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My name is Mike Fassold.  I have been a junior high teacher for coming on 18 years.  I have taught college for Anderson University and high school history and government.   I wrote the following a couple years ago: “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” Morrie Schwartz gave that advice to Mitch Albom in my favorite book Tuesdays with Morrie.  The culture we live in tells my 12 and 13 year olds that only the surface matters:  What do you look like?  What do you wear?  What do you have?  It results in our children feeling inadequate and unfulfilled because a person can never be perfect in appearance, never have enough clothes, and never have enough stuff.  I try to build a completely different culture.  In my classroom anything just might happen.  It is also a place where faithfulness matters.  Where effort matters.  Where personal achievement is based on your own of expectation.  And understanding others matters.

I can’t teach them if I don’t have their attention.   “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.  It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”  Instead of reading room management plans and going over supply lists, the first day of school begins with the first paragraph of Winnie the Pooh and a rock.  One by one students stand on their desks with a rock in their hand.  As I read the paragraph and hand them my rock, I ask them what they have in their hands.  In the beginning, each responds with “It’s a rock.”  This segues into a discussion about whether we are more than the sum of our organic compounds.  Eventually, a brave soul steps out of the box and realizes that my rock is really a Stone Age grinding stone or a simple tool.  With that, the year begins, eyes at the ready.

I live by the idea that the faithful are rewarded.  My class is designed so that if a student makes the effort, he or she will get the grade.  Every student deserves his or her own level of achievement.  I don’t believe in the word “fair” as defined as equal.  In fact, I tell my students that “fair is a place where pigs earned ribbons.”  I do not accept that all kids should be treated fairly because doing so leaves the top unchallenged and the bottom labeled as failures.  Both conditions are abhorrent.  My units have both a floor and a quasi-ceiling of understanding.  I expect each student to meet a minimum level of understanding.  Meet it and pass.

However, my students enjoy the most success when I give them an end goal…”Could you raise an obelisk with only simple machines?”  “How are maps created?”  “How can one person make a difference in the world?”  These goals are only limited by the student’s effort to understand.  Gone is the reliance on lecture, worksheets, quizzes, and tests.  Replacing the regurgitating vessels is the nurturing of thought and effort.  Encouragement is giving to take the challenge.  Guidance replaces adherence.  The promotion of effort leads to real learning and greater understanding.

In every unit we feature a signature project.  This signature project provides the opportunity to achieve something tangible to go along with the learning.  Want to test map skills?  Create a miniature world in the classroom and scale a map.  Want to understand the engineering skills of the ancient world?  Raise a miniature obelisk in the sand based on individual research.  Want to show you understand the Arab-Israeli conflict?  Prepare to stand and defend the actions from one of seven political entities in the fray.  Stink at geography?  Draw and label all the countries in the world….by memory.  Learning achieved.

A few years ago, my student of the year gave me the following reading that hangs from my podium.  The teacher said to the students: “Come to the edge.”  They replied, “We might fall!”  The teacher again said: “Come to the edge.” And they responded: “It’s too high.”  “Come to the edge!” the teacher demanded.  And they came and the teacher pushed them and they FLEW.”  I want my children to fly.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. emilie
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 23:05:19

    hello mr fassold nice picture ❤

    Reply

    • rachel mathews
      Aug 28, 2014 @ 16:38:50

      love it

      Reply

    • mjfassold
      Aug 30, 2014 @ 14:12:26

      Thanks Emilie, it seemed appropriate.

      Reply

  2. Kentaro
    Nov 23, 2019 @ 09:44:17

    Dear Mr. Fossold,

    My name is Kentaro. I was once taught social sturdy or govenment by you back in somewhere 1997 to 2000.

    I happen to find this blog and couldn’t leave this page without leaving comment!

    I am not sure you still remember me, black haired Japanese student, but I still remember you like it was yesterday.

    It was one of my favorite class. You often turn off the lights and used smart whiteboard, actually you could write words there using special pen, during class.

    I am now in Japan. Just so happpy you are still teaching at school where I graduated from! And you are not changed at all! You still has nice mustache!

    15 years ago, I left USA my second home. I still miss people I met there. If you have any chance to come Japan, let us know! Please also say hello to Mr. Sturgen! I was also tagged by him to! He was commited to STARWARS I believe.

    Reply

  3. Ollie (favorite)McHenry
    Dec 18, 2020 @ 15:30:20

    Towards the end of your writing it says “Come to the edge!” the teacher demanded. And they came and the teacher pushed them and they FLEW.” I want my children to fly.” So what I’m getting from that is that you want to push us off a cliff. I’m not sure how such a tiny many can have so much aggression in his short 4 foot tall body but from threatening to murder sturgeon to saying you want to push your students off cliffs, you manage to do so!

    Reply

  4. Chayce Phillips
    Feb 16, 2022 @ 14:32:03

    Now I understand the “bump, bump, bump” that you talk about

    Reply

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