Monday, July 30, 2012

The Wisdom of Patience

Summer.  A break from teaching.  Routines and schedules cast aside.  The greatest blessing and sometimes curse for families.

There is a reason that neither myself or my wife are stay at home parents.  We wouldn’t be very good at it.  But for six or seven weeks each summer we handle it pretty well.  Usually. 

During our week of vacation my patience was tested early.  Before we even left to give an exact time.  Details aside, I’d lost my patience with my wife and my children.  I wasn’t satisfied with our plans, and the uncertainty rattled me.  That’s anxiety.  Anxiety is rooted in the future.  It’s worry about how things will turn out.  A little anxiety is a good thing.  Otherwise we’d never be motivated to do anything.

Most anxiety is misplaced.  We look to the future with a dread.  Something bad is going to happen.  Usually it’s not as bad as we imagine.  But this persistent anxiety about future events can wreak some pretty serious havoc in the present.  We act out of fear and worry instead of reasoned judgment.

At least that’s how I’m justifying how much I’ve yelled at my children the last few days.  Anxiety erodes the sound practice of patience.  In raising children, patience allows us to properly guide them, and discipline them if necessary toward the behaviors and habits that benefit their growth.  Anxiety leads us to discourage and minimize the behaviors and actions that cause personal stress for the parent.

Even in dealing with our own children as parents, a posture of anxiety  is usually self-serving while the discipline of patience serves the best interest of all.

It makes sense that it would take summer break to teach a teacher the value of patience.

If there is a scarcity of any value in our society, patience is certainly one.  Our tight economy has generated a national anxiety over the future.  We need to stress over this situation if we ever want to get out of it, but we also need to keep a reasoned head and not allow anxiety to guide our decisions at the expense of reason.

Our leaders are anxious and exercise too much top-down control.  From division leaders to the secretary of Education, anxiety about funding, test scores, and the future of education in a digital age pushes the agenda for leading from the front, often at the expense of valuable input from teachers, students, and the general public.  They usually act in what they believe is the best interest of “the system” but often ignore the expressed needs of the very system they serve.

The recent dismissal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by the Board of Visitors fits this description well.  A Rector anxiety about funding and getting behind in the digital age executed a manipulative and dictatorial decision, made behind closed doors and in the presence of only a few.

Members of our business and commercial world are anxious.  They’ve managed to build successful ventures through the booms of the past two decades and economic growth has stalled.  They fear for the long-term future of their legacies, but also for the short term future of their own welfare in a stagnate economy.  Instead of focusing on the failures that lead us down this road, they look to education to solve their problems by pushing for implementation of the same business models that failed to save our economy already.

Parents and students are anxious.  They’re strapped for time more than any generation before.  They’re concerned about the rising cost of education and its comparative value in an increasingly dim job market. 

Teachers are anxious.  In unionized states, rights are being stripped away, and in states like Virginia, several years of diminishing salaries are now being hit with cuts to benefits.  They’re expected to do more with less.

Vain activity rarely calms anxiety.  It makes it worse.  Perhaps we could use a little patience.  Stop looking to an imagined future of despair and deal rationally with the current reality in which we live.  The opposite of the current wave of reactionary decision-making in education isn’t status quo, it’s reasoned and informed action. 

It is time we stop making decisions out of anxiety, with no other purpose than to alleviate our imagined fears and start patiently making reasonable decisions that will carry us successfully into the future.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Does a Good Education Look Like?

Ever given any thought to that question?  Both members of the TU  were fortunate to receive a good education during our youth, I think.  This was not an accident.  It took hard work from parents, educators and even us.     Stepping back to gain a wider view might be helpful since we are all trying to provide the best for our young people.   We here at the TU have kids in public school, we teach others kids in school and obviously have what we feel is a well informed opinion.   But the phrase "good education" can be nuanced by people for a variety of reasons.  It can mis-characterized,  exaggerated, twisted, falsified, and fabricated so that other purposes may be served. Still I don't think you "get" a good education, you are given an opportunity and then earn it.

When describing a good education people use many differing phrases.  Many of these fail to frame the subject with any degree of specificity.  Instead the terms used glow with ambiguity and define things in a more general sense.  That's not necessarily a bad thing and allows for flexibility.  Effort by many to quantify and replicate what they see as a good a "good" education has produced the opposite result. This may in part be a symptom of only working towards a defined outcome.  It is OK that that phrase has a different meaning to different people and it is more about a process.  With so many buzzwords in the lexicon of education today a quick dialogue on the subject is worthwhile.   It can't hurt to enumerate some things that characterize what our schools should be about.  So let's do so from the point of view of a parent asking for things from a school for their child.

School: "Hi there!  Welcome to our school.  What can we do for you?"

Parent: "Well I have a 9th grade child starting school here tomorrow and would like to make a few requests for things I want for my child."

School: " Go right ahead."

Parent: "First off, my child is very special and I'd like them treated as such.  Just like when I sent them off to Kindergarten I want them to feel safe, loved and gain a sense of independence.   I want them treated as a unique individual with has access to caring and trusted professionals who have a say in the school.  I 'd like my child provided with a rich varied learning diet that imparts key knowledge and skills needed by any well informed  individual.  Preferably emphasizing the normal core subjects.  They'll need math and science, english and of course, history.  Throw in some other languages for good measure.  I'd like them to develop an active and healthy lifestyle so they'll need some physical education classes and also health.  I'd like to stress that they learn to read and write well.  The approach in all of these classes should be innovative but not too far removed from solid trusted foundations. They should learn to think critically about subjects and get to explore things that interest them.   I want them to view their education as an investment in their future, whatever that may be. 

Learning about all of this should help them gain a sense of their own identity.  I want them to develop curiosity and creativity.  Exposure in the arts and music certainly would help with this.    These pursuits should allow my child to grow in non academic ways and have an appreciation of art and music, even if they themselves do not have an talent for them.  I'd like my child to have access to the types of technology that aid us all in the modern world.   I want them to see technology as a powerful tool and not a shortcut.    The school should be well funded so it is not wanting for what it needs.  My child should be given the opportunity for a rich discourse on subjects and learn more than just about it and instead experience it.   

Beyond academics, my child needs to learn to work with others as part of a group.  Whether that is through cooperative projects, on a sports team, club, or in some other fashion I want them to establish positive relationships.  They'll need the skills to become a good communicator.   I want them to learn about leadership and respect. I'd like my child to be nurtured and supported when they need it and I also want them challenged and learn the value of hard work.  I know it won't all be smooth sailing so they'll need to be able to handle conflict and work through it.    They'll need to learn to persevere through adversity and disappointment and learn how to respond to and learn from to failure.  I'd like the school and teachers to be open in communicating things with me so I may aid in all of this.

I want my child to have an equal chance to pursue excellence.  They should learn about honesty and integrity.  I want them to be proud of their work. I want them to learn about  responsibility, dependability and If they don't thrive as much as others I still want them to be safe, happy and know that people care about them.    I want them to learn to be the best they can be.  Beyond themselves, I'd like them to learn to recognize their role in the school, local community and  develop personal responsibility to themselves and all those those around them.   In the end they will want to contribute positively to their community through what they learn.

These are all things I want.  I know it is a great deal to ask.  I just want my child to have a chance at a good education"

Fact is there are many ways to answer that question.  Love to hear input from others beyond this hastily compiled version.   Please feel free to share in the comments.

Monday, July 16, 2012

OK Hot Shot...

 Choose one:

You have to remediate students who have just failed the Standards of Learning Test(SOL) in a non-writing subject area.  You have their raw score but do not know what questions they missed specifically and are having a hard time deciphering where they were "weak"other than what you heard from their regular teacher.  Most of these students want to do well but they struggle with the basics.  You do not know most of their names and have never worked with them. The state will not let you look at or use past tests nor past questions except the outdated ones they released and none of those question will be used.  The students are not strong readers and are not from the same class.  There are 29 of them and it is the last week of school before exams.  You have 90 minutes and then they will retake the test. 


You are on a bus and it cannot go below 55 miles per hour.  

Any questions?

One of these scenarios played at our school and in a similar fashion across our state. I faced it back in May and as I think back I am still bothered by the disservice to our students by the current testing system.   With the aid of many other teachers I think I was able to help in some small way but I am left feeling that the bus deal may be more difficult but easier to control.  NCLB waiver or no waiver the time, energy, resources, money and focus all poured to testing make schools a worse place, not better.

Someone please explain to me again how  standardized testing and the millions we steer away from students in public schools and towards Pearson and the like is a good thing?  This system makes about as much sense as Dennis Hopper did in Speed.   I mean who does that?
If I release this switch, the testing company will explode.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Advice for Teachers

Take  a vacation- Actually go somewhere for a few days.  If you are like many teachers with kids and cannot afford to go to the beach for a week find a friend or relative to share with.  If that's not good then just go stay at an old friends house with your family.  And if that's no good then, well you probably shouldn't be a teacher since you have no friends. 

Lay low- People do not like the fact teachers have "time off'" so don't flaunt it too much.  But relish the days.

Read-You have to read.  Not just because of the benefits but just as a matter of principle.  Pick a few things you want and maybe a few that will help you do your job more effectively. either related to your content or how to teach.  Jut think you can actually start and finish a book without being interrupted.

Take a trip- Go somewhere you haven't been.  Hopefully somewhere local that you always drive past but never actually visit.  This is not the vacation, usually just a day trip but you will feel much more productive afterwords. 

Stay Connected- Find some way to connect to fellow staffers are up to and make time to visit and mingle with them. 

Don't sleep in too much- That will actually shorten the days and make them go by faster.  But it should be noted that the first week should be spent doing pretty much nothing.

Prepare-As soon as you find out what you'll be teaching start getting ready.  Granted for some of you this might not happen until the week before school. 

Improve- Target one major way to improve your classroom or teaching that you will use this upcoming year.  Start envisioning ways to make that a success. If nothing else refer to our technology post from awhile back.

Turn off and disconnect-I lament the time I see kids brains wasting away in front of the TV or computer screen unable to unplug, so be sure you don't fall victim to the same syndrome of constant  connectivity.  Better yet get outside, especially somewhere near water.  If not the ocean than some other large body of water.  The ions in the air recharge the soul....or it is just cool to be near water, either one. 

Be a "weenie"- That is to say ween yourself off of school slowly by being sure you leave things at school well, and ween yourself back into school mode slowly.  As sad as it is to think about, summer does not last forever. 

Smile- It is summer after all.

I do love this movie

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Teaching Underground's 2011-2012 Report Card

In an age where "grades" grow more irrelevant by the day, the TU thought it fitting to assign grades to some people and events that have transpired during the past school year.

Teaching Underground-
We increased traffic and managed to avoid violating our moral standards(we have none).  Still we navigated the past 12 months with some effort and did our best to share what we thought about where we are and where we are going.
Grade = B+

Virginia Weather-
Earthquakes, derechos, 100+ degrees, no snow days.  
Grade - You decide.

This actually happened during Summer School last year but how on earth(how's that for a punn) could we have a space program without the shuttle?  Since 1981 the Space Shuttle has been the face of manned American Space Flight.  In an age where we are expected to inspire young scientists and explorers we will have to teach them more from movies than real life.   Russia and China are now the only 2 government programs capable of manned missions that dock in space.  China was 40 yrs late but is catching up fast.  NASA might not actually deserve a low grade but the Feds and others who complain about the budget saying  "we should solve our problems here on earth before going into space"... leave me uninspired.   
Grade = D

"Rhee" rhymes with "me"
Michelle Rhee-
You have learned much during the past year.  You have worked hard.  Sadly it seems all your efforts have done little save self promotion and distort actual events.  We suspect you are a nice and decent person, but dislike your policies immensely.
Grade = F-

Diane Ravitch-
TU was very impressed with her comments back in December and we would rank her among the smartest kids in the class. Keep up the good work.
Grade = A+

UVa Board of Visitors- 
We are grading them just because in the new world of accoutability..the people at the top have carte blanche for Strategic Dynamism and that ain't good.  While re-instating President Teresa Sullivan calmed the storm, some things you can't take back.  Dragas is back on the board, re-appointed by McDonnell in a move some found unexpected. Hope you all learned something from all this and won't mess up again.  So we have to do our best to give the grade you earned on this group project.
Grade =D

Albemarle County-
More is not always better and as high school students now flock to study halls and complain about workloads, their hand is forced by trying to remain competitive amongst their own classmates. Teachers share an increased burden as well, leaving some kids regrettably, behind.  The longer the system stays in place, the less people are able to say about it because of fatigue.  This creates the illusion that it's ok.  Seven classes seemed plenty, just sayin'.
Grade = Proficient(grades will soon be replaced a standards based system)

KC reacts to an SOL question.
Ken Cuccinelli-
Who sues a college professor for fraud? Never mind those people who steal money from the elderly with phone and E-mail scams or companies that pollute our streams.  He's running for governor and steering hard right.   If he gets the nod hope he builds bridges instead of burning them.  Still you are the C.A. for our great state, obscene seal and all,  props.
Grade = No Credit

The US Supreme Court-
How can a corporation be a person?  Agree or disagree, it was interesting to see them make a ruling that mattered on health care. 
Grade = NA(we know nothing about the law, just the Constitution)

Lebron James-
He stands still, the world spins around him.  That "announcement" showed that some people do lose touch.  Still he did win a title and is probably among the most athletic individuals, ever.  Present company excluded.  While in a perfect world, Cleveland would have won a title before him, he won.  Let's end the hate and hope he plays as well and as hard at the Olympics since everyone else is hurt or backing out.
Grade= B+

Sausage Boy-
Man that guy is a legend.   He lost all that weight and when he puts that shirt with epaulettes on, look out.    The world would be his oyster, if he ate those.  He left the basement but still managed a solid year. (and rumor has it Turner's on a mini-juicing binge.)
Grade = A-

Patricia Wright-
Not sure about what to assign here.  The state continues to pour money towards Pearson and SOLs but also was recently granted a NCLB waiver doing away with complex and unrealistic AYP objectives .  (Thanks secretary Duncan).  Time will tell if the hoops that probably come with the waiver will help or hurt.   Still 2014 was only 1 year away. 
Grade = Inc

Fermilab Tevatron Scientists
You maybe sort of found or proved that the Higgs Field or the Higgs Boson exists?  Huh?  This theoretical physics stuff is above our pay grade but makes more sense thanks to all things, Youtube(see video here).
Take that CERN and your Large Hadron Collider.  We like particle accelerators as long as they don't make Black Holes.
Grade = B(too smart is not always good)

Bashar al-Assad -
You should be expelled and the people of Syria will be better for it.
Grade = Double F

City of Lynchburg
For the second time they discharged wastewater into the James River.  This time 250,000 gallons an hour for about 18 hours.  Sees to me that somebody somewhere could find a way to fix this.  Either that or change your city logo to show the stench coming off the river   Beyond the damage to the river itself I and other citizens of the state will again have to avoid a place we love  dearly.
Grade = F

Greece and the EU-
Not saying we understand economics, austerity measures or anything having to do with international fiscal policy or currency but it appears the same could be said for you folks over there in Europe.
Grade = D

Bryce Harper
This talented rookie plays hard day in, day out and we admire that.   The Washington Nationals are for now relevant, though some TU members remain Orioles fans and think the Senators will always be the only rightful DC team, not the Expos.  He did break a bat in a tantrum and injure himself but he still went to bat, blood and all. Only retiring Chipper Jones stood between him and the MLB All Star Game. He dropped out of HS to chase his dream.  What does he deserve?  "That's a clown questions, bro."
Grade = C or A depending on your loyalties.

Va General Assembly-
What the heck is going on down there in Richmond?  What was once a proud bipartsan legislature has devolved into side by side party convention on our dime.  Please stop the political infighting and focus on doing the job you were given when elected. 

Grade = D

This is still the best country on Earth.  Anyone who disagrees is a red bellied commie.  Have a great July 4th. 
Grade = A++

Have some grades you want to assign?  Add a comment.