What I Want for Public Education (as a Parent & Teacher)

5 things I as a parent and teacher want for my kids. I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child.

14585284216_10c6f5ccb5I should post a disclaimer that I am a parent of 3 public school aged children who is also a teacher at a public school. Ok, now that I am somewhat introduced … here are my points: As a parent I want these things from the public education system:

  1. Programs that foster self-esteem and self-love – I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child. Without this, children will have a host of problems greater than any lack of academics. Of course this starts at home.
  2. Academic instruction, based on grade level standards – In my state, this will be the Common Core standards starting next year. This is something I see the public school system fearing and putting at the highest emphasis. I think it is indeed valuable and in some ways a non-negotiable.
  3. Mutual respect and social mores review/training

PBIS is aiming at this. I think more money should be poured into this and self esteem training than academics. Because our country is so barraged with stories of hate and self loathing, like the recent shootings, it is a “no brainer” this area should be our top priority. I want my kids to know how to behave and how to live with others peacefully. Again and of course, this starts at home.

  1. Music and art appreciation – Without music, life would have been a mistake.
  2. Health and stress management training – (put your “humor me” hat on) If life expectancy is 70, health ignorance will make it 55. If the same with stress is true, 40. I want my child to live the most full robust life possible.

We as teachers are often given a schedule and curriculum that lacks the above. As a parent, I would like to see more emphasis put on nurturing the child while teaching the standards. I think we focus too much on getting the child to perform and not enough on helping the child be healthy and happy in mind and body. Parents and teachers are invited to make a comment below as to what you would like to see in public education, and/or what you think should stay that is already there.

Value of a Pacing Guide

One of the more difficult parts of teaching is pacing ones lessons. You can have the tried and true teaching methods but without a pacing plan of some sort, your assessments will be scattered. One must look at the end goal and then map out the sections of the year in such a way that will enable planning and delivery to meet those ends. If you are lucky (as I am) your district has a pacing guide they offer you to use and plan your lessons around. Unfortunately however, the work doesn’t stop there. You need (get) to plan and deliver the actual lessons the pacing guide dictates.

For me, the best situation has been to have all my materials in a central place. Then, as I read the pacing guide each morning, I can “pull” from my materials and use them under the overhead to teach through the day’s standards. I have written much here in the past about paperless teaching and how I don ‘t like the copy machine. I am usually able to get away without using it. As long as the kin-esthetic learners have paper and a white board (if available) you can get through the week with minimal copier usage. Having a trustworthy pacing guide allows you to focus on materials and other helpful things. Once you have it you can more robustly seek out lesson ideas.

What the kids need more than just “a worksheet” is a teacher who models the concept. If you are delivering lesson plans from the pacing guide each day, you are doing what you should. If you choose to use copiers after that, it’s up to you. Most the time I find myself making copies only because it is the “traditional” thing to do and not because it is crucial to learning. At the same time, I have seen first hand the power of daily calculated usage of the pacing guide. If you don’t have one already, I would say all teachers need one … unless you are a computer.

Goal Based Teaching and Focus

My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus.

Of course every teacher wants to be successful every day. Some days this is more possible than others. I say, it’s always possible if you set goals for yourself. The hardest times for me as a professional are when the rules change. In times of financial cutbacks, this is likely to be occurring across the country. In times of adversity, we can still be successful through what I call goal based teaching.

Whether you are teaching a math lessons or esl lessons, you have strategies and programs you can use to teach. This isn’t a post about showing you mine. You can find the best strategy I know of, EDI elsewhere on this blog. I have written numerous posts on how it works and how to use it. This post is, rather, about setting achievable goals and then gauging progress once the teaching day is done. In your quest, check out websites for teachers.

In the early morning minutes before the kids come in, take the time to write down what you want to achieve today. It might look something like:

80% mastery of Reading Standard 2.1 that will be measured through whiteboard answers.
-or-
Listen to kids more today. This will be measured by my journaling what one kid from each period told me.

You get the idea. It is possible to teach and be successful in these uncertain and often just plain “weird” times. My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus. It happened to me my 5th year teaching. Then they called it “reduction in force.” They told me I would likely be hired back but I had to teach 3 more months with no guarantees. With a fledgling family of 3 at the time, I was nervous and it was hard to stay focus. Goal based teaching helped me define my own success.

I don’t see success as something you achieve. Rather, it is the daily, hourly triumphs where you take chances and then measure your own success. No one can tell you otherwise when you know you’ve met your own goals. What are your thoughts on taking control with “Goal Based Teaching.”

Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher

A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. He/she must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first. After that, the kids.

Those with careers in teaching are often under pressure. The administration wants the paperwork turned in on time and the parent wants accurate and full reporting of their children. Your own family wants and deserves your complete attention. Of course, as a teacher, this is your job so we shouldn’t whine too much about it. At the same time, it can feel overwhelming to have so many precise demands. It can affect you. A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. The teacher must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first then the rest. This is a basic truth whether you teach English abroad or elementary school here at home.

There are certain basic “self-checks” you can do to remain sound of mind and body health in the classroom. Here are a few I do at yearly intervals:

  1. Check your blood pressure. Demands of kids and work can really raise this. If you don’t know already, a healthy blood pressure is below 120/80. If you neglect this, a heart attack or stroke could occur which would make you unable to be a great teacher.
  2. Plan your exercise routine. By that I mean, plan something you know you can do consistently and vigorously. For example, I really enjoy running outdoors but I seldom get to it. On the other hand, using my treadmill is much easier to be consistent at. If I choose the running plan, I will likely get no exercise whereas the treadmill is easy access and likely to get used. Vigorous exercise helps circulation and keeps you laughing through those challenging days.
  3. Get out of the house. If you are married, take your spouse out on a date. If you are single, go out and do something you love alone or with friends, good old fashioned “rest and relaxation.” You are “Mr. Riley” all week long, now go be you!
  4. Do your favorite pastime.

More than any tip, remember this: Those in education jobs are no good to your students, your school, or your own family when you are mentally or physically spent. Be responsible about taking care of yourself first and then the kids. Recharge your batteries. They will thank you for it!


This post was published first as Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Teachers and Public Image

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.

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.

Kids are Like Sponges: Use Stories to Teach Them

A great lesson plan should have at least one engaging story that teaches. It’s very helpful when introducing a new topic to tell them stories about your life as it relates to that new concept.

Using stories to teach kids is one of the best teaching tips I can suggest. Anything you give kids by way of your life’s anecdotes they will happily absorb.  It’s been said, “kids are like sponges.” It’s very helpful when introducing a new topic to tell them stories about your life as it relates to that new concept.  Until a kid can visualize something and compare it to something concrete, he/she will never have a chance at comprehending it.  It is vital to getting students to understand your message. In teacher jargon this is known as “comprehensible input.” One example for young kids might be when I took a cookie out of the cookie jar. For older kids say in adolescence if I am teaching respect for authority figures, such as police officers, I can tell a story of when someone was disrespectful to a police officer and what happened. If you can’t think of a story, there is so much free online education that includes some. Definitely go searching. For example, if you are studying a story like Akiak, you can type that in and find all sorts of related stories. The teaching materials of our day are largely free and available with minimal search effort.
A “Dynamite Lesson Plan” should have at least one engaging story that teaches.  This can often make the need for a discipline plan obsolete. The reason this is true is because the learner is engaged. Your own kids, as well as your students, in many ways worship the ground you walk on.  To them, you are an image of the real world they desire so desperately to enter.  Telling them stories from your life full of comprehensible input can bridge the chasm for them.

They have nowhere to go.  They are all ears! Make storytelling a part of every lesson you do to improve student engagement in education.

And if you think you have no interesting stories to tell, remember this: Everything you’ve done has value to kids. It’s all in how you tell it to them.  Make it fun and tie it in to age-appropriate input be it SpongeBob or Twilight.  You’ll teach them your objective without them even knowing it.

Do you have any life adventures you could tell your kids?

Why not add a few to your schedule tomorrow and see how your kids respond?

Teaching, Inspiration, and Rock ‘n Roll

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

I started teaching at age 27. Though I thought I was old then, I look back now and see that I was most assuredly still a very young adult. Back then I was very much a self-starter. After subbing in a district for 3 months I managed to get hired on a year’s teaching contract with NO credential based purely on my wit and candor and my ability to speak Spanish and English. In California, this is called an “emergency credential” and it’s rarely done nowadays . . . for good reason. I had absolutely no classroom management skills, apart from being a sub which is vastly different from being the only grown-up in charge of 36 ten year olds for 185 days. Those first 3 years were very tough, but I got by on the inspiration of my twenties. It seems like my thirties have required more strategy than instinct to find success.

Now, 10 years later with a full credential and a Master’s degree, I still often find myself at a loss for inspiration. I never give up though. On those days that I am discouraged and unmotivated, I try and get away from the daily routine. I put aside the lessons I had planned (as much as is possible to stay within my responsibilities) and I focus on the things that I truly enjoy: guitar, art, poetry, reading, songwriting, nature, etc. Then I tap into that wonder I have for those things and bridge it to the material I have to teach. For example: if I have to teach reading data on a graph, I make a graph about the different guitars there are.

I adapt my lessons that day to whatever is really giving me personal inspiration at that moment. All people (even small ones) are attracted to a leader or performer who is passionate about what he is doing. Kids want to emulate that energy. I remember going to see REM in concert in my 20’s and being so drawn in to what singer Michael Stipe was doing onstage. I didn’t understand the weird symbols on the screen or the strange movements he made, like hitting a metal chair with a wooden rod on the off-beats on “World Leader Pretend,” but I tapped into his passion and energy for what he was doing, and when they left the stage I screamed for an encore. It was like a moth to a lightbulb, the lightbulb was passion. The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

Discouragement that saps inspiration is the teacher’s biggest enemy. By tapping into and bridging my passions with my students, I am able to get through those tough days when I have to methodically put one foot in front of the other and keep remembering that I got into the profession to make a difference. With a brief look inward, it works every time.

My Solution to the Copy Machine Conundrum

If you are like me you have been frustrated many times by a traffic jam at the copy machine. You got your materials together and went to the copy room only to find two or three teachers ahead of you with what looks like reams of copies to make. You sort of get deflated at that point. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you might recall my article on “paperless teaching.” This was a cool concept and one of those that is excellent “in theory.” Unfortunately, the energy required to come up with solutions for paper really wears you down. As a result, it defeats the whole purpose for trying paperless teaching in the first place. I know I am a better teacher because I have some tested alternatives to the copy machine. At the same time, I now know it is unavoidable in our profession. That leads me to my solution.

One excellent solution to the copy machine conundrum is to pick one day of the week to do all your copying. It is definitely a paradigm shift because you can’t be successful “on the fly.” You must get a rhythm and a system to select your papers to copy so each week you have them sorted and ready to hit the copy machine. Of course you will still collide with other teachers but only one out of 5 days right? If you are mentally prepared to wait, it will cause you less stress as well. I have been doing this all year so far and it is going great! What do you think of my solution to the copy machine conundrum?

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

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”