The Role of Admin and That of Teachers

Left to Right: Secretary of Education, California Jack OConnell, Me, Superintendent of San Bernardino County Herb Fischer.  2007

Everyone tends to go to pieces when the “suits” aka administration walks in ones classroom. You could be sitting, which can be fine as long as you’re teaching. The most ideal by their standards is that you’re standing, burning calories teacing the future of America. Never mind they may have been sitting all day at their desks processing complaints and categorizing taxpayer funds. You’re expected to be the professional, doing whatever you need to be doing to get every child to the expectation they set. Remember however that you have an intrinsic calling to what you do. You don’t need a suit to be important. You use all the materials at your disposal to help kids gain equal access to the core curriculum. You are the true professional and hero in my eyes.

Most districts have more teachers than mine but mine has about 300. The people who run the district office number at about 6-8. Of course, beyond them there are clerical workers and such but the higher administration number is about that small. They spend the money that taxpayers earn. They decide how much teachers can make and how much can be spent on the curriculum that they choose. Currently, all curriculum we are mandated to use is Common Core. Continue reading “The Role of Admin and That of Teachers”

Intrinsic and External Motivation

Having been a teacher since 1997, I’ve analyzed myself and other teachers quite a bit. One thing I have come to identify is when I am working and planning from internal motivation as opposed to external. Internal motivation has to do with ideals and morals. It is the extra plan you make for Johnny who is in fourth grade and still can barely read (hypothetical name and situation). It is the goals you set for yourself as a teacher and the expectations you set for your kids based on what you think is their best interest.

The external motivation is your evaluator. It is the way you will be perceived. It means putting up a wall that is required as opposed to using creativity to make it your own. I admit we cannot escape external demands on our profession. We must adhere, to a degree, to the required parameters we are mandated to. At the same time, I think it is abhorrent that some teachers identify this as the bare minimum and they only go as far is the external motivators require. There must be a balance.

Someone I knew at the district where I work died today. He was quite young and had a lot going for him professionally. Though he wasn’t in the classroom, he was revolutionizing the profession with technology and training hordes of teachers to use his website. His death was sudden and unexpected. It touched me because I respected his internal motivation. It was clear he wanted to help teachers and students succeed and accomplish great things in math. I remember him that way.

This has me thinking once again about my own motivation. If I want to be remembered for something I ought to be doing it. That is where the internal motivation comes in. Am I being true to my conscience as I plan and teach kids? Or, rather am I getting by on the bare minimum of mandates. Also, health needs to be a concern. It’s not always the I feel the best idea to work harder, sometimes you need to stop chopping and sharpen your axe. teachers are ones who can exceed mandates while being true to their own morals and values as educators. If this post does anything for you I would hope it caused you to ask yourself what your own mandates are. I call that internal motivation.

Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change

IMGP2724Common Core is the latest change that has teachers and families scurrying to absorb. Yes, it is the law of the law these days, the trend as well. Still, why get bent out of shape over something that is new and eventually, passing. The core standards of California are gone now, as an example. I internalized them along with teachers in the huge state I live in. We made progress toward goals and then they took the goals away. Any time there is change it causes stress. Technology is another thing that is causing millions of teachers to stress. This can, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of a teacher. Do you want to do that to your students? The reality is, rather than focus on the changing landscape of education, you can keep your feet securely planted. There are some things about teaching that will never change. Continue reading “Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change”

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.

Less is More Lesson Planning

If your district is like mine, you’ve been mandated to teach with a whole new curriculum this year. Lots of people are overwhelmed by this due to Common Core revamping. Everyone wants to see teachers using technology and asking higher level questions rather than the explicit A) B) C) D) choices we’ve taught to all these years. lessI applaud the Common Core and have been teaching these standards now so I know what they are. There is no trouble there. On the other hand, all the new curriculum is almost too much to process. I needed a way to break it down into bite size chunks. Out swimming today I got an inspiring vision of how I might do just that and be more productive in my teaching week. Continue reading “Less is More Lesson Planning”

No Easy Way to Learn Multiplication Facts

One might argue that nothing is easy to learn. The very essence of the word learn means you don’t have knowledge that you must acquire new knowledge and acquiring it comes by a lot of work. Still, there are an abundance of videos on Youtube that claim they are an “easy way” to learn your times tables. I’ve looked at a lot of them and none of them live up to that claim. Some of my fourth graders are dragging their feet about learning their times tables and I’m finding they fail because they expect it to be easy when it isn’t. I remember when I was in 3rd grade, my mom sat me down on the couch and began drilling me with flash cards. I was missing a lot back then and she would put the ones I missed in a pile separate from the rest. The ones I consistently knew she put away next to her. That was the “no duh” pile. I would work on the harder ones until I had them. I specifically recall she wouldn’t let me off the couch to play or do anything until I could answer them all correctly. I remember that particular night I was able to go through the whole pile correctly. More or less I’ve had them memorized ever since (from age 9 to 45). Kids today seem to not understand that a little bit of discomfort can shield you from discomfort the rest of your life. I think one of the problems with society these days is that the students of America think learning should be easy. Continue reading “No Easy Way to Learn Multiplication Facts”

Is Homework Always Helpful?

Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

homework.I have asked myself the question, “Is homework helpful?” many times since I started teaching in 1997. I have stood at the copy machine and reloaded reams of paper time and time again. Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

Homework is perceived by most parents as a worksheet or packet their child is to do in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table. Rarely in low socio-economic settings is there home tutoring. Parents are usually disengaged from this event and rarely assist their children when they do it. My son’s homework has usually been “disconnected” from the lessons he had that day. Math is usually most closely aligned but even still he always has questions when he does his homework. He is lucky I am a teacher and even more that I am a caring, involved parent with time to help.

I hate to say it but most kids I teach aren’t guaranteed homework help. Moreover, teachers sometimes give homework in haste to appease parents. They don’t always select it as material they’ve already taught. What is the result? Kids work in homework packets and on worksheets they often do not understand and make mistakes over and over that never get corrected. With the demands of instructional minutes, well-meaning teachers often don’t get to correct the homework and kids never see what they did wrong, or right. There is an option of online tutoring but in families where paying the gas bill is a luxury, it’s not very realistic.

I assign 30 minutes silent reading as homework. This is help with spelling and reading comprehension. I also applaud and assign practicing times tables on index cards. I recognize that many parents will “demand” homework from the teacher because it has been a traditionally automatic thing expected of teachers. To some extent I share with parents my feeling on homework but if they still have a problem with a “no homework” policy, or a “low homework” policy as I have, I will have a sheet or two for their child that is material they already know how to do. If tutoring is available, then homework becomes much more helpful.

New material should never be given as homework for reasons I have already stated. The buzz word in education in the 60’s and 70’s was “practice makes perfect.” This is true in a certain light. We should also consider the student who does homework or any work incorrectly over and over. In that case, the phrase should not be “practice makes perfect” because incorrect is the converse of perfect. In that case the phrase should be adjusted to say: “Practice makes Permanent.” As we explore this concept in a new generation, I invite your comments on homework and homework tutoring.

Cost of Paper vs. Whiteboard Markers

I once thought of writing a book on this topic that would help districts save tens of thousands on paper costs.  I have some skeptics and that’s okay.  I had an excellent question in the comments in my post on “The Paperless Classroom”  which I address in this post. Beth asked how expensive whiteboard markers would be cheaper than paper usage.  I could think of no better way to answer this question than to do a budget breakdown for a school year with some fixed variables:

The variables:
24 kids in a class
10 month school year
600 lessons a year

Paper costs:
2 sheets for each lesson (This is a conservative number that we can assume is likely higher)= about $21.50/Month and $215.00/year

Dry erase costs:
24 markers can last 2 months min. = $15.29/Month and $152.90/year

Yearly savings:
$62.10 per classroom