Thursday, January 26, 2012

I, too, Fix Education

With great respect for Langston Hughes, and because I am not much of a poet, I have adapted his powerful poem "I, too, Sing America" for the feeling of neglect many of today's teachers feel as everyone but us seems to be charting the course of public education.

I, too, Fix Education

I, Too, fix Education
I am the classroom teacher.
They write me off for lack of degrees
When reformers come,
But I teach,
And smile strong,
And connect.

I’ll join the dialogue
When reformers come.
They won’t presume to
Say to me,
“ You are status quo,”

They’ll see how important I am
And recognize—

I, too, fix Education

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"Im holding on too tight. I've lost the edge," is how Cougar says it. And I can't help but wonder whether or not Cougar and I have something in common.
I like Bill Gates and all his foundation is doing for public education. But I'm growing tired of the theory that students succeed based on the ability of their teacher. Good teacher matter, that is true. But sometimes, good teachers make no difference at all because students are people and not data points. I believe in merit pay. I believe in school reform. But I don't know how to solve the bad student cohort problem.
Last year, I taught my Honors, College Prep, and Fundamental level students in much the same way. All three groups outperformed their peers on state exams. This year, my two college prep classes are performing at, or below, the Fundamental level students from last year.
Did I suddenly become bad? Have I lost the edge? Do I need to turn in my wings?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nicholas Kristoff should teach

Yet another really smart opinion person (Nicholas D. Kristoff) has something to say about education, because, you know, if you went to school, you are an expert. Kristoff wrote about the value of a "great" teacher, while also showing the negative effects of a "bad" teachers. So, here is a somewhat satirical response, which the New York Times should publish:

Imagine receiving your 10th grade English class list a week before school starts and it is filled with repeat 9th grade students who are known for their boorish behavior. What should you do.


You can’t really do that, but an astonishing amount of evidence suggests that the difference between a well-mannered, responsible group of students and group of lazy, disrespectful students has long-lasting results. Having a miserable group of students raises your chance of depression by 9 percent, and you will be 20 percent less likely to enjoy your profession. Each year of such a class will cost you $1,100 in deductibles and copays for counseling, as well as $400 for copays on anxiety and anti-depressant prescriptions. Amazingly, a great class of students will save the average teacher 3% per year, thus allowing them to purchase more student materials that the school district no longer pays for.

The study, by real teacher and not elitist theorists holed up in a university, discovered that if a great class in not coming, teachers should take a sabbatical. The benefits to the teacher’s health and family far exceeds the public need to babysit unruly children.

Astonishingly, a “bad” group of students has the same effect as repeatedly bullying and humiliating an individual five days a week. Parents would never allow that to happen to their child, so the reasons why we allow our teachers to endure such viciousness remains unclear. Researchers found that teachers who are asked to deal with such abuse should receive a $100,000 bonus and be awarded educational sainthood.

Our decaying societal values of courtesy, respect, and hard-work is the most significant disease in America’s overall well-being. And this frustration is exacerbated by politicians and media outlets who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to confront the issue. Those big voices have all types of Woebegone theories and more than ludicrous pontifications, but are ignoring the most basic reality facing failing schools.

This experiential research should force intelligent people to think before they speak (or act for that matter), because who better to illustrate the truth about the daily grind of teaching.

Quite simply, the teachers. Or in another way to answer the same questions, not people who don’t teach. The reality is that money isn’t going to make teachers happier, or that reducing class sizes will make them happier either.

One of the truths about school reform is that great teachers are willing to accept responsibility for both their success and failure, but those in charge of school reform, or just write about it, have not put equal responsibility on the students and families who seem to think being lazy and disrespectful is an acceptable approach to education.

Imagine a world in which the top 5 percent of discipline problems in a school could be replaced by average students. Estimates indicate that each class period would gain 7.5 minutes of actual instruction time, amounting to 22.5 more hours of real learning in a healthy environment per year.

Now that would be worth pontificating about.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Teacher Swap

A few years back ABC ran the reality show Wife Swap. A recent article summarizing the new Celebrity Wife Swap caught my attention only because I didn't realize the show was still being aired. But as is typical of me, I looked to make a self-to-text connection. And so I did. The result is a new reality show: Teacher Swap. I've suggested teacher reality shows before--Hell's Classroom and a cheap knock-off of Survivor. But this one, I really think could happen.
According to all of the research, and so many newspaper articles, great teachers raise test scores. We all know that teh best test scores exist in the most affluent towns in Connecticut.

Therefore, I propose we swap teachers from affluent suburban high schools with teachers from poverty stricken urban schools. This social experiment would certainly be as entertaining as Celebrity Wife Swap, wouldn't it? Watching entrenched suburban teachers have to respond to the types of student behaviors experienced in urban schools or the complete lack of materials or space would be both heart-wrenching and humorous. Seeing despondant urban teachers, who have been abused by politicians and media outlets, suddenly rediscover the joy of teaching while enjoying engaged students who are eager to learn would be both instructive and satisfying.

Of course, society doesn't want to see this. It is much easier, much neater to blame the urban teacher for low test scores and high suspension rates. If America will watch shows like Celebrity Wife Swap or The Real World, couldn't someone please make Teacher Swap a reality show?