When Extra Work Means Less Headache

20130111-144253.jpgSometimes with certain classes, you have to do extra work in order to avoid headaches. One example of a headache is another teacher coming to you complaining about your class’ running or misbehaving at recess or dismissal. You can say it’s not your duty time but it will always come back to affect your reputation as a teacher, unavoidably. Define your target. Sometimes a little extra work takes care of it. My students get rowdy at dismissal. I have tried warning them to walk and be respectful but even after teaching rules and holding the whole class in all day as punishment, I still got two teacher complaints. It’s time to become more of a hawk eye with this class.

At that point, one has to decide, do I work a little outside my duty and walk them like smaller kids to the gate every day or risk letting them continue without my intense guidance and get more complaints further affecting my reputation as a teacher. It is an extra few minutes I agree and I am not required by contract to do it. At the same time, with some classes, one must accept they are too immature to do it alone and lead them out. I’ve given my current class every chance to improve and yet they are still, running and screaming and running into other kids. In the big picture they are my responsibility and I really don’t expect this class to ever be autonomous 4th graders in these activities, even though I’ve had much more mature kids who could handle it in the past. Sometimes a little extra work makes for less headache.

What Should we Test in Public Education?

What should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.

When Kids Know You

appleProbably the coolest thing about teaching is being a micro-celebrity. When kids know you and come to you for advice or inspiration, it really makes you feel good. So much of teaching involves deadlines and standards, it isn’t a cakewalk by any means. But it’s those times when a student relies on you, asks your opinion, or tells you the impact you had on them that keep you happy on the job. My doctor once asked me how I can do such a job with the “petrie dishes” all around. While I agree with him there are a lot of germs in teaching, I explained that when it’s good, it’s the most gratifying profession I can imagine. I guess we hang on for those times. Sometimes we even give up and those times come to our rescue. When kids “know you” it makes you feel like you’re making a difference. So if we have this ability to boost kids’ spirits and even their self-esteem, why is the emphasis of teaching academics? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy academic pursuits in my class. When someone makes a milestone, I am the first and the loudest to congratulate that person. At the same time, it seems we’ve lost our place in the media for being the “goto guy or girl” for kids in our world. The kids may know the barber or the guy at the grocery store but they don’t know adults outside their family as well as they know us. We should have more training in psychology and counseling for that reason. Instead of always talking academics, we should be encouraged to talk social skills sometimes and we shouldn’t have to worry that it isn’t 100% academic. Continue reading “When Kids Know You”

Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Positive with KidsWhen I was young, in the 70’s, I recall a book called Free to be You and Me. In that book, my mom had it on her shelf, they talked about the emotions of people and how they have an impact for good or bad. The good things we tell people were calm warm fuzzies, the negative things were called cold pricklies. The idea was that is people heard more warm fuzzies, it would come around and make the whole world a better place. I love the concepts of the 70’s. This philosophy is true with adults and kids. I have seen it exemplified with my students time and time again. I have seen kids that were social problems on the playground and in the classroom turn around and be better kids because I purposefully gave them warm fuzzies ie; “I like your shirt today!” Continue reading “Warm Fuzzy Experiment”

My Top Ten Posts on Teaching from 2012

We must always be adapting to change as educators but there is also a need to identify and internalize the methods that are timeless. Check out the titles I see as my best of 2012.

Student recognition
I recognize students in the classroom with 7 trophies. They travel around all year and can be used for student recognition year after year. Read more about this mini-grant I wrote at one of the top ten posts of 2012: Trophies in the Classroom

I was quite busy at posting in 2012. It  was a year of change in education but many things remain the same. I suppose you could call them the “universals” of the trade. These are my best posts from 2012. As I re-read them, I could see that some universals of education are in there. We must always be adapting to change as educators but there is also a need to identify and internalize the methods that are timeless. Check out the titles I see as my best of 2012. If you have the time, I hope you’ll give them a read. I would much appreciate your comments.

Reflections on the Reflective Teacher
We as Teachers Can Improve the Culture
Trophies in the Classroom
Kids are Like Sponges: Use Stories to Teach Them
The Parent Trigger and 2 Radical Changes I Suggest for Public Education
Common Core and Collaborative Groups
What Students Need from a Teacher
Teacher as Motivator and Coach
Getting Buy-in From Your Students
5 Altruistic Values of Teaching

Thanks for reading my posts.  Hope to see your comments.

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

School Software Choices: Web-Based or Stand-Alone?

So you heard about a software you want for your classroom or school, great! What next? If you’re like I was, you have no idea what to ask or expect. One of the most important aspects of school software is the installation. Will they take responsibility to upload your students into the database? x-Solution-EducationIf not, are there instructions? Will it accept a csv file from Aeries, or EADMS or your attendance software? It doesn’t matter how modern and cool the program looks, if you can’t get it up and running you’re dead in the water. Software can sit for years unattended because this question wasn’t asked. Continue reading “School Software Choices: Web-Based or Stand-Alone?”

Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the physical proximity and presentation of our lessons.

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”