Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation

Professional evaluations for teachers can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria for evaluation can alleviate much of that while also aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip.

Teacher evaluations can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria on teacher evaluations forms can alleviate much of that while aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip. Throughout the teaching year, good teachers create and innovate daily to produce results in their students. The federal and state governments set goals for us and we strive to meet those goals, and hopefully exceed them. Unfortunately, during the time of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the goal was, and I am being 100% frank here, to have EVERY child in America score proficient on the same standardized test given each year. I never agreed with this goal for education but I have always striven to make it happen. Now that Obama and Arne Duncan are in office, I understand they are out to revise NCLB rules and expectations. That may be a good thing, time will tell. I can say the most trivial of teaching materials made a world of difference in my evaluation: a plastic desktop cover. Continue reading “Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation”

The Organic Teacher vs The Robot

For the past 15 years, the California Teaching Standards have run the show in education. I’m not complaining. For 13 of these years, my job success has relied on them. I have embraced them, made them my own, taught them, and internalized them in the 6 hours a day I am with students in the classroom. In the other daily hours, I strive to come up with ways to make them relevant and memorable. I have tried very hard to not be a robot, simply speaking out standards without any importance or buy-in. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the teachers in the country. I hear news stories about teachers who really have no interest in getting the standards across. They make a facade to the public audience that produces only the bare minimum of learning results. It is enough to get them through to the next contract but fails to raise students to the high level of performance they need to compete in the world.

Those robotic teachers use the standards to negative ends. I feel that teaching to a test can never produce the kind of student that will thrive in the modern world. I am hopeful about what’s coming. I think of it as an “organic teacher.” That means someone who gets earthy and relevant with the standards. The organic teacher is not afraid to be controversial if it meets students needs. The organic teacher paves a path followed by those who want the same measurable success. It can take many forms but it will involve technology such as the best laptop computers. It is not, however, limited by technology. I have often imagined that a simple pencil on paper can be named technology, so don’t let the term steer you off. The organic teacher will kill the robot’s facade. She/he will bring students to a higher level through making the standards real and tangible. Success for students in these classroom will be “caught” more than taught. These teachers will thrive on what they do and the success with students they make. I see these teachers coming on the horizon whether they be teachers like me already in the classrooms or new ones. The shared element is a passion for bring kids up. My hope is the “common core” standards will encourage this sort of teacher. Instead of stifling innovation, my hope is that administrations will foster and encourage it no matter how different it may appear. Youth culture has changed more in the past 15 years than I think it did in the 20 years prior. We need to speak a new language and take on a new job to save our schools and save our kids from irrelevant robot teaching.

Trophies in the Classroom

I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Student recognition
I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Recognition is powerful in motivating students. The question is “How should we do it?” There are many ways teachers and employers do this every day. Plaques and awards are among them. Some ways present less of a challenge than others. Material rewards can be costly to replace and simple verbal rewards can seem canned. I thought I’d found a happy medium when I discovered one teacher in Santa Ana Unified who had been using a recycled trophy to recognize students. I saw a unique idea and wanted to try it with multiple trophies. Continue reading “Trophies in the Classroom”

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make urban education reform a reality.

5 Altruistic Values of Teaching

These are five things I value above and beyond financial compensation that make me want to come to work as a teacher every day.

Being a teacher is a wonderful career choice if you value the intrinsic rewards it brings. There can be a place for you and there are also online teaching job openings as well. Before you seek employment however, you should examine the reason people become teachers and the nature of the job itself. I’ve always thrived on seeing a student grow in academics or social skills.. This is what I think of as the “human-profit” margin. For example, one of my goals is always to see each kid improve scores over the preceding year. There are many altruistic values of teaching that motivate and keep us on track in our job. If you are a new teacher, take a look at these occupational traits. They are five things I value above and beyond financial compensation that make me want to come to work every day.

  1. Kids are now what we once were and they will one day run society: This can be both exciting and daunting. Knowing one day the child I am teaching long division may one day perform open heart surgery on someone. On the other hand, they could become homeless and jobless if I don’t do my part to give them the skills and motivation to succeed.
  2. Many times you are the only role model of a normal life: I had a parent conference a few years back where the parent had told me right there at the table that all 5 of her kids had different dads. That alone is staggering. I grew up in a house where my dad was always there fore me: tucking me in, coaching my soccer teams, teaching me guitar … I know not everyone has it that good but this was a lighter shade of pale. I felt sad for the confusion the child must live with each day. I couldn’t be that child’s dad (who wasn’t in the picture) but I started paying more attention to him and giving him the best advice I could during that year about life and academics. I hope I made a difference. Each day I have that opportunity as an educator. This one reason you might look for teaching opportunities as your career.
  3. Students need a frame of reference to understand art: We forget sometimes how much kids do not know about the world. Most adults can tell you the difference between classical and pop music … most 4th graders can’t. Unless someone explains the difference between an 18 century painting an something modern my a cubist such as Picasso, or Andy Warhol for that matter … it’s all just blurs of sensation. A person may go their whole life and never appreciate art until someone tells them about it.
  4. Students don’t always know how to be nice: We as adults get a million thoughts in our heads daily that are negative and self-defeating. If we are lucky (as I was lucky) we learn about positive self talk and talk with others. A person can go their whole life and never learn how to speak positively. I get to teach that every day (not always a walk in the park let me tell you).

Finally, kids need to learn respect for authority. A person can get to 15-18 or even 80 without that and suffer greatly because of it. As a teacher you are like a “soft” police officer, or judge. You represent authority and if you don’t teach then what respect is, chances are they will not have it when they are older. I like to think that every child who passes through my classroom in a given year knows how to respect her/his elders and her/his superiors. I know this will save them much trouble.

To close, these are 5 reasons I come to work each day. I am not rich by monetary standards but the reason I don’t feel poor is because each day I get to act on altruistic values. They are what give me the most satisfaction in my career. As a final note, I have found keeping an online teacher journal very helpful in measuring my progress toward altruistic goals, I highly recommend it. At the same time, it isn’t for everyone. Please note there are more online teaching opportunities manifesting daily. This new “tech” kind of teaching may really be worth looking into for the right type. Is teaching for you? Share why in the comments.

On Teaching Without Paper, or Less Anyway

copierUsing effective teaching methods often requires all your wit and candor every day. When the copy machine takes more than you have, it kind of wrecks you. Since I started teaching in 1997, I have had a love/hate relationship with copiers and printers. It can be so cool when you have a crisp, stapled presentation ready for 30 kids stacked flush on your desk ready to deliver. It’s even better when the print actually enhances the learning transaction and the standard is internalized as a result.

More often than that though paper is a hassle.

Eight times out of ten when I get my stuff to the copy room, there is a jammed sign on it. Other times it is out of paper in which case I have to use my valuable prep time getting cut on the box and opening reams to load in the machine. Even more frustrating are the times when there is a line of 3 or more of my colleagues all holding their holy grails of lessons in their arms waiting impatiently for the one in front to gather her/his business out of the way. Let me assure you, youll wish you were in hell if YOU are the one who jams the machine with those lines watching over your shoulder. I know there is a longing out there among teachers for more paperless teaching materials.

I’ve often avoided the copier issues by printing the stuff at my computer. We have Brother laser printers and they often work well. It’s never mattered how many trees I massacred as long as the ink was dark and flowed freely, which up to now it always has.

Alas, printers like people, get old I’m afraid. They need routine operations and recently, two in needed to be taken to a nearby cliff (if we had one in the desert) and put out of their misery. I’m speaking of one-half printing. Sound familiar? Lines streaking? Drum light flashing Morse code?

At one point a couple years back, I had all these wonderful road-blocks to getting my lessons taught. You know what I decided? I decided instead of cursing the printing darkness, to light a candle. I declared power over paper.

It would no longer control me! Time for green school ideas.

I set down a what-if scenario for every paper event I can fathom. I decided that the wool had been pulled over my eyes long enough . . . paper and teaching . . . I saw clearly for the first time: I JUST DON’T NEED IT! I am going to learn how to save paper and still be a highly effective teacher. A teaching career can exist with less paper. I believe in that.

Van Gogh said art is done within limitation, not without. I indeed have to get creative at times in order to keep my one-day-at-a-time commitment. My students already have a mother lode of printed material in their texts and their consumable books. I see no reason why I can’t continue this until I retire. My mission is to find alternatives to paper.

Common Core and Collaborative Groups

Common Core has a component of collaborative learning and problem solving that makes it distinctly different from the previous state standards.

As I learn more about the Common Core I learn it is geared toward preparation for work. I really like this about the standards and I hope as it is implemented it maintains this priority. At my school, our teaching staff is just beginning to be trained and readied for this set of standards. One thing our trainer mentioned was that collaborative groups will be mainstay for this new system. This makes perfect sense to me because in every job challenge there is a group that must be worked “with” as opposed to against. I also like teaching through collaborative groups because it fosters higher level thinking like invention and creation.

It was said that while the California standards used to have a lot of specific standards, the Common Core will have less but they will include several standards in one. An old school exam might have 40 questions whereas a Common Core will have only 10 but it will require drawing upon many different standards in the answers. While working in class during guided practice with the teacher, kids will be required to solve problems that touch on and use a variety of standards. Perhaps this will help our human race get along better and be more productive? I feel there is more than just hope here. Thumbs up for Common Core and collaborative groups.

What Students Need from a Teacher

More Classroom and Walls (7)Education has been in a state of flux for about 20 years. The latest trend is online teaching but there have been a lot of changes already in the last 20 years. Some will say President Bush tried to develop it with “No Child Left Behind” and I think most educated and informed people knew that would have only mixed results. By “left behind” it simply meant no one would fall below the C or passing on a uniform assessment. Many now may wonder, “What do students really need in a teacher?” Below I offer some suggestions.

1. Students need a listener. In a room of 20-30 students, it is hard to know the individual idiosyncrasies of your students right away. I have half-jokingly and half-seriously said for years that teachers should spend the first three weeks reviewing the classroom rules. Of course, other things should go on like pair share and group share. Most of all, the teacher should try to elicit responses to questions in effort toward getting to know students and listening to their needs. Continue reading “What Students Need from a Teacher”

Reflections on the Reflective Teacher

Taking time to reflect is beneficial to all human beings. My daughters seem to remind me it’s time to color or otherwise stop what I’m doing at the most inopportune times. I find, however, that those times yield some of my best ideas. Along those lines, it is crucial, in my opinion, to be a reflective teacher. Time off work, out of the classroom is an excellent time to practice being a reflective teacher. Like Winnie the Pooh says: “Did you ever stop to think and then forget to start again?” I think he meant because it can be so wonderful to “stop” that you neglect starting as you were. We need to stop as human beings, especially by our teacher definition. We are entrusted with children and teaching them academics. This is of course one of the highest callings of a society.

Quotes and stories can be excellent sources of teaching inspiration. I like to remind myself of the story of 2 lumberjacks trying to chop more wood in a competition. The first was a busybody with a great work ethic. He chopped until it hurt and then kept right on going limping to his bunk at night. The second was seen taking regular breaks and meditating. At the end of the competition, oddly enough the resting lumberjack had cut down far more trees. When number one asked him how he achieved such an accomplishment he replied: “I stopped regularly to sharpen my axe.”

If we don’t stop we can become fatigued and worse … burned out. Here are some ways I try to be a reflective teacher. Let’s define that here as a teacher who is willing to “stop:”

  • Meditate. While you should have a daily time to stop and meditate to stay healthy, set aside a short time to meditate on your class. Picture it empty, then any way you imagine it. Try this a few times and see the sort of ideas manifest themselves.
  • Make a list. Motivation theory shows that with pen and paper, it helps to start writing ideas down. You might start with the prompt of: “What could be better in my classroom?” Make up other questions and remember the reflective teacher is truly “stopped,” unstressed by the demands of every day work things. Only when you get outside of the routine can you see things differently and fix them.
  • Examine your daily schedule. Look for the times where the day goes smoothly. Can you think of a way to make the who day go more like that? Try the vice versa as well: Where are the long parts of the day that drag on. Chances are, they do the same for your students. Can you help that in any way?
  • Acknowledge the importance of stopping and being a reflective teacher.

In the past few years, I have come to know the healing powers of meditation and relaxation in my personal life. The same practice brings better lessons and better classroom management. Americans as a whole are so caught up with working and doing. I hope you agree that “stopping” and meditating as a reflective teacher will make you more effective.