More Workspace Working for Me

With so much new curriculum this year I found myself walking to my teacher bookshelf over and over again. I decided since I wasn’t using a kidney shaped table for students I would use it for my desk. This would give me more space to cleanly lay out some of the new curriculum. So far (2 days) it is working like a dream. I love it when innovation with common items pays off! Continue reading “More Workspace Working for Me”

Discovering Type with Teens (Book Review)

If your school is like mine, you are struggling to keep classroom control at this stage in the year. We have just finished our state testing and the kids are thinking about Summer vacation every day. I am integrating Science more into the curriculum which is helping a lot. Weaving many different objectives into the day can help when the kids are “done” with their year, mentally anyway. We need a special ingredient to keep our lessons effective.

As with objectives and subject matter, psychological type is an important thing to weave into your plans. A new book just released, Discovering Type with Teens, is an amazing resource when looking into the different ways your students process information. Mollie Allen, Claire Hayman, and Kay Abella are the authors. They offer excelling assessment guides on learning exactly what “type” of kids you are teaching. Knowing this information can help through all parts of the year but certainly the last few weeks.

Benefits of Edublogging and Content Creation

Online diarist, edublogger at Starbucks
Online diarist, edublogger at Starbucks

I have at least one more thing to say about edublogging. Please note I am wont to say that just before I write a book about something. In this post I thought I’d gush a bit about the benefits of all this backbreaking labor they call edublogging. I get 5-10 offers a year to write on educational topics or have someone write about them on my blog. I hate to be really transparent but I like that feeling. When I am addressed as an expert in education because I discipline myself to write on a blog, that’s cool. Sometimes, and far less frequently, I am asked to write a post for pay. This usually includes me placing proprietary ads in the post itself. I’ve made upwards of $300 doing this. Of course, I only accept payment when they are about education, no magic weight loss drugs of course. In short, I feel tall when people recognize me as an edublogger and purveyor of online information. It has taken work to get to this place and I hope it gets better as I hang in there continuing to edublog. Continue reading “Benefits of Edublogging and Content Creation”

Unions – Can’t Live Without Them

16414431556_9695483388_zI am involved in my teachers union and I have to say it is a challenging endeavor sometimes. You are sending out the message that your troubles are the fault of the district. As someone who is always trying to not blame, and failing most the time, I sometimes struggle with this. Unions, like any political organization, can fall into the trap of dehumanizing the district employees. In my district, we have over 300 teachers and about 6 district employees making decisions that affect parents, students, and yes, teachers. My goal in my union is not to attach people but rather show the value of a union. Parents in my district value teachers, they show that by their numbers when they come to our meetings and get involved in organizing with us. I want to be a force that helps their families and specifically their children. Name calling and blaming will only get people riled up for a moment. To gain real buy in from parents, we need to show them what’s in it for them. Continue reading “Unions – Can’t Live Without Them”

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.

A Teacher Should Strive to be Great Just as any Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker

When the Secretary of Education, Jack O’Connell, visited our school, I was asked to do an EDI lesson. This is me teaching “cause and effect” with the board members, Sec. O’Connell, and other honored guests.

There is much being said about this article where a Judge in California has deemed teacher tenure “unconstitutional.” A few people have been kind enough to ask me what I think. I thought I’d blog my response to all that here rather than in a confining comment box on social media. Here is the news article I am responding to if you haven’t read it. Below is my reaction to the article:

Teacher tenure has been a popular issue in the media for about ten years. Unfortunately, most the people writing, talking, and making movies about it are jumping to conclusions and setting up a straw man fallacy. Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did, I believe in unions. In the 1950’s that may have pigeon-holed me as a communist. When I think of unions I think of the part of the constitution that reads basically this: “Each individual in endowed with … inalienable rights … the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have seen teacher’s unions help people keep those rights. If we are to destroy unions, we destroy something good for humanity.

Please know that I feel, to become and stay a teacher, you must have a deep care for the development of young people. Those young people, namely students, should be the reason you teach. Because the profession has a “human” product and not a monetary one, I think there should be a way to get rid of bad teachers who under-perform consistently and don’t care about the human side. The first 2 years a teacher is evaluated and observed 3 times a year. After that, every other year once a year. If the teacher gets a substandard evaluation, they are re-evaluated the following year. In addition, a tenured teacher is not immune from discipline, at least not in the schools I have worked at.

I feel a teacher should strive to be great just as any butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Next year will be my 16th year in teaching and I have never viewed tenure as a “protection” for me to under-perform. I am always working hard to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Sure, there are under-performing teachers out there but there are also under-performing butchers, bakers and … well you get it. How we weed them out of teaching is a very good question.

Anyway, non-union people may disagree but that’s what I think. I think we should make working with kids a more attractive profession so there is more competition. Then, the best will be hired. As a teacher I don’t feel as if my profession is as respected as it once was in society. Some stuff I read these days, mostly from conservatives, is downright hateful and ignorant about teaching. Sometimes I think the confusion about what teachers do leads to hateful monolgues that wrongly vilify unions. Who knows what the future of teaching will hold. I know one thing for sure, society will always need teachers in one way or another with or without tenure. Don’t believe the hype, believe in our need for great teachers.

The Party

imageWe teachers work harder than most people and certainly harder than most people will ever recognize. For that reason, we need a party now and then. I’ve mentioned a few times recently here that my district is going through negotiations currently. I’ve chosen to be very involved with organizing and it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve gotten to hang out with some cool people I don’t normally see but it’s also been a lot of thankless work for people who don’t really care if I live or die. We had a party last week and it really helped motivate me. Continue reading “The Party”

Questioning Authority Trend

pencilsAs an educator of 10 year olds, I have noticed a trend in recent years that is half good and half not. There seems to be a defiance of authority more than ever before of varying degrees. Of course with children, rules are often broken and then reviewed individually or with the class. This is normal but it seems many kids of today live to break the rules. Have parents forgotten the importance of teaching allegiance to teachers and schools? It sure seems that way. It may even be because parents themselves have lost trust in our system. I find that sad. I work everyday to prove myself worth of family trust. In my life, teachers were the most trusted people I knew, even more than the local news. So now that I know this exists, how can I handle it as a teacher. I have a hard time teaching kids to pay blind allegiance to anything, even the teacher. In this manner, you can see their questioning of authority as a positive. Unfortunately, they are too young to be doing this much. I guess that’s where I’d like to see more respect. Not blindly following a teacher’s rules but paying respect to the position of leader that the teacher holds in society. Follow rules, even when they may seem silly.

An example: when my class walks somewhere in a line, I have them all put their hands behind their backs. I do it because it choreographs them in a certain sense. It gets them flying in formation in at least that one small way. Other expectations follow suit but the hands behind the back is something I have chosen as my signature “Riley line” feature. This also keeps their hands to their selves which is an added bonus. Still, after weeks and months, some kids still refuse to do it without me telling them. When I remind them, they do it right away. This is the sort of questioning authority I am talking about. If my teacher asked me to do this in elementary school, I would do it without question. Maybe there is a little too much questioning of authority for our own good in elementary schools these days.

Incentives: Watch What They Sit Up Straight For

 Do you have powerful incentives in your classroom? I’m not talking about classroom monitors or extra PE. Those are great too but you will find that, especially with a difficult class, the more powerful the incentives, the more power you have to control behavior. These will vary teacher to teacher/class to class. When kids want something, and I mean really want it, they will adapt their behavior to get it. Here’s a few thoughts on devloping your own powerful incentives.

Watch what they sit up straight for. For me in my class this year, they really love their time in the computer lab. They would rathet do this than just about anything. I have learned then to use it as an incentive for good behavior. You may not have computer time or your kids may not care about it as much as mine this year so watch for what they sit up straight for.

Make periodic reward events like parties. Most kids in California use Accelerated Reader. This is a wonderful program where kids read books they choose at their own pace and then take tests to earn points. I have been scheduling a 1-2 month block of time where there is a points goal for reading and a party for those who meet that goal. I pick up pizza at the local Pizza Loca. The lages there are $5 so it’s incredibly cheap. My students are more likely to get into AR and have experiences in novels if I shedule these reward events.

People of all ages don’t care if you take away something they don’t like to begin with. Your incentives must be crucial to the kids. They must be willing to give things up to get them, otherwise it’s useless trying to threaten. Threatening just makes people standoffish.  Identifying what they love, and you can do that by simply watching what they respond to, will have the greatest impact at fostering better behavior. Now I’ve only given two tips. I’d love to read yours in the comments. Go for it, helps some teachers out!