We were going over this week’s academic words pretest today, and when we got to the word integral, I was searching for a way to differentiate it from inherent, which is another word this week.

“Inherent is sort of like ‘built-in,’ part of the …being of something. Like…you were all born inherently good, unless there was something wrong with your wiring…”

“Like me!” A chorus. Sigh.

“Anyway. Integral is more like ‘part of the structure’ of something. Without that integral thing, it doesn’t work. Like…without your skeleton, you’re just a big blob of Jell-O goo…”

“Eewwww.” (Check out the Ray Bradbury story “Skeleton.” Talk about ewww.)

“What. Ever. Your skeleton is integral to your body. Without it, you don’t really have a body. Integral is also where the word integrity comes from. That ShmartBoard might be nice but, it isn’t integral to this class. We could still have an effective class without it.”

“So what is integral for you in this class?”

“Excellent question, that. Let’s see. Back in the day, when I started here, I didn’t have a computer…Wait, my wife had that old Mac SE over there… 10 inch greyscale screen, Microsoft Word 2.0, and a printer…I think she paid $2700.”

Collective gasp.

“It still works, and it still boots faster than any machine in the school. Anyway, it wasn’t in my classroom, and I mostly used it to type, so…  I didn’t have clickers, obviously, or an LCD projector, or even a whiteboard.”


“I tried to get them to save my chalkboards when we moved out of the portables, but they didn’t listen to me. I used to love doing the old fingernails thing…”

I’ll spare you the next five minutes of sharing about the varying levels of (in)tolerance for said sound and stories recounting said (in)tolerance.

“So what’s left? You?”

“Nicely done. Actually, me and my overhead. If they took everything away except that, we’d be just fine.”

“But it wouldn’t be as fun…””

“You’d be surprised. We’ll do a ‘wood bat week’ with no electronics sometime, and you’ll see what’s integral.”


This all leads nicely into a NY Times Magazine article, about what makes a better teacher. As many of us realized years ago, good schools aren’t built with good “programs” and tougher standards and standardizing the curriculum. Good schools are built with good teachers. They are the integral part. From the article:

“William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years.”

The problem is…how do you tell who’s good? Can people be trained to be good teachers, or do you have to be a “born teacher”? Does better pay equal better teachers? And so on…


Very interesting article.

Here’s an audio version of the Ray Bradbury story:

Ray Bradbury – Ray Bradbury – Skeleton .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine