Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As time goes by, I become more and more disgruntled with school, teachers, adminstrators, students and parents. It seems like an endless blame game where no one wants to accept their role/responsibility in the ultimate outcome - educating students and preparing them for the future.
My group of guided study kids just left after what was essentially a wasted hour. Three girls were completing a timeline for science class. The actual process of putting it together was nothing more than reading and following directions but of course, they did it mostly wrong. The directions said one thing, the teacher told them something else, and the final product was a combination of the written instructions, what they thought they were told to do, and their own creative interpretation of how to complete the assignment, which boiled down to just getting something written on the paper and let's color some so it looks good. Forget the higher purpose of the project - to see the various eras in the Earth's history in scale - the way they had them on the paper there was no gleaning anything from the assignment. I am disappointed in their lack of personal responsibility, frustrated that the instructions were confusing and conflicting, and that something that could have turned into a learning experience was treated as busy work for 2 class periods of science, and now, another class period of guided study. They never even got to complete the 'what did you learn' part of the project, and even if they had, I am sure the learning was minimal at best. Even for the brighter kids in the class, the learning component was shallow. As I listened to one group writing their final paragraph about what they learned, the writer tossed out her funny quips of what she really learned - "if you step on the strip of paper, it will rip" and "meter sticks and yard sticks are not the same thing". Then she confessed that she knew what TO write - she understood what the project was supposed to teach her, though she really had learned nothing in the 2 class periods devoted to the project. So, she wrote down the basic objectives, flowered with some 'good kid' language, to ensure her group got their 'A'.
But back to guided study, and the wasted hour....
Another girl & boy sat coloring, yes coloring... their French assignment. French is an elective, but truly, it is a worksheet class. The volume of paper given in that class is overwhelming. Search a words, crosswords, coloring sheets and fill in the blanks. My kids can't even begin to keep up with the work load!
Two boys took their math quiz from when they were absent. Check - we accomplished something! But neither brought anything else from when they were absent. They assured me their other classes did nothing while they weren't there. Great... wonderful... peachy....
Another girl sat quietly reading her book. She's a voracious reader, to a fault.
Now, I sit in my prep hour, listening to one teacher screaming at his class to be quiet, another, the door keeps opening and slamming closed with kids wandering in and out at will, squeaking up and down the hall noisely in their sneakers, avoiding returning to class, more students out of the room than in.
It seems for more than not, the school day is something to be endured. Teachers show up late, leave at the bell, do as little as possible to make it through each hour. Students show up intermittenly, some missing what adds up to months of school each year.
When did school become a punishment for us all?? When did it become not fun?? What HAPPENED?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The ubiquitous white 3 x 5 notecard. Given to students to 'take notes' to use as a study help on a test.
In theory, a great idea. It teaches students to summarize, consolidate, and best of all, to STUDY. Just the process of sorting through to select the important info to include on the card, and the process of writing those notes is often enough to help students be more successful on the test.
Unfortunately, for many students, note taking is like black magic. How do you decide what IS important and what is NOT important? How to you find answers to questions when you really aren't sure about the question in the first place?
Education is failing so many students. I am failing so many students. 8th graders who can't read. 8th graders who don't understand the basics of what most 5th graders know. 8th graders who are so conditioned for failure they do not even try to experience success.
I feel helpless and hopeless. Today is the last day of semester one. Are these kids really anywhere ahead of where they were in September?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

As educators, we moan and groan about high stakes tests, how those scores are taking over education, how our curriculum is being driven more and more by those strict parameters being tested on those yearly tests that are soon to be the basis of our paychecks. We whine that tests waste time we could be teaching.
But then, come the end of the semester, what do WE do?? Test more! We spend a couple of days 'reviewing', then we spend an hour and half session testing. For what purpose?? To see if they have learned what we taught? To reward the hard workers with yet another "A" on their report card? To punish the slackers with another "D" or "E"?
When they fail, do we backtrack and reteach? Do we remediate? Sometimes... But more often, we just march forward to whatever we were doing next anyway.
In reality, all we've done is wasted another several days of potential instruction in the name of semester exams.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Monday, nearing the end of the first semester.
I am frustrated, partly with a constant sense of pressure to help students succeed in classes I know they will never be successful in. The system itself is flawed beyond immediate repair. It begs for reform, but seems to fight hard to resist the easy fixes, making the most complex ones impossible to even consider.
I am frustrated with the lack of professionalism on the part of colleagues who do not try to help me help students be successful. Their lack of preparation, their lack of pushing themselves for excellence, leads to a complacency on their parts that eeks into their daily teaching and dealing with students.
And lastly, and perhaps the saddest, I am frustrated with students who give up on themselves, using "It's too hard" as an excuse to allow themselves to fail. It seems settling is just easier than trying, than pushing yourself, than actually working to succeed. It seems like failure is so ingrained in their psyches, they just assume... know... expect themselves to fail, and almost welcome the comfort of that knowledge rather than push outside their comfort zones into the realm of possible success.
Beyond all those.... I am frustrated with myself for becoming frustrated with everyone else, wishing I could reach within myself to find solutions to all those situations, and knowing that in each and every instance, while I might have some minute part of control over it, much of the problem lies beyond my reach, beyond my ability to control and 'fix'.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Test scores and widgets.

People versus products.

Control versus random contributing factors.

I am all for promoting accountability in schools for teachers as well as adminstrators. I truly believe until we ensure a quality effective teacher is in front of each and every classroom, American tax dollars spent on education are being wasted.

However, the sweeping changes being implemented are unrealistic, even outrageous.

Basing teacher pay on test scores?

That is like:

  • basing the pay of the contractor who builds a Burger King on the profit made in the restaurant.

  • basing the doctor's fee on at what age a patient dies.

  • basing a senator's pay on the IQ of people in his district.

  • basing a CEO's bonus on how many people in his corporation get into car accidents each year.

While we might be able to find some correlations between the two in each of the above examples, many other extraneous facts influence the final outcome.

If the contractor builds a shoddy, unsafe restaurant, perhaps fewer patrons will come, no doubt. But assume he does an outstanding job, but due to factors beyond his control, like bad service from employees in the restaurant or substandard food being served, the restaurant fails. Would we consider it fair to dock the contractor's pay?

If a doctor's patients rarely live beyond the age of 25, but all suffer from debilitating childhood illnesses, would we consider not compensating her efforts to treat them?

If a senator happens to represent a particularly 'low' intelligence clientele, should their pay not be comparable to other senators?

If the CEO of said corporation has many employees who travel long distances to work each day, therefore increasing the odds of them getting into accidents, should she automatically be paid less?

All those situations are absurd. Yet.... basing teacher pay on student test scores is really no less ridiculous.

Students are not widgets, one size fits all, something I can control. They come to me with a variety of skill sets, God given abilities, and desires to learn. Some things I can overcome, others, I have little/no control over.

Take Sally. Sally is a wonderful young lady. But unfortunately, Sally misses at least 1 day of school each week. Over the course of the school year, she's missed 36+ days, which equates to over 7 weeks of instruction time lost. Sally won't be proficient on next fall's state assessment, because this trend, multiplied times the 9 years of school she has attended kindergarten through 8 grade, will mean she has 63 weeks of school, over 2 years of instruction.

Or....What about Fred??Fred is an obnoxious little guy. Fred knows he can do and say what he wants because his mom will side with him, dad is in prison, and there really are no consequences that can be enforced to 'punish' him. I can try to work with Fred, I can try to 'connect' with Fred, but he knows that his mom's welfare check, food stamps, and other 'assistance' checks for her and the 6 children living with her add up to way more than my paycheck, so he figures education didn't get me very far, why should HE bother to get one. His grand plan is to make it until he turns 16 so he can drop out.

We could consider Otis. Otis is about the nicest kid I have ever met, polite, charming, but just not all that bright. His IQ, on a GOOD day, might hit 75. He tries his hardest to please me and his other teachers, really he does. But Otis is never going to understand abstract concepts like algebra, or physics. Heck, he does good to remember the combination to his locker.

You don't like Sally or Fred or Otis?? How about Martha?? Martha is about 10 points higher on the IQ scale than Otis, but poor Martha is being sexually molested every night by her mother's livein boyfriend of the month. She's afraid to tell anyone because he said he would kill her dog is she told. She is also afraid he might be thinking about doing it to her little sister next, so she is afraid to fall asleep at night for fear she won't be awake to protect her little sister should he come into the room.

We could talk about a million other kids... all with problems I can't fix, problems that overwhelm their ability to be successful at school, beyond the scope of what most normal people can even comprehend.

It isn't that I don't want to teach them. It isn't that I am not willing to bend over backwards to do whatever is humanly possible to teach them within that 8:19 - 3:08 window. It just simply isn't in the cards for those kids.

If you want 100% perfection, give me a product that comes to me 100% ready to be produced. Let me have complete control over the outcome. Let there be no other intervening variables. Then... hold me accountable 100% for the outcome.

But we aren't talking about that situation here, now are we?

These are people, children.... imperfect, yet perfect.. each unique and special, with their own talents, gifts and potential for contributions to society... most of which are UNMEASURABLE on a bubble test.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Happy New Year, 2011. As I sit at my desk in my classroom today, the last Sunday of Christmas break, planning for the next week, month, and even the rest of the year, I anticipate with excitement the things left to teach my students. I dread with an honest realization that we will never get to everything we need to cover, everything I want to explore with them, nor all the skills I know they need for next year and beyond.

With the new year, many people write resolutions. Some are kept; others fall by the wayside early on. Rereading an article where I compiled the resolutions of colleagues of mine, Resolved to be a Better Teacher Leader in 2007, I ended with my own resolution/thoughts:

Some resolutions we keep. Some resolutions are destined for failure. My own resolution, though, I think I can keep: I resolve this year, and every year, to listen to those wiser than me, and let their words be my guiding force for improvement today and every day.

Now, 4 years later, I come to reflect backwards on that resolution, wondering have I learned and grown, listened to those wiser, and allowed their words to guide my own journey. In some ways, I have listened to those wiser than me. I've learned to listen more, say less, and wait for the right moment to intervene. In other ways, I remain the same: impulsive, impetuous and even, bullheaded when it comes to speaking my mind. I tend to ram forward, intent on fixing it, whatever the it may be, determined to make things work, make things right, at any cost.

Sometimes, the act first, think later method works. It can even be the best, maybe only option, in a given circumstance. Given the chance to stop and think, perhaps I would have then chosen to remain silent, not intervening on behalf of students, or the improvement of education, thinking I would overstep my boundaries. Having someone speak up and saying, "Enough, stop, let's change course," can often be an eye-opener, the tree-shaking a teacher/adminstrator needs to realize their journey is veering off-course.

Other times, the impetuous me blurts out an unsought solution to an unrealized problem, creating an uncomfortable silence and glare from the other party. These times, I would have done better to have found a different in-route to offering my solutions/insights, coating them carefully with well-thought out praise and conditional suggestions.

As 2011 begins, I again resolve to listen and learn from those wiser than me. I resolve to think more before I plunge, contemplate my words and actions before diving headfirst into the deep end. I resolve to keep students first in my decision making process, making certain each suggestion I make, each change I implement, is always based on what is best and right for students, forgoing the need for adult-rightness. I resolve to make 2011 a year when it comes to a close, I can look honestly back and say I spent it wisely, in the pursuit of a quality education for each and every student I encounter.