The Return of ZombieX: Rob Gaudette Teaches Beyond the Test

ZombieX is a 12-year old public school 7th grader.

Greetings all students. Are you dreadfully bored with school? When your teacher lectures and blabbers about God knows what, what do you do? Do you sleep the period away or space out? Or do you pretend to listen, pretend to take serious notes and learn to play the game?

I have been reading “The Zombie Survival Guide” and I enjoy imagining the teachers as zombies attempting to infect our innocent minds. I daydream about the movie “Shaun of the Dead” and I recall a hilarious scene where Shaun wrestles an old zombie in a bar while his girlfriend tries to help him by chucking darts at the zombie, but she misses and hits Shaun square in the head! I sometimes feel that schools have become test taking prisons and are making mindless zombies out of us.  What we need is to be hit in the head with darts to wake up. That’s what I want to do with this blog.

If schools have become prison-factories, then principals have become wardens and teachers are prison guards, making us learn to obey. But not all teachers have sold out.  Many have not and are actually on the side of the human race. They came into the profession to teach us something about the world and want to continue to inspire us to learn.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one such person. I watched a class taught by Rob Gaudette, one of the best junior high teachers in the state of California. He was named middle school Teacher of the Year and  is currently an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Dale Junior High School in Anaheim.  I saw him teach and  was impressed by his skills and how he was able to excite his students about learning.

When I interviewed Rob about his beliefs on education, I found his answers to be quite profound. For example, he shared this quote by John Thornton relating to education, “We are preparing you for our past and not for our future.” I think this was meant to criticize education in the United States about how backwards, awful, boring, and ineffective it has become. Test taking prisons  don’t do anyone any good except for the companies who make money scoring the bubble in scantrons.

When I asked Rob what he thought about standardized tests and how they were affecting the students and teachers, he said the the tests were forcing the teachers to teach to a “rigid blueprint…Standardized tests take the fun out of learning. In my class I try to make it a place where learning is fun, relevant and a place where you want to be.”

What a concept. Learning can actually be interesting and fun. Has anyone ever thought that the reason many kids are dropping out of school is that they are “educated” to the point of extreme boredom?

Unlike in my school (a.k.a. Guantanamo Bay 2), I noticed right off the bat how Rob talked to the students more like human beings instead of inmates. He actually asked the students about their lives and what was going on. Rob began the class by providing the opportunity for the kids to earn some extra credit since school was almost over. Unfortunately, you never see this kind of generosity at my current school (a.k.a. zombie infected hell).

While we’re on the subject, in my school we earn credit for our homework assignments based on whether we turn it in or not. The homework policy at my school for Zombies also supports the practice that if a student turns in an assignment with full credit (10 points) and another with no credit (0 points) then they receive the average of both which is five. Now, 5 out of 10 points is equal to 50% and according to the homework policy that’s an F. Wait a second, wouldn’t the average between an A and a F be a C? You would think so, but remember in prison test factories the entire system doesn’t care about individuals.  It doesn’t care about excuses, about whether a kid is poor, or whether his dad’s in prison and mom’s away at work. It’s the school-wide score that matters.  And what matters is doing the homework.

I honestly don’t blame the teachers because they work hard but are constantly pressured by the system to do well on the standardized test. Otherwise they may be in for some trouble, demoted, or they could be fired if brand new.  I do blame some of the administrators though because too many are suck ups to the system.

The assignment Rob gave his class was about the Sand Creek Massacre which occurred in Colorado in 1864. Most history textbooks barely have any information on Sand Creek. The textbook that Rob is supposed to use contained only one paragraph for the entire event of the Sand Creek Massacre. Apparently these textbooks really don’t give a crap about stuff that makes America look bad.

Rob doesn’t teach to make America look bad though.  He teaches kids to be critical thinkers so America can be a stronger democracy.

Rob extended this topic into a four day lesson with collaboration from the English teacher. What occurred in 1864 was that a tribe of Cheyenne indians was told by the U.S. government to relocate to place called Sand Creek. The reason for this was that some more hostile Indians were in the surrounding area and were being targeted by the military. By taking this action, the Cheyenne indians would be out of harm’s way when the U.S. attacked.

The Cheyenne tribe made their move and arrived at Sand Creek. They gratefully flew an American flag and remained very peaceful.  Unfortunately, the Americans, led by an over-zealous guy named Chivington, thought that the Cheyenne were the hostile tribe and opened fire on them. In the end, over 100 Cheyenne men, women, and children were massacred.

After Rob  had the students digest this information, he assigned them the task of analyzing a handful of primary documents related to the Sand Creek Massacre in small groups of four. They were to identify whether a document was or wasn’t in favor of Chivington’s actions by placing certain marks on sentences that helped them make their conclusions. Once this was completed, the kids would later be asked to write a letter to Congress as people who could have existed during the time period of the massacre.

Rob later explained to me that this was an example of “document based questioning” or D.B.Q where students have hands-on opportunities to apply their knowledge. The letter would make arguments as to whether or not compensation should be given to the remaining Cheyenne indians for their losses. Rob’s main reason for using this teaching method was not to just throw out the information for the students but to also teach them how to form their own opinions based on analyzing primary documents.

Based on what I have described so far, you might think that Rob teaches an honors class. I certainly did. Surprise — I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t there but this class is for students who are basic and below basic on the standardized tests. Doesn’t that just blow you away!? In Rob’s class, I participated in the activity along with the kids who were analyzing primary documents. I noticed that many students, and one in particuular, Jorge,  was seeing the same patterns I was with the documents. I assumed he was a top honors kid. However, what really shocked me was that Jorge was a special education student!

All of this just goes to show that every student can learn, think, and succeed regardless of his or her test scores.  Yes, the teacher does make a lot of difference but we must allow them to teach. The more we try to standardize the teaching, the more we will are also standardizing and creating zombies out of the students.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather be treated like a human being instead of a mindless zombie.

What are your thoughts?

ZombieX is a 12-year old 7th grader in public school whose perceptive writing is like a dart to the head. He is a contributing writer to K12NN. Read his other post, “No Zombie Left Behind.”

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7 Comments

  1. bert - June 25, 2011, 4:30 pm

    I am a teacher and agree that "Teaching to the Test" and blindly following the drivel in the text books is not improving students' ability to become college and career ready. Rob Gaudette sounds like just the teacher I would have my own kids take. This blog is great and in the fall, I plan to have my English 1 students read ZombieX and make their own comments about education. Thanks for your work ZombieX.

  2. Michael Fiorillo - June 26, 2011, 12:17 pm

    While, according to the Constitution, ZombieX is too young to be President, perhaps we can make him Secretary of Education.

  3. tim-10-ber - June 26, 2011, 5:32 pm

    Which "Zombie Survival Guide" are you reading? Just curious. There are several on Amazon.

    Great column. look forward to more…thank you

  4. Bao Nguyen - June 27, 2011, 5:34 pm

    In teacher school, they teach that having high expectations of students is directly correlated with students' interest in learning and thus fostering higher student performance. Surely, they didn't mean expectations of higher test scores and expecting that students couldn't tell how teachers themselves feel comfortable with textbook routine and lacking enthusiasm.

    It seems to me that all teachers enter the profession passionate and committed to developing better teaching. Mr. Gaudette must be in a good place to continue to develop his craft and use his human creativity to inspire others – students and teachers alike, and this shouldn't be an one of a kind thing.

    Thank you Zombie X for bridging understanding by bringing your student perspective to the forefront. I look forward to more blogs!

  5. Wendy C - June 27, 2011, 5:36 pm

    I really don't know how I got into education myself, with the type of teaching models you referrenced in your article. I remember one teacher I had that literally copied the words and definitions from the text on the overhead for us to copy and called that "teaching". I was so bored! I don't care if those words were important for the course assessment, I could read from the margins of the text myself. I wanted to be connected to the material and play with the content in a way that challenged me. Maybe it's good that I became a teacher so that I could do things differently. Sadly, I don't think that style of instruction is encouraged everywhere. I appreciate a student's perspective and value your thoughts ZombieX. Great articles. When's the next one?

  6. Karen Rose - June 29, 2011, 6:59 pm

    ZombieX: you are wise beyond your years and provide the insight that most "adults" will never possess in their lifetime. You are addressing educational issues that rest on the minds of many while at the same time reminding us of how little the system has changed and moved forward in a positive and practical direction. There has been too much talk among the adults and "professionals" in charge of our local, state, and national systems. It's obvious no blueprint is in place so perhaps it's time to turn over the job to those who matter most and possess the best insight and solutions – the students!
    Thank you for providing such a broad and heartfelt perspective. Keep writing!

  7. schoolsurvivalist - July 1, 2011, 6:21 pm

    I have the pleasure of learning from Rob as a participant in a Teaching American History grant. I am a 5th grade teacher, and everything you said about Rob is what all good teachers should strive to do – make learning fun and meaningful and make kids feel like contributing members of our society. I am so glad you saw him teach and hope that through him and teachers like him, more students will not have to endure school "zombification."

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