COVID-19 and The Five Conflicts

The last time I wrote in this blog, I had no idea how much my life was going to change shortly after I published a post about Moodle. Since then, I have entered the life I have always wanted: I have become an English teacher. This is my first year in public education, and it has been cut short by COVID-19. I offer this blog post as a reflection on that reality.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

From Meditation 17 by John Donne

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

Why Do We Have to Read Literature?

I’ve heard this question so many times. My answer, now that we are in the midst of a crisis, a pandemic: Because we need to prepare for moments like these. We need to prepare for frightening times, for joyful moments, for sad moments… for moments. We read literature to learn about the human condition, to absorb it within ourselves, to emerge from reading more a part of the human community than we were before. We read literature to learn more about our interdependence – not only with other humans but with the entire world, with all the beings, with all of it. We read literature to help ourselves admit our interdependence and to learn how to accept it. Eventually, we get it. It may be long after high school is over, but I hope that most do not have to wait that long.

What about the Five Conflicts?

We read literature for examples of the five conflicts (some might disagree on the number, but I learned of five, so I am sticking with that number) because we need to know how to cope with them. As a history major in 1993, I realized that humans can learn from the mistakes of the past. Our condition is such that we reflect on what has happened historically to make progress. As an English teacher, I have seen that we can use the five conflicts to categorize history within the context of literature (fiction and nonfiction) and make it more manageable.

The five conflicts are: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus self; and person versus the supernatural. For each, we can find examples within literature to help us learn how to deal with these conflicts in our own lives.

Therefore, I leave you with this question (because English teachers aren’t supposed to spoon-feed the answers but rather help you to discover the answers within): What examples can you find within your literature treasure chest to address these conflicts? I bet you have read more than you might realize. While we have this time, think about it. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Be good to you, your family, and your loved ones.

Education Learning Teaching

27 Minutes: One Teacher’s Vision for a Standards-Based Classroom

In this presentation, you will learn more about my vision for a standards-based classroom: what it would look like, how it would be run, and how students’ progress would be recorded and reported.


This is the final presentation in a series of three.  As an aside, I will never use Adobe Presenter for presentations like this again.  Want to know why?  Please leave a comment.

At any rate, the other presentations are:

A 20 Minute Introduction to Standards-Based Education

Learn More about Standards in 11 Minutes, 15 Seconds

over the counter misoprostol online


Education Learning

A 20 Minute Introduction to Standards-Based Education

Standards-based education is a complicated departure from traditional education strategies.  For many educators, it creates cognitive dissonance, a discomfort one feels when trying to adopt a new view that is dramatically different from the one they have held.  By adopting this method of instruction and grading, educators are putting traditional instructional and grading practices aside in favor of teaching to standards and grading progress toward mastery.  This can be quite distressing.  Additionally, everything needs to change related to teaching and learning in the classroom: curriculum, classroom procedures, and assessment – just to name a few.


Constructive comments about this eLearning module are welcome.

Blogging Essays

Here Are The First Five Reasons Why I Love Sensei Steve’s Class

Before you start reading about the topic of this post, I want to mention that all the classes at

Hoover Karate Academy

 are taught by well-trained, committed teachers who care about their students.  I wanted to focus on one class in particular, but that is no reflection on the other classes whatsoever.

Sensei Steve Turoscy, Jr. is a fighter.  I don’t mean that he is simply an excellent martial artist and an instinctive fighter.  I mean that Sensei Steve has overcome a number of challenges in the time I have known him, challenges that less-motivated human beings would have considered too difficult.   He has an internal locus of control that is inspirational.  He will not be held back by his circumstances; instead, he wants everyone to know that he is going to overcome them, and that if you find yourself in the same kind of situation, you will overcome them, too.



You have to aspire to inspire before you expire. Sensei Steve

Reason One: Everyone Is Welcome

I started Sensei Steve’s class as a white belt, after Sensei Kristie told me about the class and said I should try it out.  Others told me it was a very difficult class and that I should wait, but Kristie convinced me that I would be fine.  Therefore, I showed up the following Saturday morning at 8:00 AM, hoping that I would not be turned away.  On the contrary, I was welcomed.  I was also told to do what I can, and encouraged to continue to improve instead of expect to be able to do everything the first class, or even for several classes after that.  If I remember correctly, I was the only one wearing a white shirt that day.  Everyone else was a black belt.  Although that was intimidating at first, by the end of class I felt better.  I have been attending that class as often as possible since then.   Since then, too, other white shirts have joined the class.  They feel just as welcome, too.

Reason Two: You Are Always Challenged

When I think back to that first time and about how little I could actually do, and compare it to now when I can do so much more, I think it’s that Sensei Steve and the other students do not accept that a challenge is insurmountable.  What they do believe is that practice is the only way overcome internal and external obstacles to your progress.




Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. Sensei Steve

Reason Three: You Never Know When Sensei Will Break the Routine

We have a format that combines PT, traditional martial arts, and fighting, and there is a certain rhythm to the class.  You never know, though, when Sensei Steve will say he wants to try something different.  He’s very creative, too, so those “different” things could be almost anything.

Our current schedule is:

– First Saturday: Regular Class
– Second Saturday: “Creative” Class
– Third Saturday: Regular Class
– Fourth or Last Saturday: Technique Class

Still, you never know if that regular class is going to turn into something you weren’t expecting.  Sensei Steve can add something much more challenging when he is in the mood.  He is also an observant teacher and knows when to change the routine to accommodate those of us whose achy joints and bones just can’t handle the regular routine that day.  He has also been very kind to me personally, allowing me to modify as I must when doing some things.  The point is: Sensei does what every good teacher should do.  He reads the room and acts accordingly.

We often have more students join us the fourth / last Saturday of the month for Technique Class.  It’s a great class!  It gives us a chance to work on the techniques and kata that we need to know for our next test.  I wish more people would come to the other classes, too.  I’m sure they would find them enjoyable.

When I was training somewhere else, our classes were all the same.  It was cookie-cutter curriculum that had to be followed by every teacher, handed down from corporate headquarters to the franchise owners.  It was boring.  So, it’s special to me to have teachers be able to try something new to get their point across.  Additionally, Sensei Hoover is not one to sit back and let the curriculum get stale.  He is constantly thinking about it, it seems.  Changes to the curriculum happen all the time, in the hopes that our techniques will become more effective and efficient.

When you come regularly to a Saturday class at the North Dojo, you learn so much – about yourself, about the practice, and about dozens of absolutely wonderful people.

Reason Four: He Has Welcomed My Son into Class

My son is 15 1/2 years old, and this class is for adults.  However, when he started working last May, I asked Sensei Steve if my son could come to class so he wouldn’t miss training on a Saturday.  He agreed without hesitating.  Recently, my son has been a regular in class, and in just the short time he has been coming regularly, I have seen a change in my son, both in practice and in spirit.  He works very hard in that class; as a result, he is stronger, a bit more confident, a bit more strategic in his practice, and a lot more skilled as a fighter.  My son has always been my best teacher, but now he is my teacher in martial arts class, too.  Being able to train with him on Saturdays (as well as on Tuesdays) has been a blessing.

He isn’t the only young adult who has been able to train with us on Saturday, and those who do are special kids.  They are bright, talented, and mature.  We who are able to train with our children have been given a special gift.  Sensei Steve would be the first to tell you about how much that gift meant to him while he was training with his own son, also named Steve, who now teaches at the West Dojo.  One day, he told Lucas and I about how important those years were to him.  Having seen the senseis interact, I know they were special to his son as well.

One of my favorite stories comes from another Mom who trains on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Her daughter often trains with us on Saturdays now.  She says that at times she will think of a technique or a kata and struggle to visualize it properly.  Usually, her daughter is on the bus going to school when this happens.  So, she will call her daughter and ask her about it, which always leads to her daughter asking her in an exasperated voice why she is thinking about that now when she has work to do.  Nonetheless, her daughter has the answer!   Training with her child has added a complexity to their relationship, and another stretch of common ground upon which they can stand together.

How cool is that?

Reason Five: Class Starts at 8:00 AM

For the longest time, my workday has started at 5:00 AM when I first shuffle down the stairs to make coffee.  Some days, I do start working at about 5:15, but more often, I am trying to wake up and ease into my day.  Therefore, a class that starts at 8:00 gives me a chance to sleep in a bit (till 6:00!), but still get in a class early enough in the day that the rest of my day is mine to do with what I will.  That usually involves a nap!

Because of the early hour of the class, my son is able to attend and still go to work on Saturdays.  He loves that.  Those of us who go to that class all agree that it is an ideal time, for any number of reasons.

Come in at eight, punch your ticket, and the rest of the day is yours. Sensei Steve (paraphrased)




These are just some of the reasons I love Saturday’s 8 AM class so much.  I’m sure that my classmates have many more to contribute as well.  Please leave a comment using the form below.  Thank you for reading.

Education Learning Teaching

Spending Professional Development Time and Money Wisely

Perception is everything.  Despite our best intentions, when we present ourselves and our ideas to the world, how others see us or those ideas depends on the context in which the other exists, as well as how we have planned and prepared the presentation.  Our lack of understanding of the other’s condition could be our downfall, or we could get lucky and find ourselves in alignment.

In teaching, we have a few basic tenets that help us avoid misperceptions and misconceptions.  First, we believe in “starting from where the students are,” meaning that we use the students’ experiences to help them construct new knowledge and understanding.  Another important process is “differentiating instruction,” so that students can succeed with the same concept, skill, or content starting at their own level of ability and proceeding at a pace that works for them.  This has evolved into “personalized learning,” which targets that individual’s needs, not just their ability group.  Teachers’ access to technology that interacts and responds to the student has helped make personalized learning possible.  One could argue that it needs improvement, but that can be said of everything.  In fact, a continuous improvement mindset is preferable in many settings, not just educational.

Other concepts that are important to education (and there are many more than what I can write about here) include Understanding by Design, Project-Based Learning, Data-Driven Instruction, Standards-Based Instruction (Education), Evidence-Based Instruction, and 21st-Century Skills integration. These are all laudable ideas, if implemented properly and with care.

That educational researchers and mainstream literature write about these tenets of education often is a matter of record.  Therefore, it surprised me to read in The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development that teachers perceive the professional development (PD) offered to them to be too generalized (Hasiotis et al., 2015) .  Despite the district or state’s best intentions, many teachers feel that PD is irrelevant to them and their context, rendering it not useful.  Even the job-embedded activities were not helpful, according to the report.  Teachers in the districts studied over two years were disappointed, and the millions of dollars spent on PD were, essentially, wasted.  Meanwhile, those providing PD continued to feel that they were serving their teachers well by creating, adopting, and deploying programs that helped their teachers learn about what great teaching looks like.  Why is the perception so disjointed between those developing and providing PD and those who are receiving it?

According to this report, the problem is not connected to funding.  In fact, their research concluded that districts spend an average of $18,000 a year per teacher, which translates to $8 billion being spent in the United States each year.  The problem is not connected to the amount of time spent, either, according to the report.  Teachers reported spending at least 150 hours, or 19 days, working on professional development activities per year.

The problem, then, is related to spending but not the amount of money or time devoted to the cause.  Instead, it is about how teachers and PD providers are spending their time.  The Mirage includes excellent recommendations for the improvement of professional development.  I highly recommend reading the report.  For this post, I would like to focus on personalizing professional development.

Teachers are students too

The best way to get students engaged initially with the material is to convince them that it is relevant to their lives.  They will take ownership of their learning if we can convincingly answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”  To keep them engaged, however, we need to work with them and provide meaningful feedback.  We do this through formative assessment, a process that is supportive and encouraging.  We design activities that are within the students’ zone of proximal development so that they are just challenging enough that students will learn, instead of being overwhelmed, with a bit of help from us. We challenge the students’ critical thinking, problem solving, creative, and collaborative skills in ways that we know our students can handle and then gradually release responsibility for the learning to them as they progress in their understanding of the concept, skill, or knowledge. In other words, we engage our students in cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). Why, then, did the teachers in The Mirage study not experience professional development that way? Teachers are students too.

Use Action Research to engage teachers

Action Research is a process that makes the teacher a researcher and a participant in the study(“Action research for teachers,” n.d.; Creswell, 2005). It is a deliberate and well-planned study of one’s current practice. It is also an experiment with the following steps: identify an area of improvement, collect the data, implement a plan of improvement, analyze the data, report the results, and react to the results by proposing ways to improve one’s practice. Action research can be cyclical in that one study leads to another idea, which leads to another study. Action Research doesn’t have to be a lonely process; groups can work together if their research questions are similar, but in the end, each person strives to answer their personal questions and improve their own practice. They answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” themselves.

Professional development in situ

One advantage to doing Action Research is that it is professional development in situ. Action Research is similar to job-embedded activities, which are popular in professional development, but those activities start with prompts that were devised by someone else. Action Research, however, starts with a prompt (research question) that the teacher creates, to answer personal questions. Like job-embedded activities, it encourages the teacher to use the qualitative and quantitative data to hand, which is data related to one’s students. During the implementation process, the teacher is collecting still more data, which is still related to the students and to instructional effectiveness. The teacher then analyzes that data, striving to determine if their implementation plan worked or if more change is necessary. While all of that is similar to a job-embedded activity, that it starts with the teacher-created prompt makes it much more worthwhile.

Another aspect of Action Research that is very important is that teacher researchers are supposed to report their findings. Using in-service days to let teachers present to each other could, potentially, make those hours more productive. First, the teachers are dealing with the same student population. Therefore, teachers will hear their colleagues’ research questions and may choose to adopt that question for their next research project, as it relates to their experience in the classroom. Additionally, they may choose to implement another teacher’s solution simply because it worked for that teacher, who has many of the same students. This may lead to cross-curricular adoption of teaching strategies, allowing the students to experience similar teaching and learning methods within different subject areas. The notion of “what works in education” is, then, adapted to the culture in which the teachers and students are members.

Teachers in The Mirage study would benefit from this type of professional development. Their students would benefit, too. It could, potentially, make an instructional coach’s job much more difficult, and the program could suffer from a lack of rigor if the teachers are not taught how to collect and analyze data properly. Since these teachers think that their PD activities are nearly worthless, however, I think that making the switch could change the lives of these teachers and their students for the better.

Professional development tools

PD tools have flooded the market. There are apps for the phone and tablet, desktop applications, books in all formats, CDs and DVDs, mp4 recordings, YouTube videos, and so much more. I have tried quite a few of these tools and I like almost all of them. When doing Action Research, however, the first and last tool teachers need to use is the data collection and reporting tool, whatever that might be.

Teachers form questions for further study based on their classroom environment (or that of the school, if working in a group). Within that environment, the students figure prominently of course. Data tools can help teachers form impressions of their students. Through different lenses, the teacher can view the students’ progress historically, longitudinally, and currently. Based on these impressions, teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching and those who taught them before. Data tools with holistic data capture can unite academic progress with other factors influencing a child’s well-being, such as socioeconomic status, extracurricular activities, IEP status, and ELL progress.

Unfortunately, many teachers do not know enough about these tools to use the data wisely – if at all. Teacher preparation programs do not normally teach data analysis. This was true when I was studying to become a K-12 teacher, at least. Because teachers lack this valuable skill, some Action Research projects lack the rigor required to truly make a difference in the classroom. In a study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, it was clear that half the teachers studied were comfortable with using data to improve instruction, but the other half were overwhelmed by the idea and claimed they did not have the time to learn data analysis skills, or felt that their current methods worked for them (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2015) It is a fascinating study, one I recommend reading, along with The Mirage.

The last thing we want is to waste even more of the teacher’s and the district’s time. Therefore, I propose that teacher PD needs to include instruction on data analysis along with Action Research. PD providers should design the sessions so that teachers are using their data, thereby making the sessions relevant to them. Instructional coaches can work with teachers to help them understand what they are looking at, and verify the teacher’s conclusions. They can use these sessions as formative assessment of teachers, encouraging them to take risks to reap the rewards of continuous improvement. Make the data relevant to the teacher, help them to see the windows of opportunity the data shows, help them to understand where their students are and how well they can get to where they need to go, and teachers will embrace data analysis. I am sure of it because, after all, perception is everything.


Action research for teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2015, from

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2015). Teachers know best: Making data work for teachers and students. Seattle, WA. Retrieved from

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, Winter. Retrieved from

Creswell, J. W. (2005). Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson / Prentice Hall.

Hasiotis, D., Grogan, E., Lawrence, K., Maier, A., Wilpon, A., Jacob, A., & McGovern, K. (2015). The mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from

This post was recently published by the SunGard K-12 blog: