Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts



I thought about this one today as I wrote college recommendation letters for students. I guess I'm not a part of the real world, since whether I complete and submit the letter for my students by the deadline actually does matter. Sometimes in life, a single mistake actually has life altering consequences not only for ourselves, but others.

I think it's pretty "pompous" to act like this issue is black and white and to paint teachers that require deadlines as uncaring or idiotically out of touch with reality. The fact is, we must balance accountability with understanding. How about giving us support in that instead of attacking from the outside.

2. Homework


This one has popped up in my newsfeed on several platforms lately. In my Psychology class I teach students to recognize that usually the phrase "research shows" is a power statement that people use to bolster a weak argument or to hide a lack of substance. Too often, research is cherry-picked to support our preconceived beliefs rather than used effectively to shape our practices. The research on homework is inconclusive and it would be foolish to strongly argue either side without enough humility to acknowledge you may be wrong. In the absence of a unified set of data to inform universal attitudes toward homework administrators, teachers, students, and parents must work together to discover what is best in a particular context.

3. An attempt to induce a little Cognitive Dissonance

No picture for this one, but it strikes me that sometimes the same voices that unilaterally dismiss the value of homework and deadlines love the way technology allows us to "extend the learning" beyond the school day. When did we go from thinking that a teacher lecturing in the classroom was bad instruction to thinking that a teacher lecturing to a student at home via video was great? And if spending a few hours reading and responding is an unreasonable burden for some students at home, how is spending a few hours watching a video and responding somehow manageable? I don't have a major problem with this type of "flipping", but when the same people who've bemoaned the burden of homework on students suddenly love the idea of technology providing the chance to keep students learning 24/7, I think you can't have it both ways.

4. Twitter and education.

Twitter has helped me grow as an educator in the last two years more than any other professional development in my career. If you're not using it, I won't say you must, but you really should give it a try and not be dismissive.

But I would like to let administrators know something. Sometimes your tweets sound dismissive and condescending toward teachers. They are hurtful and damage your credibility with people you work with. Most of them probably earn you credibility with your fellow admins and promote your attempt to build a larger platform. I suggest that first, you run your ideas by your staff and think them through in the depth and detail that our students deserve, and then, if your thought or idea is both valuable, practical, and novel tweet it out. It's easy to make people think you're a progressive educator 140 characters at a time, but make sure you're serving your primary audience- students, teachers, and parents in your own school- before you think you can make a difference in the world.

5. Twenty-First Century education.

Just throwing it out there, but I don't see many classrooms anymore that look like they came out of the 1950's. But what hasn't changed since the 1950's? Organizational structures of education oriented in a vertical hierarchy. We know that integrating technology without addressing pedagogy doesn't change much. Can we apply 21st century learning in a classroom embedded in the leadership structure of the 20th century?

6. Word/Phrase of the Year

Here I'd like to offer my suggestion for the Phrase of 2014 that should be put to rest. Drumroll....

"What's best for the student"

It's not the idea I want to retire, but the wording or anything like it. This phrase shuts down any productive dialogue in education. Perhaps some devious types actually got into the business or stay in the business because they want to make a buck at the expense of the most vulnerable of our species, but if I think that is true of another person I can't respect anything they do or suggest. When someone thinks that about me, I am offended and realize that my ideas or suggestions are not respected (because they shouldn't be if it's true).

Whether it's Arne Duncan or the teacher next door to me we must assume that our motivation is to do what is best and most appropriate children in our schools. Only from that posture will we stand on level ground able to learn from one another and through our conflict and compromise find the best path toward serving our children to the best of our ability.

7. Final thoughts.

I feel like Ferris Bueller at the end of the movie. "Why are you still here? Go home." If you made it this far, thanks for reading. The Teaching Underground has been rather quiet for some time. Personally, I started to feel like we were saying the same thing over and over. Also, we took some of our own advice if you look at #4. The first priorities are the students in front of us every day, our own families at home, and the people we work with. It's gotten harder to attend to those priorities and consistently blog as we have in the past.

We're not dead, just a little quieter than before. But we do wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season and thanks for taking the time to care enough to read what we write.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


To the readers who once upon a time used to frequent this blog, we're sorry.  We just don't have time right now.  Our focus on family and work over the past few months has meant we have less time to dedicate to this endeavor.  But don't fear...there are plenty of teachers out there providing a glimpse into their experiences which will suffice in our absence.  Are they the TU?  No.  But might they have something to offer?  Yes.  Personally I feel our lack of activity is a direct byproduct of the reality that we rarely have time to eat lunch with each other or anyone else for that matter.  What does that say?

I am sorry to disappoint those of you who happened upon this post thinking it mostly dealt with the recent TIME magazine cover.  You could read this past post to kind of get an idea of where we're at on that one.  In short...yes you could dump the "worst" teachers...but that doesn't fix the problem and why they exist there in the first place.   Too bad no one in the article asked teachers for their thoughts.  I thought this letter to the editor and the comments did a fine job with what I don't have time to do.   And don't for a second think there hasn't been plenty to write about.

We could have covered the ground level impact and perceptions of  maker spaces, the lockdown of our school that came before we even had a lockdown drill,  the debate about our Where's Waldo  "1%" raise, the conviction of our state's former first family, the rise on ISIS, the Ukraine crisis, the 4th year of the 8 period day or a thousand other things that sail through the collective minds in our workplace on any given day.  Instead, we've just been trying  to make sense of the world around us and teach our students down in our little basement. For me that always is a bit easier with a little inspiration.  Needless to say for teachers, that inspiration seems harder and harder to come by. So take it wherever you find it.  From your faith, your students, your curriculum or somewhere else.   Don't let the bad news get you down.  Try to not stop dreaming.

 I'd have done better in Neil science class I think...
Also it often helps to listen to some Movie Theme Music while you grade

Or if you prefer...

No doubt at some point when we find the time and inspiration we will reappear with greater frequency.  Or maybe we'll just starting eating lunch together with some regularity.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taking the Underground Out of the Ground

Just because we teach in a basement doesn't mean that's where we always stay. (Just most of the time) Recently my co-author took his classroom out-of-doors for an authentic experience in learning how we learn about Prehistory. Here's the video from our local news:

Click image to play video

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's Go Time

Go Time Indeed
So tomorrow marks the official end of summer for teachers in my division with the arrival of students back at school.  The week long formal preparation has come to an end.  Most teachers have been prepping on some level since school got out in June but day 1 sneaks up quickly and you must manage the butterflies and find ways to serve your future students.  This year with 1 to 1 rolling out at our school there has been a bit more preparing than normal, but preparing is a rite of passage for teachers in August.

As I did prepare I was making a few copies in our new "Paper-Lite"(buzzword anyone?) technology blended workplace, I overheard a younger teacher ask a much more seasoned teacher if they were ready for school to start.  The reply fit the moment.

"You are never really ready...You just go."

That statement epitomizes my feelings exactly. And tomorrow is go time.   I could spend a whole month getting ready for the arrival of students and still find in many ways I still eel unprepared.Truth is I hate Pre-school week as I spend the majority of it in meetings or engaged in Organized Procrastination ( We can all get a little blue from the start of school).  Yep...some might say I seem intent on rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic instead of getting down to preparing in ways that really matter.  I focus a lot on my room.  Learning spaces are important...and recent trends to continue to place focus on shiny new spaces.  So I spent much of this week removing dated furniture, storing rarely used texts and finding a way to open things up a little by removing the clutter.  Hopefully it will be an improvement.  But we are still in a basement you know.

Another reason I don't enjoy this week is that there are no students in the building.  If the school building is the body, the staff is the skeleton that holds it together and the students are the blood in the veins.  The place lacks life without them.  Save the occasional visit from those getting a head start and mapping out their travel plan or those fixing scheduling issues its been just us teachers.  As energetic as we've been we can't replicate the buzz created by the young folks when they fill the building.  This year especially they will really FILL our building but until tomorrow it has just seems stale and empty.  At least when they are there going crazy there's some energy in the place.

So no I am not complaining about being back at work, quite the contrary.  My sister who teaches in Southwest VA has been back for 2 weeks already so I count my blessings for a little extra time with the family.  Sure I'd need my head examined if I didn't secretly wish for a few more days(or weeks)  of summer.  But it is go time.  Time to get back to the routines, the normalcy, the unpredictable chaos.  Schools in our area will fill with the young and the not so young but the mission is the same.  Help them grow, learn, think, engage, understand, cope, create, discover and do our best to educate them to the best of our ability.

Students, parents and teachers alike will lay our heads down tonight with a curious blend of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and even dread.  In the months ahead we will will journey together with all of life's little adventures.   It will take time to learn each others stories and there is so much to do but at 8:55 tomorrow we get down to it.  Best of luck to all those who will greet the new and old faces and wishing everyone the best for a safe, successful and memorable school year!