Everything I Needed to Know I Learned on the School Bus
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

It was a very cold morning. Bitter cold. And I didn’t have to go to work. Smug and delighted, I closed my eyes and enjoyed one of the greatest benefits of retirement: time. And with this time I began to make connections on what I had become and why and how. The quilted bed cover couldn’t hide the underlining commonality of my choices. Yes, after seven decades of life the unifying theme, the force that created my life style, paid for my childrens’ education, home, and way of living was the yellow school bus.

From kindergarten through junior college the stodgy, sometimes packed school bus carried me to my destination without fail. And, as a teacher of 40 years plus years, I watched my students use the same style school buses. All told, after 70 years of life, the one constant was the school bus. Remarkable, in that time they essentially have not changed. The seats are the same, the ride the same, and the doors are the same. Sometimes I even wonder if bus drivers are not cloned with the same personality and demeanor.

The bus is above all steadfast. You were always eager to see it come and eager to see it leave. So the first thing the school bus taught me was to be consistent and on-time. So lesson number one, in life, as at the bus stop, don’t be tardy or, to coin a phrase, you are going to miss the bus. Many a homework assignment that was not eaten by the family dog has been forgotten in the rush for the bus.

I believe of all the institutions we honor the school bus is the most under appreciated. Put it in the public service category. It is expected to be there and it is, rain or shine. But what is most appealing about the yellow school bus is that it is also the most respected of all vehicles. Police cars and ambulances and fire trucks need blaring sirens and bright lights to get respect. The school bus just has yellow paint and it works. So lesson number two is that what you wear is important to others regardless of your thoughts on the subject. Indeed, it does not matter what you really are, it is the perception that counts. You don’t have to call attention to yourself what you really need is to be yourself. If you are successful at this people will see you for what you are and that is how respect is earned.

The bus teaches us lessons, but so do its riders. Jerking open, the school bus door opens to expose to the riders even more important lessons. Those huge entry bus steps are an entry to a stage. For a few brief moments you are the center of center of attention. Before you spreads mankind and it can be intimidating. You can accept the honor and quietly look for an empty seat or a friend, or you can call attention to yourself with some wit or action. Regardless, you will blend into the masses and your journey begins. Consider your entry a job interview. Prepare yourself for acceptance as well as rejection. So lesson number three is to be accepting of others as some days they may return that favor.

The school bus neutralizes any individuality with a set of strict rules. The bus driver is the enforcer and dictates the rules. The driver is the fascist government using the mirrors to watch you at all times and the operator even has the authority to stop traffic. Anything considered anti-social is considered cause for alarm. If the bus driver gets up and walks through the masses something needs correction. The Constitution is on longer in effect. So lesson three is that the driver represents society and is there to interpret norms. A prank, well placed blow, hair pull, or even an “accidental” trip are felonies on the bus.
This obedience to a dictator is also reflected on what school is designed to do: follow the rules. Indeed, by the third grade the damage has been done. Line up, sit down, be quiet, play nice at recess, and don’t offend. In other words bow to authority. Since a substitute teacher has not really earned that authority all bets are off and anarchy can rule for a while.

When you enter a school bus your initial concerns are where to sit, who is going to sit next to you, and what happens if you are sitting next to someone of the other sex. Unless you are a late arrival, you usual have a choice. On a good day a friend is waving to you. On an average day you take an empty seat and make yourself look at big as you can so there isn’t room for anyone else. On a so-so day you have to sit beside another of the same sex. On an almost horrible day you have to sit beside someone of the other sex and that person is just as unhappy as you are. On a really terrible day you are the third person on that seat and brace yourself with your foot in the aisle. As in life, you are not always able to control who you work for or your neighbors. The school bus seating is thus lesson number three: always be thankful you are on the bus and make it a learning opportunity.

The bus ride can be anywhere from a half-hour to several hours and just sitting there is a lost opportunity. Sharing and learning from others adds spice to your life. An old friend can be trusted to help you. Trying to hog the whole seat is a missed opportunity, even if it is more comfortable for some people to be by themselves. Sitting next to someone of either sex is a chance to share and learn. If that person happens to be attracted to you or vice versa the opportunities to practice small talk are precursors to finding a significant other. In fact, sitting on the bus is unique in that that person is essentially trapped by you. You have their attention for long periods of time and there is little they can do to avoid it. For example, let’s say you aren’t the most beautiful creature to walk the Earth and don’t have much confidence. The bus seat is the perfect place to prove that looks aren’t everything. Your charm, humor, intelligence, and general ah-shucks effectiveness can all be practiced. And unlike airline seats, where the person can get up to go to the bathroom and disappear for most of the trip, the school bus is as close as you are ever going to get to a captive audience. So lesson number four is the bus is the perfect place to learn how to deal with different people.

The bus is where you can gauge your popularity. If you take a quick look around and there isn’t anyone signaling to you to share a seat the odds are you really haven’t tried to make friend. After all, this is the same bus you have been taking all year. Okay, for the first couple of week’s maybe strangers, but after that you should have found your pack. Most people accept their fate and sit silently with a stranger. Mistake. The bus has given you the opportunity to learn about new people. So lesson number five is that the ride is a chance to turn a stranger into a friend, and, with luck, someone who will welcome you aboard in the future. So the next lesson is to consider each bus trip your chance to see what it is like to be the president. You don’t have to be yourself, but you better be significant even if that requires a few Fox News like “facts” to enhance your street cred.

Sitting with your friends brings about another aspect of your growth, the ability to bullshit and see if it sticks. Any rumor with sex is especially  ripe for repeating. Teacher rumors, who is going with whom, and funny stories are all part of bus conversation. So lesson number six is to practice your ability to develop a rapport with facts that suit you and prefect your small talk.

The last ones on a crowded bus are the beggars. With all the seats taken they had to look for the least likely to hate you for being the third one on the seat. If you were fat you knew immediately that everyone on the bus feared you would choice their seat. With luck there were two skinny girls and you could at least get one cheek on the seat and brace yourself with your aisle leg. The beggars taught you three things that could help you in the future all wrapped up in one lesson. First, look at people in the eyes. If they divert their attention they are yours. If they stare back they are up to your challenge. Secondly, don’t trust friends to move over for you. They may be your friend, but that doesn’t have to mean that they want to share with you. Thirdly, being in the aisle, being uncomfortable, isn’t always a disadvantage. When the bus stops you are the first out. You are now in control. You can slow up a busload of students as they cue up behind you looking longingly for a way to pass. So turning negatives to positives is something that can prove valuable in life and is lesson number nine.

A bus full of students can be a torture zone if just one of them has a hygiene or a gas problem. Telling someone they smell can be considered bullying. Being clean is not everyone priority and some resort to chemical weapons; cheap after shave or perfume to mask the odor. You have three choices. First, if there is room you can move to a vacant seat. Secondly, you can let your eyes water and bear it. Finally, you can tell the person about their problem. The latter requires a sophisticate approach best left to the diplomats or self-assured girls. So lesson number ten is the fact that the bus teaches you problem solving and people skills.

Lesson number eleven is that regardless of how confident you are getting on the bus you may be defeated by the caste system. This system is based on an unwritten rule that those of your caste sit in certain parts of the bus. The most dangerous is the backseat caste based on the fact that distance from the bus driver builds boldness and a breakdown in discipline. Being forced to sit in a different caste area is as close to death as you can come unless your mom visits your classroom. So the lesson to be learned here is to be flexible and hopefully, learn to be tolerant of others.

Lesson twelve is two-fold. First, making friends with the bus driver is time well spent. The person in charge can give you confidence and even allow you to adjust the windows. That is power. So the lessons to be learned here are to try and control the situation, give kudos to those that can help make your day, and the importance of taking the responsibility of making friends with the leader.

The emergency door and practicing emergency procedures is lesson thirteen. Basically, the bus is offering you the knowledge that having an emergency plan is vital in life. You want to be prepared.

Perhaps the most important lesson the bus ride can teach you is how to deal with rejection. You are among the first on the bus get a primo seat and make yourself as big as possible. Suddenly the doors swing open and there is the person you have a crush on. You make eye contact, you slide over, and nothing. You know the person saw you, and yet there was clear rejection to your offering. Within the confines of the bus ride there was nothing that you could do. You have but one choice, except defeat and move on to another prospect. So lesson number fourteen is that the bus is teaching you is that love may be fleeting, but there is always another bus ride. And always remember that Rosa Parks turned a bus ride into a national movement.

Finally, the bus teaches you to plan ahead. You must stay alert, know where you are, and realize that if you miss your bus stop it might take you longer to get where you want to go.

Dental Health Lessons
by National Hall of Fame Educator Alan Haskvitz

Teaching students to take care of their teeth is vital. Research has shown that bad teeth can result in heart problems and other aliments.It also means missed days of school. Here are some good resources that deal with everything from toothbrushes to toothpaste to flossing with braces. Below are some resources that can make this topic interesting and valuable. Problems with oral care account for almost a million absences a year in just California.

Common Core related dental questions

Dental health facts to get students thinking

Great videos about dental care.
Includes everything from dental care to animations to dental tools to music.

Before toothpaste

Primary lessons

Lessons by grade level


Songs about dental health for children

What to look for in an electric toothbrush

Toothpaste ratings

Types of toothpastes

How to floss
Includes flossing with braces.

Libraries: The Heart of the School is Disappearing
Alan Haskvitz

According to recent research, the library and a qualified librarian can directly help in the improvement of student reading levels. Add to that the Common Core requirements for additional reading and writing using a variety of sources and you a clear cut case to keep the library at the heart of the school.

With cutbacks centered on libraraisn and libraries in many states, the reserch from Colorado and Pennsylvania makes it clear that the most important factor, outside of the classroom, was having a full-time librarian and this was particularly true at facilities that deal with groups that have low-income students as well as those with reading problems.

Unfortunatley, this research has not been enough to motivate some districts where funding is sparse. For example, in Los Angeles Unified School District half of the elementary and middle schools don’t have a librarian and in New York only half of the high schools have a librarian.

This map shows how far reaching the lack of funding for libraries goes. Some of the sites noted portray a dismal picture and is a must visit for teachers and parents.

On the other hand, this site shows how much money a library and technology center can save

Resources for Librarians and teachers
Excellent list from everything from lesson plans to book publishers

Outdated School Libraries:
What Can You Do to Update Yours?
Where to look for grants and how to make over existing libraries.

Free Classroom Resources for Women’s History Month

This site is excellent and contains free resources, lessons and ideas to help motivate students at all grade levels and subject areas.

Using vehicles to create student interest in math and Language Arts
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

Using vehicles is an excellent way to motivate students and to help ready them for real life buying decisions. The following links deal with the various manufactures where students can write for information, obtain pricing information and to harvest compare and contrast data for Common Core related essays.

A listing of all DMV offices.
Finding the office that deals with your state and others can provide information on how old one needs to be to drive as well as the various license fee data that could be used for Common Core math problems. I have used driver manuals to motivate students to read.

Data on fuel economy
This federal site would enable students to select a variety of vehicles and there fuel mileage. This could be used for math as well as to provide statistics for an essay on the best or worst type of vehicles in terms of fuel costs.

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide

National Motorists Association
A great source of information on driving and the law.

A listing of car value prices
A good place to find statistics for math problems about the prices of cars and motorcycles.

Where cars are made by location
Great way to teach geography.

Bullying Resources for teachers and parents
by Alan Haskvitz

What is Bullying
A good place to start with definitions and examples.

Large link site that has most everything about bullying covered.

Great site that covers many aspects of bullying.

California department of education site of bullies
Great download manual for dealing with this issue.

Healthy Place
Great site that has statistics on bullying as well as how to deal with it.

Large bullying link site
Has valuable insights and information on legal matters.

NEA bullying resources

Discipline: training that perfects the mental faculties

Ten Skills Every Student Needs and You Probably Don’t Have Time to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

After 40 years of teaching there comes a time when you want to just yell at the curriculum designers and textbook publishers that they have the cart before the horse. Teachers need to be allowed to spend more time teaching students how to learn and less on preparing for a test which measures nothing applicable in the real world.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that every teacher would love to really teach students how to get ready for the challenges ahead of them and use the curriculum as a stepping stone to that goal. Over the years my students always were at the top in the State in terms of standardized testing. Indeed, some of them had perfect scores. The problem was I was teaching them how to take the test. Fortunately, I as able to shorten the material required for the course by removing those elements I though were essentially chaff so that I could teach them essential skills. Essentially, I started by teaching them how to discipline themselves. This worked so well that I still get letters from students, some decades after they were in my class, thanking me for teaching them for life. I have never gotten a letter thanking me for teaching them the Monroe Doctrine.

Here is the list and it far from complete, which are skills that need to be taught. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Learning how to Learn

Developing a love for learning is essential for any educator. It is the most important lesson a teacher can impart to a student and it is also the most difficult. A teacher may have to face a variety of hindrances from lack of parental care, nutritional and emotional problems, and even severe mental concerns. Regardless, there needs to be an effort and the best way is to become a facilitator by prodding, motivating, and providing a diverse array of learning materials to challenge the student to learn for themselves. Most often the textbook, frequently filled with data with little relevance to the student, is the main focus of instruction. And, perhaps, that is the way it must be if the goal is a test that measures improvement in the acquisition of this data. The teacher can feel confident as he or she has covered the material by sticking to the textbook. Motivational, hardly, but that is how teachers are frequently judged. There is another way to do this, but it is time consuming and requires a multitude of rubrics. Providing a variety of materials and having the students learn from them is an arduous task. However, once it is done a teacher can spend the rest of years modifying, adding, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of the students. ReachEveryChild (cited below) provides a variety of sources for this free material and is an excellent place to start individualization.

The second part of learning how to learn based on whether the student is an auditory, visual or kinetic learner and how to use these to their advantage. It is impossible for a teacher to use all of these methods when presenting lessons, but a student can create their own lessons to help them acquire the knowledge. In my classes I have students create poems, songs, graphic organizers and the Cornell note taking system. In this way there is a variety of methods for them to learn. I insist they use my linking and three transfer method of learning as well. The linking method makes them link what they are learning to other things they have learned and create a “learning tree” of it that they add to throughout the year. The three transfer method is to have students read the material, take notes on it, and transfer that material to another mode such as notecards. I also recommend presenting the answer to a question and have them supply the question. This is an excellent test of finding out what they know. It can be used in all subjects.

What is Valid

If you have time, giving the student a variety of short articles to read and asking them to figure out what would be the best way to judge this material is very worthwhile. This process should also include a study of the various types of propaganda, how to evaluate a website for bias, and stereotyping. That is a lot to swallow and so it is best as part of a school-year long program. If you are teaching social studies an ideal unit could be the differences of opinion between the South and the North about slavery. Learning how to learn is not just about the acquisition of skills, but for the student to acquire the ability to judge the material. One of the best tools to get students to read is Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four. As the students read the article they keep track of the characters and reach various conclusions as the teacher hands them the next page. The lesson makes them detectives, but more importantly allows them to learn for life. Seldom are we giving all the answers, but we must make decisions by what we know and judge what is valid.

Speed Reading, not just reading.

It isn’t any secret that the first basic skill is reading. But not just reading, but speed reading. Close reading will follow much more quickly if students can learn how to read rapidly. Reading for facts and reading for pleasure can both be more enjoyable if a student acquires the ability to focus on several words at one time. I taught second graders how to read over a 1000 words per minute at their grade level. The usual improvement was always 200 to 400 words per minute more and this was for language arts and social studies materials. Interestingly the comprehension improves as the speed level doubles as the student concentrates on the material. It is a win-win, but it most be reinforced until it becomes a habit and it takes at least 30 days for it to become a habit. Be warned that some students are resistant to it and so online speed reading sites can help them challenge themselves at their own rate.

Write at Grade Level +

The first thing on teaching a student to write is to explain the types of writing based on the purpose. Taking notes while on the phone or writing a compare and contrast essay may be different in length, but the ingredients are the same. However, for longer works you need to teach the student to write at grade level. I have the students write a one page paper on their favorite vacation either real or imagined. Next, I have them underline all the one syllable words. After that they circle any word that they have not known since primary school. The Fry Formula is applied and the students record their writing scores. They is always silence as the students realize that they are writing at several grades below grade level. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does force them to expand their vocabulary and that is good. I always have a few Thesaurus books on hand and show them how to use them. The results are immediate and the students not only improve their writing, but improve their thinking and organizational skills as well as they strive to improve. My article (citation below) provides an in-depth look at this successful practice that has enabled my students to win numerous writing competitions.

Teach Them to be Journalist

This vital profession is based on training that every student needs. The ability to communicate, to judge facts, and to influence others with their work. There is no other profession that is so vital for students to learn from because it is essentially what they are going to do nearly every day of their life. A good journalist seeks out evidence and judges it. They write using the who, what, when, where, why, and how approach. They use the inverted triangle that helps them organize facts. Finally, it teaches them to be curious and ask questions and, very importantly, take good notes.

Teach Them to be Lawyers

Perhaps, oversimplifying, but lawyers earn them living by researching and providing evidence that their cause is correct. This requires an examination of evidence and organization. This is another valuable trait that can help students of all ages. For example, was George Washington was a good president? Can you prove it? Can you provide evidence that he was not so good? Some may call this critical thinking, but that type of thinking can not really be utilized until a student is able to have a variety of experiences that enable them to make a critical decision. Thus using the basic skills of an attorney in proving a point and providing evidence to that end are skills they are going to need to write essays persuasive and expository essays and in life.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of the school year I ask the students to look around the room and, without naming names, tell me how many other students they would hire to work for them based on the knowledge that they wanted good workers. After that I ask them to write that number down, fold the paper, and place it in a basket. I take out the numbers and place them on the board to come out with an average. In almost every case it is ten percent of the students or less. That means that the others already have a reputation of not being good workers. The reason for this is that many students simply do not hold themselves accountable. Immediate gratification, poor parenting, the need for quick teacher assessment with little assessment of the assessment, all help feed a “who cares” mentality. This results in large scale cheating with little fear of consequence. Research has overwhelming shown that rewards must be intrinsic to be a lasting value. If students are to be held accountable there must be a reward system that works and entices parent buy-in.
People Skills

We aren’t talking about cooperative learning, we are talking about the ability to get along with others regardless of differences. We are talking about good manners, social skills, negotiating skills, and the ability to work together to create a common goal. Skills as basic as how to talk to people on the phone, how to ask permission, or even showing remorse or concern are missing and yet vital for life.

Handling Emergencies
Handling emergencies is also seldom taught at school. Yes, fire drills are held, but what value are they to the student when a fire really occurs elsewhere? My students wrote and had published in the American Fire Journal the problems with school fire drills in the hopes of enlightening others. School administrators essentially ignored it because it wasn’t an area to be tested. Sad, because the issues the students brought up were important. For example, why does the fire extinguisher stay in the room during a fire drill? Why do the students stand up in rows when an explosion could knock them over? Who knows where the dangerous chemicals are? What do the various colored helmets that firemen wear mean? Needless to say, handling emergencies is a vital skill. Why doesn’t every student know CPR? How to stop bleeding? Or to identify a person having a “fit” and knowing how to act? Taking this a step further, how to teach students not to panic and to learn how to identify people should be taught. But, who has the time?

Skills for life

Setting realistic goals, identifying propaganda and bias, budgeting time, operating a computer and touch typing, triage work assignments, handling money and investments, observation skills, where to find information and measure its accuracy, and learning how to listen can all be incorporated in the curriculum. Each of these carry lifelong importance and all can and have been taught within the curriculum if there is time. There are free units of study on almost all of these areas available. The teacher needs to be given the time and flexibility to personalize them for their class.

Before I get off my high horse I must add one more thing and that is for the student to learn how to be happy. My friend Larry Martz, an editor with Newsweek, wrote in his book Making Schools Better, about the small bite principle. This is a simple plan where small strides can result in large gains. An educator who just takes one of these ideas to heart could make a huge difference knowing well that it is at least as significant as anything on a standardized test.

Why Students Cheat

Making Schools Better

Car Rating Site

Government fuel economy site

How to Improve Student Writing

Student speed reading lessons
There are others

Using the Inverted Triangle

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