How a School Climate Can Change

There’s a lot of talk of global climate change but what about teacher attitudes. I’ve seen them change big time and it’s causing bad stuff to happen you might compare to global warming or acid rain.

I remember in my early days of teaching there was a camaraderie that existed in the air. At the mailboxes, people would smile and greet each other. Sometimes people would talk and find themselves tarrying past the bell (God forbid!) In my eyes that was always more valuable than getting to class on time. Getting to know other teachers and feeling cared for was like medicine for that staff. Things aren’t the same now, maybe it’s just how life is and I need to grow up?

Now, it seems everyone on staff is into their own things. They are stressing in their face and their voices. Some days I feel the only people I can let my hair down with (figure of speech, I’m bald) are the classifieds and grounds staff. I hate when everyone is rushed. With public school being attacked from all fronts, everyone is crossing t’s and i’s and all that stuff. Everyone is locked and loaded to point the finger to save their job. It’s a real shame I say. Kids keep growing up, they want to be cool (thank you Mr. Neil Young for reminding me of that) and they want to play!

Teacher drama only hinders learning. Can we be better teachers when we’re stressed and hurried? Some must think so because it’s the order of the day. I say NO WAY. Relax and develop your passions as a teacher. Then, share that with your students. Most people aren’t made happy by their work but rather their passions. The happiest people have seen that modeled and know how to get it in touch with it. Now, for teachers who want to foster the humanity of their school climate, the question comes, how much are you willing to do to make things better?

The Sub Aftermath and How to Deal With It

hes-just-mr-danza-to-the-students-of-philadelphias-northeast-high-schoolEvery teacher has to be out sometimes and for me that was true recently. While out, I understand the sub had one of the toughest times a sub could have. His nte he left, the mess on the floor and my desk showed me that sometime in the day things went terribly wrong . As a teacher of 16 years I’ve experience this sort of “sub aftermath” quite a few times but this one was particularly bad. I could barely walk a foot across campus without someone stopping me to tell me how bad my kids were. It was most certainly a bummer start to my day. Still, I was determined to deliver consequences that would assure me and the school this would not happen again.

After hearing about various wrong things the sub did, I began to assign a little blame. Nonetheless, these are my students who know better. I did what I thought was best and first of all have them clean up the class to a normal standard. There was paper all over the room. Second, I listed when the expectations of them are when the sub was here and got their agreement they had broken those rules. Because it was an intense day, I wrote a short note home explaining to parents the students had made poor choices and listed the correct actions and behaviors when there is a sub. The students stayed in at recess and lunch, which I must say is also hard on me but worth it for next time. If your consequences and threats have no teeth, there is no power when you say them. If you hold strong, your students will respect you for it. Now my hope is that I won’t have to be out again this calendar year to test the theory!

What Does it Take to be a Teacher?

We know cops went into their job because they appreciated justice. Graphic designers enjoy seeing a project through. But what about teachers? What is the impetus (in general) that drives people to pursue a career teaching?

My School DeskBeing a teacher, we often get mixed reviews in our cultures. Sometimes, we are seen as “world changers” and other times not as highly. I think a lot of people think they know because everyone has had an experience with teachers. This brings up the question: What does it take to be a teacher? Let me give you a few of my observations:

Teachers are people who use their education.

Some of my friends I run across did not put their excellent education to work. Others did and went into various trades but in most cases, teachers used it to keep getting educated. All teachers have at least a Bachelor’s degree. At this point in time, most districts require an advanced degree or they won’t consider hiring you. Continue reading “What Does it Take to be a Teacher?”

Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best and you will find much success.

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

Three Areas of Student Assessment – a modest proposal

three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nToday on my Facebook, I reposted (shared) this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his quote. One of my friends challenged me to share what I would do differently so I decided to blog three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1) At the parent conference, create assessment goals. Students all have different gifts and needs. If parents and teachers get together, the best goals can be made for the child. It would probably be impractical to have individual assessments for everyone. At the same time, I think if we tried doing this, a set of assessment “types” would come into focus. Teachers could make a set of open-minded assessments to help a child grow. Part of this assessment should be to test a student’s understanding of real life jobs as they exist now (not 50 years ago).

2) Make music and the arts a requirement in school. I agree charter schools can do a good job at focusing on the arts shouldn’t all kids get that exposure? Forget what other countries do on their tests, we are trailblazers. Only we decide what we want our kids to be exposed to.

3) Academic assessments must be there. Teachers should have full access to the material the kids will be tested on and testing should be. I thought the standardized testing of the CDE was good for the past 15 years but it shouldn’t be the sole assessment. At the same time, this aspect cannot be ignored.

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.

3 Tips for Teacher Success When Starting Their Career

Once you accept the challenges of teaching, you can be a lifelong success and make a difference with your students. Here are some teaching tips on how to make that happen.


There is a lot you can do to be successful at teaching. Being great at what you do in the field of education has many roadblocks though.  Getting your teaching certificate is just the first challenge. But, once you accept the challenge, you can be successful and make a difference with your students. Again there is so much you can do but here are 3 simple teaching tips on how to make that happen.

At work we a have a single job to do but everyone knows there is so much more to work than that. For example: 1. Effective lessons are crucial and require careful planning, 2. Avoid getting overly involved with your colleagues personally (this is just my personal opinion but it has helped my success), and 3. Practice creating solutions to your teaching challenges.

Effective lessons are very important. You will find many helps on this blog alone. After that of course, a simple search on Google will yield many teacher tips on how to craft and deliver excellent lessons. Devote yourself to this. It is the cornerstone of an effective teacher.

It may seem healthy and productive to spend time after school talking to other teachers but I have found it of little value. In my case, and of course everyone has a different personality, I have found that a staff will expand, contract, and change in number. The faces will change but the challenge is the same: to teach effectively. Especially at the beginning of your career, extra-professional relationships at work can distract you. I have decided to keep colleague relationships, other than collaboration for planning lessons, to a minimum. I leave you to make your own conclusions here.


Finally, be an innovator! There was a psychological study done in the 70’s where a guy looked up in the middle of Central Park. He was looking at nothing but he never looked down. People would walk by and most looked up with him. The message here is to be an innovator or leader in what you do. Others may follow but that shouldn’t be your primary motive. Success is the lighthouse. Classroom and online teaching degrees are great careers but you have to get out there and do them! There are some great books on making a living in online teaching available. This is an example of real innovation. You need grand innovative habits to succeed in teaching.

In conclusion, everyone in their heart wants to be successful. Unfortunately there are a host of forces working all the time against us. I have given only three tips this post. These are three tips that are very important to teacher success. What do you think of them? Please join the conversation in the comments with other tips for teacher success.

Today’s Teachers Must Find Inner Strength

If you feel you can make a difference as a teacher, ignore the hue and cry of the maddening crowd and teach. It is possible and recommended by this teacher that you learn to find your stability from within.

Now well into the school year I am hearing and reading that more teachers than usual are feeling down. Teacher evaluations are in flux and they can cause some a lot of concern. This in turn can affect the quality of teaching. It’s not surprising some teachers are overwhelmed given all the changes and cuts in the profession. It is causing some college students I know to question their choice of major and profession. One teacher I read about last week quit her job. Another one I know is currently in counseling for hyper-anxiety. Yet another tells me feels depressed once in a while on her recess time after what she hears on the news and from her union.  Yet someone else I know is thinking of quitting at the end of the school year. How can effective lesson plans be made and delivered when a teacher is this down? Well, it isn’t easy but it’s possible. Education is in a state of flux right now, this makes it extra tough. We already deal with an ever-changing set of variables in our attempt to educate children. Shrinking budgets and changing parameters make our profession even harder. I have also heard that the number of students in teaching programs is extremely low.

I know college students looking at a teaching credential are asking: “Is education a good career choice?” Teaching is an age old occupation and those who seek to do it will probably always have jobs. If you are letting current events affect your career choice, you will always be on a roller coaster. On the other hand, if you feel you can make a difference, ignore the “hue and cry” and go for teaching as a career. It is possible and recommended that you learn to find your stability from within. I see more political storms ahead and it will take inner strength to do your job well.

If you set goals for yourself as a teacher, you can measure your own success. There is no longer a static road map in education. Every teacher must look within to find inspiration and guidance and then measure her/his own progress toward goals. Successful teachers can weather the storms of change but they will have to find inspiration within. There are things you can do to empower your career like meditation, journaling, getting a mentor, and more. Of course one of the best things to do would be to read this blog daily. ;) Do you believe in this profession and in the youth of today? If your answer is no … step aside. If yes, find strength from within, your students (future or present) need you more than ever.

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.

The Late Great Standardized Test and Happy Birthday Common Core

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI wrote this post a couple years back. These are my impressions of the Common Core back then I think this post is relevant when deciding the worth, or lack thereof, of these still new standards.

Based on what I have been reading and hearing, the multiple choice standardized test as a state assessment is going away. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? Today I gave my kids a math test that is very similar to the type of standardized test they will take in May. Using explicit direct instruction
may yield results but unless you have a measurement tool, you’ll never really know. Giving some sort of assessment is crucial in determining whether kids have gained mastery over the material.  Finding that sort of assessment can be challenging but once you do find it, it can be encouraging and educational to you the teacher. My students performed better than I imagined they would. As I examined their scores I saw clearly that everything we’ve been doing this year has worked. I will be sending home color coded results to parents because I want the home to know the child is getting it. It certainly isn’t the only measure of growth in a learner but it is a clear and accepted one for most people in California.

As a parent myself, I always like to see growth in my children’s standardized test scores. I say all these good things about the “test” because it is under fire these days. In fact, it appears Common Core is going to revolutionize the idea of state assessments. I am all for that but in a way, I will miss the ABCD bubbles. They do provide us with a concrete score that holds widespread clout. There are a lot of things I don’t like about them but I certainly have seen value today in preparing for a traditional multiple choice test with a traditional multiple choice test. teaching materials are likely to change drastically. I wonder how we as educators and parents will look back at the multiple choice standardized test once we transition over to Common Core. My understanding is that it will be after one more year of the status quo. The traditional standardized test will definitely be something I reflect on after Common Core comes into use. Here’s to the future and what is next for us in k-6 education.