Gov McCrory – Practice What You Preach

The education news for North Carolina in the last weeks has fueled a variety of emotions for those involved.  Our governor, Pat McCrory, is leading legislation which has, and will continue to make sweeping changes.  In the latest proposal the Governor announced, those teachers who are new and with less than 5 years experience will receive as much as a 14% pay increase for the next two years to cummulatively bring their pay to the national average.  There is no mention of the possibility of raises or even removing pay freezes for teachers with more than 5 years experience.  The governor already lead legislation to  phase out career status (tenure) and phase out pay for advanced degrees.

In light of theses changes if he would like to test the efficacy of his plan, I propose our Governor (and other legislators, as well) practice what he preaches.  For Governor McCrory, he has 15 years experience as a politician.  (His years as a councilman would not count since they would compare to student teaching which is unpaid and the probationary years of teaching.)  He would not be entitled to a raise because of his tenure and future salary is in question.  Just as the professionals over whom he is making decisions, he should accept no more than the $3304.17 per month that a teacher with his experience and educational level would receive.  He would, of course, be paid for twelve months due to the nature of his work and to be fair the salary would be $3965 per month(~$2688 net after taxes, ins., etc) since his yearly salary would not be a 10 month one divided by 12 monthly installments.  He would not receive any residual payments for housing.  If he would like to leave his office for a conference or meeting, he would need to apply for the ability to go and reimbursement money for travel.  He should keep in mind that no more than one conference per year is funded (if that) and that any other excursions will need to come from his own salary.  He will also need to take personal days which deduct from his salary for time away from the office without approval.  He often has evening events but just as extended conferences or working at sporting events are part of the job, they don’t earn compensatory or overtime.  There are other details which could be practiced but one full year with the above mentioned stipulations should be sufficient to gather some evidence based data about salary compared to experience.

There have been many leaders who are willing to “walk a mile in the shoes” of others to be able to make better decisions.  I hope the Governor and other legislators might consider my proposal to both assist in their decision making and save our great state even more money in the process.

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Open Letter to M Night Shyamalan

I Got Schooled

I Got Schooled

Dear Mr. Shyamalan,

My hope is that this will reach you if you are as obsessive and sentimental as you confess in your book.  I’m sure completion of any project of this magnitude is a cathartic process where you hope to move others to action.  I’d like to congratulate you on the thorough and professional research for I Got Schooled.  As a 20+ year veteran of teaching I am impressed with your depth of understanding of many educational issues.  I’m also impressed at the many things I learned through reading your book besides your goal of the five tenets.  I particularly like the overview of cognitive biases and the simplification of effect size (and Appendix B).  Adherence to the health tenets could go a long way to improving education too.  [For readers, Shyamalan learned from a doctor that there are five basic health tenets which, when adhered to in combination, sustain good health.  You can not ignore one, it’s an all or nothing.  The tenets are: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, get eight hours sleep, and maintain reasonable stress levels.  Shyamalan posited that the keys in education may well be the same.  He offers five tenets which need to be offered in combination in order to close achievement gaps.]

I am writing you in an open letter so I won’t spoil the book completely for anyone who reads my blog.  I will say this book is definitely worthy of adding to anyone’s reading list.  We all know the reasons that schools and children struggle is a multifaceted problem so your systematic approach provides a template to succeed.  Although it is easy to look for scapegoats, no child wakes up saying, “I want to fail” and no teacher says, “I want to be a poor teacher”.  Your “no enemies” approach provides a no nonsense look at best practices. And Mr. Shyamalan, it may be impertinent for a complete stranger to assess your personality but I will venture to say you are doing your best to be a responsible citizen of the world (and thank you Bhavna for reinforcement).

I’d like to share some concerns for those who may read this book and hope to make  changes in their school.  Before I do, I sensed your concern that the book may insult or enrage people in education.  I don’t think any teacher worth their salt will be surprised or even bothered by any of the tenets.  Your revelation is in the combination of all five tenets.  As they say, the devil is in the details.

  • Schools are short on time and human capital so that reform is often in the form of pieces of good information rather than a systemic approach.  I’m afraid administrators will want to make changes but still not have the time, training, or resources to make comprehensive change.  That would be missing the point.
  • I’m sure it wasn’t the intent but I can envision misguided leaders expecting teachers to work and pace in classrooms like automatons.  Most people who want to teach and inspire children are lead by their heart.  It is a rare person who will also embrace data analysis over creative inspiration.  Part of this, of course, is a lack of educational measurement training or training on specific management strategies.  I am still an advocate of innovative freedom and a certain amount of autonomy in the classroom.  I do have to remind myself your book addresses how to solve the achievement gap rather than a blueprint for every teacher.
  • With tenet three, teachers and administrators need to be reminded that data and assessments don’t need to exclusively be multiple choice tests.  I fear with too many standardized assessments we are teaching children strategies to determine an answer when presented with a few choices rather than experiential learning with transference of knowledge outside a discipline.
  • Tenet four – I am all for more focus and more time for students.  I was fortunate to be a part of a year round program in the past and can report that children and teachers were happier and well adjusted in a nine week on three week off program.  In the three weeks off, there was a week of remediation and a week of enrichment activities.  Some children only took one week off every eleven weeks of school.  However, when it comes to extending school days, often the teachers are expected to do this duty with no additional pay.  There needs to be after school assistants.  Most people don’t realize the average teacher spends anywhere from 20 to 40 additional hours a week at home grading, planning, etc.  It truly takes a superhero to add to the contact hours and keep the pace of their usual “homework”.  As you say, it is not sustainable.

I don’t mean my comments to be a criticism at all, just thoughts and concerns after many years of seeing strategies come and go.  Overall I think you are spot on.  It is interesting that it has taken a story maker and film director to illuminate that education is the sum of its parts just like a movie and story line has to be more than a great highlight reel.  You accurately sum up teaching with, “I can report that the thing that makes teachers happiest is their students’ success in learning what they are being taught” (Shyamalan, p. 222)  I hope your book helps improve the conversation and ultimately remove the obstacles to the aforementioned happiness.  Thank you for your commitment and for writing I Got Schooled.

With warm regard,

Cindy

Who Am I?

Who Am I is a great activity for students.  This activity requires students to synthesize their learning into several concise statements which build upon one another.

The result is an activity for one of their peers to solve too.

Try this creative way for students to demonstrate what they have learned.

How?

Decide how many clues the students will provide in the presentation.  This will be the number of slides needed.  The presentation should have a  solid colored (usually white or black) background.  The picture selection comes next.  Take advantage of the DE image search!  Obviously this could be Who Am I?, Where Am I?, What Am I?, or When was it?

The image should be placed on the first slide.  Now, create a box, edit it to have no border and the fill is the solid color of the background.  Make the box cover a section of the image.  Create more boxes, moving them around to cover the image completely.  If you have five clues, you will need five boxes.

Once you have one slide with an image hidden under boxes, copy the entire slide and paste it for the number of clues (and boxes).  Finally, add a text box to each slide with a clue, and remove one box at a time for each clue and slide.  The final slide should show the answer, the full image, and add the citation form your image.

See the full example here.  Go to View and Present to see as a presentation.

Teaching Passion

As a technology facilitator, I have had the privilege of working with many great teachers. While collaborating I sometimes hear frustrations that let me know they have lost some passion for teaching. Each of us has our own reasons to live in the educational world. For some it is the sheer joy of helping others, some have to share their deep love for a subject, some simply love the learning process so much they are happiest when surrounded by a learning community. Of course there are many other reasons but all include passionate words like love, joy, happiness, etc.

If you have lost that loving feeling for school you CAN bring more joy into your classroom! When passion is lost there is no doubt that it shows in your life, the classroom, and ultimately affects how well students learn. So if you are ready to seek what you are missing, it will require some reflection. Why do you teach? If the answer doesn’t come easy make and revise lists. Write down memories from your first year(s) teaching and from times when you are happiest in the classroom. Look for patterns in what delights you. By reflecting on what is missing you will find the answers to your passions.

You may remember the joy of a project or creative activity, or the exhilaration to see the spark of discovery. Analyze those moments to get at the heart of what makes it tick for you. Pinpoint lost items in your teaching life and BRING THEM BACK! This may require some strategic planning but don’t get discouraged. If time is a concern, realize that there always has to be time for joy and passion for life; this is an excellent lesson for students in itself. If the concern is that adding an activity will take away from the pacing of lessons, realize the quality of time taken to help students love a topic far outweighs anything else. You can not always measure the collateral learning and inspiration with assessments, charts, and data. Love what you do and students will learn.

You may need inspiration to get started. Maybe you find that your routine is stale. The DEN is an extraordinary PLC (professional learning community). You simply need to dive in, look for lessons, join DENchats, ask questions, attend events. You deserve to be happy.

Repeat the following out loud, “I am the spark to ignite a life of discovery!”

Final thought: Think of any famous person; each of us has the same 24 hours in every day. I would argue the only difference is the amount of passion they include in their daily routine.

 

cross posted on Discovery Educator’s Network

A Nice Teacher

My niece asked my wonderful husband, who is a teacher, “what kind of teacher are you?” this weekend.  He is humble and will say he is average, but I am proud to say he is a great teacher who really cares about students and makes learning science fun and interesting.  He is a storyteller.  He can weave a tale with facts and examples that students won’t forget.  I know there have been many former students who have let him know they became teachers because of his influence.

So it is interesting to find this article from the Washington Post, “It is harder for us to be nice to kids”.  It is well worth a read,

“Getting tough on kids will not make them tougher or any smarter.  Forcing educators to act like their hands are tied at the most important moments in a child’s life only teaches children that the adults in their lives are powerless.  Turning a deaf ear to the needs of kids, to moments when we could be kind rather than just follow the rules, does not help kids learn anything except that those in charge are operating at the lowest level of ethical reasoning.”

“We can teach our children a better lesson.  We can teach them, as I’ve seen hundreds of children learn at my school, that when the chips are down teachers come through.  We can teach them that when it seems like there is no way out of the hole that they have dug, a member of the school staff will show up with a shovel.  We can teach them that no matter what silly, dumb, or downright ignorant thing he or she has said or done in the past, caring adults have short memories for minor mistakes and longer memories for serious work and accomplishment.”

So true.

Manny Scott

In March I presented at the Collaborative Conference for Student Achievement in Greensboro, NC. You can find the materials link from the session here.
The most powerful experience of the conference for me was speaker Manuel Scott. Manny Scott began his keynote by singing a cappella, the spiritual If I Can Help Somebody. The first stanza is “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody how they’re traveling wrong, then my living shall not be in vain”.  The room was reverent as he began to speak.
Manuel Scott grew up in inner city California and was one of the students characterized in the book/movie Freedom Writers. His message is, in part, to ensure that teachers don’t give up on students; especially those who give the biggest reasons to leave them alone. He offered that there are many, many damaged children who need help, guidance, interventions, and reminds us that often a life is what hangs in the balance.
You can learn more about Manny and his work here.

Here Comes the Boom

The movie, “Here Comes the Boom” provided a pleasant surprise as I watched this week.  Kevin James plays a school teacher, Voss, who takes up ring fighting.  His mission is to raise money to save the job of a music teacher whose program is set to be cut.  James’ character does not start as a noble teacher but a worn down, sub-standard teacher who is late, barely tends his classes, and tries to get out of duties.  The story that develops is while he is inspired by this music teacher, it rekindles his own passion and he begins to instill passion in others as well.  There were a few poignant quotes. 

The school nurse character says to Voss, “I don’t know how [our school] got so off track.” Voss replies, “It’s not our fault, it’s the system.”  The nurse retorts, “So it’s the system that’s creating teachers who just don’t care?”  Voss sighs, “You know the deal, we can’t speed up to help the gifted kids, can’t slow down to help the slower ones.  It’s about moving cattle through, you know, it’s a numbers game.”  To which the nurse replies, “That’s what they want but what about you?”  Voss says, “There was a time when [I cared and got excited…].”

This scene touches on a truth.  In recent years, education has focused so squarely on growth and testing to ensure every child is the same that it has fostered the mentioned “numbers game” and “cattle” metaphor.  Teachers feel the pressure to practice tests to the point that, for so many, it has quenched their passion.

Passion is the most important ingredient in teaching.  Without passion teachers don’t enjoy their work and students become apathetic to learning; they see no reason in it. 

Later in the movie as Voss is finding success and rekindling his passion he is speaking to his brother.  Voss says to his brother, who is working at a job he doesn’t enjoy,

“You’ve got to go after your dreams; you’ve got to find your passion and then let it guide you.”

Finally, at the end when faced with losing a match (and not earning the money for the teacher’s salary) with his students watching, the music teacher tells Voss that it is alright to give up because,

“Our students are witnessing complete resolve in the face of an unbearable obstacle, they are invested.  They are inspired, that’s what we’re supposed to do as teachers, right?  Inspire.”

In order for teachers to inspire students they must have enough autonomy to be able to share their passion.  Too often teachers are forced to pace with other teachers using cookie cutter lessons or use plans that are all about the numbers rather than hands on creative, and practical methods they would prefer.  If students learned from this type of environment there would be no need for a person in the room, particularly a well educated one. 

This was not the best movie I have seen but it certainly had some thoughtful moments for anyone concerned about the education of our children.