ADPRIMA - since 1997

Education information for new and future teachers

"No mental tool honed by human intellect, curiosity and experience
 can long resist  being dulled by simple ignorance or stupidity."

Catalyst: Tools for Effective Teaching 2.0 Celtic bird study


Dr. Bob Kizlik

Updated February 14, 2016

This is a series of short articles on the realities of teacher preparation, teaching, and parenting, and the sometimes complex relationships between all three. If you would like to relate an experience in this area, please send it to me. Hard Bark information on ADPRIMA is about having the temperament and resilience to teach as a professional.  Keep the length to about 250-300 words. 

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(The following story certainly exceeds 250 words, but it really struck me as worthwhile).

Thanks for this section on your website. This is such a down to earth, realistic and practical page.  I want to relate a few things I’ve seen and experienced in my career as a teacher, going back to the late 1960s.

First, I truly believe that not everyone who thinks he or she wants to be a teacher has the skills, knowledge, and temperament to be one. I’ve seen so many, perhaps hundreds of “teachers” who were really little more than classroom attendants. Some came out of college of education degree programs, some were prepared by non-degree certification programs, and others received certification by simply passing a subject matter exam. Very few are, or were what one could call professional teachers.

The very best teachers I knew were first and foremost experts in their subject area. They understood the content they were teaching in many ways and could transform it so that it made sense to their students and became both interesting and challenging to them. Pedagogy did not trump subject matter content.

The best teachers I knew did not memorize laundry lists of the sort of things taught in schools of education.  Those sorts of dos and don’ts are necessary but not sufficient for successful teaching. The best teachers were smart, practical, and could adapt to almost any situation. I honestly think that the best teachers are wired at birth with a temperament that lends itself teaching. It sounds circular, but I do believe this.

The best teachers get results, regardless of the grade level and socio-economic make up of their students. They get results with students who have miserable records of achievements. They get results teaching in portable classrooms and in the most modern, high-tech comfortable classrooms. They got results before technology pervaded education, because they understand that there are few shortcuts to effective teaching and the resultant student learning.

The best teachers I knew were not automatons. On the contrary, they were thinkers, excellent planners, possessed uncommon common sense, and had great senses of humor. They were not screamers, could maintain discipline with almost magical effect, and got their students to learn and achieve because they wanted to make their teachers proud of their efforts. Therefore, they were also masters of motivation.

After retirement from the public schools system, I realized I was not yet finished; I had some good years left.  Now, as I wind down my career and am currently teaching in a charter school, I find many of my colleagues seemingly lack the professionalism that I am used to. Many are teaching without much experience as teachers, coming from professions such as accounting, insurance and financial planning.  I don’t begrudge them the work, but the desire to teach is insufficient. All the reforms I have seen in my career have amounted to very little actual improvement, whether they be in the area of curriculum, classroom management, or instructional technique.

I think it still comes down to the basic raw material of the teacher and that fundamental wiring that is so important in the development of a “teacher temperament.”  The hard bark you mention is surely part of that all important temperament.

Thank you for considering this.

 Mary Gionettica

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I just had to send this for your hard bark section. My husband is a high school teacher in south Florida. He has over 25 years experience, a master's degree in science and is National Board certified. last year, the principal of his school retired. He was an effective leader, who understood the partnership between the administration, teachers, and parents. He was replaced by a man who had never been a principal, but he has connections with the county school board.  The new principal, within months, changed practically every school policy, does not enforce rules for dress code, tardiness, bad language, disrespect, and has little regard for academic achievement. Three assistant principals have transferred already, and out of a faculty of over 100, I would guess that at least 50 have asked for reassignment next year, including three department heads. I only send this to you in the hopes that perhaps a person preparing to be a teacher will read it and understand that you really do need, as you so aptly put it, "hard bark."  The new principal is a joke, but he'll never be fired, it's just the way the system works. Thanks for putting this on your site.

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I'll never forget the day. It was during a final examination I was giving to a class of elementary education majors a few years ago. The exam consisted of several parts, one of which was a short essay on some topic. In the directions I said to be explicit when describing the topic. A short while into the exam a student came up to my desk and asked, "What does this word mean?" I asked what word she meant, and she pointed to it on the exam. The word was explicit. I explained what the word meant, and filed this incident away. I could not believe that a college senior did not know the meaning of explicit. I checked her records and discovered she had an SAT of 1040, which indicates a modest level of proficiency, enough at least, all other things being equal, to predict success in a teacher education program. Oh yes, and success as a teacher. Maybe.

John Russell, the name of the character played by Paul Newman in the 1967 movie "Hombre," was told, in the latter part of the film by a man he had just shot in order to protect a group of innocent, yet cowardly people, "Mister, you've got a lot of hard bark on you, coming down here like that." Indeed he did, because he was both physically tough and tough minded. He was also realistic, honest, fair, and understood that sometimes doing the right thing involves risk. There is a lesson in all of this for education students.

Without a doubt, young men and women entering the teaching profession today need to have some "hard bark" on them. If they don't, the small wounds inflicted by dealing with the everyday problems of teaching, disciplining, planning, counseling, dealing with administrators, colleagues, parents, and so on, mount up. If they're easily wounded by disappointment, rudeness, and even unfairness, they won't last because these things happen, and nothing will change that.

Knowing the meaning of the word "explicit" may not be important in order to be a teacher, but I'll wager that those that don't know this word don't understand what "hard bark" is all about.

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Some years ago, an elementary school teacher in a county in Florida was supervising her students outside in the school playground. Two 5th grade boys began fighting. The teacher went over and broke up the fight. The boy who was winning the fight became incensed at the teacher for preventing him from concluding the fight in his favor. He was agitated. Finally, he said to the teacher, "when I come back to school tomorrow I'm going to bring a knife and gut you with it."

The teacher was shocked, and sent the boy to the office. The next day, the boy's parents were called to a meeting at the school to discuss the incident. at the meeting were the boy, the teacher, the boy's parents, the principal, the assistant principal, and the school guidance counselor. The boy, when confronted with his  words to the teacher did not deny that he said that. He was placed on a five day suspension from school. At the end of the meeting, the boy's mother went up to the teacher who was threatened and said, "what did you say to my son that would cause him to want to do that to you?"

Hard bark indeed.

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In the neighborhood where I live there is a mixed bag of people ranging from young married couples with no children, to singles, to parents with children in grades one to twelve. There are also parents with college age young adults who attend the local university or community college. At the end of the main street in the development is a major four lane divided highway. The development is upper middle class, with its disproportionate share of $50,000 SUVs and well-kept houses with manicured lawns and shrubs. School children go to the corner to catch the bus, and they are always accompanied by parents. There seems to be a rotation of parents who wait with their, as well as other children until they are safely on the bus. Several busses stop roughly from about 7:15 AM to 7:30 AM. All is well except for one parent.

A boy who I don't know and his mother make a solitary trip each morning to the school bus stop. They live about three blocks from the bus stop. The boy is about seven or eight years old. Many mornings, he rides his motorized scooter to the bus stop. Trudging behind with a knapsack full of his books is the mother. They wait together for the bus, and all the while the mother preens the boy. Then after an emotional goodbye, the mother wheels the scooter back home. This scene, with a few variations, is played out each day, and in the afternoon, of course, the mother is there with the scooter and the whole process plays in reverse. In no way is the boy physically impaired.

Given this is likely to go on for some time, I wonder about the hard bark the boy will need some day when his mom isn't around.

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