I am very excited to have been invited to New York City to see the media debut of SMART Technologies new SMART amp software. I had the pleasure of talking with the CTO of SMART a while back and we has a great conversation. I am certainly looking forward to this meeting. It is at 2 today and I am siting in a small cafe in NYC getting ready to check out this latest educational technology from a premiere company. Stay posted for more information after the event. I will be writing several posts on the experience.
"We are training students for jobs that don’t yet exist, preparing them to use technologies yet to be invented and equipping them to solve problems that we don’t yet recognize."
- author unknown
Oct 21, 2013
Well, the first six weeks of school are safely behind me. The halls are all a flutter with five to ten year-olds discussing what they’re going to be for Halloween. Most of the costume ideas I have simply never heard of- “Despicable Me” and “Monsters U” characters, to name a few.
During this busy time of year I have got to thinking two things:
- Why am I a teacher again?
- What am I going to be for Halloween? There is a parade, after all.
Bear with me here as I try and make a coherent connection between these two thoughts.
The first six weeks of school are some of the best, and some of the worst. Just ask Harry Wong, author of the new teacher’s bible—The First Days of School. This Yale power point presentation does a nice job summing up what we teachers spend these critical weeks doing. Now throw in meetings, tutoring, an application for a Teaching Fulbright, a two week visit from our partner school in China, converting my Certificate I into a Certificate II (what does this even mean, really?) two field trips, online courses, and a partridge in a pear tree. THIS, my readers, is why I’ve had moments of yearning for the 9-5 office job. Anything other than teaching.
The US News and World Report just published its 2013 list of 100 Best Jobs. I will leave you guessing as to where “Elementary Teacher” falls on that list, but let’s just say I’ve contemplated several of the options (both as second career choices, and as Halloween Costumes—just one day!) from 1-44. In its more detailed description of Elementary Teachers, the article talks about how “there is never a dull moment… kids are constantly on the go. We [teachers] challenge them… we overcome their weaknesses.” So, I guess that means I could also choose some of these options for careers/Halloween costumes:
- Police officer
- Mad scientist
But then it happened. (Happens.)
- A parent pulled me aside and asserted “Thanks for being awesome. My son thinks you’re the only teacher that really gets him.”
- A student told me “My favorite special is Science. Even better than PE.”
- A mother shouts, “You’re fabulous—my daughter comes home singing the “Pupil” song every day!” (I’m not making this up. Teachers, you get it, right? Also, do I owe her an apology?)
- A student asks me to learn about “Ancient Creek” (Greece, clearly.)
- I get an apology note that reads “I SRY FR WAT I HAV DAN” (I’m sorry for what I have done.)
- A close teacher friend observes me and tells me that my management is great, and she’s stealing some of my strategies.
So what am I going to be in my second career? For my Halloween costume? I am going to be me. I am going to be me, because even though I wear so many hats, and do so many things, for so many people each day, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And when I forget, and want to choose numbers 1-44, or 46-100, I’ll remind myself of the above. Of the many students, parents, and colleagues of which I have made a difference in their lives. More importantly, how they continually make a difference in mine. This. Is. Why. Teachers. Teach.
And in case you need a preview of what else you might expect to see this Oct. 31st.
Aug 18, 2013
I was guilty of a lot of things in the late 80s & early 90s. Shoulder pads, puffy-painted shirts, homemade scrunchies, jelly shoes, and an impressive collection of New Kids on the Block memorabilia, to name a few. But perhaps one of my and my brother’s biggest offenses of the early 90s was running home from the bus stop (up hill, both ways) to erase any teacher messages from our answering machine or snatch any progress report or report card out of the mailbox before our parents got home. Why this mad dash, might 21st century parents ask? Because WE. WERE. SCARED. TO. DEATH. Getting in trouble at school meant getting in trouble at home.
Fast-forward 20 years, and I am a (more stylish) elementary school teacher. I’m the one disciplining students, calling (cell) phones, and writing the report card comments. And now, parents are running up hills back to the schools to get the TEACHERS in trouble. I was even accused of BULLYING a student this year, because I didn’t call on him while his hand was up through the entirety of someone’s presentation. What gives? Why does it feel as though parents & teachers are no longer playing for the same team?
Initially, I had come up with a few theories on this; then, quickly realized that I’m really only one piece of the equation—teacher—and that I best reserve some of my opinions until I’ve actually experienced being a parent. Here’s some things that I DO know:
Family-School Partnerships are an integral part of a child’s success as a student. An article published by the National Association of School Psychologists states that a “strong family-school partnership will improve both academic and behavioral outcomes for children… Furthermore, these children complete more homework, and are more likely to enroll in post-secondary education…other benefits include higher attendance rates, and self-esteem…” Regardless of personal experiences with specific teachers, I believe this is the one point on which both parents and teachers can agree.
The role of teachers has changed over the years. As I was researching, I came across this PBS website which has a nice “teacher timeline” which summarizes this exact point. From Common Schools, to the Feminization Era, to segregation, to unions, and now to standardized testing, teacher’s are pulled in more directions than ever before. The modern-day fix? Technology—it’s quick, it’s easy. The modern-day drawback? It’s impersonal. As a result, the parent-teacher relationship can become fragile.
21st century families look and feel different. (Even in comparison to my school days of the 80s and 90s) Couples are satisfied not marrying; Couples are waiting until they’re older to get married and start families; there’s an increase in same-sex couples with children; there’s an undeniable increase in the workforce participation rates amongst families with school-aged children. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has tons of data on this. In its April 26th release, “Employment Characteristics of Families-2012,” it’s stated that “among the 34.6 million families with children (under the age 18) 87.8 had at least one parent working. 67.1% of single mothers work, and 81.6 % of single fathers are working. Are we, as American’s trying to “do it all?” Perhaps, “have our cake, and eat it to?” Is this taking away from the parent-child relationship? In turn, setting a different precedent for the student-teacher relationship?
And lastly, the invention of social media. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, have given traditional media outlets a ton of “teacher prey.” What used to be private is now very, very public. And, unfortunately the media loves the negative stuff. Please check out the article “Social Media Nightmares—CyberSpeak no Evil” on the National Education Association’s Website. One could go on and on about how damaging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts could be to any professional’s career, but this illustrates how teachers are held to a different standard. My favorite section of the article is entitled ‘First Amendment 101,’ where it’s quite clear that “teacher free speech rights are fairly limited: their speech is protected only if they speak out as citizens on “matters of public concern” and their speech doesn’t disrupt the school.” Could diminishing private lives, and increased media predation be to blame for strained parent-teacher relationships? This is a very real 21st century concern.
I’ve struggled to find an insightful way to conclude this post, but maybe there isn’t one. Or, maybe I would have one if I had a child of my own. The fact remains, that right now both parents and teachers seem to be navigating the unchartered waters of the 21st century in their own ways. So I ask you, parents, teachers, students, caregivers, principals, and guidance counselors—what gives? How can we get parents and teachers on the same team again?
Jun 26, 2013
Mar 20, 2013
An Educational Conspiracy Theory
Any good conspiracy theory has to have drama, suspense,mystery, and of course a string of famous people to blame for the problems.This theory has all of that, so grab your popcorn and get ready to read about aconspiracy theory that dates back decades. Who knows, you may find some realtruth to this theory.
Go back to 1995 when George Bush was the governor of Texas.They had high stakes testing, which they called the TASS (now TAKS) test. Texasclaimed huge accountability for all educators. After the testing results,schools were made to hang huge banners on the outside of the buildings claimingsuccess or failure. I actually taught inTexas in 1998 and the TASS test was the primary discussion of any meeting inthe schools. The nightly news had as many reports on schools, students,teachers and/or administrators being caught cheating on the TASS test as theydid anything else The culture of Texas education was to pass those tests at allcosts. Learning to gain knowledge and wisdom became secondary to teaching the test.When I was teaching there, all you ever heard were teachers talking about whatan abysmal failure the high stakes testing concept was in Texas. It was evident, as an outsider looking in,that education in the state of Texas was a mess.
The only practice the teachers in Texas could embrace wasthat of a textbook curriculum. You see apparently Texas buys more text booksthan most states combined. So, being the most powerful consumer of text books,the state of Texas flexed their muscles and had text book companies changetheir texts to suit Texas’s TASS tests, and added a few other goodies for thegreat state of Texas. Texas, in fact, had the power to rewrite history. Unfortunatelythose same textbooks (designed specifically for Texas) are sold to many otherschool districts in the United States.
Now in the year 2000, the previous Governor Bush is nowPresident George W Bush, and he brings to the political educational table NoChild Left Behind. This is basically the national version of his TASS testingin Texas, which the teachers in Texas already knew was horrible in so manyways. Now, who looked at this as a good idea? Did anyone go and look historicallyat Texas with their TASS testing results to see if there was any improvement intheir education? Did anyone think for a second that this was going to worknationwide when it couldn’t work statewide? What educator put their stamp ofapproval on NCLB?
One thing we can say for certain is that no true educatorwould ever think to agree with such crazy demands as the NCLB rules imposed.Educators were screaming at the top of their lungs about how NCLB was going tokill public education. They were shouting about the fact that there was no wayeducation would be able to meet 100% proficiency by 2014. Educators were desperatelyexplaining to the GOP-biased government officials that NCLB was setting PublicEducation up to fail and that wasn’t fair. We were given no response and underthe table we heard words of vouchers and charter schools.
Let’s fast-forward 13 years– and here we are. Present day.Teachers are being accosted in the media as failing the children of America.Public education is being blamed for the problems of our society. Publiceducation is being blamed for our countries results in reading and math inrelation to other countries in the world. Public education seems to be gettingblamed for everything.
The conspiracy theory begins. Was there a plot in 1995 to kill publiceducation? Teachers told anyone willing to listen that by 2013 our globalscores would be terrible. Teachers were telling our government for 13 years nowthat this was going to go horribly wrong. Teaching to a test for 13 years was goingto destroy quality education. Testnumbers became more important than real learning. It was “get the score or loseyour job.” It was so obvious. No wonderin 1998 Texas was full of those news casts about teachers, students andadministrators cheating on those tests. So why did no one do anything about it? Whowants public education to die? Is the problem by state where governors areslicing public educations budgets left and right to attempt to “starve thebeast” as one governor put it? Is it this voucher program or charter schoolsthat they want to pass, and in order to do that they must first kill publiceducation?
Charter schools are hailed as the new order salvation forpublic education. Show me those facts. Here is what I know. They don’t followthe same rules as public education. They only have to have 75% certifiedteachers; they do not have to follow all the attendance rules or specialeducation rules; and they do not have to follow high stakes testing demands aspublic education does. If charter schools are the way, then lets first levelthe playing field.
I don’t have the answers, but only more questions. Was NCLBa government creation to get what they wanted 13 years later? Is this aconspiracy set in motion so far back that it is easy for those in office todayto deny any of these allegations? Finally, who is going to be our champion? Whowill save public education? It is something to think about. Is it a conspiracytheory or just politics?