Saturday, April 30, 2011

Teaching the Teacher Wrap up

Outside in the still damp dirt, the tiny grass seeds are just beginning to push up into freedom. My hours of labor are paying off, and the hope of a lush green lawn inspire me. Yesterday, my student teacher wrapped up her final lesson, leaving students disappointed in her departure. But I thought of her this morning as I watered my lawn.
The young teachers we host in our classrooms each fall or spring begin with great promise. The role of the cooperating teacher is to foster that growth. Some teachers smother their learner, trying too hard to control the process. An overbearing, opinionated cooperating teacher can prevent the learner from exploring new techniques and discovering her own persona.
At times this semester, I felt that urge to control. She didn't do things the way I would, mostly because it just didn't fit my personality. She enjoyed creating powerpoints with fancy entrances and effects. My students would often turn to me and gauge my reactions, trying to rile me with questions like, "McNamar, did you really let her do this?" Her use of colored popscicle sticks created an opportunity for my students to tease her while simultaneously teasing me as well.
Some teachers are too uninvolved. They allow the learner to sink or swim, and fail to provide the needed support. Like my lawn, student teachers are often seeking our approval and feedback. To simply ignore them and let them grow up on their own is irresponsible. This was the other end of the spectrum which I struggled with as well.
Trying to strike the right balance is a process which requires the cooperating teacher and the student teacher to develop a trust and rapport. Luckily, my student teacher and I developed that quite early on.
After watching her grow and develop, I learned two important facts:
1. I enjoyed guiding a novice teacher towards a successful career.
2. In order for me to be successful, I would need someone who matched her desire to learn and her maturity.
And one final thought. Throughout the post I referred to "my" students. The appropriate term is "our" students. The world has a GREAT teacher headed its way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adults Ruin Everything

Our Statue of Liberty carries the saying,“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The city of Norwalk says "Get the %$# out." I know this because they arrested a homeless woman for using her babysitter's address to enroll her child in their school system.
In the world of education, where we are constantly griping about the univolved parents--especially of our poor and minority students--shouldn't we applaud a parent who wants a strong education for her child? I'm no legal expert, but a homeless woman using a babysitter's address just doesn't seem like larceny to me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Time For a Break

Spring break is here. My vacation plans: 1. Saturday: Teach and host my daughter's 5th Birthday Party 2. Sunday: Drive to Boston with my daughter 3. Monday: Attend the Patriot's Day Red Sox game with my daughter--her first Fenway trip 4. Tuesday: Tear up my lawn and replant 5. Wednesday: Relax 6. Thursday: Drive to NYC to visit friends 7. Friday: Relax 8. Saturday: Teach 9. Sunday: Relax

Saturday, April 09, 2011

State Takeover, the truth.

I blogged about the State of Connecticut's move to "takeover" Windham Public Schools after reading the Hartford Courant's article. After more information has come out, it appears the word "takeover" is not quite accurate. This Norwich Bulletin article has a better description of what is going to happen. The state appears to be joining the district in a more balanced arrangement of influence. For the past few years, Windham has had advisors from the state helping to guide the transformation. As test scores remain low, the state feels it is time to step up their influence. As I wrote in my previous post, I am still skeptical about what the state can do unless they first focus on improving the schools' climate and the town's approach to education funding. I am in favor of charter schools, and wouldn't be opposed to the state exploring such a possibility. I should have waited until more of the facts came out before writing about the Courant's information.

Additionally, while Windham's test scores need improvement, there seems to be another side of the story, at least if you believe the experience described in this Exxon Mobile commercial.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

State Takeover

The state of Connecticut has clearly demonstrated its ability to manage big time projects. We now run a 3.2 billion dolar deficit, but the State Department of Education will now control Windham Public Schools, according to the Hartford Courant. I'm not sure what this really means, other than the addition of a "special master" to oversee operations. Special is right. I'm willing to give the state the benefit of the doubt, and as an earlier Courant article reported, the district has issues to rectify. But my guess is that the state will come in and do a lot of data meetings which will confirm what we already know--students aren't learning what they need to learn. As I have detailed already, the initial focus of any change needs to be on the school's culture. The second focus needs to be on curriculum. The second piece requires money--something the state doesn't have. My guess is that the state will blame the teachers. It's the popular, and simple-minded thing to do. There will be no focus on informing and influencing parents. No focus on improving school culture. The state will provide professional development that is useless instead of proessional development that is useful. Sorry. There I go with my cynicism. I want to believe. I want the students of Windham Public Schools to perform. I enjoy the underdog status, and can only imagine what it would be like for a a group of poor, minority students to start overcoming their circumstances and move on to college success. Time will tell. But in the time that has been lost, so have too many students.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Starting the Change Process Part 2

In my first post examinining The Hartford Courant's article "Windham Schools: Moving in the Wrong Direction," I explored three ways underperforming schools can begin to change the culture. Wanting to feel accepted and wanting to feel successful are primary needs for all students. Once a school has established an educational environment where students enjoy their peers and their teachers, then they are ready to learn. But if a school does not have in place a curriculum that will sufficiently challenge the students, the school will continue to fail in the main purpose--educating students. The Courant reports: "Connecticut Mastery Test scores have declined in many areas. The dropout rate is twice the state average. Only half the students are proficient in reading. And the school district has the largest academic achievement gap — the persistent disparity in academic performance between poor students and their more affluent classmates — in the state." I believe that college readiness should be the goal of all school systems. This does not mean all students should attend a four year or two year college. However, we must recognize that our world is increasingly in need of knowledgable and thoughtful workers. Gone are the days when high school graduates could easily earn a decent living at the local A&P. For a public school system which must coordinate its curriculum from Pre-K through 12th grade, college readiness must be the goal. This means that students should receive instruction in what college students need. By the end of high school, a graduate should look as follows: 1. Read and Write at the 12th grade level--this includes having read from "the cannon." 2. History/Civics--students should have a functional understanding of how history has affected our world today, and how, through civic responsibility, each individual plays a role. 3. Science--a graduate should have an understanding of the interconnectedness of human existence and the world around us. The scientific method is as valuable in Chemistry class as it is in solving everyday issues. And yes, they should know that H2O is water. 4. Basic Math--students should come away from high school understanding Algebra and Geometry. Though I would include statistics and life skills math like loan rates, investment rates, and balancing a checkbook. 5. Research Skills--a college ready student knows how to navigate the world of information in order to come to a new understanding. Today's students need a more critical eye when searching for valid sources and differentiating between facts and opinions. 6. Interpersonal Skills--as we become increasingly void of human contact, our graduates will need training in how to interact with real people. They should have plenty of experience in presenting and discussing. 7. Technology--I believe that all of our students should be taking courses which teach about social media and computer programming. The core classes, though, are of most importance to me. We can not allow our students to fall behind as readers at any point in their education. That a student can arrive at high school reading at the third grade level is a tragic failure on the part of those teachers and that school system. Yet, let me be clear. The school alone is not responsibile for the outcomes. A school needs resources, and clearly Windham's residents are not ensuring that their school system is funded according to its needs: "Town residents have balked at education budgets and whittled them down. And alienation has worsened between town officials and the school district and between the community's urban and rural taxpayers." Schools cannot operate properly without proper funding. In order for Windham to fix the academic piece, they will need resources. Certainly, the district should begin by examining every aspect of its budget. Though Windham does spend near the state average per pupil, it should be noted that this district's needs are much greater than the state average. We should also recognize the great role parents need to have in preparing their child for an education. The persistent state of poverty found in Windham has a negative impact on student performance--but that should not be an excuse. However, the district needs to have greater influence on the families sending their children to the schools. Parents have as much culpability in the low test scores as the school system itself has. For Windham to change its academic standing, it will need to make college readiness its focus. In order for that shift to happen, the district will need to have a much stronger parent network active in the community in order to secure resources. The district and the union will need to make sure that all teachers are focused on that goal.