has learned to no purpose, that is not able to teach."
MR. GEIB ACROSS THE AGES:
Mr. Geib was lucky enough to have been blessed with the best of parents: a highly erudite father who would buy him any book he wanted no questions asked and read the poetry of William Butler Yeats to the family at the dinner table, and a loving mother whose curiosity led her to eclectic paths and unorthodox beliefs, arrived at after long exploration and study. Growing up in a house that valued learning and the life of the mind so much, going into education was not implausible. Mr. Geib looks back at his childhood and tries to distinguish individual events amidst a blizzard of sports and school, sports and school. He was lucky in his choice of friends, and most of his best friends remain to this day persons he first met in middle and high school. Although he would never want to be a teenager again, Mr. Geib recognizes that he was fortunate in the circumstances of his youth and, more importantly, the misfortunes that did not befall him. He arrived at young adulthood a bit shy, intense, but always curious.
Mr. Geib graduated from UCLA in 1991 with a B.S. in International Relations; college is fondly remembered by him, both for the social aspects and the intellectual blossoming. He still looks back at college as perhaps the best time of his life: he was old enough to know what he was doing, but still young enough to have all the energy in the world to do it. Mr. Geib worked his last two year paying his way through college in the trauma center at UCLA; he got a good whiff of death there, watching the benighted and the unfortunate breathe their last breaths sometimes right in front of him, something he thought not entirely bad: an early taste of death can add savor to a whole life. Mr. Geib learned more there in that emergency room than he did in any college classroom.
Upon graduation Mr. Geib embarked upon the traditional post-university backpacking adventure where he managed to visit every major and most middle-sized cities in Europe not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mr. Geib happily remembers drinking wine with newly free Czechs his own age under the statue of Jan Huss in historic downtown Prague, talking about the fall of the Soviet Union and freedom, and singing Beatle's songs. Ah, to be young again!
ALL GROWN UP, BUT WHERE TO GO?
In adult life Richard flirted briefly with a career in law enforcement for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, having been strongly influenced by witnessing murder victims expire sometimes right in front of him in the UCLA Emergency Room. (This was in the early 1990s in Los Angeles when crack cocaine ran rampant through entire neighborhoods and the murder rate went through the roof.) Mr. Geib became a Reserve Deputy Sheriff, but it was not long before he decided to do something where he would not spend his entire life with the desperate, the poor, and the Godforsaken.
The experience was educative in the extreme. Richard wanted to do good, but in law enforcement this would almost always mean dealing with honest people in their worst moments – or, more often, violent and depraved individuals during their everyday hardcore existence. In working in the jail, Richard had as much of prison life and prison culture as he wanted. (He also that saw some cops were not much different than those they policed.) Consequently, Richard decided to become a teacher, whereby he hoped to become a helpful, constructive person, who would not live a burden to the earth, as do so many.
So Mr. Geib earned his teaching credential from Mt. St. Mary's College and became licensed to teach both English and History at the secondary level. He start his teaching career in 1994 at Berendo Middle School in the Belmont Cluster of the LAUSD in the Pico-Union neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles. At Berendo, he taught ESL to immigrant students and developed an e-mail project with classes in Arkansas and Russia. Working in the difficult conditions of the inner-city schools ranks as the most humbling, dispiriting move of his life. Places of poverty and violence and scant literacy, those areas of Los Angeles. Enough said on that sad, dark chapter of Mr. Geib's life.
On October 31, 1996, after a long struggle with lung cancer, Mr. Geib's mother passed away. After her protracted macerating death, Mr. Geib's family was traumatized, even as they were at the end happy to see her no longer in pain and departed to a better place. Mr. Geib subsequently moved back home with his grieving father for one year, performing freelance computer work to support himself and traveling extensively. Mr. Geib managed to get to Paris for Christmas of 1996, to Hong Kong before the British handover to the mainland Chinese, and all over South America by plane and car that spring. Mr. Geib has always preferred to use any disposable cash for travel rather than for a new stereo or anything like that, and he rarely regrets any trip overseas. But one year vacation was enough, and Mr. Geib was eager to return to his vocation, teaching.
In the fall of 1997 Mr. Geib took another position at the Milken Community High School where he taught three years at the Bel Air Campus. He taught both English and History, Techniques of Writing, sponsored the Mock Trial team, and was a member of the campus-wide technology advisement group representing the middle school. Choosing to work at Milken was one of the best decisions of his career. He got to work with extremely intelligent and well-prepared young people in a world class school that prepared students to attend the best universities. For the first time, Mr. Geib was able to see education as it should be.
After a long search up and down the California coast, Mr. Geib decided to teach at Foothill Technology High School in the city of Ventura -- read his resignation letter to his previous boss to understand better why. Mr. Geib was excited about the opportunity and hoped for the best as he moved to Ventura County after a long domicile in Los Angeles, but only time would judge the wisdom of his choice.
FOOTHILL TECHNOLOGY HIGH SCHOOL
At this point in his career Mr. Geib did not have to settle for any job. He could afford to pick and choose. Mr. Geib launched a job search in schools along the California coast from San Luis Obispo down to San Diego. In his research he discovered a school that was in the process of being built, focused on high technology and a project-based curriculum. “Perfect!” Mr. Geib said to himself. He wrote a personal letter to new principal, Mrs. Judy Warner, and soon he was the only full-time teacher from outside the district hired onto the staff that would open the school in the fall of 2001. He moved to Ventura County work at Foothill Technology High School. It is the only reason he lives in Ventura County. (Outside of work, Mr. Geib to this day knows almost nobody in Ventura County.)
It was a bit of shock at first, as Mr. Geib went from a private school where he taught three classes with a total of some 55 students to no less than six classes and approximately 140 students in public school. The quality and motivation of most students was also lower: the culture was different. Students did not have to fill out competitive applications, pass tests, and obtain letters of recommendations to get into Foothill. It was public school with a wide gamut of students, from the high to the very low, that entered Mr. Geib's classroom in that first inaugural year at Foothill Technology High School. But Mr. Geib had no lower expectations for his Foothill students then he did at Milken. He wanted to give each student the same amount of time and energy as he did in private school, and hence the hours he spent at work increased exponentially. They have not decreased since.
Mr. Geib knew he had to earn a reputation both for himself and for Foothill, the new school in town; and so he worked sixty-hour weeks consistently to build custom curriculum, to the point where he developed severe tendonitis in his wrists, as he typed so much that his forearm muscles failed and then collapsed. (Former students remembered the black wrist supports Mr. Geib used to wear? The medical problem has abated but never gone away.) He developed the ninth grade project which received garnered good press and community feedback, and helped put Foothill on the map. He helped pioneer various projects in the Tech Lit I curriculums as well as the Visual Communications. The American Experience, the crown jewel of his career, started in the fall of 2002. It is a busy, committed life.
Mr. Geib feels fortunate to have found a comfortable niche at Foothill Technology High School in the Ventura Unified School District where he could be successful. All instructors and student choose to come to Foothill, as opposed to automatically being sent there. The school is relatively small and close knit. It makes a difference. Mr. Geib was heartened to see 91% of students from the first year pass the exit exams in language arts, 17 percentage points higher that the district average. And, then, in May 0f 2008 Foothill Technology High School scored a "highest possible" 10/10 on its standardized tests, the only high school in Ventura County ever to have achieved this "tops" ranking - and we achieved that score five years in a row. Foothill students achieved an API score of "904," the highest score in Ventura County for that year and considerably higher than the student body socioeconomic makeup would suggest, and higher than neighboring public schools. As Principal Joe Bova claimed, "The test scores are just a reflection of a lot of positive things that are happening here."
This achievement was a validation of much of the hard work Mr. Geib, Kristen Pelfrey, Wendy Butler, Taz Sharif, Josh Dinkler, Linda Kapala, Steve Blum, Dianne Hammond, Connie Carr and the others who had started in portable classrooms during Foothill's inaugural 2000-2001 school year when the main campus was still under construction. The idea was to do it differently and better; that had happened. There were waiting lists at every level of students eager to get into Foothill Technology High School. Mr. Geib is committed to providing a world–class education for his students a world-class from his students, as are the other FTHS instructors (sniping to the contrary notwithstanding).
Foothill Technology High School has since earned the highest possible 10 out of 10 API score four years in a row. It was not for no reason.
But since his very first day, teaching (or trying to teach) in the ignominious Los Angeles Unified School District, Mr. Geib has encountered the well publicized shortcomings of the public school system: a vast, mindless bureaucracy and rigid rules and regulations, and their we-know-best manner; politics, politics, and political motivated cant emitted by educational leaders, so-called; the baleful teacher unions, as guilty as anyone; and worst of all, mediocrity, mediocrity, and still more mediocrity (or worse!) – from top to bottom. Mr. Geib at times struggles to hold up his morale as a public school teacher. He believes in the public school system, and that is in large part why he left an excellent private school to come to Foothill, as his letter explained.
Mr. Geib considers himself a devoted professional; teaching is a vocation for him – almost his whole adult life. From about the age of twenty-seven until thirty-eight Mr. Geib did almost nothing but learn the bones of his profession – he had no family of his own, almost never even a girlfriend or hobby. Mr. Geib was married to his job, and worked 60 and 70 hours a week year after year. (This was what he felt every student deserved from their teacher.) The vast majority of Mr. Geib’s immediate family and high school friends and acquaintances are professionals who are highly educated and take their jobs seriously, and Mr. Geib knows he is every bit as “professional” as they are. But the “job” is not always as professional, and the “system” is often plainly unprofessional. It can be dispiriting.
At worst it is no different than the Department of Motor Vehicles. Mediocre work for mediocre pay in mediocre working conditions - but secure lifetime job protection. This too often attracts a certain kind of individual who is unexciting and complacent - and counting the days until retirement and release. Risk-averse, security-conscious, union-protected public employees. The professionalism that teachers should have as "knowledge workers" is thus largely underminded by seniority, lifetime tenure, and a lockstep pay that renders them little better than other government employees of large bureaucracies. Where teachers should exemplify an individual creativity and powerful innovation in their practices, there is too often instead a pressure to standardize curriculum and to do just what the bosses say you should do.
Again, the result is too often mediocrity.
THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST?
At times Mr. Geib could hardly feel more isolated and alienated from his professional peers around the country. He looks around at teacher conferences, and it does not appear that he is surrounded by the best and the brightest America has to offer. Is it true that America’s best and brightest do not go into teaching? Why don't they?
Mr. Geib was raised by his family and community to believe the idea (and he has adopted it by personal conviction in adult life) that if you are going to do something, you should give it your all and be the best. One wants to be the best. But America is a great place to be a fighter pilot, an investment banker, a popular actor, or an superstar athlete; it can be a hard place to be a teacher. America prizes excellence and respects it above all else, and this can make it a hard place to be anything less than “the best.” Teachers are not among, because they are paid and respected so little, the "best."
For their altruism many do respect teachers, Mr. Geib has noticed; but people generally don't want their children to grow up themselves to become teachers. That, in Mr. Geib's opinion, is most telling. Teaching is like wheat bread: healthy and fortifying, but bland and uninteresting (and inexpensive - people value what they have to pay for). In a country filled with the idolization of money and the worship of celebrity, there is hardly anything less prestigious or sexy than a teacher. (Ah, yes... schooling and "education" - "an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own.") Watching closely near and far for years, this is what Mr. Geib has observed.
The evident is not merely anecdotal. A recent National Education Association (NEA) study demonstrated that fewer men enter teaching nowadays - at least in part because the "respect is not there," according to NEA President Reg Weaver. "And as a result, they decide they are going to go into other areas that will pay them better, show them more respect." One generally encounters the most ambitious and talented individuals in professions other than teaching; and often the best teachers, Mr. Geib has noticed, are precisely the ones that leave teaching for more remunerative careers. ("Those who can, can; those who can't, teach.") There is left the vast main of middling mediocrity teaching our children, bordered by a few stinkers and a handful of superstars to round out the picture.
Now, Mr. Geib knows in his heart his job is invaluable (well nigh indispensable!), that a teacher never knows where his influence will end, wherein he becomes almost immortal. He also clearly acknowledges the profound debt he owes the best teachers from his own past. It is an intense, very personal bond: "This teacher gave you not only their lessons and their knowledge, but more importantly their precious time and attention - their life's energy! What could be more valuable than that?" That was Mr. Geib's feeling when he was a high school student receiving instruction, and so it is now as he is a teacher himself.
This is what Mr. Geib's head tells him, but his heart feels otherwise. Often Mr. Geib feels something of a failure. He sits down with his friends and family (lawyers and successful business people, almost all of them) and feels painfully inferior, a failure almost. He feels he is an unworthy successor to his most worthy father. And since teachers do not deal directly with money or make any short-term profit for anyone, teachers labor outside of the world of commerce; and thus the adult world, in its vast majority, ignores teachers. In this light, Mr. Geib feels about two feel tall. His job seems inconsequential -- not to be taken entirely seriously.
You might think at this moment Mr. Geib would think to change careers, but ironically it is exactly then that Mr. Geib feels most passionately the need, no the conviction!, to be absolutely the best teacher out there, if he can. "If you are going to be in a mediocre profession, you can at least be among the very best in it!" Mr. Geib tells himself. "Thus you can redeem yourself! Hold your head high among family, friends, and neighbors! Need feel no shame!" One can at least be very good at one's job, and there is a clean, simple satisfaction in that.
And so teaching became for Mr. Geib not a job or a career but a vocation, a way of life, nearly an obsession. This was the job at its best. It was something to live for, something Mr. Geib needed. He had been a thinking person, always had been since he was a kid. As an adult Mr. Geib would teach the glory and brilliance of the Renaissance, the sacrifice and heroism of the Civil War, or some other equally fascinating subject all day and then read more about it late into the night; if Mr. Geib did not need to feed, house, and clothe himself, he would do it for free. Is there anything more fun or exciting than teaching Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to teenagers? Mr. Geib would almost pay for the privilege of doing so!
And Mr. Geib would be an exciting teacher, belying his job's reputation for frowzy tedium, the slow agony of listening to a bore intone endlessly. Through long preparation and labor utilizing break new ground in projects that results in student DVDs, night-time presentations to the community, etc. Mr. Geib would put the adrenaline back in teaching, or die trying! (So accept this, gentle reader, as Mr. Geib's apologia pro vita sua.)
Mr. Geib has reduced the equation to this: a teacher can enjoy his career and his life in America if he adheres to a different value system than is held by most Americans, at least in materialistic California. But it is no easy thing to follow an entire life against the grain of the vast majority of one's fellow countrymen. What if you are wrong, and they are right? The whole project is an act of faith. What if it really is about making lots of money, driving an expensive car, and living in a huge house? What then? Will it all have been a mistake?
GOOD AS IT GETS
Now Mr. Geib knows that Foothill Technology High School is about as good as it gets in the public school arena. He knows he is lucky to be at Foothill, compared to so many of his professional peers around the nation, teaching in ancient and broken-down schools, bulging at the seams with disrespectful and angry students, where the threat of violence is never far from one's mind, and with student achievement unequivocally abysmal yet published in the newspaper to the humiliation of all. Foothill Technology High School is not like that. It is a place where a teacher can teach, be a part of functioning whole, and serve alongside the many fine teachers that make up the faculty. Mr. Geib is proud to teach there! Foothill Technology High School is a successful place; it earned an 890 score on last year's API. This is the best score for any high school in Ventura County. That is no accident.
Then again there are the hard realities, so often present in teaching, beyond the control of any local principal or school superintendent, that grate so: the lack of professional respect, the surfeit of authority, the low wages, the lack of resources - teachers having to use their own money to buy supplies for students, the weekend car washes just to buy books for the school, the volunteer evenings at "McTeacher's Night" where students patronize the local McDonald's fast food establishment to witness the spectacle of their teachers serving them, etc. Then there is the officious mindlessness of the educational bureaucracy, no different than the DMV. The time-serving education professors in colleges around the nation who, if they had to justify their position, dollar for dollar, by how their work serves to increase student achievement, 90% of whom would lose their jobs. Everyone acknowledges how much the schools need improvement, all the way back to the infamous "A Nation at Risk" report of 1982, and everybody has an opinion on what needs to be done, but the system moves cumbrously and uncertainly: two steps forward, one step back.
Mr. Geib, every now and again, glimpses a bumper sticker, probably affixed there by the teacher-driver, that reads, "All the people who could fix government are too busy teaching school to do it." Teachers are the last people Mr. Geib would want running things, frankly. He would rather choose his leaders randomly from the phone book. Schools are the way they are, in large part, because of the incompetency of educators, especially at the top. These are kind-hearted people who like group hugs and warm fuzzies, but are at sea when it comes to being in a position of authority or navigating a budget. Look at any school board in a major American city. Regard the poor quality of teacher education training and education departments in universities nationwide.
But it is equally true that the average American taxpayer is woefully unwilling to pay into the public K-12 education system what it would take to run a class operation. Mr. Geib is more sympathetic to another teacher bumper sticker: "It will be a fine day when schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers." From a purely gain-loss/capitalistic-financial point of view, why would anyone with a certain level of education and marketable skills agree to work 60-70 hours a week for only $37,000 per year? Can that person rightly be seen as a "chump"? Are we not surprised that it is hard to attract intelligent and ambitious young adults into teaching? Should we be surprised when they leave the profession, as do approximately 50% of all teachers supposedly do? How can we expect educational leaders to run a Cadillac operation on a shoestring budget?
Mr. Geib looks around and spies those few outstanding veteran teachers here and there, those willing to sacrifice much of their personal lives and financial futures (not someone dabbling in teaching for a year or two before they go to law or medical school), and who do so in the name of teaching and their student's well-being, and he scratches his head in wonder with profound respect at their idealism and sense of giving. Admittedly, lots of other teachers give about what they are paid to give: not terribly much. (Mediocrity, thy name is teacher!)
And one weeps for the trees when one purveys the vast quantity of op-ed pieces, government position papers, and scholarly articles published yearly with the "answer" to the shortcomings of the "educational crisis." Arriving down to below from high above emerges from our educational leaders, so-called, a new trend in teaching about every five years. Mr. Geib, in his relatively short career, has already endured several of them: from critical thinking to multiculturalism to technology to the "standards" campaign and now with Common Core. (Watch and there will be a new one in a couple years. Mark my words.) Each trend had something to offer, and one hopes teachers gleaned stalks of wheat from the mounds of chaff, but none had much real effect in real schools and in reality the situation, as far as Mr. Geib can tell, has remained essentially the same: the goods schools were still good because of the strengths they always had, and the bad ones still were bad because the symptoms were addressed while the root causes of illness remained the same. This situation, despite all the attention paid to school reform in the last decade, shows little chance of essentially changing. (Keep in mind that Mr. Geib has taught in both some of the best and worst public schools in the state.)
It costs little for some politician or professor somewhere to come up with the "answer," but any top-down campaign not embraced at the grass roots level will be ineffectual, as always, seeing that it avoids grass-roots realities. As educator Ted Sizer, in this rare instance of common sense in the educational world, has explained:
Yes, too many chiefs, not enough indians. Too many out-of-touch generals and colonels, not enough competent First Lieutenants and First Sergeants. And then at several levels you add a bureaucracy that is no better than the one at the DMV to run things in education, and you have a most lamentable scenario. (Sacramento, where is thy blush?)
Oh, our "advanced" age of "credentialed" and "licensed" "professionals"! The USDE, CDE, CCTC, VCOE, and VUSD. We are acronym-crazy and paperwork-heavy, and we think that equals quality. It doesn't. It equals compliance and obedience. The two are not the same.
In the 2007 official California "Governor's Committee on Education Excellence" report, Chairman Ted Mitchell claimed that the best teachers and administrators in the public school system have succeeded "in spite of the system and not because of it." How true! Anyone working in the trenches can see this on a daily basis. Yet little ever changes.
Now Mr. Geib doesn't wish that you, esteemed reader, think him an "untutored youth, unschooled in the false subtleties of the world." Yes, he recognizes that no job is perfect, and that every profession has its deficiencies, disappointments, and bureaucracy. No, Mr. Geib does not ask for perfection. And nobody forced Mr. Geib to become a teacher; he chose the profession knowing full well its sacrifices (if not its degrading inanities). For better or worse, it is the path Mr. Geib has chosen. But as teaching can be a hard life with few external rewards and many frustrations, hopefully it will be one without remorse or regret. Mr. Geib doesn't wish to sink into bitterness and sullen resentment, as do many teachers he has encountered; the last thing he want to do is slide into the role of a martyr, unless it is quite unavoidable.
Mr. Geib remembers a college roommate at UCLA, whose father after 30 years on the job was on the verge of retiring as a high school teacher in Lompoc, California. This man was incredibly full of bitterness and anger against "the system" that had employed him for fully three decades. The spectacle was as off-putting as it was depressing, as naked anger always seems to be. Mr. Geib remembers thinking as a young man - at a time when he had not ever thought to become a teacher, looking out then into the "adult" world from the cocoon of college - that this man's position in life was one to be most devoutly avoided. It was immediately and alarmingly clear to Mr. Geib that this man's layered bitterness must have greatly sapped the energy he needed to teach his students: they were the ones who would suffer, not the culpable idiots-in-charge. Mr. Geib understands now first-hand some of where he was coming from, but the idea that he might end up like that retiring Lompoc teacher makes Mr. Geib's blood run cold. It is his worst nightmare. One wants more from life than that. One's students deserve more.
This poor motley world of American public education -- "an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own."
STUDENTS COME FIRST
None of the aforementioned problems of "the system" matters to Mr. Geib’s students. They care only about the quality of instruction they receive day-in and day-out. They care not at all about the foolishness and folly of educational politics. If they even heard about it, Mr. Geib has noted, they care little about the president's new "No Child Left Behind Act." They have even less time for some education professor's theory of critical pedagogy. They don't watch school board meetings on television, and they would be bored to tears if they did. They shun the theoretical and distant for the practical and immediate. Does the teacher use instructional hours wisely and profitably? Do students receive a first-rate education? Does the instructor, as many teachers do, waste student’s time? Is it about worksheets and busy work? Or is it critical thinking and learning at a profound level? Is the teacher an expert in his/her discipline? Does the teacher know anything that he/she can teach me? Is the teacher passionate about the subject being taught? Does the teacher have high expectations for all students? Is the teacher incompetent? Does the teacher care about me and my future? Intimidating but germane questions to any teacher, clearly.
For better or for worse, students are delivered up to a teacher who will control their lives for some several thousand instructional minutes every school year. Will the teacher's ministrations be worth their time? THAT is the question. Adolescents are acute and excellent critics, sniffing our hypocrisy and incompetence like champs. And they are not shy about expressing their opinion. (As a beginning teacher this intimidated me, but I came to appreciate it greatly: a demanding audience brings out the best in a speaker.) Furthermore, parents place a profound trust in a teacher's ability and willingness to provide the tools for success in life into the hands of their beloved offspring. (You have to be either a parent or a teacher to understand this "trust" fully.)
So Mr. Geib tries always to ensure that his students hear none of his gripes about "the system." He never wants to waste their time, make the class about himself or his views, as many teachers do with their hostage audience. He makes sure the class is about the subject matter and his student's relation to it. Mr. Geib makes sure they only see the professional, positive side of him that gets a good night’s sleep, eats a good breakfast every morning, is prepared for class, and gives their work the time and energy it requires. He wants only that his students think, use their minds - and he will not let them get away with less. When Mr. Geib was a student in a public high school, there were a few excellent teachers, many mediocre ones, and a few horrible cases (who could not be fired because of union protection, the situation being little changed two decades later). As an adult himself now, Mr. Geib aspires to be one of those few outstanding teachers – the ones who bring literally an entire lifetime of reading, writing, learning, and teaching to their students. Mr. Geib aspires to be a teacher that truly is that rare creature – a scholar in the K-12 system.
Of course, it is not about ever arriving at such a preposterous place, but the process of making the journey from more ignorance to less ignorance is the whole point. This is equally true for teacher and student, in their shared journey. This may not sound like much, but you would be amazed how many students learn next to nothing in their classes. This is not the less for the fact that their teachers teach them next to nothing.
"ADVANCED PLACEMENT" NIRVANA
Not surprisingly then, Mr. Geib always desired one day to teach Advanced Placement classes. An AP teaching position is the best job possible in public education, in his opinion, a real honor – as well as much more work. (Advanced Placement classes are generally college-level instruction for ambitious and disciplined high school juniors and seniors.) After seven years on the job, Mr. Geib finally gained the opportunity to teach his first Honor's and then AP classes, and it has been no looking back since. When Mr. Geib goes to conferences or trainings for AP instructors, he feels none of the sad deflation he normally feels at educator meetings: a few cursory conversations with his peers, and it is immediately clear to Mr. Geib that he is among the elite. It is perhaps indicative of Mr. Geib's entire unease in the American educational mind set that the word "elite" is unfailingly pejorative among educators. Mr. Geib always wanted to be an "elite" teacher.
Do you not understand? There is the odiferous stench of orthodoxy in the schools and universities of America that Mr. Geib has imbibed almost his entire life. That diversity is the most important national trait - that gender, ethnicity, and class are paramount - an almost knee-jerk anti-Americanism; the zeitgeist is diversity training, consciousness-raising seminars, and "sensitivity" workshops. It is no drinking and no smoking and no loud parties on campus. No right thinking person, from this "education point of view," would ever consider serving in the United States military, and war is by definition wrong and unnecessary - it is a sort of sticky-sweet near pacifism and a specious agitprop. Like any orthodoxy, it mixes instances of truth with half-truths, and finally everyone goes with the predominant flow, and the difficult and unpleasant truths of life are ignored and the result is a flabby and mediocre kitsch. The sharp elbows and awkward angles of life are negated by the pressure to be "politically correct."
It is not so much that Mr. Geib necessarily disagrees with their ideology, but that he has an innate dislike of orthodoxy and group think and anything that deflects individuals from sinking deeply into themselves to perceive and seek to understand those glimpses of truth that chance to flicker across the landscapes of their souls. Mr. Geib feels more comfortable just about anywhere other than in some liberal arts college faculty out on the "left coast." Yet this is zeitgeist in public education.
Perhaps it is that Mr. Geib is a bit of a romantic when it comes to teaching. He cares little or nothing for rules and conventions where he sees no point to them. He is not a "joiner," and is perhaps a bit of an irascible individualist. But it is in disagreement where one sharpens one's understanding.
A GRAND IRONY
How strange and ironic it is then that he is a teacher, Mr. Geib often reflects. He always loved learning and devoted much (most!) of his life to it, but Mr. Geib never liked school or schools - and he still doesn't to this day, even as he is a teacher and has taught for many years. Mr. Geib sees others proudly proclaim their alma mater to the world with "UC Berkeley Alumni" or "SLO Mustang" license plate rims, and they proudly frame and display their diplomas at home. Mr. Geib thinks he used his diploma to plug a leak in the ceiling some time ago: that about sums up his opinion of the world of educational institutions that Mr. Geib has found and still finds himself associated with, whether he likes it or not. Irony of ironies!
Mr. Geib learned mostly outside of schools. He hated being told what to do by teachers. Education as learning to obey, rather than to think.
Perhaps the teachers Mr. Geib find's himself most out of sync with are those who are so single-minded on their disciplines that they never really "see" the flesh and blood students in front of them. Instead of allowing students to approach complicated questions in their own way, they force them to do it the "correct way." School becomes a series of jumping through hoops, satisfying teachers and how they claim it "should be done," as education becomes more about control than learning. Each year Mr. Geib believes it is more and more like this in the K-12 system. Albert Einstein once claimed, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." Mr. Geib hopes that long after content material learned in Mr. Geib's class lies dimly remembered in the farther reaches of the mind, former students will remember much else about the interactions they had with instructor and peers while in Mr. Geib's classroom. Not so much the content learned but the way one learns to engage life and find the positive in the present and build on it for the future -- as Mr. Geib's education motto claims, "Non schola sed vita decimons." We learn not for school but for life!
And if that were not ironic enough, Mr. Geib found himself more than ever a part of the "educational establishment" he so disdains! He serves as an adjunct professor at University of La Verne, teaching undergraduates working towards their teaching licenses, and at Azusa Pacific University, helping graduate students integrate technology into their lesson plans. In this capacity, Mr. Geib enjoys helping teachers and teachers-in-training find their way to being more the exemplary teacher they always wanted to be.
But this is only a part-time gig at night; Mr. Geib's vocation is to teach high school, where he can not only teach subject-matter but also mould character. Mr. Geib has met many "refugee from the classroom"-professors who moved to teach college to escape from the discipline problems, the emotional demands, and demeaning conditions of the K-12 system. Mr. Geib sees it just the opposite. He would not want to work at the university-level where instruction and scholarship are so much more impersonal; he likes the intensity of the high school classroom, the incredibly demanding audience of 16- and 17-year olds, the absolutely critical crucible of adolescence - where young people go one way or the other in their lives, so often settling into their "adult" characters.
Teaching grad school classes was enjoyable in the sense that one could mentor “baby teachers” and help them gain traction in their beginnings as educators. But students in education graduate schools are busy with their student teaching, the coursework, and completing their professional credentials. They have only so much time and attention for professors; they are busy jumping through hoops. One has less depth of communication. University teaching, Mr. Geib found, was more mono-dimensional and antiseptic. It was clinical. High school was more honest and intense (if more messy and more mean).
I never really got to know my university students that well (or as well as I would have liked). It was almost a system of learning that didn’t want you to get to know students that well. And it was also a second job, and on those days when I taught high school all day until the afternoon and then taught college classes until 9:30 -- well, those were the time my back was going to go out on me. Twelve hour workdays are onerous, and when all the work is in front of students "on the stage" it is doubly so.
And my God, they had so many MEETINGS in universities. Faculty senates and department of this and provost of that. Large organizations. So much more talk and then more talk. “Political correctness.” Group think. “Mission statements.” Never felt like a comfortable place to be. It makes the K-12 system look relatively simple.
Lesson plans. Curriculum. Pedagogy. Project-based lessons that do everything to ensure that the learning will be profound and lasting. Bloom’s taxonomy. Classroom instruction. Connection between teacher and student. A clear thought arrived at through hard work, with doubt waiting in the wings. Skepticism. Searching. Doubting. Thinking. Daring to come to a conclusion. Thinking it over again. Sinking into self. Reflection. Glimpses of light through clouds.
Truth. Truth above all else.
Mr. Geib cared about little else, professionally. Many of the formalities of the educational system were more annoyance than anything: the benchmarks exams, the paperwork, the district specialists, the meetings, etc. The classroom became sanctuary.
Luckily, 99% of his time was spent with students.
Enterpeneur Steve Jobs famously looked to reform education public education before he died. He concluded that due to the convoluted politics and interest groups (ie. teacher unions) involved, it could not be changed and improved. I agree with him.
One would have to attack the problem almost from the root. Destroy the systen to save it? I don't know, and I am glad I am not responsible for it. But I don't see those currently in charge making much of an improvement.
Richard is happily married to Maria Geib, a third-grade teacher at Juniperro Serra Elementary School. Yes, their family conversations over the dinner table mostly revolve around education and teaching. They have two daughters, Julia Emerson and Elizabeth Anne, and reside in Ventura, CA.
Learning to balance the obligations of raising small children with staying on top of grading and other work responsibilities has been a challenge. It is the typical "both parents work" scenario that has two parents scrambling to take care of house and kids, and to fulfil work obligations. (And God forbid if one of the kids gets sick...!)
Beyond teaching at the campus, Mr. Geib has pioneered and administered the first iteration of a school-wide wiki for Foothill's students, as well as the staff wiki for faculty online collaboration, since superceded some seven years later by a second iteration operated by Mrs. Melissa Wantz. Why, already into the second decade of this 21st century, do so few K-12 schools have an organized web 2.0 presence for all teachers and students? Is it part and parcel of the lack of dynamism and creativity one sees too often in schools and teachers? A fear of the new, unknown, the edgy, the risky, the exciting? Is it the standardized "one box fits all" multiple choice tests, mind set that reduces a teacher's job to giving district benchmarks and other mediocre pablum to bored students? A rejection of three dimensional complex thinking towards the learning of two-dimensional basic skills? Do schools have to be as mediocre as they so often are? The freedom to think and the adventure of learning should be such explosive and dynamic experiences, and yet we too often make them tedious and as wearisome as the SAT exam. Why?
Is school as it is currently practiced more about learning how to OBEY than how to THINK? In his nineteenth year of teaching, Mr. Geib is semi-sympathetic to the critical view of persons in low-income communities (and not only there) that schools currently prepare students to be prison inmates more than anything else. (On the other hand, you don't see him volunteering to go back and teach in such a place.)
Regradless, a focus in Mr. Geib's career has always been working with his peers to foster the integration of technology into the curriculum. As already mentioned, he works as an adjunct professor of educational technology for Azusa Pacific University since 2005. Mr. Geib has taught the following APU EdTech classes at their Ventura County satellite campus: Microsoft Instructional Software Applications, Digital Video for the Classroom, Learning in the 21st Century: Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology, Hypermedia Enhanced Learning Environments, and Web Design for the Classroom. But these two classes have been his mainstay at APU: Evolving Educational Technologies, and then the end of program Capstone Experience in Educational Technology and Learning, both of which he has taught over and over. He also led an educational philosophy class for the University of La Verne.
In addition, Mr. Geib has consulted with Dr. Ben Chavis at the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, California to help set up an Advanced Placement program and vertical teaming. He have been a reader for the College Board in the Advanced Placement United States History reading.
In addition to speaking at many conferences, Mr. Geib has received teaching awards from Stanford, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. He also won the Inspired Teacher Scholarship (Visual Learning), Impact II Disseminator Award, Ed Lyon Award for Excellence in Education, and is a National Society of High School Scholars Educator of Distinction, Who’s Who in America 2007, and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, Multiple Year Honoree.
Mr. Geib is also a Fellow at the South Coast Writing Project at UCSB, a branch of the National Writing Project. Furthermore, he is an SDB Fellow at the John Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. Finally, he is on the Board of Directors at the Center for Civic Education.
What else? Mr. Geib believes a day without serious reading and intense thought is a mistake and a waste. He also believes a day without serious exercise and a good sweat is a mistake and a waste. Mr. Geib genuinely loves both guns and poetry, two passions that, in contemporary America at least, would seem mutually exclusive. Perhaps this explains why Mr. Geib never has "at home" in any profession - he is "torn."
At any rate, If you care to hear more about Mr. Geib’s focus as a teacher, click here to view a philosophy of education submitted in application for a fellowship, or check this presentation proposal for an educational conference: they capture well his slant on teaching. Finally, You may view Mr. Geib’s resume, should you wish to explore deeper his formal professional history (dates, presentations, awards, etc.).
MELLOWING AND MATURING IN THE JOB
As Mr. Geib's career lengthens, he becomes more and more indifferent to questions about "how the schools should be run" or what should be "the role of education in society." (Bill Gates and his Foundation spent some $980 million dollars since 1997 to improve public education, and he got little to show for it.) This is but a vexation and waste of spirit, in his experience, making no difference in real life; and really nobody cares what he thinks about those issue, anyway. What more and more his thinking focuses are other questions more central to his thinking:
Most adults would most likely wish to forget the awkward state of being 16-years old, the high school stage of existence; but every adult was a teenager once, and every teenager deserves and needs adults who are interested, supportive, and committed in their lives - who serve as a positive influence, if at all possible. It is too bad that teaching high school is held in such low esteem by so many - as if one had to have one's head examined for willingly returning to the high school setting by choice as an adult! High school is where the most intense passions in the world are to be found, for both ill and good. One encounters the raw beating heart of humanity, unadulterated and without subterfuge.
And so I continued through the middle years of my career.
POST-ADVANCED PLACEMENT ERA: A NEW START
After thirteen years, I was done with Advanced Placement classes. It had been a great run in what was probably the most productive dynamic era of my working life. But like anything else it had run its course. I needed a change. AP classes were like a powerful muscle I had used for so long that it had grown exhausted and become not stronger but weaker over time – an overuse injury. I needed to switch it up and do something – anything – different.
It was a crucial time in my career. A delicate moment. For so long I had identified with being an “AP teacher.” I was ready to deliver the intense class lectures, foster the explosive discussions, read all the essays, proctor the mock exams on Saturdays, attend the cram sessions before the “big test,” and to later to write those interminable college letters of recommendation. (All for no extra pay or recognition.) I had been ready to throb with energy to motivate students to reach deep and bring forth their best efforts. It was a powerful elixir. Back when I was first teaching middle school in downtown Los Angeles, I knew in the future I would be somewhere better teaching AP classes in this way. (I had too much respect for myself and for teaching to stay there.) And it took me nine long years of hard work to finally be in the position to teach AP classes in a supportive school environment where I could take my teaching to that next level. I felt like I had finally gotten on the varsity team – finally earned my “black belt.”
In stepping down from AP classes, I was a different teacher than before. I was going to approach teaching with an open mind and more humility. As a younger teacher I had more than my share of ego and self-regard – and this “arrogance” was perhaps necessary to fuel the effort to put in the insanely long hours and burn my best life energies during the ten years it took me to get my AP classes up to the highest level I could. But now the ego was mostly gone.
In one way or another, it has been my life's work.
So I settled into teaching the lower level high school seniors. No longer did I frenetically speed through Advanced Placement curriculum and engage in intellectual fencing matches in classes where I basically was a freshman college professor at a University of California campus. Now I was teaching students who mostly would be attending community college.
But I could slow down and talk with students more. These kids were on the very cusp of young adulthood and would soon leave the K-12 school system into the wider world. There were 18 years old. The class was officially labeled "Government/Economics," but I would almost call it a "life skills"-style class.
If I had had the facilities and resources, I would have taught them how to cook cheap and healthy meals.
The problems of the educational system receded. I didn’t have many opinions on it anymore. The promises of educational technology as a movement to improve learning had gone mostly unrealized. That was OK. School district assistant superintendents were almost irrelevant; they seemed almost to live in a different world. I had great autonomy to do my job as I thought best, in the end. I rarely grew angry. My students and the teaching held all my attention.
A PROFESSIONAL”INDIAN AUTUMN”
In my 22nd year of teaching, I found myself in the autumn of my career. And it was surprisingly sweet. I was almost fifty years old. I was approaching that point when I had been a teacher for half my life.
I let all my professional memberships expire and stopped speaking at conferences. I didn’t get awards anymore. I had little contact with other adults. I had shut the door to my classroom and the outside world.
I would genuinely enjoy the teaching and my students until I retired.
And that was the only real reward any classroom teacher ever receives, I had learned.
What I also learned: to minimize the pains of the job (most of which I had little control over), and to maximize its rewards (which I could control). To enjoy the months and years as they passed one more quickly than the other.
It would not last forever.
And so it is that you will find the author of this missive, Mr. Richard Geib.
Tomorrow is a new day, gentle reader. Let us enjoy it while we can.
who dares to teach must never cease to learn."
MR. GEIB ACROSS THE SEMESTERS: