Archive | July 2013

What can educators learn from tomato plants?

I love a good bargain. So, earlier this summer when I found the infamous Topsy Turvy tomato planter for only one dollar, I bought one.

I set up the Topsy Turvy and waited for lots of luscious tomatoes.

My tomato plant grew robustly and blossomed. But, the blossoms died one after another with no tomatoes.

I did my research and thought I found an answer. When plants are under stress, blossoms die.

Apparently, my tomato plant needed a good vacation or a Xanax.

Then an informed friend told me it takes two blooming plants in order to have tomatoes.

Who knew?

There was another tomato plant, but it was a sad thing. It had fallen from a shelf and broken in half. Rather than throw it out, I potted it. With few stems and no leaves, it resembled little more than a stick in dirt.  After a few days, though, it perked up and slowly over several weeks began to look more like a tomato plant. And then one day to my amazement there was a single blossom and then another.

I moved the smaller plant next to the larger one and waited to see what would happen. Within days, green tomatoes were growing with more budding out every day.

I share this story because, in my opinion, the significance of the two plants struggling apart but thriving together has several implications for educators.


Tomato plants need one another

What are those implications? How do you deal with stress? What can you do when a fellow teacher is struggling? Or when you are struggling? How do you benefit from collaboration with your fellow educators? How does this story illustrate the importance of persistance?


Great Answer. Wrong War.

The following is based on a true story told to me by a friend a long time ago.

Many, many years ago when Holly, an older student, took a college history course to finish her degree, she was shocked on the first day of class when the professor, after he explained what books they were required to read, said he would be there each class session but student attendance was optional except for the day of the final exam, the only grade taken in the class.

Blue Book Exam

“See you then,” he announced as he dismissed class.

Most students took him up on his lenient attendance policy, but not Holly. She attended each session of class, eagerly taking notes, reading and listening diligently and asking questions.

When exam day arrived, Holly was confident and as prepared as she could be for the test.She opened the blue book exam, read the rather broad question asking for a detailed description about a particular war and its significance to history.

Holly excitedly began writing.

She knew the answer. She had it in the bag. She would graduate!!

Holly wrote for hours until every page in the blue book exam was filled and she was more than satisfied with her answer.

A few days later, Holly received her graded blue book exam with a note inside, part of which said. “Great Answer. Wrong War.”

What do you think the rest of note said? Did Holly pass the class? Or did she have to retake it? What would you do if you were the teacher? If you were Holly?

Is data singular or plural?

If, like me, you enjoy the study of the history and evolution of words, you are an etymologist of sorts.

The best part is, etymology has nothing to do with bugs. 🙂

Have you ever wondered about the use of the word data. Is it singular or plural?

Well according to one of my favorite online resources, Grammar Girl, it is a little of both.


Percent v. percentage points

Educators may or may not enjoy mining through test data. Generally, though, if data shows an improvement over previous results, there should be a certain level of satisfaction found in processing the numbers. Of course, the converse is true as well.

Despite the results, once the data has been analyzed, it is time to share the information. In doing so, this math teacher has noticed too often the misuse of the word percent.

In the spirit of positivity, let’s say one year Algebra I was at 60% Advanced and Proficient and the next year the scores improved to 75%. We should all agree this is a 15 percentage point improvement.

It becomes a problem when we want to announce to our public a 15 % improvement when in fact it is a 25 % improvement, which, of course, is even better news.

For a quick review on calculating percent of change visit this site.

A few years ago, I was visiting the Web site of a state department of education when I noticed the misuse of the term percent. I wrote an email not unlike this post suggesting a correction. Within a few days I received a phone call from a rather annoyed employee of the referenced state department explaining to me that the Web site was written so “lay people” could understand the information. I countered I thought if those of us who knew better used the correct terminology maybe “lay people” would understand the correct usage of the terms as well.

As educational leaders, it is our responsibility to share reports with our public accurately. This is one way to ensure we do just that.

The Help

In the late 1960s, my daddy was temporarily disabled and unable to work. My stay-at-home mama became the breadwinner in our family. With help from my maternal grandparents, we were able to keep our modest home. With help from a church friend, my siblings and I continued to be able to eat school lunches every day. After daddy returned to work, mama kept her job. Just in case. And then with help from an elderly black woman, I was able to learn an important lifelong lesson.

The Help

First salt the skillet

Visit for great recipes.

Her name was Aurelia.

Everyday for several weeks after school she was there to watch over my two younger siblings and me for the hour or so before mama returned home from work.

While I did my homework, Aurelia would stand over me  and talk about my pretty handwriting and how smart I was. I was too naive to grasp the significance when she said she couldn’t “do that.”

Later that summer I enjoyed spending time with Aurelia while we hung clothes on the clothesline. We also spent time in the kitchen together where she taught me how to fry an egg by first sprinkling salt in the bottom of a hot cast iron skillet.

Too soon, it was decided we were old enough to be at home alone and our time  together ended. But forty-five years later, Aurelia’s impact on my young life is still felt and, even now, when I fry an egg, I always think about how Aurelia couldn’t “do that.”

As a teacher, there are days when I see students taking for granted the paths pounded out before them and I want to tell them about Aurelia.  I desperately want them to understand that there was a time not everyone was allowed to have a dream let alone live it. I want them to understand the importance of doing both well.

And then, I want to tell them the secret to a perfect fried egg.