No Magical Thinking for the Teachers I’m Watching; Not so For Miss Cambridge in 1953. More Stories Inspired by These High-Achieving, High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching

The teachers I’m watching do not engage in that peculiar type of magical thinking found in low-performing schools. By that I mean, yes, teachers teach and students learn. That’s indisputable. But whether or not the kids are learning what the teacher is teaching is not routinely ascertained. The classrooms I’m watching have teachers that make it their business every minute of every day to make sure the kids are learning what they’re teaching.

What happened to me when I was in 4th grade would never happen in these super classrooms.

Fourth Graders! Today we will begin our Adventures with Long Division!  Miss Cambridge fills the board with an avalanche of marks.

Then you bring this number down…like so! She waves her chalk in the air and aims it at the numbers. And then you add this… She piles numbers on top of numbers. …to this!! Watch the digits. She stands aside. Always watch the digits!

Patricia, come to the board and the go-home-for-lunch-bell ring out simultaneously. Miss Cambridge sniffs. We’ll have Patricia show us how to do long division when we get back. Class dismissed.

I’m dead. I moan to my mother as I come through the kitchen door. We started long division today.

Relax. She smooths a sheet of newsprint on the table. I’ll show you a trick.

Remember this phrase. She writes Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies. Then she underlines the first letter of each word. These first letters remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down.

I’ll name the steps.

Camels are the main mode of transportation in the desert. Mom draws a camel. They get very thirsty. So, at the oasis, Mom sketches a little pool of water surrounded by palm trees and more camels, a camel drinks twenty-six gallons of water in ten minutes, how many gallons can it drink in one minute? This is important for a camel driver to know, just in case he needs to jump on his camel after only a minute of drinking at the oasis.  She pauses. So: Dad makes scrumptious brownies. Divide. Multiply. Subtract. Bring down. I watch Mom, and the fog lifts. 2.6 gallons.

Now you do it.

I name the steps, do a few more camel problems, and eat a PB&J.

Back at school Miss Cambridge writes a problem on the board. A caravan of six camels is carrying 348 pounds of exotic rice to Egypt. The rice has been divided equally. Each camel carries the same amount of rice. What size is each camel’s load?  She hands me the chalk.

I write out 348 divided by 6.  I mouth Dad and divide 34 into 6; Makes and multiply 5 times 6; Scrumptious and subtract 30 from 36; Brownies and bring down the 8. I stare at the 48, think Dad Makes Scruumptious Brownies, and start the process again.

58. I put the chalk down and look at my teacher. 

You’ve got it! Miss Cambridge looks very pleased with herself and her magic.

Patty 8/29/12