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.

Tradition vs. Tech as a Teacher

Below is an excerpt from a longer article I published on another blog. I think this concept is highly valuable to teachers.

It does a teacher no good to hang on to methods that are decades old when they don’t produce value. Some examples might be cursive or silent reading time. These have proven of little value in many people’s minds. Today’s teacher needs to use tech to teach explicitly and directly. As an innovative and creative teacher, I must prepare my students for the jobs and create data toward value. It’s not an easy job, but I know I will continue to be successful. I am willing to consider the data and ALL tools be they tech or tradition. The extent to which they add value toward my goals is the extent to which I use them.

via Tradition, Tech, Data and Value at Work.

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.

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.

My Comment on Today’s Senseless School Shootings

I was completely and utterly broken when I heard the news about the school shooting today. This is what I wrote on Facebook:
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I elaborate  here. My heart is with the families that lost their babies today, especially the dads. To you I say be strong.

Maybe Kids Just Have to Grow Into Serious

Seriously-face-meme-all-funnyWhen its time to get serious, we usually do it. We people I mean. Kids are not the same. They like simple and silly play. Once in a while you’ll come across a kd who is too serious but I say even those are doing so attempt to be in some simple and silly identity they’ve dreamed up. The fact is, when we start paying bills and having kids, we can’t be all giggly all the time. The rubber meets the road in those years and failing to be serious can be a mortal catastrophy. You might say we spend all of childhood avoiding being serious and all our adulthood trying to get back to the simple sillies of childhood. I don’t think you can ever go back completely. Continue reading “Maybe Kids Just Have to Grow Into Serious”

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”

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.

My Comments on a So-Called “Teacher Bill of Rights”

On Facebook this evening, I found this “teacher’s bill of rights.” This comment may sound rude but I hate blue-sky, irrational posts like this that complain on behalf of us teachers in the trenches. I would like this if it were meant as humor but I think they are being serious.
1891061_10152303771788708_1428955988_nI don’t need them to plead my case as a teacher. Here are my corresponding comments: #1 Is subjective. #2 Is subjective #3 Copy paper, pencils, and soap are provided (though I could use more pencils than 30 a month) #4 My school has fairly advanced technology #5 ok #6 Ridiculous. Highly subjective statement and completely impossible to grant to any teacher.#7 WTH are they talking about here? Colleagues evaluating us? Hopefully not some I know #8) Ha. Go into the business world. Teaching will always be a medium paid job, which is not bad. There is more security in teaching than most jobs of the same pay. #9) A dream, but a good one. #10) We get this already.

I agree with the direction of these rights but the way they aim to get there is bordering on absurd. “Think Big” they say out there in the world. I say, be the change you want to see. Little by little, you’ll affect big changes.

Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

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If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum? Continue reading “Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed”