It's been a rough week up here in our neck of the woods. Sure, global financial markets are collapsing, Sarah Palin's email got hacked, the wars in the Middle East show no signs of ending...You get the idea. However, for us, we've been taking care of my wife's grandfather. He's been fighting cancer for a long time and finally reached the end of his rope, so a little over a week ago, he left his rehab center in Baltimore and came up to stay with us.
Ikea came to the rescue with a homey yet functional daybed that we could raise and lower to make him more comfortable. We snagged him a big, comfy recliner to sit in when he felt up to it, and hospice nurses stopped by every other day to check on things.
We all called him Pop and, until he lost consciousness two days ago, he remained the family patriarch. His youngest great-grandson used his doctor's kit to check on him, while his oldest great-grandson told him about drama practice when we could get him to the table for dinner. His daughter joked with him while his granddaughter helped him play Uno with his great-grandkids. I made him the silver dollar pancakes he requested, along with extra sausage since he had to fight for even two links at the rehab center. Unfortunately, he passed away tonight, surrounded by three subsequent generations who all thought the world of him.
So why do I bring this all up in an Ed Tech column? Because I miss him already and just can't get excited about Stanford's new online curriculum or whether he would have preferred Windows, OS X, or Linux if he could have used a computer? Probably, but more than that, Pop was a teacher.
Like a growing number of teachers, Pop came out of private industry to teach (he just happened to do it 50 years ago). He brought his experience in the military and later in shipbuilding to the original educational technology: shop, or what we'd now call Industrial Arts. Although Industrial Arts is quickly giving way to computer science and computer applications curricula, Pop was an incredibly effective teacher for a tough bunch of Baltimore City kids for many years because he brought real world experience (and a sharp wit and natural leadership skills) to the classroom.
Would he have been considered "highly qualified" by NCLB standards? Probably not. Neither would a lot of professionals today whose real world skills could go a long way towards addressing our students' deficiencies in math, science, and "21st Century Skills." Would you rather have your kids learning programming from someone straight out of college who minored in computer science or from a programmer who decides he'd like to teach high school instead of cut code for the rest of his life? How about science from a fresh chemistry major versus science from an molecular biologist who helped developed new biologic medicines and wants to change careers?
We need to remove barriers that prevent highly qualified individuals (in the real sense of the word, not in George Bush speak for teachers who have a master's degree) from becoming teachers. Pop didn't have any such barriers and was able to teach a lot of kids with very limited opportunities a wide variety of "20th Century Skills." Of course, Pop was a highly qualified grandfather, organist, great-grandfather, engineer, friend, husband, father, teacher, and human being.
His students were lucky to have him in their lives; we were far luckier to have him in ours. Pop, you will be sorely missed. You taught me a great deal about being a man and showed me what it really means to be highly qualified. Rest in peace.
Eugene Sterner: April 27th, 1922 - September 18th, 2008