not everyone can say that and know it is true.

  6. No doubt, we're losing teachers. But I really, really, really hope the ones staying--like you--are there because it's their vocation and not just a job. Kids notice, Sioux, and they care (even they may not look like they do.) And once ignited, there's no stopping them!

    (P.S. Thank you, Sioux, for not just hanging in there but giving your best.)

  7. I am fortunate to work in a building full of SCOPErs. I feel like a rat abandoning a sinking ship for planning to retire at the end of next year! We rarely have turnover in our district, but at some others where I taught, it was obvious the new kids were only in it for the check.

    The times, they are a-changin'. And they'll a-change again in four or five years.

    1. Val - I want to say DON'T leave BUT you've probably earned your retirement. Thank you for teaching!

  8. Just wait until I run the world. Football players will make 10 dollars an hour, and teachers will have summer homes in the Caribbean.

    1. Could I have a summer home in France instead? It's too sunny in the Caribbean...

  9. Fireblossom made me laugh. I want to live in that world! Every day, I see teachers who do so much more than teach. They are child advocates, and they are awesome.

  10. I'm so encouraged by knowing there are teachers like you, Sioux.
    One of my favorite movies is To Sir, With Love - fictional to be sure, and set in 1960's England. Last week I watched another of my faves, Up the Down Staircase, again the '60s but set in NYC. The lousy administration, overcrowding, lack of teacher training and support - it could be anywhere today, USA. Except that in the movie there were still some expected behaviors. Still, one line is a teacher asking that even if they weren't allowed to have a prayer, could they at least have a moment of silence.

  11. Marcia--I loved "To Sir With Love" (of course, the cherry on top is Sidney Poitier). I read "Up the Down Staircase" decades ago... didn't even know there was a movie version.

    A modern one: Mr. Holland's Opus. Freedom Writers. And that Michelle Pfieffer one...


Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by...