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.

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”

Keep Old Stuff

Keep old Curriculum 2To some this post is stating the obvious: keep your old materials for teaching. With all the “home makeover” shows on today, there is a definite emphasis on minimalism. Feng Shui and Hoarding are also a part of our modern vocabulary but throw all that away and keep old stuff! Remember encyclopedias? I kept a set. I don’t use them often but it’s a teaching opportunity to show the kids what life was like before the internet. We would consult World Book instead of Google. Kids get a sense of history that way. For example, compare the Apollo flight to the moon article in an encyclopedia to a Google search. Kids just don’t know there is a difference.

Keep old Curriculum 3Keep old textbooks that the District tells you to discard. I know so many teachers who regret getting rid of an old math series we used to use. I kept 21 of them! I wish I would have kept the 35 I once had. Another thing these are really good for is independent study. I sometimes get requests for independent study curriculum when kids are going to be out for weeks. When you have an old text, you can work with it and not risk losing the current texts. Of course, kids muct always have the option of taking home the current text per William’s act. These textx are great for small group work and even homework.

Keep old CurriculumMath manipulatives are notorious for being thrown out, as are Science kits. Both are golden to have around. I have noticed, for example, that many of my kids annot tell tradition time as in the hands of a clock. I got a hold of a kindergarten math kit a colleague had kept and I used it to teach time in about three sittings of 3 minutes each. Tis is helpful to all subjects and in all standards. You never know where it will pop up. Not to mention the kids that may think it’s cool to have an analog watch. Keep old stuff, I guarantee you’ll use it, Of course, some stuff must be thrown away. Someone said, it you don’t use it for 2 years, throw it away. I’ll leave that up to you.

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.