Who Helped Me for No Reason

This is a very personal post.

Recently, I have had a number of people I’m close to use me as an example of someone who worked his way up to a successful career “without any help from anyone.” They like to use me as an example of why we should eliminate taxpayer-funded social programs. This argument about me is absolute baloney. I have been helped immeasurably from many people and institutions, including government, private sources, and individuals who didn’t know me.

To counter myself being used as an example in arguments, and to remind myself how lucky I am–to recall the unearned privilege I’ve enjoyed in many cases–I list some of the people and institutions who have helped me get where I’ve gotten. For these reasons and more I support government programs that help people, and I am happy to give back to the next group of people who could use the support to move ahead.

Though I acknowledge them, I do not track here some unearned social privilege I have enjoyed, such as white privilege and male privilege, meaning I was not held back by and was no doubt supported by institutional racism and institutional sexism. Instead I focus on other forms of privilege.

I track only up till the time I secured a job as a college professor. I have 20+ more years of professional experience, and assistance, since then. But I decided I didn’t want this post to go on forever.

The point of this post is not to broadcast my professional accomplishments, but to publicly acknowledge all those who assisted me in completing them. Yes, I worked hard (but not always), and I generally did the right thing (but not always), and I pretty much stayed out of trouble (but not always); however, had I not received ANY ONE of the unearned privileges I list below, I have no idea where I would be.

The number of people and institutions to which I owe my gratitude is huge, and I’m certainly forgetting many of them. Thank you. -KL

1970-1980: Pre-Kindergarten (St. Dominic’s) & Kindergarten to Eighth Grade (St. Helena’s), Bronx. NY

  • My parents paid tuition
  • Members of the local church community greatly subsidized that tuition through charitable giving, such as collections from mass
  • Clergy, especially nuns who took a vow of poverty, taught me for very little salary (if any)
  • Lay teachers, non-clergy, taught me for very small salary with very little (if anything) in the way of healthcare and retirement benefits
  • Public taxpayers supported the schools with free police, fire fighters, water, and other services

1980-1984: High School

  • I paid nothing to attend a public high school with a world-class reputation, which continues to open doors for me. I used a taxpayer-subsidized bus pass to get to school, and I enjoyed a taxpayer-supporter reduced price for lunch for at least part of my high school years.
  • The daughter of a friend of the family suggested I apply for a job at McDonalds and then served as a reference for me for the job. I held that job for 3.5 years and saved good money from it to help me with college.

1984-1988: College, Southampton College, Long Island University

  • The father of my best friend offered me summer and winter work as a custodial worker in a city high school for which I was paid a huge $11/hour) and received paid sick and vacation time. When I left McDonald’s, I made $3.45/hour.
  • I received a work-study job at college, which paid minimum wage and was financed by taxpayers through the federal government. This money helped me buy supplies and enjoy some spending money during all four years of college. I also gained valuable work experience as an admissions aid and campus tour guide.
  • I received very generous financial aid from the federal and the state government through TAP, a Regents scholarship, direct federal aid, and access to federal student loans with very reasonable interest rates. I attended a small, private college. When I graduated, I accrued about $20,000 in loans. I believe I paid about $220/month from 1989 till about 2002, when they were paid off. I could afford this without significant sacrifice, but I knew I could defer these loans if I had financial hardship, which means they didn’t cause me stress (avoidance of stress is another major privilege).
  • In my second year of college, I didn’t submit the federal financial aid form in time, and as a result was not eligible for the generous financial assistance I would have been eligible for. This was entirely my fault. I seriously explored the possibility of quitting college to join the Army. When my professors and the Admissions staff found this out, they worked with the university financial aid office to find enough funding for me to be able to stay, which is what I really wanted to do. Had I gone into the Army, it’s a good bet I’d have been involved in the Persian Gulf War, as my brother, a Marine, was.
  • My college roommates teased me incessantly about my Bronx accent to the point that I basically lost it. That lack of accent has probably given me a great deal of assistance in my profession. I can claim Bronx status without having the completely unfair social stigma that an accent might have inflicted. (This is a situation for another post altogether).
  • I was taught by professors who spent hours with me outside class to assist me in maturing and learning to be a good student (which I was not in high school), and who wrote letters of recommendation for me to get a job.
  • I benefitted from the support of a generous cooperating teacher at East Hampton High School who helped me learn the basics of teaching in a real-live high school.

1988-1992: Columbia High School, East Greenbush, NY/SUNY Albany

  • My first professional position was as a high school English teacher in upstate NY. As a public school teacher, I enjoyed a reasonable salary, job security, health benefits, paid sick time, and a host of other benefits, all courtesy of local, state, and federal taxpayers.
  • I was represented and protected by a union, which was supported by member dues from across the school district, the state (NYSUT), and the AFT.
  • I had a department chair and principal who saw the best in me, excused my many stupid mistakes, and helped me become a successful teacher, launching a career that has fulfilled me ever since.
  • I was part of a union- and taxpayer-supported mentorship program that gave me unbelievably strong support in my first year as a teacher. Yes, I paid dues, but what I received in return was far more than I could have done if I had kept that money. I have no doubt, that mentoring program is a major cause for my success as a teacher.
  • I paid $98/credit for a masters degree in English from SUNY Albany, a terrific school and degree program. Among others, I was taught by Professors Cy Knoblauch and Judith Langer, two giants in the fields of Composition-Rhetoric and English Education, respectively. Their influence continues to pay off in my career. SUNY Albany was funded more generously at that time by NY state taxpayers. This tuition was so reasonable, I was able to pay for it with my salary as a teacher while I was also supporting myself, paying off my student loans, and paying income tax.
  • My college teachers wrote me letters of recommendation that assisted me in getting into the PhD program in English at Syracuse University. Teachers are not required to write such letters, nor are they paid to do so. It’s completely voluntary.

1992-1996: Syracuse University

  • I was offered admission to the Syracuse University PhD program in English.
  • I was offered a 4-year teaching assistantship that came with the following:
    • $9,000/year salary
    • FREE tuition for earning a PhD (FREE TUITION, for simply submitting an application with a small application fee ($100 or less)!)
    • The ability to teach 3 college-level English or Writing courses per year
  • Syracuse is a private school, so the public taxpayer support was likely much lower than at SUNY Albany. So I received a PhD for free (minus fees, books, etc) thanks to the generosity of donors and administrators at Syracuse University. I went through a competitive process to receive this phenomenal opportunity, but I did NOTHING to earn this opportunity. No one got anything out of giving me this opportunity, except me.
  • I earned the PhD in 1996, and it has opened many, exciting professional doors for me. I’d never have guessed years ago what I would be doing today. I am grateful to all those who have helped me, and I will always do my best to pay it forward through my taxes, my votes, my service, and my charitable giving.



A Review of My Summer Reading

I’ve gotten heavily involved in reading social media, primarily Twitter, and the manyImage result for images of reading interesting links to news stories, blogs, and studies I get from those I follow. But I wanted this summer to try to pull back a bit on that and get back to reading more full books. I’m taking a few moments to check back on how I did this summer. Classes begin tomorrow, so I’m counting today as the last day of summer reading.


  • The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization, Randy Grieser (Confession: I’m only about halfway through this.)
  • Leading at The Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition,  Dennis N.T. Perkins **
  • The Resurrector (4th in the The Dominic Grey Series), Layton Green**
  • The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert I. Sutton**
  • The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, Friedman
  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier

Audio Books

  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, JD Vance
  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, Al Franken
  • You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir, Sherman Alexie
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah**
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil DeGrasse Tyson**

I took on a new administrative role last spring, so much of my reading this summer was about workplace leadership. I also did a lot of driving this summer, so I was able to take advantage of the time for audio books.

I liked all these books. (If I dislike a book, I stop reading it.) If I especially liked it, I put ** after it.


Two Books All (White) English Teachers Should Read

The events in Charlottesville, VA have rightly begun crucially important discussions about politics, race, and racism in the classroom. I am still thinking through my own thoughts about this topic, though I am (and have been) firmly of the opinion that responsible discussion of political issues absolutely must be taken up in English classes. A strong democracy depends upon it.

One useful suggestion I can offer right now is that all teachers, especially white teachers, read the following two books, which I reviewed in the March 2017 in English Journal. (NCTE has granted these review FREE ACCESS to all.) Teachers will find in these books extremely valuable information about teaching language more completely and about developing not just non-racist classrooms, but anti-racist classrooms.

  1. Other People’s English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African
    American Literacy Vershawn Ashanti Young, Rusty Barrett, Y’Shanda Young-Rivera, and Kim Brian Lovejoy. Teachers College, 2014.
  2. Raising Race Questions: Whiteness and Inquiry in Education Ali Michael. Teachers College, 2015.

Thank you for reading and for acting on these important issues. English teachers have a significant responsibility in the USA. Ignorance is rising, and we must rise to defeat it. I welcome additional suggestions for reading and more in the comments below.

Letter from the SUNY Deans of Education to the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York

My fellow and sister Deans of Education in the SUNY system sent the following letter in response to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute’s plans to permit teachers with virtually no qualifications to be appointed as “certified” teachers.

See below the letter for links to the regulation change and a public comment link where you can register your own thoughts about this damaging plan.


July 27, 2017


Members of the Board of Trustees

The State University of New York

State University Plaza

Albany New York 12246

Dear Colleagues:

We, the Deans and Directors of Education Programs in the State University of New York (SUNY) system, write to strenuously object to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute’s recent action to virtually eliminate teacher certification requirements for charter school teachers.  We call on the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to rescind the proposal and for Chancellor Zimpher and the entire Board of Trustees to speak out against these changes and take action to repeal them. This extreme measure essentially proposes to address the lack of qualified teachers in some charter schools by certifying unqualified teachers, and thus it has negative consequences for all teachers and the education profession across New York State.

The regulation change allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree to earn state teacher certification without broad and rich intellectual stimulation from education faculty, without taking appropriate coursework or completing an adequate number of field experience hours, without demonstrating adequate content knowledge, without student teaching, and without demonstrating the ability to teach effectively according to any standardized measure.

The regulation is proposed as a corrective to the difficulty of hiring highly-qualified teachers in SUNY-operated charter schools.  However, every child in New York State deserves a highly-qualified teacher, which means every teacher should earn certification through an accredited, rigorous teacher education program. It is entirely inappropriate to lower the standards for teachers because charter schools are finding it difficult to hire certified teachers, and is entirely unfair to the students in their charge. Creating a cadre of underqualified teachers is misguided, shortsighted, and harmful to the state’s children as well as to the profession of teaching.

It is particularly disconcerting that this lowering of standards for the state’s teachers is brought forth by the very institution that recently adopted TeachNY, a highly-rigorous and expansive set of policies for teacher education programs. These resolutions were widely and carefully considered statements of the importance and complexity of teaching, and of the necessity of rigorous, comprehensive, and accountable teacher preparation.  This misguided alteration proposed by the SUNY Charter Schools Institute flies in the face of the Board of Trustees’ resolutions on teacher preparation, ignoring their efforts to advance the profession in consistency, rigor, and transparency.

If SUNY and its leadership truly believe in the principles of TeachNY, they cannot undercut professional teacher certification by opening a “backdoor” to unqualified teachers. Teacher certification regulations can always benefit from continuous improvement, but creating a far less rigorous “backdoor” pathway for one special interest is dangerous and unacceptable.

We, the Deans and Directors of Education in SUNY, respectfully call upon our Chancellor, members of the Board of Trustees, and the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to speak out against and reject this inappropriate and extremely damaging proposed regulation.


The Deans and Directors of SUNY Education Programs

Robert Bangert-Drowns Jan Bowers Nancy Brown
University at Albany SUNY Oneonta SUNY College at Old Westbury
Walter J. Conley Stephen Danna Christine Givner
SUNY Potsdam SUNY Plattsburgh – Queensbury SUNY Fredonia
Thomas Hernandez Andrea LaChance Ken Lindblom
SUNY Brockport SUNY Cortland Stony Brook University
Natalie Lukas Pamela Michel Candace Mulcahy
SUTEC SUNY Oswego Binghamton University
Wendy Paterson Michael S. Rosenberg Suzanne Rosenblith
Buffalo State College SUNY New Paltz University of Buffalo
Anjoo Sikka

SUNY Geneseo

Nathan E. Gonyea

Empire State College

Denise Simard

SUNY Plattsburgh

For More Information:

The public comment period ends on September 9
Comments can be submitted to
Ralph A. Rossi II, SUNY Charter Schools Institute, 41 State Street, Suite 700, Albany, New York 12207, (518) 455-4250
They can be submitted via e-mail to charters@suny.edu

Submit via hard copy and e-mail.

The SUNY charter school proposal is available at the following link:

The public comment notice is posted in the July 26 NYS Register at the following link. It begins at the bottom of page 23.




The First Year of Edukention

It was just about a year ago when I decided my 2016 New Year’s resolution would be to start a blog. It was a no-brainer what it would be about-education and teacher education–and edukention seemed to be a pretty honest name for what I planned to do: express my own opinions on whatever aspects of my profession I felt like in the moment.

I began my blog in early January 2016 with the first post about a nasty part of education that has always bothered me. This remained my most-read post until recently. But I followed up quickly with a post about how lucky I was when I first started teaching. (In 1988!)

I kind of lost focus in the middle of the year, but I picked it up again in October 2016. In November, I wrote a post on the futility of grading objectively, which became my most-read post by far. 

It’s been a pleasure to write this blog because it’s helped me clarify some of my own ideas. It’s also helped me better understand a genre I frequently assign my students to compose, and I made some friends (via Twitter and Facebook) along the way. I have no real evidence that my blog has contributed anything to anyone except myself, but some have expressed gratitude for some of the posts, which is truly icing on the cake.

Blog Statistics

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about blogging is the tracking. I don’t mean any of this to brag (my blog remains an incredibly modest effort), but rather to show how cool a blog can be and what fun it can be to put one’s ideas out there.  Here are some fun stats I’ve gotten from WordPress:

In 2016, my blog got 4733 views from 3478 visitors:


December was my biggest month for views, after last January. This is due primarily to the one blog post.


WordPress also logs the countries of your visitors, which is really fun. Most of my views (about 4500) came from the US. But I also received hundreds of views from visitors in over 40 countries. And one of my posts, one on liking my students, was translated into Norwegian and reblogged there!


My most-read blog post was published on December 8, 2016, and it has received over 1000 views. My second most-read, Tips for Managing the Grading Grind, received less than half that number of views.

Regarding my most-read post, even though I published it on Dec 8, something happened on December 16, as the graph below shows. Someone shared it somewhere, where a bunch of people read it at once.


Another thing WordPress does that is pretty cool is track shares of the post on Facebook, LinkedIn, and some other sources.  Here is the tracking for that popular post:


That’s a lot of shares (for me) on Facebook. My closest to that for Managing the Grading Grind is only 65.

Final Thoughts and Looking Forward to a New Year

I have enjoyed my blogging, and I have every intention of continuing it in 2017. I think it’s going to be quite a year for educators, and I am certainly going to want a platform to express my views and try to keep some clarity. 

I think blogging is fun and valuable. I will continue to encourage (obligate) my students to blog. I think a free exchange of ideas is important. I will try to read more blogs, too, and to comment on more of them. I will also continue to participate in professional discussion on Twitter. I’m not ready to dive into Pinterest or Snapchat, and LinkedIn is still primarily a place for resumes for me. 

If you’re following my blog, reading it now or then, or sharing it with others: Thank you!

Happy New Year, and good luck to all of us in 2017.

Sincerely, Ken



To Ed Policy-Makers: Take the Danza Challenge

Since before the Common Core State Standards were just a flicker in David Coleman’s eyes, education reformers with no experience as public school teachers have been trying–within increasing success–to impose their ideas onto public schools.

Many working educators, particularly teachers who work constantly with students, wonder how those without any experience doing the job could possibly do a good job of creating 3D man near red question markcurriculum or education policy. Think about it: all military leaders have been through basic training; all union leaders have been “on the line;” all bishops have been priests; all principals have been teachers. There’s a symmetry of experience here that makes sense.

Elected officials are not expected to be experts in everything; but, they are expected to surround themselves with experts who will lead efforts in their areas of expertise and advise the elected official on the matter. But on education for too many years and under democratic and republican administrations, education leadership (especially education reform) has lacked any genuine expertise.

An Unlikely Model: Tony Danza

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to meet with Tony Danza who had recently published a book about his year-long experience teaching in a high-needs district in Philadelphia. The meeting never happened, as the actor had a fall on his roller-blades a few days before and wound up in the hospital. But the meeting gave me the impetus todanza-book read his book, which I confess is not something I’d have probably done otherwise. (There was also a television show, which received some very harsh criticism, and some criticism that praised his efforts, even though they failed to make good TV or to show good teaching.) I thought he book, however, was actually a very thoughtful and endearing read–and I’m not the only one.

Danza taught a tenth-grade English class for a full year under the tutelage of a fully-certified teacher, and during that year he experienced many of the challenges that classroom teachers face. He saw the extreme impact of poverty, encountered gang issues, hard-nosed apathy from students, being out of his depth, and utter exhaustion. And he taught only one class each day!

After a few months the cameras left, as the director and producers found the show was not going to be entertaining enough, but to his great credit, Danza remained for the full year, out of the spotlight and in the real classroom. His book is full of missteps and the “wisdom” he offers is a bit quaint for experienced teachers; but, it is pretty amazing to watch a bright, confident, accomplished person really experience the job of teaching and come completely around on how hard it is and how much expertise it takes. When Danza named his book, it expressed the fact that he now understands the enormous amount of stamina, intelligence, patience, and energy being a good teacher requires. As a result, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had has my respect as an educator.

To hear him give a brief discussion of his experience, check out Mr. Danza’s video about his year teaching.

All Education Leaders Without Real Teaching Experience Should Take The Danza Challenge

I realize that not all education leaders have the time to take a full year from their other work to teach. But, should education leaders–particularly those who are paid with public dollars or who have significant impact on those public dollars–be permitted to shape education without having experienced it as a professional educator? No, of course not.

To address this deficiency in many ed leaders’ backgrounds, I propose The Danza Challenge: Find an ordinary, probably high-needs public school (not a charter school), select a class to teach, and under the tutelage of a certified, professional teacher, teach for at least six weeks. No special treatment, no research assistance, no publicity, no special classes or help. One teacher, one class, one certified teacher. Go! 

Is six weeks asking too much from people who are going to shape education nationally? I don’t think so. If Tony Danza–an actor with no political ambitions–did a full year, they can do six weeks.

Why Take The Danza Challenge?

The Danza Challenge would offer the following benefits:

  • Education leaders would experience a real-world classroom, bringing them insight into the daily workload and challenges real teachers face.
  • They would understand the kind of exhaustion that comes from teaching. It’s not like on television and in movies. It is grueling work.
  • They would appreciate the advanced level of intelligence and expertise it takes to teach a room full of students effectively, particularly when that room full of students includes a dramatically wide range of student abilities and backgrounds.
  • They would get a better sense of the awesome responsibility real teachers have. Education reform in the board room is one thing. Actually seeing the living, breathing young students–looking into their faces, seeing their eyes as you implement pedagogical strategies and make decisions about cutting or funding services–is something completely different.
  • They would learn much more about the real challenges real students face. It’s not just about behaving well in class or getting the “best” teacher. Students’ needs are vast and complicated.
  • They would earn a modicum of respect from teachers. In six weeks, it would be just a modicum, but that’s a good start.

Earning Humility

Six weeks in the classroom will not give anyone the legitimate experience to claim that they have been a teacher. It’s not enough time. So no one should think of what I’m calling “The Danza Challenge” as a way that non-teachers can suddenly start claiming they are teachers. Instead, the hope here is that education leaders with no experience as teachers will begin to empathize with real teachers. Education leaders should come to understand the awesome task that is teaching, and ultimately education leadership should develop a strong dose of something that’s been missing: Humility.

Education leaders, particularly education reformers, have not been listening enough to real teachers, those in the trenches doing the actual work of education. Anyone who is 17-footsteps-clipart-free-cliparts-that-you-can-download-to-you-oxmeuy-clipartgoing to have influence on education policy or practice should walk in the shoes of real educators for at least six weeks. At that point, we can hope those leaders understand what they do not know and they should develop a disposition to run all their ideas past real educators for substantial feedback and probably very deep revision.

The Danza Challenge won’t solve all the problems in education policy, but asking education policy-makers to walk in the shoes of real teachers may be a few steps in the right direction.