Teachers, Testing, and the Coveted Pat on the Back

There are times as a teacher when you get no glory and seek no recognition. In fact, if you are doing it right, these are really the majority of your time. In theory, if you “keep your head down” and teach the objectives as you have mapped them, you shouldn’t need to get any pats on the back, or “second wind” along the way. It should just work and the kids should get high scores at assessment time. That should be the reward.

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It is one of the most exciting things in the world to get your students’ scores back and see they did well. At the same time, it can really be a bummer when they don’t perform as well. For me, the challenge when they don’t perform is to just keep my head down, in other words: “teach without recognition.” Only I as a teacher can know where my kids are and what I need to “backward map” and/or reteach. This is a photo of me with then California State Secretary of Schools Jack O’Connell and San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Herb Fisher. They were there to watch a few teachers at my school do an EDI lesson. That was the year we became a Distinguished school, only partly because of test scores. This was one of the biggest “pats on the back” I’ve received in my career. I did a lesson on cause and effect, 4th grade.

Teaching has a lot of small “instant gratification” moments where you can assess kids right there in the lesson and see if they “get it.” I have kids write on white boards and hold them up for me. At that point I can see the percentage of mastery.
There is no better feeling in those informal assessments than telling the class they have “100% mastery.” They clap and say “yesssss.” It’s really a great part of the job.

Harder moments are after your kids score low and you don’t have a chance to assess again. In the past I have made the error of reviewing quickly and reassessing hoping for high results. The hard truth is that in those times, you must spend a length of time keeping your head down teaching without recognition. All the while you should hold on to the hope that your quiet labors will pay off in your students’ public scores. As you proctor those tests you have a lot of stress about getting everything done the way the state wants it. You can’t talk about the test content with anyone and you especially can’t give any instruction while in motion. As I enter my 18th year of public school teaching, I can tell you the system is imperfect. When testing works, it is the most amazing high five. When it doesn’t you just have to grin and bear it. The key is to keep trying year after year whether you teach or develop these tests.

My opinion is that the primary motivation should always be to foster lifelong learners who develop rewarding lives as adults. The test is just the test. Lest we forget that …

Don’t get weary though while teaching without recognition. Doing the right thing consistently always pays off in the long run and you will get that coveted pat on the back..

Until then, you get a virtual pat on the back right here from me (via these guys)!

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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!)

Pods of the Future and Automation

Pods from the Future School Built 1987 (3)I read the title of this post with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek. These pods at my school were made in the mid 80’s and really serve no special function other than retro aesthetic. I used the picture to make the point of how technology is always changing. I recall in 1997 when I started teaching in Santa Ana Unified, the computers were all early iMacs. Remember those ugly beasts? If it ate your CD-Rom, you had to send it out. AND they were inordinately heavy. We had the money to buy tons of equipment that no one knew how to use. It was often a drag when you wanted to scan something but no one had taken it out of the box yet due to ignorance. Still, we knew classroom websites were coming and we believed they would happen to us. Unofrtunately, with technology in education you have to make things happen. It rarely “happens to you.” Now, all these years later, similar bottlenecks stall progress. In addition, much technology lines the halls of storage rooms never to be used, now completely obsolete. Continue reading “Pods of the Future and Automation”

When Extra Work Means Less Headache

20130111-144253.jpgSometimes with certain classes, you have to do extra work in order to avoid headaches. One example of a headache is another teacher coming to you complaining about your class’ running or misbehaving at recess or dismissal. You can say it’s not your duty time but it will always come back to affect your reputation as a teacher, unavoidably. Define your target. Sometimes a little extra work takes care of it. My students get rowdy at dismissal. I have tried warning them to walk and be respectful but even after teaching rules and holding the whole class in all day as punishment, I still got two teacher complaints. It’s time to become more of a hawk eye with this class.

At that point, one has to decide, do I work a little outside my duty and walk them like smaller kids to the gate every day or risk letting them continue without my intense guidance and get more complaints further affecting my reputation as a teacher. It is an extra few minutes I agree and I am not required by contract to do it. At the same time, with some classes, one must accept they are too immature to do it alone and lead them out. I’ve given my current class every chance to improve and yet they are still, running and screaming and running into other kids. In the big picture they are my responsibility and I really don’t expect this class to ever be autonomous 4th graders in these activities, even though I’ve had much more mature kids who could handle it in the past. Sometimes a little extra work makes for less headache.

When Kids Know You

appleProbably the coolest thing about teaching is being a micro-celebrity. When kids know you and come to you for advice or inspiration, it really makes you feel good. So much of teaching involves deadlines and standards, it isn’t a cakewalk by any means. But it’s those times when a student relies on you, asks your opinion, or tells you the impact you had on them that keep you happy on the job. My doctor once asked me how I can do such a job with the “petrie dishes” all around. While I agree with him there are a lot of germs in teaching, I explained that when it’s good, it’s the most gratifying profession I can imagine. I guess we hang on for those times. Sometimes we even give up and those times come to our rescue. When kids “know you” it makes you feel like you’re making a difference. So if we have this ability to boost kids’ spirits and even their self-esteem, why is the emphasis of teaching academics? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy academic pursuits in my class. When someone makes a milestone, I am the first and the loudest to congratulate that person. At the same time, it seems we’ve lost our place in the media for being the “goto guy or girl” for kids in our world. The kids may know the barber or the guy at the grocery store but they don’t know adults outside their family as well as they know us. We should have more training in psychology and counseling for that reason. Instead of always talking academics, we should be encouraged to talk social skills sometimes and we shouldn’t have to worry that it isn’t 100% academic. Continue reading “When Kids Know You”

Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Positive with KidsWhen I was young, in the 70’s, I recall a book called Free to be You and Me. In that book, my mom had it on her shelf, they talked about the emotions of people and how they have an impact for good or bad. The good things we tell people were calm warm fuzzies, the negative things were called cold pricklies. The idea was that is people heard more warm fuzzies, it would come around and make the whole world a better place. I love the concepts of the 70’s. This philosophy is true with adults and kids. I have seen it exemplified with my students time and time again. I have seen kids that were social problems on the playground and in the classroom turn around and be better kids because I purposefully gave them warm fuzzies ie; “I like your shirt today!” Continue reading “Warm Fuzzy Experiment”

My Top Ten Posts on Teaching from 2012

We must always be adapting to change as educators but there is also a need to identify and internalize the methods that are timeless. Check out the titles I see as my best of 2012.

Student recognition
I recognize students in the classroom with 7 trophies. They travel around all year and can be used for student recognition year after year. Read more about this mini-grant I wrote at one of the top ten posts of 2012: Trophies in the Classroom

I was quite busy at posting in 2012. It  was a year of change in education but many things remain the same. I suppose you could call them the “universals” of the trade. These are my best posts from 2012. As I re-read them, I could see that some universals of education are in there. We must always be adapting to change as educators but there is also a need to identify and internalize the methods that are timeless. Check out the titles I see as my best of 2012. If you have the time, I hope you’ll give them a read. I would much appreciate your comments.

Reflections on the Reflective Teacher
We as Teachers Can Improve the Culture
Trophies in the Classroom
Kids are Like Sponges: Use Stories to Teach Them
The Parent Trigger and 2 Radical Changes I Suggest for Public Education
Common Core and Collaborative Groups
What Students Need from a Teacher
Teacher as Motivator and Coach
Getting Buy-in From Your Students
5 Altruistic Values of Teaching

Thanks for reading my posts.  Hope to see your comments.

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”