Reading Log: Stand for the Best

Stand for the Best: What I learned after Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner-City Charter School by Thomas M. Bloch

This book was recommended as one of the top 10 education books of 2008, so I decided to pick it up.

This was an extremely easy read and an engaging story for most parts from start to end.

It provided me with some interesting insight into the American school system, for example, I learnt the difference between public schools (e.g. urban schools, district schools) and charter schools in the US (too much to go into here), how teachers are undervalued in the US and many other bigger problems that the American system faces that we have managed to somewhat take care of here.

It also provided me with some much needed inspiration to sustain my idealism in a job that most teachers would eventually realise is extremely real. Here are some inspirational nuggets/ quotations:

  • The goal of education is to teach children to be free and intelligent moral agents. We want them to choose a behaviour because it is the right thing to do, not because it will result in some pavlovian reward. – James Levin.
  • Parker Palmer, “Children may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
  • Teachers have chosen not to be bystanders. They have chosen to repair the world.
  • Teachers have a duty to dream. “Public education is the link between our nation and our dream of liberty and justice for all.”
  • Gail Godwin, “Good teaching is one fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.”… Teachers perform without a script, and their daily performances generally run six, seven or eight hours, not two or three.
  • He quotes Dr. Omiunota Ukpokudo, from Nigeria. “No effective learning takes place without respect… When you become teachers, respect is the first thing you want to establish. Become a social justice teacher…
    What is teaching? Why do we teach? If I am interviewing you for a teaching job and you tell me, "I teach because I love kids”, I’m not going to hire you. That’s the reason everyone gives – they think it sounds so cute. But that’s not a reason. The correct answer is, ‘I teach beacuse I want to bring out their intelligence.’ Anyone who has knowledge has power. If you don’t know, people are going to use their power, which comes from knowledge over you. You become like robots! Helping students become effective citizens – wow! That is so powerful!”

Beyond being merely inspirational, the book also provides some practical and useful insights into what constitutes effective education:

  • The apathetic student is the teacher’s greatest challenge. You need to help them shed that apathy towards learning and towards life. The key is to show respect and to have self-respect. “Self-respect is at the heart of respecting others” – Bruce Perry
  • Low income parents do not see themselves as part of the education of the child. They see the school as being fully responsible for the child’s education. Schools should therefore be more welcoming to these parents to make them feel like they are a part of the education. – Bloch is describing the situation in the US, but I believe it is extremely true in Singapore too.
  • We tend to look at a child and ask ourselves, “How can I help this child?” In fact, we should also ask ourselves, “How can we use this child’s strengths to help him help himself?” – This was really a WOW revelation for me!
  • Bloch shared about an activity he used to do in his first few lessons. He would get his class to draw a picture of how Mathematics (his subject) connected with their vision of their future. He would then paste these pictures up on his classroom wall to remind them of the purpose of doing his subject. I thought this was an extremely good idea!

On what a dream job should be…

  • lets you be yourself
  • embraces your own values
  • integrates into your lifestyle
  • permits you to use your distinct talents
  • energizes you
  • allows you to do what you like
  • gives you an opportunity to make a difference in something you truly care about
  • is fun and makes you happy
  • allows you to do what you want, not what others think you ought to
  • is fulfilling (Quoted from p. 171 of the book, taken from Garfinkle).

This really made me think hard about whether I was doing my dream job, and I truly think I am. 🙂


Reading Log: The 4 Hour Work-Week

Holidays are usually a time for me to catch up on reading I couldn’t do during the term.

I had seen Tim Ferriss’ book prominently displayed in the ‘landing zone’ [a term Dearie taught me – it means the most prominent zone when you enter a store] of the Borders bookstore many months ago and finally picked it up this holidays.


As tempting as the title sounds, I doubt that most people who read this book will actually be able to end up with a 4-hour work week.

Nonetheless, Ferriss’s book actually changed some of my mindsets rather significantly and offered useful tips for cutting down time wastage in our work each day. Here are some of the more memorable tips from his book:

  • Emphasize strengths, don’t fix weaknesses.
    It’s far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armour. The choice is between multiplication of results using your strengths or incremental improvements fixing weaknesess that will, at best, become mediocre. Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.”  — With our focus on ‘holistic’ development, there’s always a focus on wanting to be good in everything and I’m caught up in that race too. Reading this reminded me of the importance of being strategic and building on my strengths.
  • The more important question to ask yourself instead of “What do you want?” or “What are your goals” is “What would excite me?” The opposite of happiness is not unhappiness – it is boredom. Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. – Yes, my career excites me and I am thankful for that.
  • Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thing and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive…. the key to not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually lack of priorities. This is so true indeed!
  • Cultivate selective ignorance. It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant or unactionable. Most are all three.
  • Practice the art of nonfinishing. More is not better, and stopping something is often 10 times better than finishing it. Develop the habit of nonfinishing that which is boring or unproductive.
  • Practical tips for managing time-wasters – how to prevent interruptions from emails:
    Check e-mail twice per day, once at 12 noon or just prior to lunch and again at 4 p.m. These are the two times that you will have the most emails. Never check email first thing in the morning. Instead, complete your most important task before checking email to avoid using email as a postponement excuse. – Is it even possible to adopt such a habit in school? I admit I do spend an inordinate amount of time responding to emails and I pride myself on that. However, is it really necessary for me to respond on the dot?
  • Learn to be difficult when it counts. Ferriss shares how as a student, he would always bring his assignments to his tutors if he got anything less than an A. He would then spend 2-3 hours questioning the grader until he had answered all his questions. This helped him to learn how the grader evaluated work, including his prejudices and peeves and also the grader would think long and hard about ever giving him less than an A. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time.

Most of these tips come from the first half of the book. In the second half, he goes into how you can ‘outsource’ your life to a virtual assistant and how you can take a dream vacation and learn a language every 2 months, which isn’t really the lifestyle that I want to live either. I’ll be trying to apply some of these tips in the mad rush that is Term 3 and seeing how these work out eventually.