Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It’s been a while since I blogged… for a variety of reasons, some were tech issues, others just an overwhelming sense of despair and resignation of some situations. Today’s entry will be threefold – 2 accolades of things you might enjoy, and then, I will end with some closing thoughts for the 2011 year. Enjoy…

First I want to start with a short book review/ recommendation. I just finished Where the Sky Doesn't End by Ron Nichols. The book parallels two middle school students, each a social outcast for their own reasons, and how their lives become intertwined as they search for their own dreams. The two characters were believable middle schoolers who both tugged at my heart as I read about their struggles. I found myself immersed in their lives, anticipating the conclusion/resolution. This would be a great read-aloud for middle schoolers. While some students might be able to navigate it as an independent read, much of the vocabulary would challenge any struggling readers. I was intrigued when Nichols sent me the book, and delighted when I finished it. I look forward to more similar genre novels from this new writer!

My next recommendation is for a cool new online math tool called Percentage Calculator. This simple but multi-faceted tool will help your students learn how to calculate percents in the form of _____ % of _______ is ________ by allowing the student to enter any 2 of the fields to have the other calculated for them. The tool is followed with a succinct explanation of the process.

It is somehow reassuring to start this post with positives that are happening peripherally to education. I find myself more negative, overwhelmed and disenchanted as time goes by. My biggest frustration now is inclusion. I’ve been a long time advocate of inclusion. I think all students benefit from being a part of the greater whole, learning from those ‘smarter’ and those who struggle. I see the plusses for both sides. However, inclusion is NOT always the best solution, not always the ‘least restrictive environment’ for a student. For some students, trying to force them to keep up academically with their peers is liken to torture. But now, with states going to the Common Core, with NCLB requirements rampant, schools are being forced to squeeze every student into that perfect mold. On paper, that all sounds swell. Every kid deserves every chance to learn every skill. Wait…. Make that every kid WILL learn every skill. How unrealistic is that expectation?? So now… we have students of all abilities thrown together floundering along, trying to master skills so far above their higher possible thresholds all we are doing it creating chaos. We’re forced to reach so far above, we cannot meet their true needs.
In the meantime, we are also doing a disservice to students who COULD master those concepts as we try to drag along the struggling students, holding back the others. We can try to ‘make accommodations’, provide support, but we’re just putting a bandaid on an amputated limb.
Moving beyond academic struggles, we have students now ‘included’ in regular education classes with severe emotional issues that are posing a danger to all students. The last day before Christmas break, a student became so distraught over a small issue, he picked up a student desk and threw it across the room. Luckily, no one was injured, but this is an ongoing problem, not an isolated incident, and one which will continue, I fear, to replay itself until someone IS hurt.
Inclusion is NOT an end all answer for education. It’s like expecting every student to play varsity basketball. No matter what coaching is in place, no matter how much practice time they get, there is simply no possible way EVERY student will ever make that team.

We wonder why parents become disillusioned with schools and search for alternatives – homeschooling, charter schools, etc….

As a parent, I wonder if my own children were in school now, what choices would I be searching for, because the choice in front of me as I walk in the doors of school each day is not one I would be proud to have for my children.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's that dreadful time of the year again. "Buck fever' is running rampant in the school with over half the high school students gone for the day. This terrible virus is such a deterrent for education when it is so highly contagious.

I could argue policy - should we, like so many other districts, close school for opening day of deer season? It seems a waste of 'education' to hold school. With a majority of students gone, most classes are 'free time' or 'study hall' today, reluctant to go on to new material. Is that in itself part of the issue? Do we create an atmosphere where it is ok to be gone today because students and parents know teachers will allow it to be a slough day?

With deer season such a economic boon to our state's economy, with nearly 700,000 hunters predicted to hit the woods, each estimated to spend nearly $1000 each, maybe need to embrace the tradition and call today a statewide holiday!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

We've spent a lot of time lately, as a staff, talking formally and informally, about insubordination. By and large, we are in agreement that it doesn't matter if we are talking about hats in school, computer usage, or simple directions, students have decided they are in charge and the rules may or may not apply to them.

I'm not sure how this change occurred, or even exactly when... But I see a pervasive digression in simple compliance. Maybe it is something each generation of educators feels/perceives? Does it actually exist? I'm not sure. I do know when I was in school, I would have never dared to speak to a teacher the way these students consistently talk to adults. I would never have dared challenge their authority when asked a simple directive.

But now, students have the audacity to refuse to comply, think nothing of saying, "Don't talk to me" to a teacher, or walking out of class or the building when things are not going their way.

Do we, as the adults in charge, hold part of the blame? I think so. We've become more lax with our own adherence to rules as well. Teachers show up late, don't have their grades done on time, don't take attendance regularly, skip meetings, etc.... We've backed down from our stern exteriors my teachers had, the unbending, black and white rule enforced I was taught by, trying to make school more 'student centered', make rules more 'student driven'. Have we gone too far down that road?

We can talk all we want about core curriculum and increasing accountability but until we change the climate in our schools, none of that will matter.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something to eat.. THANK YOU. "

My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter has been practicing what to say this afternoon as she goes door to door begging for candy. She's all excited to be dressing up as an ice cream cone. She really doesn't remember trick or treating last year, when she could just barely get out the words "trick or treat" but she knows today is a BIG day and she knows candy is in her future.

School is a lot like trick or treating. We knock on the doors of our students, hoping to get something back in return: participation, completion of assignments, sharing of knowledge, respect, effort.

How often do we as teachers take the time to say, "Thank you" when they deliver? How often do we show our honest appreciation for a job well done by them? I wonder if more of us consistently showed our appreciation of their efforts, would they be willing to give more? Just food for thought....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Exciting news for my regular readers, or someone who just happened upon this post!

I am hosting a book giveaway for 2 copies of Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans. Evans is a #1 New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Michael Vey is the first in a new series by best-selling author Evans (The Christmas Box), published by Simon and Schuster in partnership with Mercury Radio Arts, a multi-media production company started by popular talk show host Glenn Beck.

The following is quoted from the email I received from Motive Outreach offering the book for giveaway on this blog:

Parents, teachers and community leaders concerned with the dark and
violent content in today's popular young adult novels are enthusiastically
embracing the new best-selling book, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25.
Michael Vey tells a story of an unlikely teen hero who, despite struggling
with Tourette Syndrome, has special gifts and powers that help him overcome evil
forces threatening to take over the world. The book's "good story, good values"
approach has both adults and youth applauding.
"The message of Michael Vey is
one every parent, teacher and administrator will want their children to read,"
said Ann Harkins, CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council.
"Our students went nuts over Michael Vey. I'm not exaggerating to say that Michael Vey is the most popular reading we've ever assigned," said Bill Glisson, principal of Miami Valley Middle School in Dayton, Ohio.

Teachers can find resources for using the book in their classroom in 56-Teacher Resource Guide for Applying Michael Vey reading and lessons in the classroom.

Are you excited now? Do you want a copy of this book to read yourself, share with students, or use in your classroom?

NO LATER THAN NOVEMBER 4: Email me @ to be entered in the drawing to receive your copy of the book. I will contact you for mailing information when I inform you of your winning status! Good luck!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It was an AHA moment and an OH SH*T moment, all rolled into one.

History class - assignment: Read the following article: The First Christians. Then, answer the following:
On the first page, near the bottom of the firs paragraph, the author state that "what began as a grassroots movement of Jewish peasants would become a powerful institution and a dominant force in Western culture." What does he mean by the statement? Support your answer with evidence.
Things you might consider and include:

  • the expansion of Christianity into Asia Minor and Rome

  • the shift from a rural to an urban religion

  • the direction of expansion of Christianity

A tough assignment? Yes.. no doubt. An impossible assignment for the average 10th grader to complete? Not at all.

The previous days had been spent outlining how to complete such a writing essay. They had the format for writing down.

Blank looks. Across the room. A few feebly attempted getting started.

Finally, out of desperation.... I interjected: IT'S A FOCUS QUESTION GUYS! JUST LIKE IN ENGLISH CLASS. IT'S A FOCUS QUESTION.

(In English II, they've been reading The Crucible and answering focus questions on various parts following a very structured approach. Restate the question for your topic sentence. Write several sentences which support your answer. Then close, usually with an opinion based on the text.)

When I said the magic words FOCUS QUESTION, some of them sat up straighter. I started outlining on the board... using the FOCUS QUESTION format. Suddenly, they GOT IT.

Even Student X, the one who NEVER gets anything said, "I GET IT!!"

I think often, we teach in isolation from subject to subject, we do not use the same terminology, and we do not make those connections for students, the connections they fail to make on their own, the ones we think are supposed to come automatically to them, but in reality, they not only fail to make but fail to see.

We, as educators, need to take the time and effort to show them HOW to make those connections on their own by making a concerted effort on our parts to work across the curriculum, making the way we do things uniform from grade to grade, from content area to content area.

Some may criticize and suggest we are making students conform. Some may accuse this of teaching to the test. But in reality, we are just showing them the way things work. It about creating reasonable expectations, showing them how to meet those expectations, and creating opportunities for them to meet those expectations in multiple settings and situations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I think some of the most important things we teach students in school have little to do with academics. That is one of my concerns about homeschooling. Where will those students learn the skills they need to be successful in society as a whole?

Some things are obvious: work habits, getting to class on time with the materials you need, or the simple act of showing up on a regular basis.

Other skills can be more ambiguous: working as part of a group, learning to be polite and respectful, and acknowledging authority.

Some students come to school understanding that adults are in charge for a reason - the greater good for all. Others come defiant, leary of all authority figures, determined to make their own rules in every given situation. These are the kids who constantly have to be asked to remove their hat, day after day, hour after hour. They have to be reminded to not speak when the teacher is talking, don't bother other students, ask and answer questions or give comments respectfully.

Through the years, I've had a multitude of students who are unwilling or unable to follow the basic rules of school. Many of these, I've encountered later in life. They are struggling to hold a job, even at McDonald's. One young man didn't understand why HE had to wear the same uniform as everyone else. He got angry and threw his uniform in the garbage, and ultimately lost his job. Others find that employers are much stricter with their tardy policy than the school was. Others find that employers expect you to show up at the job with the necessary tools you need for that particular job and without them, you no longer have a job.

Other students lack skills to interact with others politely and respectfully. They are constantly making comments to their teachers and other students, interjecting little jibes here and there that make everyone's life miserable. When confronted, they claim they didn't mean it, didn't mean anything by it, or flat out deny they even said it. Unless they change their ways, these students will also struggle in the work force.

I think schools need to spend more time and effort on these issues. Too many students come from homes where these skills are not valued. We must teach them. Someday, it may not matter if they can balance an equation, understand the influences the Romans had on our government, or be able to dissect a frog. But it will certainly matter if they can hold a job, be a productive member of society, and understand the social mores of our groups.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The structure of the hour for my class varies..... from year to year.. from one group of students to another. I wish I could say I've found the perfect way to teach math, but I haven't! But since the question was posed, I will take a stab at some things I've learned that work, most of the time.

For me, having a Math Starter really sets the tone of the class. In a perfect world, this activity bridges what we did yesterday with the new material we will learn today. In my reality world, it is often simply the short set of questions that comes with the textbook. I download this PDF to project on the board. Other days, I use a problem I have written, or even a math puzzler that has nothing to do with the lesson. It could be a problem in the book, vocabulary words to copy(YIKES!) or a prerequisite type of activity. But whatever... I try to choose something that takes about 5 minutes and engages their math brain in gear while I take attendance and deal with any other little odds and ends. Depending on what the activity was, we may go over it immediately, or save it, especially if the activity bridged yesterday and today together.

Then.. we move onto homework/classwork from yesterday. I really seldom give HOMEWORK because honestly, most students do not complete it, so what's the point? I try to assign enough problems to cement those skills, but just enough so students, at least MOST of them, should be able to finish in class.

When we go over homework, I read answers quickly, then stop, ask for repeats. Then I allow questions. We do any problems students struggled with. If I get NO questions, or very few, I choose several problems I knew they struggled with based on the problems during work time the day before, or problems I anticipated students would struggle with. I work through problems asking for "what next" etc...

Then, if I feel we need more work on that topic, we do more problems.... often Day Two is the more complex problems on the topic.

If not, we move on to today's material. I think it is most important to bridge yesterday/prior knowledge with what we are doing new. I seldom teach from the book, preferring to 'show' my way. Then, we work through problems together. Students are expected to copy each example, show the steps, etc... as we go. Then we work through the begining of the assignment together, and then independent work time.

Depending on the topic, that schedule may vary significantly, with group work to 'discover' how to tackle problems, or some experiment or demonstration.

I LOVE individual whiteboards for classwork. These engage more students much more easily than paper. When they have that board, marker and magic eraser (paper towel) in hand, they are much more eager to attempt problems. I try to wander during this time, having one or more students at the board working out problems. We always have 'phone a friend' options when they run into problems when working on the board.

Sometimes, I feel too traditional, too structured and try to be more creative with more open ended activities. However, it often seems students do not always 'discover' what I need them to and we end up with more structured activities anyway.

I wish I could find the balance to teach math in a more 'creative' classroom where students develop their own meaning but I struggle with time management because these activities always seem to take more time.

I love group activities, especially graphing. Giving them a large poster size graph paper to create a graph as a group always seems a hit.

I try to weave as much technology into lessons as I can. I love interactive sites like National Library of Virtual Manipulatives or Shodor. Illuminations has some great lessons as well. Anything you can bring in different and engaging will be a hit...

Hope that helps. I am always looking for great ideas so please SHARE!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Today marks the end of the first 6 weeks of school, what, until a few years ago, would have been the end of the first marking period. Now we are on 9 week periods, so we still have a bit to go before the first round of report card grades come out.

I feel scattered still. It seems the year won't fall into place, into its routine, where my day becomes a logical flow of what to expect. Maybe it is the hodgepodge of students I have this year, maybe it is me. I don't know.. all I know is at this point, I still feel as if I am juggling bowling balls trying to make sense of it all.

For some of the students I have this year, just trying to keep their behaviors from getting them kicked out of classes is overwhelming for me. It feels as if I am more a fireman than a teacher, constantly stomping on outbursts, trying to keep them under wraps. It seems every time I turn my head, am not in the room, or look away for a split second, one of them does something inappropriate, disruptive. Forget ever worrying about academics with them. It is all about behavior.

Some of them are responsible for their actions, telling the truth, admitting their part in the occurence. Others toss blame at anyone and everyone but themselves.

At this point in the year, I am just wondering if we will EVER find our groove... if things will ever fall into a predictable routine....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today, because of the MEAP's, I am letting my Guided Study kids watching Toy Story 3. You'd be amazed at how 'attentive' they CAN be when it is something entertaining instead of something school related. They are focused, quiet and still. Hmmmmm......

Wouldn't it be amazing if school, all their classes, could be this engaging? Do I need to dress up as a cartoon character every day to get their attention??

Which leads to another question.... are we creating a generation of non-attenders? With all the video games, tv shoes, internet... all of which are highly engaging, fast paced, and bright/loud... are we teaching students/children that if it is not 'fun' they do not have to attend?

How many times are you stuck in a meeting, a training, something, that is less than engaging, but knew you had to absorb the information? How many times have you had to read a manual or some other informational text that you really had little interest in, but knew you needed to get all you could from it?

Life cannot always be engaging. School cannot all be exciting. Sometimes, learning is just boring.... sad truth....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh joy. MEAP's start today. As I sit watching my crew, I am confident I know their scores will be reflective of their effort. Wait... I didn't say the score will be reflective of their KNOWLEDGE or what they learned last year.... I didn't say their score will in any way indicate how well their teacher last year taught..... I said their score will be reflective of their individual effort.

We are less than an hour into testing. So far.....

  • one young man farted loudly, intentionally

  • two are asleep (one stayed up late last night to watch the Lion's game.. not sure why #2 is asleep. I have gently woken both twice.)

  • one had a loud outburst, screaming shut up to another student and asking to go take test in office

  • one was done filling in bubbles almost before I finished reading directions. I don't even think he opened the question booklet

  • one wrote '1948' the blank for school name, even though the school name was written on the board

  • two didn't know what year they were born to fill in that information

Please... base MY pay on their scores.

The ridiculousness of it all is so absurd I cannot even fathom it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I was reflecting on yesterday's negativity in my post and trying to sort out the reasons I feel so frustrated. Is it me I am upset with? Is it my students? Is it school in general?

And perhaps the biggest question...

What can I do to change my state of mind?

The bottom line right now is many students do not see the connection between education and their future. For many, too many, the goal of graduating from high school is overwhelming. They have no fantasies about anything past graduation if they possibly make it that far. College is not something they perceive as a reality possible for them. They see themselves as failures before they even start.

Believing in my students can go a long way in setting them up for success. I know that. I acknowledge my role in that part of the process.

Just believing isn't enough though. I have to transfer that belief into a reality for them. There is where the disconnect lies.

One young man in English 2 is bright, gregarious, bubbling over with knowledge and ability. But he is also a self-proclaimed "ass". He has no intention of passing the class, even though he could easily with minimal effort. He will somedays participate in discussions, contributing amazing insights into the conversation. Other days, he can't be bothered to show up on time, can't be bothered to put pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard. For all the knowledge I *know* he has, there is little evidence in the grade book to substantiate that knowledge. Maybe he will surprise me and Ace the mid-term and final and manage to pass the class, get credit and move on. Maybe... I hope so. Either way.... it seems my encouragement falls on deaf ear with him. He acknowledges his potential, but chooses to let himself down. He claims to want to be a doctor someday, and I have no doubt he is capable of achieving that goal, but with his current work habits and defiant attitude, that goal is not achievable despite his extraordinary intellectual ability.

Another young man... in my math class. He cannot be bothered to grab his book, bring his assignments to class, even grab a pencil off my desk to use. He refuses to open the book to the page we are on, refuses to copy notes, try problems. He is sooooo determined he is going to fail, he refuses to even try.

Another young lady... so intent on her social life and the ensuing drama there on a constant basis, cannot focus on work in any class. She is constantly worried about someone else and what they are doing, where they are, who is making comments about them. She has potential, but it is unrealized.

When I first starting teaching, I could have stopped there. THOSE would have been my challenges this year. But unfortunately.... that is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems more and more students come unready to learn, unready to be a student....

I keep trying. I keep tackling them one student at a time, one day at a time, one class at a time, one assignment at a time...

There's always a mountain in front of me
Seems I'm always climbin' and stumblin'
And then fallin'
And then climbin'
But I keep on tryin'

~Trace Adkins

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Maybe it is the time of the year, maybe I am getting old.... but I feel a sense of discouragement and dismay at the tide of education today. It seems we've made a paradigm shift, or several of them, in the time I have been teaching.

Some of the changes have come from above, forced down upon us - increased accountability in the form of standardized testing and a uniform curriculum. Those issues are beyond our local control and have been debated in the greater educational arena to the point I am not sure I have much to add.

The bigger paradigm shift I see is the school culture/climate change. We've become so dictated by fear we no longer create the culture which is conducive to learning that once seemed the norm in schools.

Dress codes are not enforced. Rules in general have become more lax. Students seem to have more say in the social mores of the school community. On the one hand, it is important to allow students the opportunity to make decisions that impact themselves. It is a life's lesson to create rules and consequences. But as the majority starts to shift from those truly interested in education, to those more interested in finding ways to be a catalyst for chaos, I fear our schools are changing, swinging so far from an 'adult-ruled' society to one run by students with an agenda not guided by rationale and a drive for learning, that we have lost the true purpose of a public education in the process.

Students get in trouble in one school so they are booted to another. Students don't like one classroom teacher's rules so they change their schedule. Students choose not to be learners, so we have no choice but to allow them to wander that path, dragging others along behind them. Classroom teachers' hands are tied when it comes to discipline and enforcing consequences. Yet, our worth is judged by the achievement of students in our classes.

If you want to judge my worth by the productivity of my last year's students, then allow me to autonomy to create a learning environment conducive to actual learning.

I don't have the answers. But I do know what we are doing, where we are heading, gets further and further from a true education with each passing day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I've always been a HUGE fan of technology at school. I love using it teaching, I love using it at home, I love how engaging it can be for students.

But with the onslaught of online distractions, I am becoming the ogre of netbook usage. I feel as if I spend more time monitoring what students are doing on their netbooks than I do teaching.

For some students, chatting online with another student can be engaging. For some students, chatting online with another student can be a great resource to get help with an assignment. For some student, multi-tasking comes naturally, even enhances their ability to accomplish the work they have in front of them.

For those students, I applaud the use of social networking. I applaud and encourage them to collaborate. Utilize these tools to their maximum potential!!

Unfortunately, for many students, putting a netbook in their hands is a straight line to disaster. They are unable to self-monitor their time and are constantly distracted by the overwhelming volume of games, chats, music videos and information available at the click of a finger. They simply are unable/unwilling to NOT do those things when they should be attentive to their school work, the teacher, or the assignment they need to be focusing on. They are inundated by Skype messages from friends, or enemies. They have to check Facebook to see what is going on.

Research shows that students who Facebook regularly score significantly lower. This article acknowledges that each generation has had its distractions, it calls Facebook a 'unique phenomenon'. The magnitude of the pull of knowing the every going on of other students seems irresistible for many students.

Couple all of those with the potential for cyber-bullying and the issue becomes even bigger. Students threatening students on Skype and Facebook is rampant. The conversation threads draw parents in as well. A small issue quickly accelerates out of control.

I've come a full turnaround. I always wanted, or thought I wanted, students to have unlimited access to the internet with all its joys. I thought it was our responsibility to teach students to use it appropriately, to help them self-monitor, to teach them social responsibility. However, I've come to realize that for most students, the temptations to stray are simply too irresistible.

We need to take back our schools. We need to gather back our students' attention to the learning.
Recently I was contacted by Lindsey Wright of Online School who requested to do a guest blog here. After much consideration, I have decided to share her post which has some interesting thoughts:

Students Must Remain the Focus in Wired Classrooms
There is no question that new technology has a place in the modern classroom. Children are growing up in a technology centered world where knowing how to use new technology will be necessary for more and more jobs as time goes on. As such, technology in the classroom has the potential to increase learning opportunities when used correctly. Conversely technology alone is not enough to allow students to excel. Thus, teachers must find an appropriate balance between keeping their classrooms current and meeting the needs of their students.

Changing the Focus in the Classroom

Recently there has been a lot of focus on getting technology like additional computers, laptops and interactive whiteboards into the classroom. In fact, some intuitions have even gone as far as letting students attend school online. However some would argue that there is too much. Individual students have different learning styles and needs, and amidst the excitement over new technology, the students must remain the priority.

One of the main benefits discussed in relation to using more technology in the classroom is that students can learn at their own pace. Yet this type of thinking has some flaws. Computers and the Internet allow students to explore topics that interest them and learn in their own way, but teachers must be careful to maintain standards and ensure students are still learning the basics required for that grade level.

The “do-it-yourself approach” also ignores those students who have trouble being independent and learning on their own. These students need the regular guidance of a teacher to keep them on task. There are many different ways to use technology in the classroom and schools and teachers must be careful to design the classroom so that the needs and learning styles of each individual student are being met. It is imperative the focus in the classroom remains on the students rather than on using new technology at all costs.

What Can be Done to Make Sure Students Needs are Being Met?

The Educational Technology Journal, emphasizes that computers by themselves are not going to appropriately teach students. School districts must recognize that in addition to providing new computers in each classroom, the computers must come equipped with high quality educational programs. More importantly, schools need to ensure that all teachers are trained to use the technology in their classrooms in an effective manner that will meet the needs of every student.

Evidence that technology alone will not change education for the better can be found in an Arizona school district.The district offers state of the art classrooms with laptops, huge projection screens and interactive whiteboards. Yet even with these innovative classrooms, the test scores in that district remain unchanged. Evidence like this suggests that something might be wrong with an approach that focuses too heavily on providing new technology and possibly neglects the needs of students.

Luckily there are several ways teachers can ensure the technology that is being incorporated into their classrooms works to the advantage of their students. For instance, teachers can arrange classrooms in away that ensures the focus remains on teaching and learning, rather than the technology in the classroom. If there is one computer available, the teacher might connect it to a projector and use it to supplement to a lesson. On the the other hand, there are many different ways to design the classroom if there are several computers available. The teacher might arrange small groups of computers together so students can work in small clusters at different computer stations or spread each computer to a different place in the classroom, using each one for a different purpose.

Technology is changing the world we live in, including education. However with the focus on getting as much new technology into the classroom as possible, educators must be careful not to neglect the needs of the students.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Parent meetings are always interesting. You just never know what to expect the first time you meet a parent. Some are mirror images of their children; others, you wonder how they possibly share the same DNA.

Some parents make every excuse possible for their child and their school issues. Others bend over backwards to make your life as a teacher easier.

Some parents make you realize the special little something you've missed seeing in the child. Others make you more determined than ever to FIND that special sparkle and enhance it.

Of the gazillion parent meetings I've had over the past nearly 20 years of teaching, most of them have been positive and productive. It is a rare conference that ends with the feeling we've missed the connection between parent and teacher that is so crucial to student success.

I wish I had the magic formula for making them all positive but I don't.... on those other days when the meetings end in a less than magic, I am left questioning what my purpose as an educator is.....

Monday, September 26, 2011

I can’t or I won’t… how do you know which category a student falls into?

As teachers, we make judgments, often split second on the fly judgments, about our students and their abilities. We know that often when they say, “I can’t…” it simply means I choose not to put forth the effort to even see if I can or not. Just saying I can’t is much easier, much less risky.

But how do we know when a student truly, honestly cannot complete the task we have presented to them?

Sometimes, our gut kicks into gear and our teacher sense red flags us loud and clear, "Bobby is lost."

Other times, the water is murkier and we really aren't sure whether to push harder, demand more effort, or back off and take a slower easier route to the destination.

Which is better?

  • Pushing students to excel independently but sometimes erring on the side of too high of expectations.

  • Leading them too closely down the learning path, never expecting more than we think they can achieve on their own.

How do we find that middle ground of balancing the expectations with the realities of teaching them independence, pushing them to reach beyond their comfort zone, and assuring they develop the indurance needed to face obstacles?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Test prep.......first 10 days of school.... test taking strategies..........reveiwing last year's concepts....

Is it worth the time and trouble for the average student to spend the first 2-3 weeks of school prepping for the big ole state test that is all so important?

It seems every classroom in my district, and probably across the state of Michigan, is dedicating these first days to reminding students of how to take tests, reteaching the content taught last year, and trying to convince those students they WILL do well on the upcoming MEAP tests. Does all this 'instruction' equate to higher test scores? Does it equate to increased student learning?

In reality, I think we are boring average Student X into doing much worse on the actual test than had we simply given that test the first day of school. We hound them repeatedly, in classroom after classroom, of how to take a multiple choice question, how to analyze what is being asked, until they are so fed up with hearing about the test, when it is actually in front of them, they are so tired of hearing about it, they just fill in the bubbles.

I know it all comes down to time, but wouldn't it better to dig right into the new content, the juicy exciting stuff, getting the kids fired up about learning? Couldn't we find ways to weave our 'test prep' into those exciting lessons we really WANT to teach, and kids really WANT to learn?

Of course.... that might make sense.... and too often what we do in education makes no sense at all...... But what do I know? I'm just a teacher....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sitting in for the principal today, I fielded many questions that were out of my league. One I was unable to give a definitive answer to got me to thinking...

If a student leaves our school to continue his/her education at the alternative school, is that students eligible to play sports?

My gut, knee-jerk reaction was NO. If you didn't cut it HERE, couldn't meet the eligibility requirements to play sports HERE, why would we let you jump ship to another school and still let you do the fun stuff we provide as extra-curricular enhancement for OUR students?

Of course, I don't have the final say, or for that matter, even any input on the final decision on the matter. Just the thought of it got me riled up....

My own daughters played sports, both of them. Sports provided them a physical outlet as well as an opportunity to be part of a team with all the benefits that affords player. They learned about being good, being not so good, being supportive of others, following rules, sacrificing sleep for something you want... all while keeping their grades to both the school's standards as well as ours at home.

I think sports are wonderful for all kinds of kids. I think sports need to be a integral part of the public school experience.

But are sports THE REASON for school? Absolutely not...

As a teacher, I've seen it happen repeatedly. A kid is a pain in the butt, disruptive, insubordinate, refuses to do anything.... until his sport season comes along. Then suddenly, Johnny becomes a model student, maintaining his grade average required to play, avoiding detentions that would interfere with practice. What a great motivator!! until the season is over.... then back to the same old same old...

Policies have changed, at least within my district, to hold students accountable for being a 'student' for more than just the actual sport season in which they play. For some kids, that works. But for others, it eliminates them from the program entirely. To them, I say, "so be it..."

Coaches try to bolster young athletes to grow and mature, trying to grab some of those borderline kids and hook them into the programs, hoping to see a carry over from the team to the classroom. It does work in rare instances.

The bottom line to me is... School is about academics. School is for learning. In today's educational arena where budgets are being slashed to the bare bones, teachers' salaries are being cut, educational programs are being eliminated.... we need to be careful about making sports a priority instead of academics. Sports are a privilege. Learning is a requirement.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I don't often promote a particular product on my blog, so be assured when I do, it is one I found particularly spectacular :) Recently, I received an email from the creator of Easy Notecards asking me to promo his product. Being busy with the begining of the school year, I read the email and just ignored it. Then, in a moment of desperation for something to distract me from the huge pile of paperwork on my desk, I revisited the email and clicked on the link for Easy Notecards. From the get-go, the site looked well made and easy to use, so I explored further. I even created some notecards. Cool beans! Later that day, I was subbing for another teacher who had an emergency and left with no lesson plans. There were some vocab words students needed to review with a short game but it only lasted about 20 minutes. Suddenly, I remembered the Easy Notecards site. We created accounts - super simple for 90% of the 7th graders - and then got down to making notecards. First, they groaned and moaned. But by the end of the hour, students wanted copies of the words/definitions to finish on their own at home. They had decided the site was cool, fun and engaging. SUCCESS :)

The site has uses beyond the obvious vocab practice. What a great tool for simply placing notes in question/answer form. Students can quiz themselves, study, practice. I'm sold so here I recommend the site to you, and thanks to Chris Deiter for creating and sharing such a great learning tool for students.

Now... for today's actual post.....

First week of school, done! Back to start week 2. It was a whirlwind 4 days with trying to sort schedules for students and teachers, trying to find where we were all supposed to be, and what we should be doing. It is always tough to get those 6th graders and 9th graders settled most of all. A new building means new teachers, new hallways, new lockers.... and an overwhelming sense of panic among many.

Today, the school year really starts, in my mind. The getting down to the nitty gritty of the routine, the settling in of the patterns of classes and assignments.

Being in special ed again means a scattered schedule for me. I start the day in high school for 2 hours. First hour is in English 2 with an interesting group of sophomores. Over half the class could easily be classified as at-risk for one reason or another. Trying to get them through challenging writing and reading assignments will be a struggle, I am certain.

Second hour has me scheduled two places - Geometry & World History. For many of the geometry students, this is their second math class on their schedule. Since they didn't pass Algebra 1, they are shoved into 2 hours of math, both of which will be a struggle for them. (Many of them are in both English 1 and English 2 as well.....)

Third hour, back to middle school for a 6th/8th grade Guided Study. This class will eventually be an easy one but the first week, when students have few assignments, keeping them busy is interesting.

Then... 4th hour, my 8th grade Algebra class. These boys will be my biggest challenge this year. Trying to take them from where they are, from not having been prepared for this level of math, through the curriculum seems a daunting task, but we're headed forward. I think if I can keep them believing they can, we might have a chance.

Lunch and my prep hour are next...followed by 8th grade language arts. This class is huge with a large percentage of students who need assistance for whatever reason. The end of the day timing makes this a particularly difficult task, keeping them on track. As a whole, they do not like to write, they are burnt out by last hour and they simply are ready to quit. Trying to juggle how to keep them all on task is overwhelming somedays.

But the school year is off and running... and we're looking to find our groove. I'm excited about the possibilities, overwhelmed by the realities of it all, and already needing a vacation :)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We talk a good talk in education about meeting the needs of students, but in reality, too often, we do a really great job of setting the stage for our students to fail, or at the very least, struggle. It seems not only the politicians have forgotten the purpose of public education is to educate ALL students, but teachers and adminstrators have forgotten our higher purpose along the way as well.

We worry an awful lot about contracts and insurance, meeting federal/state regulations for course names, which textbook is the best, which classroom teachers will teach in, the shiny floor in the lobby to welcome folks, the latest and greatest technology, schedules, and filling out paperwork.

Maybe all those things ARE important... but none of them are as important as our number one priority: OUR STUDENTS. Schools(and the politicians driving educational reform) need to take a step back and look at what really matters: teaching kids. Not just teaching kids the 'curriculum' (insert heavy sarcasm here) but teaching kids that THEY matter, that they are our customers, and we are here for them, to serve them, to help them, guide them... to become productive members of our society as a whole.

There does need to be a 'common core' of knowledge imparted in public education. A high school diploma ought to mean the same something regardless of where you graduate and earn that piece of paper. But getting that core of knowledge shouldn't come at the expense of common sense and compassion for our students.

Until the adults in education grow up and step up, we, as a nation, are doomed... our educational system is broken, and instead of working to make it better, we are complacent, content, and lack the guts to step up and make a difference.

Shame... shame.. shame on everyone involved. ME, included.... As the 2011/2012 school year starts, let's take a stand for students. Let's make educating THEM our priority again.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Today was my first day back to school this summer. Sure, I’ve stopped by to visit, check the mail, just pop in, but today was the day I started putting my classroom back together.

The rearranging of the furniture, the digging out the textbooks, the hanging of the posters, is all really symbolic of something bigger.

I spent a lot a time today just sitting at my desk, pondering, looking at the tables, the chairs, thinking about how I wanted them arranged, what the final overall plan was to be. Having been in this same classroom for 10 of the past 16 years, I have some idea of what works and what doesn't. But every year is different. Each group of students is different. I am different each year.

Symbolically, it is a starting over. A clean slate. A new chance to make a difference. Where I put the tables matters. But more importantly, the attitude I start the year with matters. My attitude sets the stage for the learning (or lack thereof) that will occur within those 4 walls during the 2011/2012 school year.

Someone on a listserve once commented: We are but part of their journey. I hope that can be my mantra for the year, with students, parents, and other staff members. As I move tables, write names in textbooks, print parent letters, and plan those first few days of class, I will strive to remember the impact I have on their individual journeys, and even more, strive to make that impact a positive one.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Secretary Duncan thinks teachers should be paid more. Great! $60,000 to start with a potential for $150,000 is way ahead of the pay scale in my district, so I’d be all for it!

Wait, there’s a catch? Big surprise….

In the first place, Duncan is just shooting off at the mouth, with no real green stuff to back his proposed generosity. With districts, states, schools everywhere, cutting way beyond bare bones, down into the nitty gritty necessities, laying off teachers, eliminating critical programs, making desperate attempts to keep the doors open and the electricity and heat on, the likelihood of tens of thousands of dollars in pay raises are almost a joke.

But the real catch? Duncan wants the money tied to test scores. As if most teachers would/could do anything differently to raise test scores even if they were paid a million dollars for each proficient score. (Oh.. wait, they can and have done something – CHEAT. But that’s an entirely different issue.) The reality is, there are too many great teachers, doing exactly the BEST they can do for their students. Circumstances beyond the classroom teacher’s control impact scores almost as much as their teaching. These teachers ARE giving 100%, or even more, to make sure their students get a quality education.

The few bad apples tend to taint the pool for everyone. The public focuses on that one bad teacher they had in school, that one difficult teacher their child had, the rumors they’ve heard about what goes in this classroom. I acknowledge changes, drastic changes, need to occur in some classrooms. Some teachers are not meant to be teachers. They don’t know their content. They are incompetent at getting information across to students. They refuse to follow the curriculum. They are mean spirited and hateful. But, these are not the norm, but rather the exception to the majority of teachers in the teacher pool.

I’d love to make more money teaching. With 16 years experience and a master’s degree, I just barely break the $55,000 mark. With all the extras being docked to my pay, the 3% mandated to pay for retirements, the extra 10% towards my insurance, union dues, etc… the reality is much less than a $55,000 starting point. I don’t see cost of living raises. I don’t get extra if I work extra. I do fork out a lot of money for classroom incidentals, materials for students who can’t afford them, or whose parents refuse to provide them. I buy food for students who are hungry, fund field trips for those who don’t have the funds. Ask any teacher and they will give you the same story about out of pocket ‘expenses’.

But paying me more won’t change anything about the way I teach, the quality of education I provide for my students. I still won’t be able to get them to school on time every day ready to learn. I still will struggle to compete with video games, online chats with friends, music videos, and other distractions that appeal much more to the average adolescent than the Pythagorean Theorem or inverse functions. I will still struggle with parents who think because I expect their child to come to school, do their work and be respectful, I am picking on their child. I will still struggle to overcome the child who is being abused and/or neglected at home, who carries that weight heavily on their shoulders.

Worse yet, offering to paying the ‘bad’ teachers more won’t change their classroom practices either. If they had the skills to teach well, they would already be doing it. If they had the true desire to change the lives of their students, they would already be doing it.

Some of the marginal teachers might be inspired to try a little harder to reach their students with a pay increase, but this small percentage of teachers would make such a small impact on overall student learning, it seems not worth the price. The bottom line is, good teachers are good teachers, regardless of their pay. Bad teachers are bad teachers, regardless of their pay.

Pay teachers more because they deserve to make a professional wage. Pay teachers more because they have one of the most important jobs in the world. Don’t base their pay on an arbitrary test score that has been proven repeatedly to be inaccurate and invalid. Don’t base their pay on a test score that is partly beyond their control.

So thanks Duncan for your little dangling carrot,

but no… I don’t think so.

Thanks anyway.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When a link to an article titled How to stop discipline issues forever popped into my Facebook feed, I clicked on it, obviously. Discipine, classroom management... those topics always seem at the forefront of what teachers need/want to solve, learn more about, and seek advice on.

The ASCD Edge blog post by Mark Barnes was interesting, if brief and incomplete in its how-to methodology. But the basis for the commentary was simple - get students focused on something that interests them and discipline problems will disappear.

In theory, I agree wholeheartedly. Engaged students are just that - engaged. They are focused on the project in front of them, and will give it their all to completion. Make it fun, make it interesting, make it relevant, and students WILL do it.

Let's step away from theory and into the real classroom though. Some subjects lend themselves more readily to project based learning - social studies for example comes to mind. Learning about places, people, cultures, all are easily student driven, given the right guidelines and guidance. Tell the kids what their outcomes should be, and set them free to learn and explore. Just some close monitoring, prodding, guiding, and most students will meet the objectives set forth.

Other subjects aren't so easily conformed to project based learning, at least in my mind and experience. Math is the worst it seems, the most impossible to allow students to direct themselves. With a subject so skill based and sequential by nature, allowing students the freedom to design, explore and meander mentally through the material seems fraught with disaster.

Reading and writing also seem to require a bit more direction from an instructor, giving guidance, advice and skills along the way. Much of the 'work' can certainly be individualized to meet the needs of students' interests, allowing them much freedom and leeway in the choice of reading materials and writing topics.

Anytime someone advocates allowing students to direct their own learning, I approach the thinking with caution. I'm all for choice, knowing choice gives students power, which is an effective tool in engagement. But I also believe students need to attain a certain basic set of core skills and knowledge in education. I don't see the average student motivated enough to accomplish this on their own with little guidance/instruction from a teacher.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's a lot to be said for being 2 years old again and being able to dress up, putting on an entirely new persona and becoming someone new for a little while. This morning as my granddaughter donned the princess gown and high heels, teetering around the house slipping and trying to balance, complaining about how scratchy the gown was, I couldn't help but smile obviously, but I was also a bit envious. When 50 is knocking loudly on the door, the reality is you've now decided what you want to be when you grow up. Sometimes, I jokingly say, "When I grow up, I want to be a landscape architect" or "When I grow up, I want to be a geologist" bemoaning the loss of the options. In reality, I love being a teacher and even given the chance to start over, I would likely choose the same path.

For many of our students though, they can't see past today to envision their own possibilities. Talking with colleagues yesterday, we talked about the career paths of our own children, the choices they've made, the choices we think are right for them, and the downfalls of our high school's preparation of students for making those choices. Cuts in education have led to few vocational programs being offered. A one-size-fits-all curriculum prepares, or tries to prepare, all students for college. In reality, many kids aren't college bound, for a variety of reasons. But does school really show them other options, explain to them the possibilities, help them explore the many other worthwhile opportunities out there?

The two colleagues I was talking to have 6 children between them. I have 2 of my own. One of mine went to college, undergrad and grad school, right out of high school, and has a lucrative career in the avionics communications field. My younger tried college for several years but it wasn't for her. After a variety of jobs, she has gone back for a certificate in phlebotomy, a much shorter, cheaper option than a 4 year degree, but one with a reasonable salary and benefits. Of the other 6 children belonging to the my colleagues, only 3 are out of high school, with 2 in college, and the other recently joining the Air Force. One of the others will be a senior in the fall, with no clear after-high school goals in mind yet. While he is a great kid, a bright kid, a very likable kid, he probably isn't college bound. Does that mean he is 'less'? No, it just means we need to help him find HIS path whether it is some type of vocational training that will lead him to meaningful, gainful employment, or some other option. His younger sister, a sophomore, has already set her sights on the medical field. We need to help her focus her dreams and prepare her for those. Little brother is still in elementary, but I can already see him working in the Department of Natural Resources, either as a conservation officer or fisheries/wildlife biologist.

The point is... all kids are different, with different educational needs, different paths they will choose in the future. We just need to make sure we, as educators, are not only preparing them for these paths, but telling them their many varied options instead of assuming they will all go to college, and teach them accordingly. For all we know, someday, that young lady WILL become a princess... or a geologist.... or a landscape architect... or maybe 'just' a grandma :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Up early on Saturday morning, enjoying the peace and quiet, looking out my patio door, I see my"kid garden" along the patio edge, full of gifts of various flowers over the years. I'm always amazed at how these flowers always seem to thrive. This lily is one of my favorites, I must admit. The first year, it was a gangly, spindly plant that didn't look as if it would survive the ride home from school. But I planted it alongside the other mismatched flowers that I've planted over the years, gifts from students, plants that didn't fit somewhere else in my 'grand scheme' of gardening. These plants hold a place of honor edging the patio, instead of tucked away hidden where no one might notice them.

Over the years, this lily has managed to survive. It is no longer gangly . Instead it is a glorious bush of blossoms - 18 open this morning, with many more buds waiting for their turn to shine.

My lily is like a middle school kid.....

they come to us, a little mishapen, a little gangly, not all that gorgeous on the outside at times...

but filled with potential...

just waiting to be planted in a place of honor....

wanting and needing to be tended and cared for over the years....

until they bloom magnificently into adulthood......

Thank you all my middle schoolers who have given me plants over the years. I've enjoyed watching the plants grow and mature and blossom, just as I've enjoyed watching you do the same.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's summer vacation time, strawberry jam making, working in the garden, baking, cleaning.... all those things that I never seem to get done during the school year. All those things take me back to my growing up days, way back when. Both sets of my grandparents lived a 2 hour drive away. While I didn't spend tons of time with either pair growing up, I do have fond memories of being at both their homes.

My dad's parents lived in town, on the quintessential tree lined Southern street, complete with huge azalea bushes flanking the sweeping front porch where we sat in the evenings in big white rocking chairs nodding to neighbors strolling by, listening to crickets chirp, and dripping sweat in the Mississippi summer heat.

My mother's family lived in the 'country'. In reality, they lived on a huge farm, a commercial farm where I remember long chicken/turkey houses of terrifying and smelly poultry, catfish ponds, pastures of beef cattle, and gardens of epic proportions. Summer days there were fun, filled with work and play, whether it was shelling butterbeans on the porch or playing baseball in the cow dung filled pasture, there was always something to do. When I make jam or my other 'farm' chores, I am transported back to those days.

In today's educational arena, I wonder if we aren't ready to go back to those same days. When I was growing up in Mississippi, school days were filled with work and play, just as days on the farm were. My memories of school don't include computers or air conditioned classrooms. They don't include teachers who coddled us, or parents who came in to school to criticize those teachers for disciplining us when we were disruptive or insubordinate.

Way back then, we went to school, we did the work, we didn't ask why or when we'd ever need to know this. The teacher said we needed to do the work; we did it. We learned, we memorized, we practiced, we failed, we were challenged, we learned. There was never even a thought of being disobedient. We knew any thought of that would be a trip to the office, followed quickly by a phone call home, followed by a swift paddling to the rear.

But school wasn't something we dreaded, or were stressed out about, or tried to avoid. We loved going to school. It was where we met our friends, where we laughed and played at recess, where lunch time was spent eating homemade food made by the lunch ladies who dished out those meals with a smile and a hug when needed. In our classes, we worked hard, but we did fun things as well. OK, to us, they were fun! We made posters; we made models out of clay; we played games to review for tests; we challenged each other in debates; we wrote poetry; we recited poetry and lines of Chaucer and Shakespeare; we dissected frogs and cats; we dressed up to celebrate learning about Mexico, eating spicy food and dancing the Mexican hat dance. Everyday was something new and exciting.

When we got home from school, we did our homework. There were no video games or even much on TV to distract us. There were no computers. If we wanted to talk to friends, we had to call on the phone. But those phone calls were AFTER homework and chores were done.

If we didn't do the work, we failed. Period. End of discussion. We didn't go onto the next grade. In high school when the credits became an issue, failing a class meant summer school..... so in reality, most of us didn't fail. The penalty was too severe. We did what was expected of us, at school and at home.

It seems simplistic I know.....

but what if.....

  • we could turn society around so that EDUCATION was the important factor for children again.......

  • if we could push video games and Facebook and American Idol and texting to the background.....

  • if we could have teachers who knew they were in control of their classrooms, with support of parents and society.....

  • if teachers taught what was supposed to be taught, because those expectations were black and white......

  • if students came to school excited, instead of distracted.....

  • if moving up a grade meant you'd mastered the skills for that level....

  • if school was exciting and interesting, and students WANTED to be there....

  • if...............

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

After much thought, debate, denial and out and out refusal, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring for the middle/high school principal position at my school.

, I said no way.. absolutely not, no way… too much uncertainty, too much baloney, too much too much…. Not for me…

However, we all have our weak moments, our back pedaling, our think it through again moments, and come to different conclusions, even on such heavy topics.

I’ve spent some time talking to others from my district, thinking about the criteria for this position. What WOULD the perfect candidate look like? What philosophical beliefs would s/he need?

As the conversations continued, I became more and more intrigued with thought of accepting such a role. I argued with myself. I argued with others. And in the end, I completed the application and hit SUBMIT.

Am I the most qualified? In some ways... probably so.

I have a unique perspective on the teachers in our district, their strengths, their weaknesses, their abilities to change and adjust. My own children graduated from here with a strong background that has prepared them for the next steps in their life journeys. I've seen the school as a parent, and through the eyes of students. I've seen it all, the good, and there is plenty of good... I've seen the bad... and there is bad to be fixed, as in any school.

I've had the pleasure and honor of working with several administrators, all of whom had different leadership styles- and I've learned from them all. What is that Jimmy Buffett song... "read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and I've learned much from both of their styles..." Each and every administrator and teacher I've ever worked with taught me much about how TO do things, and how NOT to do things. I like to think I can combine all this information and create a persona all my own in that position.

I know the people, the rules, and what changes must be implemented if our district is to move forward. I know the games, the opposition, and who will be on my side.

In other ways, I wonder if someone from outside our district might be a better candidate, someone who would come in with a clean slate, with no preconceived notions about how it has been and ought to be. But then, I wonder how long would it take that orientation process to take place. It seems we go through administrators awfully quickly. Do we need just one more on the roster? Or would it be better to have someone rooted in this community, who will stick it out no matter how rough the waters get?

I don't have all the answers.. all I have is an excitement.. thinking of the possibilities... of being able to implement a true SHARED LEADERSHIP model of administration... of being able to be an instructional leader to those I admire and value most.... of learning with others as we move forward down the path.

Part of why I hesitate to leave the classroom is the students. They are and always have been, the BEST part of my job. But as principal, maybe I can continue to help them learn, grow and become the responsible adults, contributing members of society I know they can be...Maybe I can reach more students this way?

For now, I have my fingers crossed I get called for an interview... wish me luck.... or think me crazy....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Technology is great when it works right but it seems more often than not, little gremlins are sneaking around, doing their evil to make anything and everything go wrong!

Today is our first half day of a three day stint for exams. A teacher called in sick. There were no substitutes available so I said I would rearrange my schedule and sub for him. (Being an inclusion teacher for much of the day, means my time is somewhat flexible, depending on what is going on in the classrooms I co-teach in.) I popped in the missing teacher's classroom to see what he had planned for the 100 minute block of time ahead. NOTHING... NOTHING!!! No lesson plans. NO NOTHING!! (We will assume with good will he was too sick to leave something??)

Class starting in just a few minutes, with 20 6th graders.... Most of my stuff is already packed and put away, and my brain is on last week fried overdrive. Think Pooh, think. A movie... that would be the easiest option. Not educational. Not curriculum linked. Guilty as charged. But honestly, it was all I could fathom at this last minute juncture.

Toy Story 3 is still relatively new, and such a fun movie. I quickly called my husband to run in to me. Projector hooked up, speakers going, movie in and queued up ready to go just as the little darlings walk in the door. They are excited! A movie!! That just doesn't happen and they think it is a wonderful way to end the year.

Movie is underway. All is well. *breathe* Then, the projector overheats and shuts off. Plan B. I quickly race to another classroom and steal back my projector and DVD player which another teacher had borrowed. In the process, I manage to disrupt a class of 8th graders taking their final exam as I drop the speakers on the floor. Race back to the other classroom. Try to get it going. Power issues.. what IS WRONG??? OK, that cord is loose. Fix that. Wiggle another cord, and another. Finally, we have picture. NO SOUND though. hmmm.... When I drop the speakers, that cord must have come loose. Click... SOUND!!! 15 minutes lost, but finally.. we are back in business.

End of class. Stop movie to get ready for next class. What's wrong now??? Oh good grief, somehow the DVD slipped out of tray loose into player. Shake it upside down vigorously until it falls out, but now the tray won't close. Oh for crying out loud.... Grab the teacher's laptop, hook it to projector. Racing against time. Nothing works. NOTHING WORKS. Oh... I forgot to hook the cord from projector to laptop. DUH. Hook up cord. STILL NOTHING WORKS. Starting to panic now.... function, F8. function, F8. NOTHING WORKS. NOTHING WORKS. I officially give up. I call the tech person who gathers from my panicked 2 second explanation of the last hour and half of events that I need her NOW. She races upstairs. Thank goodness, it didn't work for her either... that is USUALLY my luck. She uninstalls, reinstalls, works her magic. Has to restart computer. And then.. success :) We are up and running, just as the bell rings and the next group walks in the door.

WHEEEEEWWWW.... Gremlins. I swear. GREMLINS.

Monday, June 06, 2011

One more of the idiocies of school is final exams. Who decided that giving a test over 'everything you've learned' is necessary. In theory, if students HAVE learned the material, the teacher should know without a doubt the material has been 'asborbed' and doesn't need further validation of that fact. On the other hand, if the teacher isn't sure if they've really learned the material, does trying to convince students to cram all that junk into their brains at the last minute make sense anyway? Good students worry, cram and try to squeeze every last detail into their brains to fill in the bubbles on that exam. Once they put pencil to paper, the minute details dissolve from their long term memory, leaving behind on the real LEARNING that took place over the course of the school year. Less successful students don't bother with studying because they've found their niche in the process and are certain that last minute studying is futile at best. Final exams are a waste... a waste of class time which COULD be spent doing something exciting, engaging and worthwhile those last days of school.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The netbooks are here, the long awaited netbooks ARE HERE. Woohoo... woohoo.... woohoo...

In some ways, this grant is a blessing. Now, *all* students 7-12 have a netbook in hand. No more worrying about signing up for the lab or computer cart. No fighting to scrounge up the missing laptops off the cart.

Of course, all students did not actually receive a netbook. Those with fines, without a parent consent, or those who choose not to, are netbook-less. Today, the first day for most students, some came without them already.

In other ways, this entire grant is a nightmare. While the grant's name (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) suggests it will increase broadband availability in our region, in reality, it has nothing to do with that goal, even remotely. The grant has simply put netbooks into the hands of students, grades 7-12. That in itself is a lofty goal, and a potentially worthwhile one as well. Unfortunately, the students I know who have broadband at home, have a computer. The ones who did not have broadband before the grant handed them a netbook, will not have it now either.

Having netbooks at school will be great for many things. Incorporating technology regularly into the curriculum will become much easier. Hopefully, teachers will take advantage of this opportunity to find new ways to engage students in non-traditional ways. Unfortunately, no teaching training in technology integration was part of the program so for many teachers, the netbooks will not change instruction long-term.

For the immediate impact, students are so excited and busy surfing on Facebook, playing games, and Skype-ing with each other, they can barely contain themselves to be bothered with completing assignments. In particular, for students without broadband at home, this is a magical opportunity to catch up with friends who always get to play online.

We've jumped in head first without first testing the waters. We didn't take the time to teach appropriate computer usage, or acceptable classroom rules. Our filter system is yet to be upgraded so it is basically a free for all for students. As the school year winds down, and the netbooks are new and exciting, most teachers are just giving students free reign thinking by fall, the new will have worn off and we can start the school year fresh with a different approach.

I am excited to try and incorporate more technology next year. I just am skeptical until I see all the netbooks come back, in working order. Only time will tell.....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of my biggest pet peeves (If you read regularly, you know I have a LONG list....) is teachers giving students more work as punishment. Usually, this is a busy work assignment... some contrived worksheet to complete, some additional reading assignment, or whatever lame excuse for 'schoolwork' the teacher can think of off the cuff.

  • Teaching is about imparting not just content to students, but a love for the subject matter, a genuine interest to quest for more knowledge once the classroom door has been closed. In theory, teachers became teachers because they loved their subject matter so much they wanted to share that love with students. True teachers yearn to help mold new scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, writers... They want to see the learning process as it unfolds and awakens in young minds as they discover the excitement of new things. By giving the topic as a punishment the wrong message is sent to students. Now, writing, or reading, or whatever, becomes negative in their minds, something to hate and dread instead of something to yearn and quest for.

  • Punishment rarely accomplishes its goal. When possible, being proactive and keeping problems from occurring is much more effective, in all situations, but in particular in the classroom, than any after-the-fact punitive action. If your classroom is so out of control, giving additional busy work to keep the students 'occupied' is your only option for control, the problem is bigger than any punishment will solve. First off, many of your 'worst offenders' likely won't complete the additional busy work anyway, leaving it more of a burden for the 'good kids' who feel obligated to do anything and everything, while those you wish to punish will sit back and coast along, causing even more grief to the peace and tranquility the teacher is searching for.

  • Students know when the assignment is contrived and even the good students do not give these assignments their due attention. Any educational benefit you might have gained from the work, is lost to all. It is simply one more task to complete, one more mountain to climb. Likewise, teachers seldom even look at this work, making it even less meaninful.

  • Busy work assignments often aren't as 'punitive' as you think they are. Speaking as someone who did more than their share of writing "I will not talk in class" growing up, I quickly learned the fast way to completion. Write a column of "I", follow with a column of "will" and so on. If the process of writing "I will not talk in class" was supposed to make that statement stick in my head, the process was lost. Instead, I remembered, I-I-I-I-I-I, will-will-will-will-will, and so on, NOT "I will not talk in class." Students will find shortcuts to assignment completion, even the good kids. It really will be nothing more than busy work.

  • Fill your classtime with real learning, real engagement, real excitement. Then, your classroom management issues will dissolve, busy work won't be needed, students will be excited to come to class, and you will love sharing your enthusiasm and love of your subject with students and they will likewise love your class.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I suppose at one time or another, most teachers consider making the move from classroom teacher to adminstrator. In the teaching profession, there are not many options for advancement and this is the logical next step. At one time, I thought I might want to be principal, and actually started working on my masters in adminstration. However, soon, I decided I really wasn't that dedicated to pursuing that option and stopped taking classes.

The classroom is where I belong, where I enjoy being, where my heart lies. Today, that was reinforced in my mind, easily. My principal was gone for the day. Usually the special education coordinator steps in his shoes when he is out of the building but with her gone today as well, he asked a few of the staff to cover various responsibilities for him. I was to be the go-to in the middle school if discipline or other issues arose. Sure, I told him, no problem.

I jokingly popped into the office when I came upstairs after first hour and asked the secretary how it was going. She promptly pointed me to student #1 who needed to be dealt with for something trivial. OK. Off to second hour. Soon, she was knocking, beckoning me to the office, where now 4 miscreants were in need of a tough hand. All stupid petty little things... out of seat without permission, sharpening a pencil, etc... then, the biggies -boys punching each other. Dealt with, check, dealt with, check... made a girl cry... YIKES!

Then lunchtime, boy crying because someone hit him and knocked off glasses. Track down all involved, get varying stories, try again.. closer and closer to truth and you circle around.

5th hour - young man knocks on door, telling me his misdeeds. I deal with his problems.

Between 5th and 6th hour, this one shoves that one, who falls into another one calling her a name. But who said what? and to who? and really, seriously????

What does it all mean?? We have issues. We have MANY issues.

Adminstrators have to walk a fine line, trying to find the middle ground of truth, punishment, fixing the problems behind what happened to keep it from happening again... what is the bottom line? We need behaviors to change. We need a safe school, and place where students feel comfortable and confident. Most of the 'stuff' that goes on is little piddly incidents that mean little in the entire scheme of life and school. Inevitable happenings when a bunch of hormone enraged adolescents are caged together, as spring crests on the horizon. Other incidents indicate bigger issues with classroom management problems by individual teachers that create no win situations for students.

Me, I just want to chew some butt, see some remorse and have a genuine "I won't do it again". *sigh* Sometimes, it is that easy. Other times, not so much. Why can't we all just get along???

I think all teachers should be required to do a stint as principal. Seeing the school from the other side really opens your eyes to the goings on:

  • Students wandering the halls for no reason.

  • Students sitting outside classroom doors.

  • Students sent to make copies of busy work assignments.

  • Students sent out of class to the office for minor issues instead of being taught.

Maybe if they/all teachers sat at the principal's desk once in a while, they might, just maybe, realize the big picture here. School is for educating, not for looking for ways to get kids in trouble or ways to keep them busy or quiet. We need to work to make our classrooms places of two way respect and honesty, our halls places of safe travel, and the school a place where learning prevails and the overwhelming mood is of happiness and contentment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Middle schoolers get a bad rap. Just today, a former student came back to sub for the day. I was excited to hear teaching was his 'backup plan' for law school, thinking if we could get this kid in a classroom, he'd be the kind to make a real difference in the lives of middle school kids. When he was in middle school, he wasn't a bad kid, just a kind of average kid - funny, smart, but not outstanding, just one of those you remember fondly but without a lot of horror stories to go along with the memory. He would understand their goofiness, their jokes and pranks, but take it all in stride. He'd be the kind to find the perfect balance between academics and fun.

Instead of being geeked about middle school, he insisted he wants to teach in upper elementary grades. I realize there is a need for male elementary teachers, but my heart will always defend the middle grades so I asked him, "Why not middle school?" with a hint of teariness in my voice.

He recounted how he'd subbed in 8th grade last week in a different school, and how horrible it was. His day here did not much better when I touched base later.

How can we convey how cool this grade level is to new teachers, hook them into wanting to be a part of the adolescent experience?? Middle schoolers are old enough to carry on 'adult' conversations. They love anything funny and unique. They crave the new, the different and the exciting. They are loving, trusting, and intelligent. Their willingness to be goofy for the sake of being goofy is unmatched by any other grade. They are simply the coolest people on the planet!

I tried to convince him that a well run middle school class does not have to be chaotic and out of control, but the look of terror in his eyes said he didn't believe a word I said. Too bad... he's just the kind of new blood middle level education needs to pump in some new excitement!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The part of teaching that frustrates me the VERY most is student absences. I don't think parents or students sometimes realize the impact being gone from school makes on the potential success of a child. Granted, we all have illnesses or emergencies that keep us home on occasions, but the chronic absences are overwhelming.

We are in the 32 week of our 36 week school year. I have one child who has missed 29 days, another 41, and even one with 56 absences. It seems each year, the problem becomes wider spread, impacting more and more children.

Yet, those students will move onto the next grade, regardless of the fact they have misses 6, 8, or even 11 weeks of school. Their absences represent more than numbers though; they represent missing information that child did not learn. In math classes in particular, this problem compounds itself exponentially, making it IMPOSSIBLE for that child to experience any success.

Today in prealgebra, we were working on balancing equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign. This task in and of itself is complex for many concretely thinking 8th graders. However, with a strong background in balancing simpler equations, operations with integers, and mathematical properties, most students grasp the process fairly easily with practice. For the students who have missed weeks of instruction and practice, stretched out over years of school, the process becomes completely irrelevant and impossible to master. It is like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle with no idea what the final product should look like.

As the teacher, I am at a complete loss. How do I push forward with students who are in attendance with a fairly regular record, but somehow not lose the ones who are years behind, but still get them ready for the next step in their mathematical education process? I don't.... sadly, I don't. The curriculum forces me to move forward, trying to drag them along as best I can, trying to balance 2x + 4 = 3(4x-6) + 6x while they don't even conceptually understand that -7 + 7 = 0.