Finding Love on Facebook

Stephanie donated a kidney to her father.

Say what you will about Facebook, but today I just experienced some exceptional humanity through this networking tool.

Stephanie Wills, a young woman in her early 30’s, donated one of her kidneys to her father who is coming home soon from the hospital. 

Ben Morris, a young man I taught in middle school and who I was often at odds with, cried at the birth of his new daughter.

Jiho, originally from Korea, wrote a wonderful tribute to his mother who just passed away. 

Facebook does more than let me see who’s drinking what coffee and where. If you look, it exposes us all as a community to our shared humanity. Anyone who thinks the younger generation is a lost one, full of self, has not looked beneath the surface. Of course, there’s the partying, profanity and general foolishness, but that’s all part of life and our common experiences. 

Look further and you’ll see compassion, caring and real feelings. As my 90-year-old father just told me today, “LOVE (his capitals) is the real purpose to life.”

Linking Teacher Pay to Student Performance

A retired teacher's perspective on recent trends

American students are falling behind students in the rest of the world. It must be because their teachers aren’t teaching them, therefore we need to pay teachers based on their students’ performances on standardized tests. This will motivate teachers to do a better job and improve the education of their students. Then our students will be better prepared to compete globally.


Teaching is a demanding and sometimes overwhelming job. (c) Bonnie Schupp
What we need are policy makers who excel in lateral thinking.  Things will never change as long as our policy makers continue to think inside the box and dictate overly simplistic solutions. They are running our nation’s schools like a business. Education is not a business that can be measured with quality control like items on an assembly line. (* See footnote) We are looking at children, complex human beings, who are part of a huge multi-layered problem. Until all the layers are examined and addressed, education problems will not be solved.

Connecting teacher pay to student performance will not work because the solutions offered are shallow and a large part of the problem lies outside the teacher’s influence. From all my years of teaching, I’ve never known teachers to be focused on pay as much as on doing the right thing and the best job for their students.  If we begin to focus on test scores with rewards for teachers, we open up a can of worms. We will begin to acquire teachers who have priorities which may not be best for their students.  As we have already seen, a number of our nation’s school systems have encountered problems with cheating as teachers panic and try to influence test results.

Yes, there are variances in the quality of teachers, as in any profession, but the current trend of pay for student performance is troubling. What if dentists were paid based on the number of new cavities their patients had with each dental visit? Can they control how much sugar their patients eat or how well they brush their teeth? Certainly dentists educate their patients about dental hygiene but they have no control over how their patients use this knowledge.

The Problem

Although good teachers certainly try to influence students in all ways that will help them succeed, they  have no direct control over some elements that influence how students perform on tests:

1.    Attendance. Some students attend school regularly but others miss school for illness, family vacations, suspensions and other reasons, legitimate or not. Much of what is taught during a school year is sequential with new skills often based on previously taught skills.  Teachers offer time after school for students who have missed classroom time but often students do not show up.

2.    Lack of prior student skills needed for success in a particular grade. Education policy as I experienced it allowed students to continue to the next grade, even when they had failed a subject. So then students are passed to the next grade without the tools for success.

3.    Home environment. Those students who come from functioning, supportive families have an advantage over those who do not. I’ve seen in my past teaching experience families fighting over child custody, parents who do not encourage and oversee homework completion, parents who don’t understand the commitment needed to the education process and parents who have little control over their 12-year-old middle school child.

I am a product of the Baltimore City school system and always did well but much of that can be attributed to my parents. They monitored my homework, bought whatever supplies I needed, went to every PTA meeting and taught me to respect my teachers. They made it clear to me that if I misbehaved and got detention or if they received a negative phone call from a teacher, I would be punished at home too.

In my teaching experience, I gave up on detention to help with behavior problems because ultimately detention added to my problems and time which I didn’t have enough of. Parents told me their children could not serve detention for any number of reasons. It was not unusual to hear a parent say, “I told Ryan that he doesn’t have to serve detention because he says he doesn’t deserve it.”

4.    Student attitudes and accountability. Students of any age can be apathetic for any number of reasons. Good teachers are often able to get beyond this and motivate these students but it is not always possible. Many middle school students are more concerned with who is “going out” with whom than they are about test scores. It is a time in their lives where they are dealing with huge physical and emotional changes. Because of this, school can take a back seat and their reasoning is often illogical.  Sometimes their logic is right on though;  I’ve heard students speak aloud about how they don’t care about how they do on standardized tests.  After all, they will still pass regardless of their scores. (They are concerned about staying in the same grade as their friends.) They know about cause and effect. With the current teacher-pay-score system, there are also some devious students who hold grudges against particular teachers who will undoubtedly intentionally do poorly on tests with the hope of hurting those teachers they dislike.  If you think this is unlikely, then you’ve never taught school, particularly middle school.

5.    Class size. I always tried to be the kind of teacher I would want my own children to have. That was my yardstick. I went beyond what I needed to do in the classroom and spent my own money and time putting together a website (called Reaching Minds) that parents and students could go to to see what was accomplished each day in class. I included links to all work papers that were distributed in class so that even when a student missed class, the work was there. Just about all families had home computers and those who had a technology problem could always come into my classroom and print out assignments on my classroom computers.  Parents and students had access to my e-mail and my home phone number was listed in the phone directory.

I tried to deal with class size in these ways so students could independently help themselves. But there are logistics of class size that continued to frustrate me. We had 50-minute class periods. Most classes had 30 students or close to it. I could teach to the entire class but when it came to time for individual students needing help, the math says that I had less than two minutes to give to each child in my room. So many students needed much more.

The solution

So what is the solution?  These are the layers that must be attacked all at once:

Add 33 students to these 33 crowded desks.
1.    First class size. Give teachers the tools they need to work with. To me, class size was always more important than textbooks and, yes, even pay. Students cannot learn if teachers don’t have enough time to teach them.

2.    Next educate not only the child, but the family. Many parents need help. They came from dysfunctional families and have no role model, no idea of how to raise a child who can succeed. They need help as parents so they can understand how important it is to be good role models for their own children and to be guides who set limits and encourage positive actions. Parent education works best when started early. I saw way too often parents of middle schoolers who had lost all control of their children by the time they were 12. Kids cannot learn if they and their families are out of control.

Minutes to eat lunch and no recess.
3.    Look at the whole child and not just the child who sits in the classroom.  The breakfast and lunch programs already in place are an example of this. Guidance counselors are important. They cannot deal with issues that need attention (bullying, abuse, drugs and alcohol) because their case loads are too large. Hire more guidance counselors who do not have to deal with standardized tests but who will have time to deal with those issues important to children. And give children enough time to eat their lunch and release some energy. In my middle school, students had 25 minutes to go to their locker, go to the bathroom, go to the lunchroom, stand in the lunch line, eat lunch, and then clean up. And during this time, there was always an adult blaring directions over the microphone in a cafeteria din unconducive to relaxation, conversation and digestion. The way some students are forced to eat lunch is inhuman. Wherever did recess go? Kids cannot learn if they are hungry or fearful and their human needs are not met.

4.    Examine neighborhoods and what the school and greater community can do to create more stable neighborhoods with positive offerings.  Some people think that middle school children are old enough to take care of themselves but it is often that this age group needs more after school supervision than younger ones. Provide free after school programs where parents can send their children. Lack of supervision affects students' ability to learn.

5.    Give teachers time to help and learn from their peers through classroom observations and collaboration. They have so much to learn from one another. In fact, just give teachers time to do their jobs well. Harried teachers affect the quality of education.

6.    Empower teachers. In my district, the school board consists of business professionals and one student representative. No teachers. These business people set policy for educational professionals who know best what their students need and how to teach them. Something is wrong with this picture.
Of course this will take money but how important is education? All teachers might not agree with me, but I would have taken a pay cut if my working conditions, such as class size, had been improved. I agree that teacher tenure should be dropped. It won’t matter to good teachers because they continue to do a good job regardless. Those few poor teachers should be replaced. I do not agree with teacher pay related to student test scores because it will fail.

We need to forget about the business of education and worry more about the humanization of education by looking at the whole child. Any lateral thinkers out there?

Bonnie Schupp taught middle school and junior high school English/Language Arts in Maryland before retiring in 2003 to complete graduate studies at the University of Baltimore. She graduated in 2005 with a Doctor of Communications Design.  Baltimore City 1967 - 1975;  Annapolis 1988 - 1990, Pasadena 1991 - 2003

More on this topic:

Daniel Pink's February 2012 blog says it well: 

Also important:

Study finds that teacher incentive pay does not increase student achievement. 
New York City’s heralded $75 million experiment in teacher incentive pay — deemed “transcendent” when it was announced in 2007 — did not increase student achievement at all, a new study by the Harvard economist Roland Fryer concludes.

“If anything,” Fryer writes of schools that participated in the program, “student achievement declined.” Fryer and his team used state math and English test scores as the main indicator of academic achievement. Elizabeth Green

Giving Teachers Bonuses for Student Achievement Undermines Student Learning

ScienceDaily (Apr. 6, 2011) — Recent efforts to improve teacher performance by linking pay to student achievement have failed because such programs often rely on metrics that were never intended to help determine teacher pay, contends Derek Neal, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. 

Schools cannot be run like a business:

A Businessman Learns a Lesson
by Jamie Robert Vollmer

"If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long!" I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute..  My  speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes  of in-service. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle 1980s when People Magazine  chose our blueberry as the "Best Ice Cream in America."  I was convinced of two things.

First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic  selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step  with the needs of our emerging "knowledge society."

Second, educators were a  major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly.

They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant - she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.  She began quietly, "We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes  good ice cream." 

I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, Ma'am." 

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"
"Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.
"Premium  ingredients?" she inquired.
"Super-premium! Nothing but triple A." I was  on a roll.
I never saw the next line coming.  "Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?"

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I was dead meat, but I wasn't going to lie. "I send them back."
"That's right!" she barked, "and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused,  frightened confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them all: GT, ADHD, ADD, SLD, EI, MMR, OHI, TBI, DD, Autistic,  junior rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, etc. We take them all!  Everyone!
And  that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's a school!"

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah!  Blueberries!  Blueberries!" 

And so began my long transformation.

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best  CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society
but  educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding  community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

Praying for Rain

These days I pray for rain. Not because of drought but because of sound. It’s true that I love the light swishing rhythms of rain drumming on the roof but my desire for rain is driven by noise…the flip side of sound.

 When sound becomes noise

Sound and noise are not the same thing. “Sound”connotes positivity while “noise” suggests something undesirable. For example, the sound of children playing is pleasant but it turns into noise when it progresses to arguments and fighting—conflict.

Sound is measured in decibels. According to experts, 130 decibels is the pain level in the human ear. A few common sounds have these ratings: snowmobile = 120, chain saw = 110, amplified music = 110, lawn mower = 90, normal conversation = 60 and leaves rustling = 10 (one of my favorite sounds). ATV vehicles average 91 – 100 decibels.

I’m sensitive to sound, as well as its absence and I’m probably not alone. When I awake slowly to the chirping of birds in our yard, the day seems to unfold gracefully with a smile. For the few rock concerts I have attended, I wore earplugs. After 9/11, I noticed an eerie silence in the sky when flights at BWI Airport were canceled. Nightly cricket symphonies, a soothing sound I usually love, became frenzied, almost as if the crickets were compensating for the absence of airport flights overhead.

Looking forward to rainy days

The need for rain these days is closely connected with a recent noise presence in my neighborhood. Some middle-school boys have acquired dirt bikes and they are obviously engrossed in their new toys. I understand their excitement. In fact, I love riding motorcycles and have a motorcycle license. I’ve owned several Hondas and when I taught in Baltimore City, my students called me Motorcycle Mama.

Weekends I used to ride with friends just for the joy of the experience. During leisurely rides in the country, I relished the sweet smell of honeysuckle and anticipated the chill air in the dips and the contrasting hot currents as the road climbed. I would still have a bike now except it be unwise to risk my new knee after I went through the ordeal of knee replacement surgery.

A few weeks ago, as I was working at my computer, uploading images to my iStockphoto portfolio for sales, I began to be aware of a growing tenseness. A constant background noise, along with vibrations under my feet, had affected my focus. The neighbor boys were riding their new motorbikes up and down, up and down, up and down my dead-end street. Every time they passed my window, the floor noticeably rumbled under my feet.

It would not have gained my attention if a bike were started in a nearby driveway and then the rider was off and riding somewhere. Instead, it was the constant repetition that caused the disruption. When someone is mowing a lawn or trimming hedges with electric clippers, it is a temporary noise. When little boys ride up and down your street, with no end in sight (except on rainy days), it becomes an endless annoyance.

No end in sight

I thought the boys would grow tired of their monotonous journey, hours riding back and forth on a short dead-end street. I was wrong. Every day after school and on weekends, the noisy pattern continued with constant zoom-zoom-zooming back and forth, increased speed matching increased exhilaration of the riders. Sometimes there was a single rider. Sometimes two bikes. Sometimes two on one bike. Sometimes with and sometimes without a helmet. Besides the noise, we were also concerned about safety.

I talked with one of the boys about his speed on the street but it didn’t change. My husband, David, and I both talked with one boy, who quickly summoned his nearby forces of other neighborhood boys to surround him and give him support. We told him that it was annoying and most likely illegal and they should stop or we’d contact the police.

It didn’t stop. David talked with the parents of two boys who told him that because of the engine displacement size of the dirt bike, it was legal for their middle-school sons to ride on the street.

We were resigned to grinding our teeth or moving. Then, during a particularly active day, we heard a brief police siren and noticed one of the boys walking his bike back home. He did not look happy.

We had not called the police. It isn’t our style. That’s why we talked with the boys and their parents directly. But we were glad for the tranquility in the neighborhood for a few days…

…until just now… I feel my feet vibrating and hear the familiar zoom and rumble. Sigh…

(Turn on your speakers and check out this video. Keep in mind that it was filmed from inside my house.)

Update: May 2013.
Even worse. Kids riding around and around and around in the yard next door, right up to our yard. This noise invaded our peace for 1 1/2 hours. This new video was taken from inside my kitchen. (Turn on sound)

Photographer: Evolution From Technician to Artist

Showing through May 15, 2011 at the Baltimore Museum of Art  (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)
Baltimore used to have an annual art show around either Montebello Lake or Druid Hill Lake. My memory is a little fuzzy but I do remember when I was rejected sometime in the 1960’s. To participate in this unjuried art show, one merely had to sign a form. I wish I could find my rejection letter but it essentially said I couldn’t show because photography was not art. I believe this line of thinking had something to do with how photos were made…with a mechanical device. 

We’ve come a long way since then. 

People used to say that “the camera never lies.” Not anymore. Now we recognize that the photographer can bend the light waves of truth around her own perception, leading to a new interpretation of “reality.” (And, of course, there’s always Photoshop.) Choices of camera angle, cropping, timing, color, format and presentation are determined by the artist’s personal vision and interpretation.  

In 2008 the Baltimore Museum of Art presented Through the Lens: Photography 1900-1960 featuring works by Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Harry Callahan. Along with this exhibit, some contemporary artists such as MICA’s Connie Imboden were invited to interpret the exhibition’s ideas with their own work. In addition to this, the community was invited to create digital images inspired by this show. One of my pieces was chosen for the digital gallery.

At the BMA (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Now in 2011, the BMA is showing Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960, a collection of more than 200 images featuring works of 60 modern photographers.  Artists include Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank, among others. The exhibit is clustered in five groups: Seeing Pictures, Seeing People, Seeing Places, Seeing Performance, and Seeing Photography.  

You can read an excellent review by Cara Ober of the Urbanite here.

Instead of duplicating what others have already done well, I’ll add a few personal observations.

  • Humanity dominates the art in this exhibit. Even in those images that have no humans within the frame, they draw the viewer in and the viewer becomes the missing person connected with the photograph.  
  •  There were some things that I “didn’t get,” such as the videos with the artists continually saying, “Good morning” and “Good night.” However, exposure to art which stretches how you see both art and reality leads us to a more multi-layered life. After all, the mission of art is to push us toward seeing things in new ways, to demand that we think about things even when we want to ignore them, to help us connect the past and present and move toward the future, and to question where we are in time.
  • In the past, photography exhibits always had a simple black frame around a matted photograph. In this exhibit format is more varied. There are numerous white frames and even one where a decorative frame seems to be part of the art.
  • This was the first exhibit I have seen which uses smartphone technology. If your cell phone has the proper app downloaded, you can scan the bar code below some of the photos. Just as the museum reached out to the broader community with Through the Lens, once again a broader community has been invited to participate. This time, the bar code scan will call up a link about that image that points you to some of Nate Larson’s MICA students who have responded to these works.
  •  Finally, there are several pieces where words and images are equally part of the art. I predict we will see this marriage of words and images more frequently in the future. *
During the past few years, I’ve worked on connections between words and images.  In Defining Ourselves, the words were those of my subjects and the photos were collaborative between subject and photographer.  Presently I’m working on another long-term project, Together 40+, where my subjects must respond verbally before they sit in front of the camera. And another daily word/image project I’m working on for 2011 is Dog Tag Poetry.  This blending of words and images adds a new layer—and challenge—to my photography vision.

Don't miss Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It will force you to question and change your perception of reality.

Check out these links.....................................................

“Defining Ourselves” has shown in Annapolis, Fairfax, Rockville and Baltimore. I was also interviewed on WYPR’s The Signal.
Although there’s much of 2011 yet to go, you can get a taste of my Dog Tag Poetry here:

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) – Step out of your comfort zone  

If you’re unfamiliar with the International Visual Literacy Association, you can find out more here: 


Geography Anyone?

Want to test your knowledge of middle eastern geography? Teachers can use this interactive tool in their classrooms. I won't say how many I got right but you can be sure that I'll be going back to this site and using it as a personal learning tool.

Screen capture

Direct link to the geography game is here: 
Click and drag country names to map outlines. Good luck!

Who's Gonna Be My Valentine?

A Valentine gift for you. Share with those you love.

© Song and lyrics by Georgie Jessup. Video by Bonnie Schupp with contributions from:
Eileen Browning, Lee Rowley, iStockphoto, Dorrett Oosterhoff, Marilyn Johnston, Valerie Aldridge, Farzad Khosrownia

Learn more about Georgie Jessup.

Who's gonna be my Valentine? Who's gonna watch my beauty shine?
I'll shine right through your walls of steel.
I'll shine until I make you feel a little more than a moment in time.
Who's gonna be my Valentine?

Who's gonna get me through this night?
Who's gonna kiss and hold me tight?
Young lovers are watching the same moon as I.
As stars will fall my wishes rise!

Someone is smiling as I sing this song.
Are they wishing and hoping and singing along?
Are they walking a tightrope up on a high wire?
Are they looking like me and stoking the fire?

[repeat chorus]

Is there anybody out there? Pick up the phone.
Call on my neighbor. Tell them I'm home.
Tell them I love them and I wish them kind.
I'm searching the cosmos for my Valentine!

Congratulations to the Egyptian People

(English translation)

Sound of Freedom

i went to the streets and said i will not come back
and with my blood i wrote in every street
we made those who did not hear us listen
and all barriers were broken
our weapon was our dreams
and tomorrow is clear ahead of us
we've been waiting a long time
searching but not finding our place

in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling
in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling

we put our heads to the sky
and our hunger no longer mattered
most important is our right
and we write our history with our blood
if you were one of us
stop talking and telling us
to walk away and abandon our dream
stop saying "i"

in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling
in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling

my life in Egypt is dark and within it ... it is spread through change, it breaks the frames, the salt of its beautiful youth turned its autumn spring, they accomplished a miracle, the brought the dead from death, kill me, my food will not will not bring your country again, with my blood i write another life for my country, my blood gave spring its green color, i smile from happiness ...

in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling
in every street in my country
the voice of freedom is calling

Toxic Rhetoric

Our Word Arsenal

Image from
 Jared Lee Loughner is crazy. He’s the one who pulled the trigger in the Arizona shooting that killed six  people and shot Senator Gabrielle Giffords.  Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and right wing bullies didn’t pull the trigger.

However, we must remember that bullets don’t come from guns alone. Words and images also hold a certain firing power, especially for those vulnerable and volatile individuals who are mentally ill. 

Words do make a difference. As a former middle school teacher, I know that the language I used as a teacher and the way I delivered this language made a difference in how my students responded.  The words and delivery that parents say to their children make a difference too.

Think about it. Here are possible parent-to-child words...two different approaches:

 (a) "Again! What makes you do such stupid things all the time?"

(b)  "I feel bad when you act without thinking about how it will affect the rest of the family.  "

How many parents have ever, in frustration, said to their child, “I’m so angry I could kill you!” Most children understand the context of that phrase and know it is not to be interpreted literally, but maybe we should re-think the violence in our off-hand language.

Words and pictures may not kill but they can put ideas into minds of the vulnerable. Bill O’Reilly verbally attacked George Tiller (“Tiller the Killer”), a doctor who was gunned down because he performed abortions.  Unstable individuals sometimes act from words they have read and, in acting on them, believe they have the backing of important people who  have uttered those words.  

Sarah Palin is not directly responsible for Senator Giffords fight for life in the hospital now. But she is responsible for using language and images irresponsibly. Crosshairs targeting “Gabby” Giffords did not pull the trigger literally, but it has the potential of pulling the mind trigger in the mentally ill. 

An argument might be made that we can’t base all our speech on the potential for how it might trigger others. I say, we can be more aware and moderate with what we say and how we say it. As a middle school teacher, I did this all the time because it made a difference. 

Language can pull the symbolic trigger under certain circumstances.  Maybe we should do more thinking before we speak.