4 Ways to Spot a Great Teacher

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on how to spot a great teacher.

  1. Great teachers have intellectual lives outside of their classrooms and typically have large vocabularies.
  2. Great teachers believe intelligence is achievable, not innate.
  3. Great teachers are data-driven.
  4. Great teachers ask great questions.

Not one word about playing sports outside of the classroom. That holds with my experience. Adults who play ball games completely baffle me. I gave up playing games in 5th grade.

So as I read this and thought about my colleagues, I would have to say that the article appears to hold up pretty well. But I wonder if killing things with a gun is the Vermont version of an intellectual life outside of the classroom. Or, if watching sports on television qualifies as intellectual. Those are the questions I would ask a great many Vermont teachers.


Chromebook-logoThe school where I teach is going 1 to 1 with Google Chromebooks this fall. Every kid will receive a Chromebook computer that they are to carry with them at all times.

Now knowing that each kid has access to the Internet and that I can place a great deal of my materials online, rather than printing it out, is great. Of course there are studies which show that handwriting is far better for memory and acquisition, so paper will not be eliminated from my classroom for years to come. Still, I am excited about the possibilities.

Anyone who knows me, also knows that I hate Google. I don’t trust them at all. I won’t use them for anything—not searches, nor mail, nor google doc—unless I am forced to. Sadly, I am forced to use my employers email system which is simply gmail hidden in the background, but I can avoid them for all other purposes.

Nonetheless, if my students are going to have Chromebooks, then I had better know more about them than they do. At present I own 3 Chromebooks: The Samsung, the Acer, and the Dell. The school has selected Dell for the kids, and that’s OK, It’s a pretty decent device. My personal favorite, for a number of reasons, is the Acer. It’s the easiest to hack. Though virtually all Chromebooks ship with 16 GB of local SSD storage, my Acer now sports 128 GB and dual boots into Ubuntu Linux. [edit: Turns out, they liked the Dell better, but it was going to cost $75 more per kid than the Acer and so at the last minute they went with the Acer instead. Would't it be great if the kids could hack their chromebooks the same way I've hacked mine!]

Here are my observations having used Chromebooks pretty steadily all summer:

Surfing the web

They work really well for this. The Chrome browser is a WebKit based browser, so it’s fast and follows standards. HTML5 support is excellent.

Sadly, it also includes a version of Flash, which I loathe and which is a security time bomb. With the installation of Flash killing extensions like ClickToFlash, however, it’s a bit safer.

My Grade: A-

Audio and video editing

Sure, you can try to do this, but for the most part, this is a complete FAIL.

My Grade: F

Remote Database management


My Grade: F

Remote File Management

For the most part, it’s OK. There are Chrome apps for managing SFTP sessions. The big fail here is that I have yet to find any ability to access WebDAV shares, thus rendering the Chromebook useless for that task.

My Grade: C

Word Processing

Text editing is OK—there are tons of editors out there, many of which support Markdown. Of course there is GoogleDocs, which I won’t touch, but it works pretty well with iCloud (even though iCloud complains that Chrome is not fully supported). The real question, however, is why would use a web browser to do word precessing?

My Grade: B+

Social Media

Pretty good. Facebook and Twitter work just fine. Obviously Google was concerned about this.

My Grade: A-

Watching Video

Youtube works fine. .m4v files play fine and I keep a 32 GB SD card permanently installed in the Dell Chromebook loaded with movies. If I could access my media server via WebDAV, this would be a full A+

My Grade: A-

Command Line

Most people don’t need this. I do. All Chromebooks have a very limited shell (type Cntrl-Alt-T. Once there, you can immediately ssh to a real computer), but if you boot into developer mode you can get a real shell. You can also install Ubuntu Linux relatively simply, though I don’t recommend it on a stock 16 GB Chromebook. The Acer can be upgraded with a much bigger SSD).

My Grade: B+


This will surprise most people. Complete FAIL. Web browsers are for browsing the web. Email applications are for email. I don’t drive screws with a hammer—I use the correct tool. Yes, you can check a single email address relatively simply using a cumbersome web interface, and Google has done their best to make Gmail work well, but it’s still a kludge. I have a dozen email addresses, 6 of which I use every day. Opening 6 web tabs and having to check each email account individually, rather than using an actual email client with a unified in-box with intelligent replies is a non-starter for me.

My Grade: F

Teaching is not a business…

From the New York Times.

Why is it so hard for some people to see this? Why are so many, so clueless?

Counting down the days…

3 more days with these miscreants. God help me my LAIS course makes and I never have to do deal with a study hall again!

That’s my baby!

Ultimate Tournament May 2014
Ultimate Tournament May 2014

Fiserv.com technology absolutely SUCKS

This is the 3rd time in 8 days that all access to internet banking through http://fiserv.com and it’s affiliates (http://checkfreeweb.com/ and http://secureinternetbank.com/) have been down. These are not short outages either. They’ve been down nearly 12 hours again at this point in this outage alone.

I use two local banks to manage my money. The National Bank of Middlebury, and the First National Bank of Orwell. Both of them contract to an affiliate of Fiserv to provide online banking and bill paying. As a result, for much of this week I’ve been unable to do any banking at all.

I wanted to see if I could figure out more about fiserv and as it turns out, they’ve grown their business largely through purchasing other companies and have very little in the way of their own technology (a lot like Microsoft). Furthermore, it’s pretty clear, once you take a closer look, why they suck so much. When you look at their URLs, it’s evident that they’re running on Windows boxes using ASP. (lots of .asp tags in their URLs).

In this day and age, how any company even attempts to run something as critical as online banking on windows, I just don’t understand. It’s a house of cards already teetering when you boot up a clean install. Building anything on it is a recipe for disaster.

I’m going to have to find a bank that uses something more reliable.

I don’t know what’s come over me.

Lately I have found I am increasingly intolerant of ignorance. I am intolerant of bigotry, and hence I have become a bigot myself. Today I found myself thinking (again) that a 3 digit IQ should be a requirement for anyone to breed.

I spend so much time around kids whose parents clearly smoked, drank and did crack all through pregnancy and infancy, and I wonder that we can’t pass laws to prevent this. I know it’s not the kids’ fault, but why should the rest of us have to suffer for the ignorance of great unwashed?

I really don’t want to go to the department meeting…

Sigh… Thankfully, they are almost always shorter than all faculty meetings, but it’s sunny outside and I would rather work in the yard!

Reading *Capital in the Twenty-First Century*

Thomas Picketty’s update to Kapital is an eye opening read. I’ve barely begun and I’m already in even greater fear for my daughters’ future!capital

God help me but teenage boys are annoying!

One of the most challenging things I have to do is deal with a bunch of teenage boys in a special study hall. Now most of them are annoying, but likable. But god help me there are a couple who are quintessential ugly americans who daily remind me how embarrassing it is to retain american citizenship.

Just a few more years and it’s back to Europe and I will, I hope, never have to deal with the ignorance, bigotry, and provincial attitudes of these types ever again.