Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Everything I learned about education I learned from watching Saved By The Bell

Yup, it's finally here. The post many of you have been waiting for since I started my "Everything I ever learned" series 8 months ago. This post has been festering in my head like a zit on Craterface Coburn. Since I did not have any Beldicil handy, I figured I would type up the post on my plane ride to Iowa and back from Kansas City. I hope you enjoy it.

*Editor's Note* Before you start writing nasty comments, let's set a few things straight. This Saved by the Bell post includes story lines from Good Morning Ms Bliss despite the fact it was set in Ohio at JFK Junior High. It was packaged with SBTB and had episodes introduced by Zack. The trip to Hawii and the Jessie's Dad's wedding are also included. The College Years did not happen. They just didn't. The SBTB Wedding in Vegas is in the canon. The New Class did not happen. Nope, not at all. Let’s get started.

Ms. Bliss

I had a hard time picking out one episode to show her greatness. There is the awesome episode where she pranked herself and framed Screech to teach the kids about the legal system that really sticks out to me.  She engaged her students in a way they, and I, would remember for years. I do a mock trial to this date because of how cool that entire episode was to me. Having kids learn by doing is so important and Ms. Bliss did this with many of her lessons. She even brought technology into the classroom for one very funny episode.

Miss Bliss really wanted to teach the kids about the stock market and decided to use something called the Internet in class to have students buy and sell stocks. Zack came up with a crazy get rich quick scheme and purchased a whole bunch of stocks on margin and then the stocks tanked. While I do not recommend that teachers allow students access to their e-trade accounts, it was so cool to see a teacher using a computer in the classroom and actually allowing the kids to use it for real world learning. Real world application is something all teachers should try to keep in mind as lessons are planned. If a student can see how the skill can be used, maybe they will be more engaged.

Miss Bliss was a hard worker that always pushed her principal, Mr. Belding, to accept the different ways she would use to teach the class. She was progressive and passionate. She cared about all of her students and strived to help all of them be who they were. I like to think that I have a little bit of Miss Bliss in me and that makes me feel good. (Note: I do not suggest dating a student's parent like she did with Zack's Dad. That would just be weird.)

Principal Richard "The Big Bopper" Belding

"Woa woa woa, what’s going on here?" The calling card of a person who seemed to never know what really was going on in his school. Mr. Belding is probably not the best example of a principal at first glance, but he really does some things that are worth noting. In his dealings with Ms. Bliss, he supported her crazy ideas because he knew that she got results. Her methods were different, but her success at getting Zack and the gang to learn important Social Studies concepts was never in question. That trust in a teacher as an expert in their field is important. That type of support is something many teachers do not feel. As schools and districts move more toward cookie cutter testing, teachers are not encouraged to try new and different things. "Teach to the Test" seems to be the mantra for many admins across the country. Supporting different ideas from veteran teachers should be encouraged, but also monitored. Mr. Belding did a good job of doing both. Well, after his initial freak out.

I realize that it was easy for Belding to be involved in the day to day activities of his students because the school population was just over 38 kids, but it should not be ignored. Mr. Belding worked hard to be there when the students were doing something interesting or exciting. He was an active participant in the school's events. Whether it is a Ski Trip (The one Zack could not go to because of his grades and he got the waiter from The Maxx to play his Dad and Belding and he only really wanted his Dad's attention.) or a White Water Rafting Trip (Which was supposed to be chaperoned by Mr. Belding's brother Rod, but he bailed to hook up with some flight attendant named Inga. Also, the brothers Belding had the names of Dick and Rod. Just sayin'.). Anyway, Mr. Belding was always there for the kids and he loved his school. It is too easy for some principals to hide in their office and only see the ones who need punishment. Belding was a visible principal that was involved in the every day activites of the students and staff. He might not have alway gotten along with Mr. Tuttle, but he let the teachers do what they thought was best.

Mr. Tuttle

Mr. Tuttle was a jack-of-all-trades. He taught Glee Club, driver's training and business class. Mr. Tuttle was also the head of the teacher union at Bayside. He had a great sense of humor and interacted well with the kids. Despite his failed aspirations to become principal of Bayside High School, he worked hard to provide a fun learning environment. He was actualy one of the few teachers that liked Zack despite his crazy schemes. He supported the quiet Violet Bickerstaff when she showed the rest of Glee that she had an amazing voice. He was a very kind and funny teacher.

The thing that I liked about Mr. Tuttle is that he was always willing to work with what he had. That Glee club was terrible, but he gave the kids the best experience possible. As teachers, we often do not get the dream class. We get a collection of students with varied skills. We must always be committed to doing our best to reach as many students as possible. I'm not sure if I would use a golf cart in the school for drivers training, but then again, I'm no Mr. Tuttle.

Terrible Testaverde

Terrible Testaverde. The name invokes fear in every student at Bayside. TT was the social studies teacher that gave notes so quickly, it caused Jessie's paper to catch fire. He was known for his difficult tests. As a student, I didn't like him. He did not seem like a very fun teacher at all. He seemed to be all about tests. As a teacher, I don't like him for all of the same reasons. I understand that you should not judge a teacher based on one unit or test, but his stand and talk approach to instruction is something that kids do not respond to. Speaking at kids is not a good form of instruction, especially at his pace. There are times where we will need to give notes and talk to the students, but teachers need to change it up and try to reach the students in the class that respond to other delivery methods. Zack had such a problem with TT's teaching, that he tried to use Screech's new found future telling ability (Gained whe he was struck by lightening on Zack's roof) to discover the three questions on the huge exam that would determine their grade in class. Nothing like three questions having such a huge impact on a student's grade. I almost do not blame Zack for trying a crazy scheme. He ends up failing because cheaters never prosper, but Belding should be ashamed to have a teacher like Testaverde at Bayside. That is not learning going on in the classroom, it's rote memorization. Blech!

The Gang

Kelly Kapowski bugged me. I had a crush on her, but I was not a fan of the way that she led Zack on, used to toy with Slater and then cheated on Zack with stupid Jeff. I was glad that her heart was broken when she saw Jeff dance with the other girl at The Attic. Ok, I'm better. I've needed to get that off my chest for a few years. Having said that, there is something to be said about Kelly's actions and the state of education in America. Follow me on this one.

Kelly was a master at getting attention. Whether it was during her bid for Homecoming Queen or dancing with Slater to win the Dance Contest, she needed the attention. She went to great lengths to get Johnny Dakota to look at her. It was only on her terms though. I see this in many of our politicians today. When a politician is running for office and needs attention, education is always the place to turn. There will always be people that will feed into the "education is broken" rhetoric just like Kelly could count a Zack to pull crazy stunts to make her happy. The attention getting can be cute for a bit, but it eventually drives everyone insane. It actually drove AC to Jessie of all people. Politicians need to pick a side of education and work on making it better all of the time, not just when they need the attention for some votes.

Jessica "Mama" Spano is an example of everything that is wrong with our students today. She was obsessed with grades. She was so obsessed with grades that she became "addicted" to caffeine pills! (Lamest addiction ever) She was stressed out over her SAT scores and was afraid she might not get into Stansbury (The Harvard of the West). Her whole life was predicated on what she received on tests. She was by no means the smartest kid in the school. Screetch had her beat and on Valedictorian of Bayside for that graduating class, but I'll write about that later. Jessie was the student council president, worked for KKTY Bayside, was a swimmer and played Snow White in the school play. She had extra curricular activities, but I start to wonder if she truly cared about these things. Was she only concerned about using them to go to college? Is that the only reason why students do anything anymore? Students need to be taught to learn and explore, not how to to get into college. If our goal is to produce a bunch of Jessie Spanos, we are heading in the wrong direction.

Lisa Turtle was a very creative young lady. She had a keen eye for (90s) fashion and was able to express herself while creating Buddy Bands. In today's standardized test culture, where does she fit in? Would she ever be able to hold a fashion show senior year at The Maxx that would later be ruined by Screech because he saw her kiss Zack? Talents like hers need to be supported over time, not tested away. That is really all there is to Lisa Turtle accept that for one episode, her last name was pronounced (turtle-aye). Weird right?

Albert Clifford (AC) Slater was the pleasant jock of the group. My biggest issue with him is that he pursued Kelly even when she chose Zack, but settled for Jessie. The Jessie relationship was doomed because settling for something never works out. I see this in education today. Many teachers want Kelly (Project Based Learning, No Grades, etc.), but settle for Jessie (Common Assessments, Standardized Tests, etc.). As we continue to strive for change in education, it is important that we never just settle for what we have. We have to pursue what we want if we truly believe in it. Albert Clifford taught me that. Well, that and that you can never have too many belt loops on a pair of acid washed jeans.

Screech was the lovable nerd. He was the smartest person in the school, but lacked any confidence outside of asking Lisa out time and time again. Much like Slater, I give him credit for trying to get Lisa despite all of the setbacks. Once he realized she was a pain after she talked through the entire Zombie movie, he moved on to something better. Violet Bickerstaff was a good companion for Screetch. She truly brought out the best I him. Even though Screech would always hold a candle for Lisa, I feel he moved on. Sometimes, I really want to use a certain tool or do a certain project with my class, but I can't seem to get it to work right. I know of too many teachers that try for too long to make something work. As they spend that time on something not meant to be, they could be missing out on something much better. I often wonder about all of the Violets I passed up while longing for Lisas. It is ok go to keep a special spot in your heart for that one project, but try not to miss out some other exciting new ideas that are just waiting to be discovered by you.

Another thing about Screech that really stands out to me was something that happened during the last season. Jessie was stressing over the title of Valedictorian. It is something that she had longed for since she was a little girl. Jessie is the example of a grade and test driven student. Her reaction to her SAT scores only supports this further. It turns out that Screech had earned a higher GPA than Jessie. When Screech was told of this, he passed on the award because he knew it was more important to Jessie. All of the drama that ensues afterward aside, Screech's action speak loudly in education today. An award was not important to him. He didn't work hard because he wanted an award, he worked hard because that is who he was. We never heard that the robot he created, Kevin, was built for Science class, he was built because he wanted to. If Screech was really concerned about grades, he never would have paired up with Zack time after time. Screech was all about the experience of learning. He enjoyed high school and the people around him. Screech and Jessie are different in many stereotypical ways, but from an education standpoint, teachers should strive to create more Screeches and far fewer Jessies.

Zack Morris

I feel that no matter what I write, I will not do justice to my TV childhood hero. He was everything a young kid wanted to be. He was cool, dated the hottest girl in school, he had an awesome phone he carried around and he was involved in crazy schemes that always seemed to work in his favor. As a high school student, I realized how silly everything he did was and that Bayside was not a "real" high school. Now, I really look at Zack and see a student that really responded to one type of learning over all others. Zack was a Project Based Learner. Whether it was Buddy Bands, Screech’s Spaghetti Sauce, the school pond that was damaged in an oil spill or the host of other projects he was involved with, Zack excelled in those projects. Those lessons allowed Zack to dive into the material and create using ideas he was passionate about. The classes he hated the most were the ones where he needed to sit in his desk and take notes. Not being able to collaborate with his peers was the worst way to reach Zack.

I look at Zack and I see his silliness in students today. When I moved away from lecture based lessons and started using more PBL, I saw an increase in student participation across the board. Kids were excited to be part of the learning. Working with their peers gave them a chance to show off their knowledge to others. Isn't that what Zack was really doing? He needed a chance to show others that he wasn't the goofball everyone thought he was. With a little structure, Zack could have created some amazing school projects if he was given the room to grow. Belding tried very hard to harness Zack's energy by giving him chances to create things for the school. The video yearbook is a good example. The school store is another. KKTY is yet another example. When Zack was given a chance to really show what he was made of, he came through. Granted, he made calendars of the swim team and used the video yearbook as a dating service, but he helped set the radio station up to save The Maxx (with Slater's help) and exposed the sexism in Bayside's wrestling program.

Think about the students in the classroom that are very much like Zack Morris. Are teachers writing those students off as silly kids that just need some ADD meds to calm them down? Have I dismissed a student because he didn't fit my idea of a student years ago? Many people forget that Zack nearly aced his SAT. He was not a dumb student, he was a student looking for the right motivation. When a teacher gave him the chance to shine, he did. Students like Zack usually go on to do amazing things when they get out of the educational system and are free to explore what they are passionate about. Let's not make those students wait until after high school or college. Let’s give them a chance to be Zack now before it is too late. I never thought I would say this, but I would take a class full of Zacks over a class full of Jessies or Screeches any day.

I could have easily written an episode by episode recap and explained the educational meaning behind each, but the characters are really what made the show happen. Zack's report on being Native American or the gang attempting to film a horror movie that gets Screech hunted by the government are good examples of education and what it should be for students in the classroom. I really loved diving into the memories of old episodes and what they meant to me then and now. I've really wanted to write this post for a while and I'm glad I finally had the time to share it with my friends. I hope I have a chance to share even more with you in the future.

You know, I've always been a huge fan of The Simpsons....                                                           


  1. This would make Larry Ferlazzo's Best web posts on SBTB.

    I love the angle you took on all of the various characters. I wish I was half as good at creative writing as you are.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    "Use me I'm a tool!"

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. It made me think about my own teaching, and how I make judgements about kids based on their behaviour, and rarely bassed on my teaching, or what I bring to the conversation. Thanks!

  3. I love that Zack Morris was your childhood hero. Myself, I was a fan of Punky Brewster!

    Great post on looking back at the different "types" of students and how to teach to each of them!

  4. Nick,
    Not only is my life better for having read this, but I'm honored to know you. This was truly inspired.

    SBTB interpreted as an analogy for our education system was nothing short of genius (I think Mr. Tuttle has his newest ringer for the Bayside vs. Valley Academic Bowl). I hope more of the parents and teachers of the Jesses and Screeches out there can see how crucial it is to meet the Zacks and the Lisas and shift our focus from grades to personal growth and purpose. I know I was there and like you, have completely taken a 180 in my view of education.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I know this was near and dear to your heart and it was evident. No doubt it deserves a spot on a pedestal right next to Mrs. Power's ceramic bust of the King.

  5. Nick,

    This was the best reflection of 90s Saturday morning television, hands down! The fact that you related it to education and teaching...I can't even fathom how you got it to that point! Brilliant, sir, brilliant!!

    Much like Tim, I'm honored to know you and understand just how passionate you are. This was great!

  6. @Shana- I met Punky several times in my life, a couple times on the set when we were both kids, then as an adult at a retail store I worked at. I have to agree with you.

    Oh Nicholas, cool post.....

  7. I love this- partly because I recently bought the whole series on DVD and spent the school holidays watching it- so I get every single reference you've made here! But also because there it is, in layman's (Belding's?) terms, for a new teacher like me to connect with. The Jessies and Screeches are easy to spot; I will be looking for the Zack Morriss' in my class tomorrow.

  8. Great post. So many of us grew up watching this series and yet never thought about the things they did in class. It was just cool. We didn't see it as project based learning, it was something that we wanted to do in our classroom. Now as teachers we have a chance. (Now if only administration, government, parents had seen this episode). Thanks for the post!

  9. Great job! The SBTB theme is now reverberating in my head. :-) I'd be interested in reading a Simpson version. Hmmm, what type of learner is Lisa, Maggie?

  10. Nick great post my friend as always.

    Ms. Bliss and Mr. Belding are prime examples of great educators. Sure they had their flaws, we all do. (And when it really comes down to it, it was still a TV show) But they showed compassion for their kids. They cared about their learning, always wanting them to do their very best. There never was talk about standardized tests or objectives they had to meet. Of course they wanted them to learn but helped to create an environment where learning and fun could co-exist.

    I just hope there are more Beldings and Bliss' and Morris' out there....

  11. E-P-I-C. Seriously have so much love for this post. The best part- you made Zack the hero and who we are striving to reach and shape in education. You will notice that even though Zack appeared the screwup, his schemes involved a ton of higher order thinking and passion. It takes a special teacher to recognize that and use it to change the world. If they ever did a SBTB where are they now episode, I guarantee you that Zack is saving the world or the head of a major creative endeavor.
    I think Zack is the reason I LOVE those seemingly naughty little boys in my classes. They keep learning interesting, fun, and constantly work to keep me on my toes to do something amazing for them.

    As I said, epic.

  12. Love it. I knew I detested Jessie Spano for a reason. :-)

    I always felt badly for Screech, because he was the one with the biggest heart. Even though we know how life turned out for Dustin Diamond, I'm secretly hoping that the real Screech lives somewhere and reaping in all that he deserves.

    Speaking of Ms. Bliss... why did she disappear so early? I loved the episodes she was in!

    Nicely done, my friend!

  13. Hilarious. Thanks for the late night laugh with solid points peppered throughout. cheers, brad


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