Password Debacle

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This year the web based teaching materials have tripled. I login in to 15-20 resources a day and all require a password. Thankfully, Chrome saves most of them in memory. For the ones it can’t save I have to recall and type in from memory. It is a daunting task without a strategy. Some people write their passwords in a notebook they carry around. Others go on pure memory. The latter can leave you stranded based on my experience. Continue reading “Password Debacle”

20 Days is 20 Days – Musing on an Upcoming Test

20130111-144253.jpgThe California Standards Test (CST) is banging at the front door. It’s been an arduous year preparing for it and I must admit, it seems like it came faster than ever. But 20 days is 20 Days and a lot can be accomplished when one is focused and prepared based on data. I have a lot of data. I have used assessments to plan my instruction (as well as guide it). There are at least 6 standards I know we have to really get down pat. Beyond that, some need review. This is what we will be doing in my classroom for the next 20 days.

I always wish I would have done more when the test arrives. I think that will always be a constant. Still, I know when we have done enough to improve upon last year. Ultimately that is my goal/partnership goal with every student: improvement. Most kids can be 70% or higher when the teacher and student are dedicated. All kids can improve so that is my classroom goal. We will be focusing on standards as directed by data for 20 days.

What Is College Prep?

Many schools claim to be college preparatory schools, but what does that title really mean? There are multiple definitions for college readiness and they all seem to work. For example, if a school follows a college-preparatory curriculum, does it automatically mean the students are ready to enter and do well in college courses? If a student attends a school that does not define itself as college prep, but the student gets high grades and does well on placement and admission tests, does that mean the student is prepared for college? Some schools such as the Landon School consider all facets of a students’ growth, including course work, character development and learning good values such as honesty and respect are what make a student ready for college.

Start Early

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit group that advocates policies to increase college level opportunities and achievement, the effort to ready a student for college is a kindergarten through twelfth grade endeavor. The discussion is also driven by statistics that show that almost three-fourths of students who enter college or other postsecondary education, do not finish.

Traditional Wisdom Questioned

In the past, it was thought that if a student passes a specific set of academic courses, they are ready to do college-level work. In some cases, this is true, and some states have modified their curriculum to reflect this for all students whether they are college-bound or not. However, research conducted by ACT Inc., the producer of one of the two major college admission examinations has found that while taking all of the recommended academic courses is beneficial, it does not necessarily ensure successfully completing a college degree. The results may show that the high school courses may not have the right level of rigor. It also shows that along with academic excellence, students need good mental practices when they leave high school and enter college, such as critical thinking and ethical living habits, which provide another example of the Landon experience.

The Value of Mentoring

When teachers connect with students on more levels than classroom teaching, the students have a better chance to develop a healthy mindset. Teachers are mentors and coaches when they help students learn beyond the classroom such as on playing fields, in art galleries and libraries and in performing arts centers and learn to understand and explore all aspects of life. Mentors have the opportunity to model the principles of teamwork, perseverance, practice and fair play.

Other Qualities

Along with academic success and good ethical standards, students also need to develop problem solving skills, analytical thinking, inquisitiveness and the willingness to accept critical feedback graciously. They should also know how to use feedback to improve themselves, but be ready to fail at times also. In the digital age, ways of thinking may be as important or more important than content knowledge according to the study Standards for Success conducted at the University of Oregon.

Students who cannot cope with college level work often take remedial courses for which they get no credit. According to research, these students are unlikely to graduate. It is no wonder that there are different opinions on what constitutes college preparedness. The views of kindergarten through twelfth grade teachers and college professors vary widely.

Common Core and Typing Skills

tumblr_mtibaspb9k1ssyq3bo1_500When I was in school, typing was not as universally required as it is today. The students of today must type in their answers to standardized tests like Common Core. As a teacher, I have to help my students type in their usernames and passwords all the time for reading and math tests as well as other learning websites they are required to use. In the case of some, it takes 20 minutes just to log in. That’s why my school site purchased a typing program for the kids. As tech, my job was to upload the student information to the game. I did so and I think using this game is going to really infuse self-assurance and speed into their typing. In turn, I hope it enables them to test more accurately. Continue reading “Common Core and Typing Skills”

Dealing With Fighting in Schools: Are we Helping Our Kids?

Many parents tell their kids they have a right to fight in self-defense. Is this notion of “I’m defending myself” really worth them getting killed over? Let’s go beyond our animal urges and look at the psychology of what we tell our kids.


Walking home from school or playing on the playground as a kid, were you bullied? Flip that around now: were YOU the bully? As a public school teacher in an inner-city demographic, I deal with the issue of kids fighting M-F (not Sa-Su thank goodness). I can attest that it is a real issue for parents and teachers. I am a big proponent of teaching things outside academics that are so necessary as life skills like teaching music and conflict resolution for example. Unfortunately, even the democrats have become polarized on language and math only so it may be a few years.

So if that is true, why is it I hear nearly all parents of kids involved in fights say they give their child permission to fight? (especially us dads) Of course, we invoke the “self-defense” clause of all that’s common sense about humanity … I would never argue with that. But, there is something they don’t know … something they don’t see. You might refer to it as “the fallen nature” if you are a Christian. Or, you might call it the law of the jungle if you’re an atheist. However you label the data, it’s there and it is kids beating the crud out of each other daily and blaming it on dear old mom and dad.

Last week there was a kid in my summer school class who pummeled another kid right in front of me. (incidentally, if you want to read a hilarious story about a similar student I had my first year, click here) This kid doing the pummeling was about 80 pounds give or take and the kid he was hitting was maybe 40, 45 tops I’d say. After going through all the steps and paperwork that we teachers must to in order to avoid being sued, I met with his dad and his dad said these exact words:

“I tell my son to defend himself because the school don’t do nothing.”

Poetry to this teachers’ ears (not). This isn’t an isolated case. I have even seen kids aggravate smaller kids until the small ones take a swing … then they move in fast for the, well in keeping with the idiom … the kill.

So what’s my point? I’d like parents to clear their minds of needless fears in much the same way you would get a Orovo detox or something physical like that. My school strives to be safe. It’s in the worst part of the High Desert. If any of you out there know Adelanto, it’s in “Old Adelanto.” I doubt many will see a picture in their head. It’s way off any tourist path. Still we keep it safe, and I know many other schools where they strive to do the same. Counsel your kids to NOT punch or hit, even in self-defense. Most the time, to avoid one parent suing the school, if any blows are thrown for any reason, both kids get suspended. There is a fine line between defending oneself and opening a can of whoop-ass. I wish more parents would have that discussion at the dinner table every night until their kids’ are 18. Let’s go beyond our animal urges and look at the psychology of what we tell our kids.

5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year

16543582619_9514979bea_kSharing positives pays great dividends

I think time has shown me that I get tired of doing this each day in my class. At the same time there is an effect of family and brotherly sisterly feelings when I do it long term. This is something to start and not stop doing in 2015-2016.

Morning Routines

Going into the year, morning routines need to be established and followed. This is definitely part of classroom behavior.

Model the correct behavior

I think it’s really important to not escalate kids’ anger. Challenging a student is not a productive strategy. When they have done something wrong, simply remind them of the rule and if they show anger, remind them you are on their side and you will revisit it. Sometimes modeling the right behavior is best. Give them an activity safe to do while they calm down. Later on, in private clarify how they made a wrong choice and discuss better ways of handling it.

Bell to Bell teaching and working

My teaching contract says 9-3:30p To avoid being ridiculed or otherwise criticized by admin or rude and nosy colleagues, the most important part of 2015-2016 is not so much the goals but planning them within the contractual boundaries. These oddball people who are always complaining about the hours and hours they put in off contract time may gain the admin favor but they do not have a sustainable model and are likely to be way more stressed on the inside. I feel the same way about those who spend thousands on their class every year. That’s just unwise, uncalled for, and borderline neurotic. Be great when the contract allots you to do it. The other time is yours.

Do Not Let Supervisors or Colleagues Sap Your Energy or Vision … I Repeat:

Students can make it tough to be a teacher. They can also make it totally worthwhile. Colleagues are the same way. In my experience however, many cannot be trusted. Do not … I repeat DO NOT ever allow colleagues to sap your energy or vision. Make sure your focus is never on them. Your class, your kids is the range or vision you must stick to. Do not deviate into paying attention to colleagues or bosses or you’ll be doomed in this line of work. Your classroom and your students, away from the hue and cry of colleagues and admin, are your only chance to real success as a teacher.

A Teaching Career in This Economy- Does it Still Make Sense?

Teaching may not have the security it used to but it still cries out for serious and talented people wanting to make a difference. It will never disappear as a career in society. The real question is, do you want to do it?

This article I wrote was first published as A Teaching Career: Safe in this Economy? on Blogcritics. It has been updated and republished here to reflect current trends in education.

Picking the right major is crucial for young people in college. Should it be teaching anymore?

With economic woes at the forefront, young people choosing a career have their work cut out for them. A job like teaching, which once seemed to this Gen-Xer to be a solid choice, is now in question because of budget cuts. Not only could it prove difficult to keep a teaching job in the future, but even more likely, the pay could deteriorate below survival amounts. How can a government pay its teachers when it can’t even keep its books straight? The upside of this may be that only those who love teaching and feel “called” to it will apply. That, of course, would benefit the students of America. One sign that teachers are in her high demand is the number of teaching jobs in Florida. Whatever the hue and cry sounds like, we always need good teachers.

Though people sometimes pontificate doom and gloom, maybe they are wrong. Maybe teachers will retain the relatively decent position they have now on the food chain. Maybe a teaching certificate will earn a medium income with the security of a contract year after difficult year. While some of my friends after high school sought business degrees and big salaries, I chose to follow teacher certification programs. I have seen some of my friends crash and burn in their quest for the almighty dollar, and I have seen others flourish beyond what I ever believed possible. As for me, I am happy I went to teacher college, but some months are harder than others at just making ends meet.

Like most of you, I’ve been very concerned about the bailout crisis in American politics. I know we have a deficit in the trillions, and now Bush and others say we must write a $700 billion check from the future to the failed banks. Scary. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to teaching as a career. Our salaries come out of that empty pot from which they are pulling the $700 billion. But isn’t teaching a need of society? Won’t our government make sure that the children have the teachers they need and that the teachers are taken care of? One would hope. A teaching career is not as secure as it once was, but don’t give up if you enjoy teaching kids.

Education is as fundamental to a society as is water. I hope that as we travel into the future the government never loses sight of that. To all the potential teachers out there weighing their options, I implore you to search your heart as to what you want to study. If teaching is your choice, I don’t think you will have to worry about money as much as you would in some other careers. But that really shouldn’t matter. I know some teachers doing it “for the money,” and frankly, they are unhappy. They should look for alternatives to teaching. Education degrees cost just as much in some cases as business degrees. I don’t think any amount of money or economic stability could ever be enough when you are in the wrong occupation. Along the same lines, if you follow your passion in any career, I have confidence your working life will weather the economic storms.

We can’t control the government. We can only control our day-to-day choices. I have a feeling based on Arne Duncan and even Obama’s public words about frustration with teaching that ours will be a hot topic in culture for ten to twenty years. That is when we just need to focus on what we do and do it the best we can. We need to look at our human product (students) for our motivation and not politicians or a paycheck. If that sounds doable to you, go for teaching as a college path! Welcome aboard.

Tech Tool for Organization: “Remember the Milk”

Every day I have tasks to do, I use an online tool to manage them. It’s called “Remember the Milk.” I’ve been using it for well over ten years and it has saved me many times in terms of task management and memory jogging. I recommend it for anyone who wants to be organized through tech but especially teachers because I am one and it helps me. Here’s how it works! You enter a task and a due date along with some optional fields like tags and lists.

You designate when you will be reminded of the task due date. It will remind you any number of ways: email, desktop notification, iphone or Android smartphone app, sms message, and more. You can mark things complete or postpone them with one click. It’s really an ingenious system. You can also enter your tasks many ways.

So far, you can’t use telepathy to input tasks but I anticipate that update soon.

My most commonly used method for inputting tasks is through email. Remember the Milk assigns you a special email address that you can send tasks to and they magically appear in all your RTM places. Taking the time to use a tool like this has proven hugely beneficial. I love Remember the Milk, check it out, it’s free.

Most reading this are teachers it would stand to reason. I have found this free service makes your teaching time management much easier. Google Calendar aside, I have not found a tech tool online as helpful as Remember the Milk. In fact I couldn’t live without these two things it does.

By working from my task list, I am completely satisfied when I have marked my tasks completed. There are many ways to color order tasks and when you have a lot accumulated like I do, it sometimes helps to prioritize. The colors and tag system helps with that. Once you make an account you simply log on and start to enter tasks. This is amazing when you start but I learned more, I began to discover the many ways to remotely and “on-the-fly” ways to enter tasks. These are the “Integration” functions. I can enter tasks on my iphone app, I can email them directly to my task list.

In conclusion, I hope this introduction to a tech service convinces you to try something new. Tech is our friend yet we hesitate sometimes as teachers to try something new, we’re afraid it will sap more time. The truth is, if you are into tech it’s a quick learning curve. Try it out and tell me what you think.

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!

Sometimes I get caught up in the minutae of how I am going to roll out a new classroom student recognition idea. There’s a great program out called Class Dojo and it works really well if you have a plan and you’ve practiced a lot with it. Otherwise, it’s sort of like heading out on vacation in a Ford up on blocks … you don’t go anywhere. How do you get that experience to make it work? I say, jump in and try it. Kids thrive on recognition. For lack of a better analogy, it’s like a pat on the head for them. If you wait until your system is perfect and you’ve spent $1,000’s of dollars on prizes at Oriental Trading Company, you’re going to miss countless opportunities to validate the kids through rewards.

Continue reading “Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!”