Tuesday, January 14, 2014

California's "Report Card"

California's StudentsFirst report card is out.  We are ranked 43rd, with an overall GPA of .81, which somehow equates to a D- (though if we're using a 4 point GPA system, wouldn't that be an F? Just sayin').

According to the "Overview" section of this report card, California's "...state’s education policies do not prioritize great teaching...California does not evaluate teachers and principals in a meaningful way, and it does not link student performance, educator performance, and district personnel and salary decisions." 

I know; it's horrible; my goodness California, we need evaluate our teachers and principals more meaningfully.  And what is more meaningful that attaching evaluations to student test scores?  That is really what StudentsFirst means when they say that sunny Cali doesn't evaluate teachers and principals "in a meaningful way".  How do I know this?  The mention that we don't link student performance (read:  test scores). 

I don't know about you, but I've been asking over and over why my performance as an educator isn't attached to my evaluations.  In my eight years of teaching, my evaluation has never come from any formal observation that has happened at least once, if not twice, a year.  Those years where I spent days and weeks filling out appropriate paperwork, making lesson plans to wow administrators with, the anxiety of being judged by my superiors never happened.  It was all in my head.

And, in the "Elevate the Teaching Profession" section, it states "California remains behind most of the nation in its efforts to elevate the teaching profession."  Then, it basically suggests that California tie teacher evaluations to student test scores when it says we should "[i]mplement meaningful teacher and principal evaluations; and [r]equire districts to use teacher effectiveness to drive key personnel decisions like placement, compensation, promotion, and dismissal" [Link added by moi].

Oh, and then?  Then, I read this kicker: "These policy changes will help California ensure that all students – particularly low-income students and students of color who are most in need – have access to great teachers in their classroom."

So, my colleagues and I, you know,  the ones that teach students of low-income and color, are apparently not good enough for our students.  I must be so desensitized or unaware of what good teaching really is if the way my colleague blow my mind with the ideas that they have to connect with the students and bring our content to life, is subpar. 

I could keep going because there is more (so much more), but I assume the internet will run out of memory space at some point and I don't want test it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Teaching THROUGH the Tests

A post on my Facebook news feed led me to this teacher blog post and it made me think of an incident that occurred in my classroom (then 10th grade all day long) last year.  I had a student have a panic attack in my class after the state standardize testing that day.  I repeat:  I had a student have a panic attack after (and I would hazard a guess, because, of) state standardize testing.

Public Education has been freaking out over these tests more and more in the seven years I've been teaching.  People who do not know much about education, yet have the power to make decisions about education, have decided that just about everything should ride on the results of these tests.  A teacher should be measured on his or her worth, or the new jargon, Value Added Measure (VAM), because how much value is added to a child's education by a teacher is easily calculated by how well a student does on what is usually a poorly written multiple choice test (please don't make me explain verbal irony to you; if it wasn't blatantly obvious to you in that statement, read this definition). 

The value that was added to my education as I went through the public school system (cough, cough) thirteen(ish) years ago had nothing to do with how well my standardized tests scores where (and they were pretty good, but they always had been so there wasn't much more value that my teachers could add).  It had to do with the ones that cared and nurtured me in a myriad of different ways (even those that taught me how to handle rejection and move on).

When students are having panic attacks and having violent episodes because of the stresses of taking these standardized tests, something must be done.  Adding higher stakes to these tests is NOT one of them.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Head Over Heels

There is a bad word amongst many of the faculty on campus.  That word is flipped.  And, I've decided to add it to my vocabulary.  I'm going to slowly start to "flip" my classroom, or at least, one class.

For those that do not know what a flipped classroom is, you may want to look here.

Many students and teachers on campus are tired of hearing about the flipped classroom and sigh dramatically or roll their eyes any time it's mentioned.  I, myself, once made the joke that we could turn our staff meetings into a drinking game every time the terms flipped or flipping were mentioned.  It seems to be be all and end all for the administrators. But, after attending a three day long conference on education and technology, I've been a bit inspired.

I definitely believe that we need to use the tools that students have at their fingertips.  And, I mean this literally.  Their phones are a powerful tool that be used for the greater good and not the dark side in the classroom.  Many students also have iPads, Chromebooks, and other technology that can be harnessed to make them learned, and (gasp) make them want to learn.

I've already started some flipping in one of my classes, an honors class.  The students do the reading at home and we begin the activity in class with their peers and their teacher (me) to assist them.

Now, I'm going to do this slowly, very slowly, because I'm already overwhelmed with all I have to do and how far behind I am with things that need to be graded.  I'm going to do as Catlin Tucker suggests and acquire one tool at a time. 

I tried a little BYOD with my honors students today, and signed them on to my WiFi, but I'm now concerned that they will try and sign on when they shouldn't.  This will definitely be a learning process for me, but hopefully it will improve student engagement.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's Good for the Goose...

One of the best ways to get the results you want, particularly in classroom management, is to use positive reinforcement.  Teachers are expected to positively reinforce good student behavior in order to eliminate poor student behavior. 

This is not a bad thing.  It's very much a good thing and usually works.  Then again, are students learning to behave as they should because it's the right thing to do or because they get a treat if they do?  A perfect question for a debate, but not the subject of what I want to type about here.

I was reading a blog article that came through on one of my facebook feeds and the first numbered bullet point on "Acknowledgement" really hit home (or in my case, hit apartment).  Less and less, teachers are not acknowledged (to show or express appreciation or gratitude) for the things they do right.  You know?  Positive Reinforcement. 

If a student is acknowledged when they do something right and therefore keep up the same behavior and skill because of that "Great job, Awesome Student!", whether it be the ability to actually recognize that the word good is not an adverb or they gathered all the handouts for everyone in their group because they were the first to class and had the time, don't you think a teacher would do the same thing? 

We are just as human as the students we teach; however, the vocal part of society either forgets this or ignores it.  With the exception of family and friends, "I" get blamed for many things outside my control and painted with a broad brush as a greedy con artist using the nation's children as a way to make money without really doing any work or caring about them.  And if I speak out in defense of myself and my colleagues? Then, I'm obviously not a good teacher.  "Good" teachers don't speak out against criticism like that in Waiting for Superman.  "Good" teachers praise the criticism and applauded the charter schools that always succeed (see this Washington Post article for those that missed the sarcasm).  "Good" teachers are somehow supposed to enjoy the abuse meted out by the critics.  Sorry, but I'm no Anastasia Steele.  I'm better written then that.

Sometimes, I can't really blame them. All I seem to hear from the news is about the bad teachers.  The sick, twisted people who find their way into schools and do unspeakable things.  These people don't deserve to be defended.  You rarely hear about the heroics of teachers (like this one and this one); and if you do, the stories die down rather quickly.

So, if positive reinforcement is good enough for us to use with our students, why isn't it good enough for "society" to use with teachers?  Teachers will be less burned out and become less cynical about their profession and how it is viewed if what they do right is being positively reinforced, rewarded, or acknowledged instead of pointing to everything they do "wrong". 

It's a process that I know isn't going to happen overnight.  I know that I need to work on improving the amount of positive reinforcement I use in my classroom.  But, according to the California Cheese commercials, happy cows make good cheese.  Happy teachers make good students.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When a Teacher "Hates" You

"All my teachers hate me."

No, Deprecating "Debra"*, your teachers do not all hate you.  They may all be frustrated with you, as I am.  You are exhibiting behaviors that are getting in the way of not only your academics but a healthy self view.

I don't think in my five years of teaching that I have ever met a student that I actually hated.  I've had students that I hate being around, or hate the days that they actually show up to class (and if anyone has issue with me making that statement has never been a teacher or in education).  But, I've never hated them.  I've hated the way they frustrate me because I can't figure out how to help them, to enlighten them, to make them see sense.

Some say hate is a strong word and shouldn't be used.  However, it gets the point across.  It's a lot more succinct to use than "I have an unbearable and strong dislike of _______".

Many students fall into the "trap" of thinking that if a teacher doesn't act like your friend, lets you get away with not doing work, doesn't call you out when you are being rude, inappropriate or disrupting "hates" you. 

When a teacher "hates" you, thank the Lord above.  When a teacher "hates" you, he or she is taking time out of their busy schedule to address a problem you have.  When a teacher "hates" you, they want you to live up to the enormous potential that they know you have.  When a teacher "hates" you that means there is at least one person out there that cares about how you turn out as a person and how much of a future you will have.

We should all be so lucky as to have a teacher who "hates" us.

*name changed to cover my butt.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Don't Ask What your School System Can Do for You...

...ask what you can do for your school system.

"It is the country that is failing public education, not the other way around"

In lieu of "Waiting for Superman" and the economical crisis in the United States, teachers have been under fire. 

People are not happy with the way most school systems are being run and want change.  Guess what, so are teachers.  However, the problem isn't really with the teachers but with "you" (a general you, not necessarily you personally).  The teachers did not create the system, they just work within it the best they can.  "You" created the system by voting in politicians that don't know much, if anything, about education.  It's these politicians that created the system. 

People want change in the school system, and so do teachers, but when the teachers try and do something about it they are attacked in the media.  If you want change in your schools, YOU need to do something about it.  Vilifying and blaming the teachers is not going to do it. 

I'm not talking about coughing up more money.  On the contrary, lets get rid of some of the money.  Let's get rid of the money in the hands of the textbook companies ($100/book every seven years?), and the testing companies.

The reason that students seem to know less than they did in the past is because they don't.  Despite the fact that students start learning Algebraic equations in elementary school, they aren't living up to students in past generations.  Too much information is given to them in a shorter amount of time and they aren't really learning and retaining what they need to know. 

State standardized testing (which my students are currently right in the middle of) occurs at the end of April/beginning of May for most states.  ALL the standards for each discipline tested are included in the testing.  This means that teachers must address and teach all of the standards of their discipline in about 30 weeks.  My main discipline has 55 standards for my student's grade level alone.  That is about two standards a week.

Each year the media and news outlets talk about how the quality of our schools get worse and worse.  Each year there is more and more emphasis put on standardized tests.  Am I the only one that sees the correlation here?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Better Kids does NOT equal less work

I'll admit.  I was one of those teachers that transferred to a school like the one I'm at (what is called a "Fundamental School", but technically isn't) the moment the opportunity arose.  As many of you have read, I was fed up with the status quo and the way I was being treated at my former school.  I'll even admit that I thought it would be easier for me at this school.

BUT, I have never worked harder as a teacher in my life as I do at the school I am now at, and I worked hard at my former school.   Schools like mine are full of some of the hardest working teachers around.  That is not to say that other schools don't have hard working teachers; they do.  I'm putting in nearly 14 hour days, save the days that I have appointments to make.  I'm taking stuff home for the weekends, not that that is anything new.

Yet, I'm still happier and less stressed than I was at my former school.  I feel I'm only going to be an even better teacher than I was before.  The bar has been raised higher for me, and luckily for my students, I'm never one to back down from a challenge.

The difference isn't in the quality of kids because the other schools do have the same kids, even my old one.  The difference is in the way the students, parents, and faculty all "buy in".  There isn't any finger pointing placing blame, but (here comes the corniness) hand holding and pushing each other up the hill.  We may all rise to the top together; but if we go down, we go down together too.