Saturday, August 13, 2011

Time to Engage our Youth

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

What I found fascinating about this PBS NEWSHOUR production was the student engagement. The unfortunate part of school reform is that it rarely takes the time to listen to the most important part of any reform--the students.

How would school reform look and feel if the most troublesome, the most disengaged students were brought into the forum. As it stands, very few teachers are actually brought into the forum. The education reform movement has marginalized students as nothing more than a demographic statistic and the ensuing data points. It has marginalized teachers as nothing more than overpaid, underqualified whiners and the sum of the student data results.

As always, it is important for me to state my belief in a need for reforms. There are teachers who are not qualified and who are overpaid (for what they produce). There are students who are not going to buy in and who are not going to college (even if they wanted to).

In this upcoming school year, I want my professional growth plan to focus on school culture. It is my hypothesis that academic performance will improve when our students want to be in our building. To find out what will keep our students in the building, we must engage our students in dialogue. We also must be aware of a reality--students at failing schools have developed a distrust of most adults in charge. They have been marginalized for so long that they won't have that immediate trust simply because we come to them. But if we don't go to them, there is no amount of money, no number of new programs, no special masters capable of enacting any long-term and real reform.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Remove Bad Politicians

Let's be clear: bad teachers should not be in the classroom. But while it is popular for politicians, our President included, to want to get rid of poorly performing teachers, the mindset doesn't appear to be appropriate for, say, Timothy Geithner.
President Obama has said about teachers, " Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences. The stakes are too high."
Yet Mr. Geithner, the economic adviser who has overseen an ongoing recession and the downgrade of our credit rating, will continue through 2012 according the Washington Post.
Hypocritical of our President? You be the judge.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Damon suggests that teachers teach because they want to, adding that they wouldn't take a "shitty" paying job if they didn't want to do the job. He adds that the current problem with education reform is the business world mentality that fails to account for the complexities involved in educating today's students.
Damon demonstrates perfectly the complexities within education reform, though not in the way he hoped. The problem with Damon's rhetoric, and that of many opposed to the current reform trends, is that they speak of teachers in terms of absolutes; it is the same problem many of the current reformists have as well.
That many teachers teach because they want to, because they love to, does not demonstrate a failure of philosophy in the reformist movement. Any rational minded educator must admit that their are plenty of teachers who teach to collect a paycheck and enjoy all the time off--and yes, I accept that teachers do get plenty of time off, though I would also suggest that it is often needed. There are plenty of teachers who have become complacent with their years of service and are now less effective. And there are plenty of teachers coasting until retirement. An honest person cannot dispute this.
Damon and the anti-reformists need to focus on addressing the real failures of philosophy in the reformist camp, mainly the general belief that student learning is mostly dependent on the teacher--though I believe students have a greater chance to learn with an effective teacher.
The reform movement also needs to tone down the rhetoric. That plenty of teachers lack effectiveness does not justify the severity with which the reform movement would like to take action.
Allow me to use a baseball analogy. Theo Epstein, the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, is the poster-boy for sabermetrics, a deep statistical analysis of virtually every quantifiable aspect of a baseball player. These statistics are then used to place value on a player based on their previous and statistically projected outcomes. In recent years, Epstein has brought players with great statistical outcomes into the Boston market. However, some of those players, who were excellent players, failed to achieve in Boston. Why? Some aspects of a baseball player are not quantifiable. A player's pysche and ability to cope with an intense fan base and intense media scrutiny cannot be found on a statistical chart.
Teaching is very much the same way. While data collection and data analysis can inform us about the effectiveness of a teacher, it cannot account for the intangibles. In this profession, a teacher's outcomes are affected by the students entering the classroom. The students bring with them obstacles that are outside the control of the teacher. Reformists need to accept this before teachers are willing to listen.
Ultimately, as it usually is, the answer lies in the middle of the two camps. Changes need to happen, we must admit this truth. But speaking in absolutes will rarely bring the change that is actually needed.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Back to School Gifts for Teachers

The back-to-school sales are in full effect, and so are the articles displaying all the great gadgets that students need or want. Now I am wondering what the great gadgets are that teachers need or want. If I were blessed with more cash than I have now, what gift would I give to each of my colleagues at the start of the year?

For the stylish male teacher, I recommend the Lacoste Forest Hills Messenger bag. When it comes to simplicity of style, the white bag and black straps hits the spot. The fresh design might get a little dirty if your district has had to skimp on custodial budgets, so I encourage you to find a solid coat rack to hang your bag.

My classroom, like many, does not have a closet or a coat rack. For the teacher who has limited space for their belongings, a simple Ikea coat rack would make a useful addition to his room. Of course, make sure to place your new coat rack away from where rowdy students have easy access.

In a tough economy, high tech gadgets are definitely not in the budget. For as low as $399, the Optoma-Pico Pocket DLP is a great way to provide your favorite teacher with a basic necessity in today's education environment.
Just make sure to tether it to an object that is not movable. These things will disappear if the opportunity presents itself.

My student teacher from last school year, who is now called "Little Miss Sunshine," suggested that every teacher have plenty of Pilot's Precise V5 series rolling ball point pen. Not a bad idea, except Little Miss Sunshine preferred pink and purple to the standard black ink. For my liking, I suggest, though I don't know if they use the same pen, DoubleTree Hotels' ball-point.

There are plenty of other great gifts for the teacher in your life. But whatever you choose to do, make sure it isn't some hokey mug or pack of stickers. Today's teachers, who are beaten down by the popular rhetoric, need to feel appreciated.