About Mr. C.
I am sure the following resume will not be interesting to most people, but I wanted to show that my experience and education was mostly outside that of the traditional or typical teacher and to show that I have enough traditional teacher experience and education to have an informed opinion about the math education problems in our public schools and how to prepare a student for the ACT. I have had a wide variety of military, traditional and industry training as a student and as a teacher.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Aurora High School in Aurora, Ohio. Aurora is a suburb of Cleveland. I grew up rooting for the Buckeyes, Indians and Browns -- you have to be tough!
After high school I attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, for one year. I was not ready for college, and when the government decided to do away with college deferments that would have made me eligible for being drafted into the Army and going to the Vietnam War, I decided to make a preemptive strike and dropped out of college to join the Navy.
In the Navy, after nine weeks of boot camp I spent another year of training (eight hours/day) as an electronics's technician at Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago. That is a lot of classroom time! The majority of the training was in the classroom, with usually some kind of hands-on lab work each week. Most topics lasted a week. Those new fangled things called transistors were given a solid three weeks, but only at the end as it was likely that most of the fleet electronics you were expected to encounter used vacuuum tubes. If you did encounter transistors, they were "discrete" (no integrated circuits) and you were expected to desolder and replace the individual faulted transistor. I finished high enough at the end of the first two phases of this year-long "ET" school to get my choice of "communications" or "radar" for the final phase. I chose radar and our new "classroom" was the top floor of an older but still nearby building with about 15 working radar sets. Each student was assigned their own set for this four week course. The roof of the building looked pretty futuristic with all the rotating dishes. You could see the planes coming into O'Hare Airport on your radar screen. The last four weeks was all hands-on; each student used their assigned radar set to learn repair and troubleshooting techniques. The final exam was to repair, during a strictly timed test, your radar set into which a well disguised fault had been introduced by the instuctor beforehand. You had to follow and document the "six-step method" of trobleshooting and hopefully fix the set in the time allowed. You could pass but not get an "A" if you were thorough and documented your troubleshooting well enough. I got my set working!
The next six months consisted of all classroom training (no hands on) in nuclear power plant fundamentals (eight hours/day) at Nuclear Power School at a naval base (now closed) at Bainbridge, Maryland. There is not a lot of privacy in the military. As a public school teacher I tried very hard, usually in a losing battle, to keep grades private. But at this school the weekly class rank was posted in the hallway for all 500 or so students to see after each weekly test. I don't know how many started but 451 finished this six month course. When the course started, a placement test was used to rank the students who were then divided in fourteen classes of thirty to thirty-five students. Class 14 had the top students, Class 1 the bottom. I was embarrassed to be in Class 11 since that meant more than 100 students scored ahead of me on my placement test. And I had tried my best which I am sure some of my classmates did not, for when we took the test we didn't know why we were taking it or how the results were to be used. Sailors learned in boot camp to play dumb until they saw what was going to happen to those who didn't :-) But I did my best; however, my background in basic science, which is what the test covered, was weak at that time. As an incentive, the top thirty students were given the choice of which of three training sites (Idaho, New York, or Connecticut) to go to for the six months of training after this school was over. I made up my mind to crack this "top thirty." I started way back, but each week got closer and closer to the list. I never made the list until the final exam. When the final list was posted, I was twenty-five of 451. Studying does pay off!Now things got serious. I spent the next six months learning to operate a Combustion Engineering SIC nuclear reactor (rotating shifts, twelve hours/day) at the prototype for the engine room (the back third of the submarine built on land) for the USS Tullibee that was operated at the Windsor Locks Naval Facility near Hartford, Connecticut. The output shaft, instead of turning a screw, operated an electric generator. In those times of abundant energy, the electricity was just dumped into a big resistor bank, i.e., wasted. But it was a wonderful training facility, and I became qualified to operate my first reactor there. In a typical twelve hour day, there may be a couple of hours of classroom training, perhaps a watch under supervision for a few hours; each watch I stood was graded. Then during self-study time, I was expected to read, go into the plant to study the equipment, and get "check outs" on plant systems by designated "system expert" instructors for that system. I had a precious qualification notebook, and the instructors had an embossing stamp, and you had to perform tasks and pass oral tests to get one of hundreds of line items "signed off" in my qualification book. To succeed, a premium was placed on self-discipline and initiative. The watchstanding qualification process on the nuclear submarine or nuclear surface ship we were all going to report to after this school was conducted on similar lines. The final exam was a multi-hour board where I was orally quizzed by a team of top level instructors. It is a good system because I felt competent at my job by the time I passed my board. I was scheduled to be the second one in my training class of 111 students to go to my "board" to qualify, but the officer who went first flunked his board, so I was the first one in my class to qualify and get the prized "pink tag"! This meant I could go down to an eight hour shift on day shift instead of a twelve hour shift on rotating shift work, a big motivation. Digging out a book and studying a plant system at 3 A.M. is a test of your initiative, one that is not unique to the military as I encountered similar 3 A.M. trials when getting licensed at civilian nuclear plants many years later. The pink tag marked the end of my training, and I finished with well over a month left at the six month school. Many people took nearly the entire six months. I wasn't first in my class ranking, I was thirteenth, but I was the first of 111 to finish the course. After finishing, my new job was supposedly to help with maintenance tasks, but in reality I was expected just to stay out of the way of the rest of the students still trying to get their "pink tag." It did not improve my anxiety level before I went to my board to see the person I was waiting on to finish come out of the room I was going into devastated by failing, and the board members who are about to start grilling me looked as grim as one can imagine. Beyond the public humiliation of failing is the fact that one then had to go to the end of the line and wait for 110 others to try to pass before he got another chance to get off twelve hour rotating shift work. And a second failure means ones plans for a future in the nuclear Navy, and your two years of preparing for it, are over. But I wouldn't want an operator of a nuclear plant who couldn't pass high stakes tests, would you? Would you want the standards lowered so everyone could pass? Testing is a big part of any real job, and those that want to eliminate high stakes testing from our public schools because of the stress do not do our students any favors when they encounter high stakes testing throughout their future careers. By an odd coincidence, a cheating scandal at the current version of this Navy school made national news as I was writing this (Feb. 2014). Cheating seems endemic in our society today, whether in business, politics, sports, academics...everywhere. The penalties are not severe enough, but a bigger contributing factor is the naivetè of those responsible for the integrity of testing in whatever form it takes. In schools, the teachers have to protect the honest from the dishonest. It is tougher than most people think it is to do so.
Finally, I reported to the USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635), an operating, fleet ballistic missile nuclear reactor powered submarine based at the New London Submarine Base in Connecticut but operating out of Holy Loch, Scotland. I made seven deterrent patrols on the Rayburn . Our patrols consisted of staying submerged for seventy days at a time, My primary job was that of an operator for the nuclear reactor that powered the boat. Our patrol area was north of the Arctic Circle in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Greenland. I made seven of these patrols and left the Navy as an E-6, Petty Officer First Class (ET1SS) and as the Leading Petty Officer (LPO) of the Reactor Controls Division. For those in the know, I qualified Reactor Operator at the end of my second patrol. I qualified Engineering Watch Supervisor (EWS), the senior enlisted watch station in the engine room, at the end of my fourth or fifth patrol (the mind wanders :-). I was then put in charge of training for all EWS candidates. I liked teaching and held some kind of teaching role as a part of my normal job duties at many times throughout my career in nuclear power. I qualified as Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) at the end of my sixth patrol. The EOOW is normally only held by a commissioned officer and is in charge of the entire engine room while on watch. Under the EOOW on any shift are about 11 enlisted watch-standers that monitor and operate the equipment throughout the engine room. Besides the nuclear reactor for making normal power (steam), the engine room holds the main propulsion turbines, electrical generating turbines, air and hydraulic power sources, distilling plants, the air conditioning plants, oxygen generating plants, air purifying equipment, the emergency diesel/generator and many more monitoring and distribution systems. It is like living inside a Swiss watch, I never got tired of just admiring the efficiency of the design. Like Scotty of the Enterprise, when the bridge (control room on a sub) calls the engine room they talk to the EOOW. Some submarines would not allow an enlisted person to hold this position, let alone a twenty-three year old enlisted person. I routinely stood the EOOW watch on my seventh patrol where we then had the unusual responsibility of an "all enlisted" engine room. I felt like I never stopped learning about the nuclear plant and the submarine the entire four years I was stationed on the Rayburn. And I felt there was never going to be a time when there was not going to be more to learn. Immediately after my seventh patrol, I left the Navy to go back to college. It wasn't just a job; it was an adventure.
Now I was ready for college! I enjoyed the nuclear power field, so when I left the Navy, I enrolled at the University of Florida to study nuclear engineering. I got out of the Navy in Connecticut and started school in Gainesville, Florida, two weeks later. I had a sense of urgency! I picked Florida because it had a strong nuclear engineering program that included a training reactor on campus, and the weather was nice! While going to school, I used my background in the nuclear Navy to get a part-time job at the research reactor on site. I also worked part-time at a local beverage store and at the local Veterans Hospital. I was hired by the director of the University of Florida Training Reactor (UFTR), Dr. Nils Diaz, whom I am proud to say was later appointed by the President to be the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At the research reactor, I obtained a Reactors Operator's License for the UFTR, one of three NRC licenses I eventually earned. In order to convince Dr. Diaz to let me become qualified for the NRC license, I offered to do all my training on my own time without getting paid. You know, that rascal agreed! So I studied for a couple of months in my "spare time" as a full time student while holding down other part-time jobs at a "beverage" store and the local VA hospital. An NRC Inspector flew down from Atlanta (thanks Joe Buzy) and spent a couple of days examining me, and I earned my NRC Reactor Operator's licenses for the UFTR. Finally Dr. Diaz would pay me, and I could quit my other part-time jobs. Even then, I am positive I was the lowest paid licensed Reactor Operator in the United States and probably the world! But I didn't care; it was a lot of fun working at the reactor and helped me get my nuclear engineering degree, whereas the other part-time jobs I could give up only helped with the bills and took time away from getting my degree. (Ask me sometime about Henry Gogun and why I say "routine" whenever someone asks me how things are going.) In my first calculus class at Florida, I met the future Mrs. C. (Barbara Andersen :-) and after two and a half years of very hard work, I earned my Bachelor's of Science in Nuclear Engineering, with honors. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the University of Florida and yes, I added the Gators to the list of teams I root for!
After graduating from Florida, I went to work at the nuclear power plant under construction near my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio -- the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. I worked there for ten years; my job title when I left was Senior Engineer. During the ten years I worked there, this almost 7 billion (yes billion) dollar power plant went from about 40% complete to full commercial operation included one refueling outage (I was responsible for this first outage schedule). I also worked in the Technical and Operations Departments. My work there included a four year assignment that involved starting with a blank sheet of paper and developing and implementing the start-up test program that had to be completed before the plant could be declared ready to use. That was a very interesting and demanding job. My title was Start-up Test Element Supervisor, and I had about thirty very capable and hard-working engineers and technicians working for me whose job (for four years) was to write, run, and finally review the results of the shake down tests required to be done before the plant could be declared complete and begin collecting money for the first time. There was a fine line to walk between the regulatory requirements of the NRC and the financial requirements of the public utility commission. The start-up test program managed to satisfy both groups, one of the few areas of the plant construction and operation that did so in that era. I also obtained my second NRC license - this one for the Perry Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1. While working at Perry, I attended night classes for three years and earned a Master's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Cleveland State University which is located in in downtown Cleveland. My master's project involved the analysis of a design for a vertical axis, cross-flow, Banki type wind turbine. Over the course of my ten years at Perry, I spent an extensive amount of time both as a student and as an instructor. Besides the eighteen months or so of full time training to earn the NRC license, my favorite class was a five weeks Station Nuclear Engineer's class at General Electric's nuclear headquarters in San Jose, California. This was an advanced class designed for those persons involved in evaluating the thermal and nuclear conditions in the reactor core while it was operating. I was also the lead person for establishing the training and qualification requirement for the Startup Test Engineers and for the initial group of Shift Technical Advisors. The latter was an operating crew position mandated by post Three Mile Island accident requirements. I had several training/observation assignments at other reactors including five weeks at the Monticello Nuclear Plant in Minnesota (in February, brrr), two weeks at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Mississippi, and two weeks at the Susquehanna Nuclear Station in Pennsylvania. You can never stop learning!
After ten years I was ready for a change and I took a new job working for Commonwealth Edison, the power company for Chicago and northern Illinois. While there I worked at the Braidwood Nuclear Plant (twin units, 1 and 2) as a lead auditor (like an internal NRC) and in the operations department at the Dresden Nuclear Plants (twin units 2 and 3). At the Dresden Station, located in Morris , Illinois, I obtained my third NRC license; this one for Dresden Units 2 and 3. The two units have control rooms that are mirror images of each other, your operating license covers both units because they assume if you can operate one, you can operate the other! Those jokesters. These two plants were sister units to a couple of the ones that melted down at Fukushima in Japan. There but for fortune. It takes about eighteen months of full-time training to get a license to operate a commercial nuclear plant. Some people find it stressful, but I always enjoyed the process. The final tests take several days to complete and are a combination of written tests, plant walk-through tests, and simulator performance tests. You may think the ACT is the last tough high-stakes test you will take, but it would be more realistic to think of it as the first as many jobs, especially the good ones, have tough high-stakes tests to become qualified. One part of the training was particularly enjoyable. Since the on-shift operators are the first responders to a fire at a nuclear plant, I had the chance to attend a week-long firefighting class at a well-equipped firefighters school in Braidwood, Illinois. It has a burn tower, burn building with multiple rooms, and a confined space rescue area. Each morning we had a couple hours of classroom, then the rest of the day was spent doing training exercises in full turnout gear and Scott air packs. It was between 95 and 100 degrees of mid summer heat every day. But very cool training. Firefighters have one of the most physically demanding jobs there is. I found out that if I climb a two story ladder in full turn out gear wearing an air pack and carrying an axe and rope...whoever I "rescue" better plan on carrying me down! After five years at Commonwealth Edison (which felt like fifty, too many bureaucrats:-), I decided to retire from nuclear power and get a teaching certificate.
After resigning from Commonwealth Edison, I worked on building web sites for small businesses (check out the Internet Archives for Skysail Computing :-) while I attended night school for three years. That is when I completed a dual program at the University of St. Francis in Joliet in 1999. In this program I obtained my teaching certificate for the State of Illinois and a Master's of Education degree - with distinction. I found the MEd to be significantly less rigorous that the MS in Mechanical Engineering. Significantly. I wish our teaching schools were more rigorous and academically demanding. My student teaching experience (fifteen weeks teaching) and my clinicals (fifty hour observation sessions at two different schools), which put us into actual classrooms under supervision, were fantastic experiences, however, and did do a good job of getting new teachers ready for a public school classroom. Almost no one washed out of the teaching program academically, but there was a fair amount of attrition during student teaching. If you think it is easy to run a public school classroom, I encourage you to give it a try. Not just for a day, the students will be very gracious to you the first day, but try it for a week. By then they will have tested your boundaries and mashed as many of your hot buttons as they can find. In Blount County, Alabama they call pressing a pushbutton "mashing" -- I don't know why. I did my student teaching for eighth grade math classes (six classes, ~155 students) at Timber Ridge Middle School in Plainfield. One of my fifty hour clinicals was for seventh and eighth grade general math class at Indian Trail Middle School in Plainfield. The other of my fifty hour clinicals was for ninth and tenth grade honors geometry classes at Joliet Catholic Academy High School in Joliet. I did not have to travel far from my home in Plainfield to get a wide variety of teaching experiences. My teaching certificate for Illinois covered grades six to twelve, Illinois had additional requirements to be certified for middle school (MS = 6th -8th grades) which I completed. In addition, I had the following endorsements on my certification from Illinois to teach secondary astronomy (HS), chemistry (HS) , general science (HS and MS), mathematics (HS and MS), physical science (MS), physics (HS), and social science (MS).
In Illinois my first teaching job after getting certified was to teach part-time. I taught one class for one semester of Algebra I at Aurora Central Catholic High School in Aurora, Illinois. I taught the second semester (Feb. - June) in the morning Monday to Friday. My students were in the ninth and tenth grades, and they were on the block schedule, so each class was ninety minutes. If you don't know, Catholic schools are private schools, and they charge tuition. I found this meant the parents were much more involved in their students' education than at a public school. To me, that is a good thing. There was a dress code, and the students were much better behaved than at a public school. Of course, if a student misbehaved, he/she were not sent to an alternative school and then returned to the school. The misbehaving student was simply expelled forever and had to enroll at a public school. I liked the block schedule very much. The ninety minute class gave time to teach a topic and practice it in class. And no one, no one, interrupted my ninety minute math class. It was a school where education was a priority. Teachers and students were held accountable. One problem with the block schedule was the ninth grade students I had for second semester had not had any math since the end of their eighth grade year. That made getting them up to speed a challenge. The curriculum for a block schedule has to be very customized to account for things like this and not just dropped into place by dropping a "normal" curriculum into the block schedule.
My next teaching job was also part-time. I taught one class, for one school year, of Algebra II to three advanced eighth graders at Timber Ridge Middle School in Plainfield, Illinois. The class was for the entire 2000/2001 school year during second period. The course content matched the local high school they would be attending next year in Plainfield so they could get credit for the class and would take more advanced math instead of Algebra II. We ended up covering the entire textbook which was more than they could normally do in high school. It is a big advantage having a class size of three! You can still visit the class web site I made for that class of three students at Heritage Grove Middle School: Mr. C.'s Algebra 2 Class at Timber Ridge MS -- 2000/2001. Some of the links are out of date, but it is in surprisingly good shape for a web site that has not been kept up-to-date for about thirteen years! Even back then I posted every assignment, every day. Why don't all teachers do this? One of the three students, I am proud to say, eventually attended M.I.T.
My last part-time teaching job in Illinois was to teach high school online geometry for the Illinois Virtual High School (IVHS, now the IVS) for the 2001/2002 school year. This was the first year of full operation for the IVHS. Any high school student at any public high school in Illinois could sign up to take any course offered by the IVHS for high school credit. I had students from all over the state take the course, For me it was an experiment. I enjoyed computers, was very familiar with the online technology of the day, and enjoyed teaching. But being an online high school teacher has a lot of issues. While I stuck out the year, I made up my mind not to teach an online course again. And I haven't to this day. While there were three or four other issues I had with the IVHS, one thing I learned that has not changed is that it takes a lot of self discipline, more than a face-to-face class, to take an online class. Just because a student really wants to take an online class, and just because it is really convenient, does not mean a poor student will suddenly become disciplined and self-motivated. It is up to the parents and teachers to prevent a student from taking a class they know the student is not disciplined enough to take. That barrier is not always good enough in my opinion. In spite of my experience with teaching online classes, there are some really good ones out there today, and many of them are free. The concept is sound - it is the execution that is sadly lacking in many online courses. I also think cheating is endemic in online courses, by adults and younger students. I do strongly encourage anyone interested in learning, to check out the category of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). My personal favorites are Udacity, Coursera, and M.I.T. but there are many others. Explore MOOCs here: http://www.mooc-list.com/. There are also some super computer programming courses (free) at Codeacademy.
Next up was my first full-time teaching job. I taught eighth grade math (general math and algebra) full-time for the 2002/2003 school year at Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield, Illinois. This was a large, suburban middle school, there were 300 eighth graders alone. I liked the middle school age group; it is a time of intensive growth and development. It is so different, that in Illinois, unlike Alabama, I had to have a separate endorsement on my teacher's certification to teach middle school. I also liked team teaching. The 300 eighth graders were divided in half, and each half had their own team of "core" teachers. The teachers had two planning periods, one for themselves and one for the team where the team teachers all had the same students and could discuss issues with students as a group. It is a very effective system, and I greatly missed team teaching when I moved to high school teaching in Alabama. Team teaching is great for interdisciplinary teaching, for applying consistent discipline and rules from class to class, and getting rapid insight into students who were having problems. Not all middle schools do this, and I don't know of any high schools, but I think it is a very good idea. This teaching assignment provided valuable experience, but I did not enjoy teaching at a big school. At the end of this year, Mrs. C. and I decided to "retire" and move to Oneonta, Alabama. Oneonta was, by a complete coincidence, halfway between my sister's family in Hoover and Mrs. C.'s sister's family in Huntsville. Neither of us had family in Illinois.
After settling in to our new home in Oneonta, we spent a good part of our first year just exploring. I had in mind that if an opening at a small school opened up, I might apply to teach there, but I wasn't looking too hard as I was enjoying my extended break. But then fate intervened, and Susan Moore High School posted two openings for math teachers for the 2004/2005 school year. This was somewhat unusual since they had and still have ten years later, only four math teachers to cover all math classes from seventh to twelfth grade. Yes, it is small, and it is also very rural. The change in culture from north to south was large enough, but the change from a large, affluent suburban school district to a small, rural, economically disadvantaged school district was even greater. To my northern friends, the first change you notice is that all the students say "Yes Sir" and "No Sir." How refreshing. They also still paddle students. Seriously, I am not kidding. I ended up teaching at Susan Moore for nine years and really retired at the end of the 2012/2013 school year. I posted assignments on my class web site every day for all nine years, so if you really want to see what I taught, visit Bulldogmath.com. There are also thousands of pictures posted that I took over the nine years -- so if a picture tells a thousand words, there are millions of words there about my life as a Susan Moore teacher. I really enjoyed the students there, and sometimes I think they enjoyed my math focus. I tried to lead by example, I never missed a day in nine years for any reason, I kept my room as spotless as one can with 130 teens coming through it every day, I always, always wore a dress shirt and tie, I prepared for every class, I never showed a movie. I offered free after school help from 3 to 4:30 P.M. every school day and free Saturday morning math help from 9 to 12 P.M. This was every Saturday that was not on a holiday weekend for 9 years. Mrs. C. (who has taught college math for Snead State and who was a structural engineer in our prior northern life) came in with me every Saturday and usually at least once a week after school to help tutor. I could have retired in 2010, but I enjoyed it enough to keep going until 2013. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about life in Blount County. How many teachers anywhere in the world hear things like "Guess what Mr. C., I killed a possum with a crescent wrench last night"? Thanks Ryan! When I retired at the end of the school year, it was not too much different than shutting down at the end of a normal school year for summer vacation. But when the kids when back to school in the fall I really felt disconnected. So that is when and why I started tutoring for a fee as an experiment. So far, I like it as I get to do the two things I like most about teaching: preparing for a class (a tutoring session) and then teaching the material I have prepared.
And that's all I have to say about that. :-)