Err on the Side of Compassion

IMG_2360Students bring a myriad of experiences, hurts, and joys with them through your door. When you get a new student after the start of the year, you should remember they are seeing your room and your environment for the first time. While they may have a good family and life situation, many may not and it is those kids you should be on watch for. The smallest threat they perceive could be multiplied simply because of what they carry in their home experience. This is not always visible. For that reason, I recommend giving every child the benefit of the doubt. Assume he/she has issues and you’ll be doing many of them a huge service. Continue reading Err on the Side of Compassion

Teach Your Own Teach

420834_10150716047846117_1713767169_nI derived the title from one of my favorite slogans: “Run your own race.” Teaching should never be a pure competitive sport. In a similar way, I think it’s healthy to “Teach your own teach” and let others teach theirs. We all bring a set of skills to the table and the more your value that the more you’ll be satisfied in your job. It can be easy to walk by the window of one teacher, hear a shout and tell yourself, “Oh my, she must yell at her students a lot.” I would urge you to give them the benefit of the doubt because for all you know that teacher could be giving kids the best lessons you’ve ever seen day in and day out. That could be an isolated incident or there could be some other reason you heard that. The mental energy you spend thinking about other teachers an be much better spent planning and delivering excellent lessons. Continue reading Teach Your Own Teach

Common Core Testing Next Week – All Aboard, Ready or Not

all-aboard-common-core2Well, it feels as if we are finally “here” at my small school up here in the high desert. Common Core is at our door and other states are reporting rocky starts. I have tested the format via Smarter Balanced testing samples. I have tried to translate the standards I have used since 1997 into comprehensible Common Core language. I have been to the trainings and hope to go to more. I still feel a bit incomplete, a bit in the dark as to how my students can master this test. A letter went out from the district office about how this test will not be scored in a traditional way. Instead, the scores will be used only to analyze the test and tweak as necessary to meet the goals of the Department of Education. It feels as if all the rules have been thrown out and new ones enacted in only one short year. I have trepidation about Common Core but no fear. I welcome this change. It gives the kids a broader plane to visualize problems and solutions. I have called it a national word problem. I like that visual of a child working through a scenario in words rather than a rote ABCD fill-in answer.

Some grade levels at my school will begin the testing (on computers) next week. Mine starts at the beginning of May. This is an exciting time of change and evolution in our field. We will do better if we do away with sarcasm and criticism, which I have heard and read a lot of. It is okay to question and even challenge things from time to time. I have not held back my belief that this test is too hard too quickly in the transition from the old standards test style. But progress waits for no man. I am told this will be a flat year with no scores being published. Next year will be a “baseline” year with scores being publish and the third year from now will be an API AYP generating year where schools will go back to being “graded” in the press and the public by the State adopted standards test. Fasten your seat belts and be ready for anything. Embrace the change, progress awaits.

Common Core – The National Word Problem

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nIn most math programs in California, you have two types of assessment of the standards: a multiple choice format and an open-ended word problem. Most teachers are too busy to grade a lot of written answers for math so the multiple choice assessment has been the mainstay for teachers. In Language Arts, the same has been true. Why assign 2-3 long written answer assignments when you can just feed multiple choice tests through a scanner and have data immediately … in colored charts. After some more exposure to Common Core, I have come to see it metaphorically as the long written response. It will be harder to grade but the states have stepped up and hired graders to do it. As a parent, I think this is great. It is preparing my kids for the real world. As a teacher, I recognize that the days of the bubble sheet are all but gone.

We can use bubble sheets to build the skill necessary but synthesis of those skills is a year-long revisiting. Practicing connecting standards and identifying them as such will be our challenge. I could almost always show growth when the assessment piece was standards based and each question like a sample of the standard. I actually loved teaching that way. I used EDI to cover every standard and item by item I could see what was strong ad what needed revisiting. Common Core takes that way of teaching about 3 steps beyond. My that I mean, what was “1D” is now “4D” testing. It is no longer multiple choice. We are catapulted into a “national word problem” if you will. I predict national scores will drop the first year. The second year they will rise a little as teachers and students get used to Common Core. The third year, I think we will see growth in the classrooms where teachers are willing to take up the challenge of casting away multiple choice and embracing testing that is more akin to word problems. But what about the kids that don’t do well with word problems? As Bruce says in the photo in this post, “People outside of that structure get lost.” Will we reach more kids or less with word problems? Time will tell.

Three Areas of Student Assessment – a modest proposal

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nToday on my Facebook, I reposted (shared) this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his quote. One of my friends challenged me to share what I would do differently so I decided to blog three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1) At the parent conference, create assessment goals. Students all have different gifts and needs. If parents and teachers get together, the best goals can be made for the child. It would probably be impractical to have individual assessments for everyone. At the same time, I think if we tried doing this, a set of assessment “types” would come into focus. Teachers could make a set of open-minded assessments to help a child grow. Part of this assessment should be to test a student’s understanding of real life jobs as they exist now (not 50 years ago).

2) Make music and the arts a requirement in school. I agree charter schools can do a good job at focusing on the arts shouldn’t all kids get that exposure? Forget what other countries do on their tests, we are trailblazers. Only we decide what we want our kids to be exposed to.

3) Academic assessments must be there. Teachers should have full access to the material the kids will be tested on and testing should be. I thought the standardized testing of the CDE was good for the past 15 years but it shouldn’t be the sole assessment. At the same time, this aspect cannot be ignored.

Teachers and Public Image

How much does a teacher’s private life enter in to the job they do? In a recent article, ‘Fifty Shades of Who Cares’, I read about a teacher who has been suspended for writing and selling erotica. I wouldn’t have thought that was a giant problem until I read that the teacher used the school computer to use social media and compose this writing. Was this teacher dropped as a child or something? Things like this are so blatantly wrong they hardly merit an article. Still, the question of a teacher’s right to have a private life and to pursue other interests is an important topic I think.

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche. This might seem like common sense but in the past year I have read about teachers appearing in porn and others buying drugs. Teachers, let’s come together and get real. You may be a lousy teacher or the cream of the crop, you still work with kids. Teachers have an obligation to uphold a certain standard in the public eye. We are different from other public jobs that way but all public jobs to some extent carry that burden. Of course, one might say that just living a clean life is the best way to avoid negative public perceptions. That probably goes without saying.

Today’s Teachers Must Find Inner Strength

Now well into the school year I am hearing and reading that more teachers than usual are feeling down. Teacher evaluations are in flux and they can cause some a lot of concern. This in turn can affect the quality of teaching. It’s not surprising some teachers are overwhelmed given all the changes and cuts in the profession. It is causing some college students I know to question their choice of major and profession. One teacher I read about last week quit her job. Another one I know is currently in counseling for hyper-anxiety. Yet another tells me feels depressed once in a while on her recess time after what she hears on the news and from her union.  Yet someone else I know is thinking of quitting at the end of the school year. How can effective lesson plans be made and delivered when a teacher is this down? Well, it isn’t easy but it’s possible. Education is in a state of flux right now, this makes it extra tough. We already deal with an ever-changing set of variables in our attempt to educate children. Shrinking budgets and changing parameters make our profession even harder. I have also heard that the number of students in teaching programs is extremely low.

I know college students looking at a teaching credential are asking: “Is education a good career choice?” Teaching is an age old occupation and those who seek to do it will probably always have jobs. If you are letting current events affect your career choice, you will always be on a roller coaster. On the other hand, if you feel you can make a difference, ignore the “hue and cry” and go for teaching as a career. It is possible and recommended that you learn to find your stability from within. I see more political storms ahead and it will take inner strength to do your job well.

If you set goals for yourself as a teacher, you can measure your own success. There is no longer a static road map in education. Every teacher must look within to find inspiration and guidance and then measure her/his own progress toward goals. Successful teachers can weather the storms of change but they will have to find inspiration within. There are things you can do to empower your career like meditation, journaling, getting a mentor, and more. Of course one of the best things to do would be to read this blog daily. ;) Do you believe in this profession and in the youth of today? If your answer is no … step aside. If yes, find strength from within, your students (future or present) need you more than ever.

Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

3 Tips for Teacher Success When Starting Their Career

There is a lot you can do to be successful at teaching. Being great at what you do in the field of education has many roadblocks though.  Getting your teaching certificate is just the first challenge. But, once you accept the challenge, you can be successful and make a difference with your students. Again there is so much you can do but here are 3 simple teaching tips on how to make that happen.

At work we a have a single job to do but everyone knows there is so much more to work than that. For example: 1. Effective lessons are crucial and require careful planning, 2. Avoid getting overly involved with your colleagues personally (this is just my personal opinion but it has helped my success), and 3. Practice creating solutions to your teaching challenges.

Effective lessons are very important. You will find many helps on this blog alone. After that of course, a simple search on Google will yield many teacher tips on how to craft and deliver excellent lessons. Devote yourself to this. It is the cornerstone of an effective teacher.

It may seem healthy and productive to spend time after school talking to other teachers but I have found it of little value. In my case, and of course everyone has a different personality, I have found that a staff will expand, contract, and change in number. The faces will change but the challenge is the same: to teach effectively. Especially at the beginning of your career, extra-professional relationships at work can distract you. I have decided to keep colleague relationships, other than collaboration for planning lessons, to a minimum. I leave you to make your own conclusions here.

Finally, be an innovator! There was a psychological study done in the 70’s where a guy looked up in the middle of Central Park. He was looking at nothing but he never looked down. People would walk by and most looked up with him. The message here is to be an innovator or leader in what you do. Others may follow but that shouldn’t be your primary motive. Success is the lighthouse. Classroom and online teaching degrees are great careers but you have to get out there and do them! There are some great books on making a living in online teaching available. This is an example of real innovation. You need grand innovative habits to succeed in teaching.

In conclusion, everyone in their heart wants to be successful. Unfortunately there are a host of forces working all the time against us. I have given only three tips this post. These are three tips that are very important to teacher success. What do you think of them? Please join the conversation in the comments with other tips for teacher success.