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August Merz III

August Merz III

August "Sandy" Merz III, NBCT has taught design and algebra and other STEM subjects at Safford K8 IB World School in Tucson, Arizona since 1987. In 2010 he earned his National Board Certificate in Career and Technical Education. Shortly after that he became active in the teacher leader movement, particularly with the Arizona K12 Center and the Center for Teaching Quality. He writes the Digressive Discourse blog (http://ow.ly/Kpd0O) for CTQ and contributes to Stories from School Arizona (http://ow.ly/KpmOu). His articles have appeared in ED Week, Kappan, Ed Horizons, and Go Teach. Follow Sandy on twitter @amerziii

Posted by on in School Culture

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The following post, originally appeared in my Digressive Discourse blog at the Center for Teaching Quality's Collaboratory. I do the activities when I have new students at the beginning of each semester.


I'm feeling very "Piratey" these days. School is back after winter break, and my new 8th grade engineering students are completing the trials I wrote about in Teaching Secrets: Getting to Know Students Through Seating Challenges.

On the first day in previous semesters, students would follow up the seating challenge by completing a written survey with questions like, "What do you do in your spare time?" Or, "What would you like Mr. Merz to know about you?" I expected them to work silently on their answers, and we practiced silent minutes until we all agreed on what silence sounded like. Rather, we practiced until they agreed with me about what silence sounded like. As I dismissed them that first day, I'd let them know that we'd figure out our rules as the need develops.

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Posted by on in Education Policy

Last July 20 we celebrated the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11's giant leap for mankind. I remember watching Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's historic moonwalk on a black and white TV in a motel in Alamogordo, N.M. I was 12 and had grown up watching launches and splashdowns of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Dinner conversations included my dad explaining the fire and door failure that killed the Apollo 1 astronauts and my mom explaining how returning capsules had to enter the atmosphere at just the right angle or they would burn up or bounce off into space. On April 11, 1970, Mrs. Reams' language arts class was interrupted by an announcement that the Apollo 13 astronauts had safely returned. After Apollo 17, astronaut Harrison Schmidt, one of the last two humans to walk on the moon, returned to his hometown, Silver City, N. M. and spoke to high school students about the mission. Silver City is my hometown, too. I was in the audience.

In October 1, 2013 HealthCare.gov launched. We all remember what happened next.

In The Key to Successful Tech Management: Learning to Metabolize Failure, Clay Shirky ties the success and failure of those (and other) massive, technology based, federal projects to the practices followed by their creators. He emphasizes that his is not a political piece evaluating the merits of the programs.

Shirky's observations about going to the moon and launching HealthCare.gov offer a means to judge the implementation of the Common Core.

Now, I know the Common Core is not a federal project. But it is certainly a massive technology-based project of nation-wide significance that includes federal incentives, government bureaucracies, commercial interests, a divided public and profession, and the media spotlight. So, I think it's fair to critique how states roll out the CCSS using Shirky's standards.

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Posted by on in School Culture

MetLife surveys about teacher satisfaction are widely discussed. Some commentators focus on the point that 81% of teachers are satisfied (very or somewhat) with their careers. Others talk about the decline in satisfaction - which is all, according to the MetLife data, from very satisfied to somewhat satisfied.

In my teacher leader circles (see here  and here) we talk about our passions and what gnaws at our gut or keeps us up at night until we have to act.

At the inaugural meeting of the Arizona TeacherSolutions team, the ice-breaker was to identify our greatest hopes and biggest fears. At a recent event to support National Board candidates, we broke the ice with, "What draws you to this work?"

But there's one question that no one seems to be asking: Are you a happy teacher?

Last weekend I read Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord. Hector is a psychiatrist who has many patients with medical conditions that make them sad, afraid, have strange thoughts, or have mood imbalances. He is glad that he can treat those patients with medicine and talk therapy and they get better. But Hector is disquieted by the large number of patients who have no identifiable condition. They're just not happy. So he takes a trip around the world and asks people if they're happy or not and writes his observations in a notebook. It's a delightful book and is also a movie, which I'll watch soon.

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