Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 TU Looks Back

Hard to believe isn't it? 2013 is history.  For some it has been a tough year.  For others things have gotten better.  For us the saying "Not doing our best, simply doing the best we can" pretty much sums up all that was 2013.  So as we close out the year a quick look back with some commentary seems like what we are supposed to do.  Cheers.

Obamacare-  What the heck was that?  If I was trying to design a way for people to lose faith in what amounts to the biggest issue I am advocating for, I would use this administration's moves a guide.  As if the shutdown wasn't eroding faith in the system enough we had to double down and show for real that this government can screw anything up..  It was quite the one - two punch and many adults and students simply do not want to talk about either anymore. Sad.

Boston Marathon Bombings
And you thought people never watched TV anymore.  At once, we saw the comfort and benefit of 21st Century technology as the perpetrators we're so quickly identified and caught, and experienced the reality that pretty much everything we do today is tracked and recorded.  The tragedy and triumph of this event is

Aaron Hernandez
Staying in the Northeast this title really should read, The Murder of Odin Lloyd.  He was the man who lost his life to someone who if you believe reports appears to be less of a football player and more gang member.  Way to go New England.  Nice job.  I always disliked Belichek and never knew why.  WTF?

Lindsay Quits Facebook-
Well that was actually in 2012 but no one noticed until later.  Well actually, no one noticed.  I did see people later who thought I was dead.  but Facebook doesn't miss me and I certainly don't miss it.  I instead focused on jazzing up my Myspace Page. (note from Turner: You're not on Facebook anymore? I didn't notice. But to all of the Facebookers out there who've liked our page, this would explain why it is so rarely updated any longer)

The Poop Cruise
Trapped in a living hell and not gotten much sympathy from the only people who could help.  No I am not describing the cruise and response from carnival, I am talking about those days of teaching when it all goes south.  The only thing that can make it better is the bell to end the day and the chance to star fresh again tomorrow. 

Travon Martin, Zimmerman, Paula Deane, Phil Robertson and Afluenza
Just this week stories of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robinson headline grabbing comments and indefinite suspension, then re-instatement from filming illustrate a few things.  Among them is that people need to recognize that having a right and exercising it in a manner that harms or hurts others(be it with words or a weapon) are two different things.   Think whatever you want.  But before we speak and act remember we all live in a civil society.  Let's do our best to keep it that way.   Guess we have a long way to go in so many ways.

Edward Snowden
I don't follow this whole story as much as I should but the more that comes out, the worse I feel.  I remember learning about the Rosenbergs and what happened to them and that provides some context.  If I am nothing else, it is loyal, so shame on him, even though I am a strong proponent of the Constitutional Protections of the 4th Amendment and just love America.

(Shhh.  I don't like them listening to my conversations so I will whisper.  They track stuff you know.  What happened to needing a Warrant?  Where's the Congressional or Executive oversight?  WTF?  I like being safe as much as the next guy but what do we have if we do not have our liberties? (note from Turner: So what do you think Snowden was all about?)

Michelle Rhee-
We just wanted to throw her in cause...well we are like elephants and have good memories, especially for grudges.We got an import on our staff from a DC Magnet School and he is a really good teacher.  He also wears suits everyday.  No joke.    Describing Rhee as "effective" he rattled off a list of stuff he liked that she did.    I had simply asked what he thought about her and he talked for 5+ minutes.  So it was a lot to digest. But his view differed from mine.  Where we agree, she is not the chancellor anymore.  Period.  Almost.  I always like Kevin Johnson and so in the spirit of the New Year, forgive but don't forget.

The Heart Attack
The week before winter break, we had a two hour weather delay on Monday. One of our colleagues in the basement retreated to the restroom ill. We called down the school nurse and he was taken out of the school on a stretcher. In the ER, he had a heart attack. This event highlighted the many variables that can arise while teaching. We, and he, had twenty plus students in each of our classes, but for a few moments there was another priority that superseded education. Happily, he is well on his way to recovery and should be back at school when we reopen on the sixth. In true Underground fashion, we have quite a treat waiting for him on his return. Rule #1 of the basement: don't leave your room unattended for longer than 24 hours or we're not responsible for what happens.

There were so many good and bad things that also happened but we don't have time to cover them in the level needed:

The Chicago Teachers Strike
The New Pope
Diane Ravitch's new book

So goodbye 2013.  We probably won't miss you ...that much much.  but absence makes the heart grow fonder.  The award winning photo below pretty much sums it up.   My 2014 be a blessed year for each and everyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays

Greetings to our loyal reader(s)- probably no "s" needed there but oh well.  We hope that this post finds you on good terms with work, family and spending a bit of own time re-charging your batteries and not just spending money on gifts no one needs or wants.  Holidays mean many things to different people and nothing says Christmas like 70+ degrees weather in December and a post fro the Teaching Underground.  Right?.  Time to bond with family, to catch up with friends, taking time to be thankful for all we have and the torturous family visits all ring true of the season.  But through it all we hope you and yours have an you are wonderful Christmas, New Years and enjoy a safe and happy holidays. What better way to celebrate then to pay homage to a previous post and reflect on some of the things that define 21st Century Public Education.  This comes from the "Educational Jargon Generator"

We will innovate efficient curiosity through the collaborative process by enabling technology-enhanced competencies through the use of centers.  Schools must  seize cross-curricular efficacies in data-driven schools.  By continuing to deploy strategic presentations for our 21st Century learners education will modernize school-to-work niches across cognitive and affective domains.  Authentic Performance-Driven Assessments fosters enduring understandings within a balanced literacy program and coupled with integrated pedagogy within professional learning communities our next generation approach will raise the bar in our globally reflective paradigm shift.

Merry Christmas Ralphie Parker, Miss Shields,Flick, Scut Farkas and to everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Truth in Fiction

My latest Netflix binge/guilty pleasure has been the t.v. show Sons of Anarchy. It’s an ultraviolent show about a young man’s ascent to leadership of a California motorcycle gang. They deal in drugs, pornography, and guns—but mainly guns. It’s great fiction, but like most fiction, you have to let hold of your grasp of reality to truly enjoy it.

For example, house cleaning is a constant chore in our house. The washing machine runs so much it’s like another member of the family. House cleaning is the primary source of conflict between members of our family. We even paid someone to do it for us for a while and it helped, but didn’t solve the enormous task required to not live in filth.

But no one ever cleans on Sons of Anarchy unless someone is murdered and then obviously the
body, blood, other evidence must be taken care of. The lead character in this show constantly deals with intergroup dynamics of his gang, meets with rival and cooperative gang leaders to keep the peace, and frequently participates in the “runs” and “deals” associated with the gang. Maybe we can assume that his wife does all of the cleaning—except she is a Surgeon.

And childcare! This couple has two young children to care for and only a gun-toting, marijuana smoking, heavy drinking, promiscuous grandma to help them out. (The one who crashed while they were in the car because she was driving while stoned) My wife and I are just teachers, but we’ve already found that a majority of life is consumed by taking care of children. Yet these kids just seem to show up when the plot demands, and somehow, when they’re not on camera, someone is taking care of them.

Don’t get me started on The Walking Dead. The midst of a Zombie Apocalypse and somehow food, water, and personal hygiene (not to mention unlimited supplies of gasoline, automobiles, guns and ammo) are just magically taken care of.

If you want to enjoy this kind of fiction. you’ve just got to resolve yourself to the fact that they are stories, and good stories ignore the mundane realities of life. That’s why we like them. If I wanted to watch someone clean house I could just get off the couch and experience it first hand.

I want people who don’t work in a classroom to recognize that sometimes they want to see the fiction of teaching and learning. In the end, the story—engaged students working toward meaningful goals—is all that anyone wants to see. I don’t blame them, that’s the part that everybody likes (including teachers). It’s ok so long as there is a recognition that it’s the real world and not fiction.

The mundane details usually consume most of our life, even if it’s the “story worthy” moments that we remember. If we don’t take care of the mundane details effectively, we might even find that we never get to the “story worthy” moments.

In teaching, I’m talking about taking attendance and accounting for every student, and then going back to change it for everyone that is late. I’m talking about setting aside the time to grade and then spending chunks of time on the late work. It’s planning out your instruction and then reorganizing your lessons in response to student feedback, snow days, unplanned drills, etc. It’s collecting paperwork and making sure the consent forms are signed, preparing the materials for the homebound student.

It’s deciding whether it’s best to hold the crying student accountable for not being prepared or deciding that grace is appropriate in the moment. It’s letting a little school work go undone at school so that you can take the time to be human and interact with your students, knowing that it will take away the time that you have at home to be human and interact with your family.

It’s standing over a copy machine or waiting for documents to upload, it’s covering for a teacher in a medical emergency. It’s remembering to reserve the computers and searching the building to find them in the room of a previous user. It’s falling back on plan B when the technology fails (and it’s going to fail).

It’s like housework and childcare for a family. When we consume fiction, we don’t want to think about the realities, just the good stories.  I want to tell the good stories of our classrooms, but like my colleague pointed out in the previous post, it would be nice to acknowledge some of the reality.

Maybe then we could recognize that the way forward in education isn’t just looking for the problem and finding its solution. It's about working through the problems-- which aren't problems at all, just the reality of life-- and appreciating the story worthy moments.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Truth in Advertising

I've seen this commercial so many times in the past month it is now nauseating.  What's worse is that it makes something rather complicated sound so simple.  "The role technology should play in education."  And, many people buy in based on that approach.  Provide students a shiny new device(in this case Microsoft's Surface Tablet) for "real work" and then poof...they learn better and bearded teacher with the tan vest is doing a better job.  Obviously no work can go on without this device or any other.  The description of the spot online reads "This Teacher knows change is coming, but with the new Microsoft Surface his students can do just about anything, even do their homework."   Boasting that if kids have keyboards they can go home and Skype or play games all night or find out what is due or even do homework.  They appear happy, magically more productive and obviously are better students.  Maybe so, maybe so.

But let us reflect on this "old fashioned" teacher in the commercial.  On a superficial level, or on the surface(excuse the pun but it was low hanging fruit and I couldn't resist) I can tell he's not actually a teacher.  How?  Well any seasoned teacher can just tell.  If he was I'd believe him but I don't.  His real name is Bobby Richards and he appears to be a very talented actor.  He plays someone who, based on his classroom decor teaches history or geography. The ad implies he has his students looking up information on Mozart. Upon closer inspection, when the bell rings it appears he teaches twelve students. Twelve!   More on that later.  Would such a device be a useful addition to such a classroom...probably.  But whether or not it is the best choice to improve things is another matter entirely.

Change Can Be Good
You might think I am motivated to discuss this ad by fear of change or because I have it out for Bill Gates.   You'd be wrong.  I embrace just about every real improvement that comes my way in education but I tire easily of the superficial panacea that are peddled by for profit entities or pushed by ill informed "reformers."  I love technology but can't stand using technology for technology's sake.  In essence pressing play on a VCR is about the same thing as posting a video on Youtube.  Working in groups with a piece of paper sometimes is preferable to a virtual meeting.  Our infatuation with computers can be all consuming.

 I only want stuff that helps my students learn, helps me teach and saves me time.  Things that make me a better teacher.  Computers have that potential but let's not oversell their ability to motivate, engage and wait for it..."teach."  That's my job.  One way to help me would be to give me 12 students and watch how much more effective I am.  Guaranteed.  Believe it or not that class might be too small, but easing my student load and giving me more teacher currency...time, would likely result in far more gain for my students than any technology.

I use technology a lot in my class but I don't keep using it if it doesn't provide what I think my students really need.  Face to face, creative, tactile and active learning never goes out of style.  Neither is the much maligned "lecture" which if done well is as engaging as anything.   Sure with new technology the first few days are pretty cool but the novelty wears off.  Some of my students have overtly expressed to me that they do not always prefer to work on computers.  Hopefully we realize that all this talk of flipping and technology integration is mostly absent one key voice, the student.  We assume it is better and they prefer computers that are invariably "needed."  Who might know best what students need in the classroom more than the teacher?  Most companies aren't thinking about kids first and their agenda is quite different.  But they can still do some good.  Microsoft's tablet might be a good thing here, or it might not be.

What's for certain is that technology like the Surface alone will not solve any of the real problems plaguing our education system.  It is just an electronic tool.  Despite what the teacher says in this commercial about the future it is not really any more revolutionary than a chalkboard or even ...wait for it... textbooks were in their time.  The advantage they have is those things have a pretty much unlimited shelf life.  They require no maintenance and in the hands of the right person, can prove just as effective

 Reading is still reading.  Right?
Meaningful change in education will come slowly and incrementally and technology will and should be a big part of that.  We should not wait for it to happen and should demand movement forward.  But, the temptation to leap ahead haphazardly for fear of falling behind can create as many problems as it solves.  Enter the flashy new gadgets marketed at schools, school boards and the public.  Does giving teachers free tablets make these devices the best use of public funds?    Do parents, politicians or administrators really give thought as to what providing every single kid a device might mean in the actual classroom or even outside of it?  Do they provide opportunities for teachers to visit schools that have taken this step?  Do they consider the long term social, economic and other less obvious impacts on students,  classrooms, budgets and schools as a whole? Do they make efforts to educate and involve parents in the adoption of technology?  In my case I think they do for the most part.  But I am lucky, but that doesn't mean the decisions made are ones I always agree with.

Having honey poured in your ear by technology sometimes results  in getting things we don't really need.  Schools are no different than other parts of our throw away consumption driven world.  We are really good at generating piles of antiquated stuff that is no longer useful.  If we buy something it should be based on a real need, not so much a want.  Separating the two is the tough part.

There is no real litmus test.   Do students need computers in schools today?  Yes.  Does having access to the internet make things better or easier.  Probably.  But lets not overlook the hidden costs.    Network  infrastructure, upgrades to software, time until replacement, repair and maintenance, training and must be factored in.  Bottom line is that it will end up being the classroom teacher bearing the brunt of any implementation such as this.  One to One means we on the front line have a lot to consider.  With technology growing more and more intuitive and integrated to daily life do we really need to flood the hours of a student's day with even more?

So with a little truth in advertising, what would this spot say?   
"Hey we've got this fairly low priced tablet that can access the internet, do some light word processing and can for a fee include a keyboard.  If you, your students or your school don't have access to technology on a daily basis this might be a low cost solution.  We have a bunch of extras and if you use it we might also be able to improve our market share in education.  The Surface also has some significant limitations that many find frustrating and we hope the low price will offset those.  Maybe that's why it isn't selling too well to the public...but... ah ha ...schools.   It could be like charity and we could write it off.  Seems a good use for unsold inventory.  Maybe its not a computer and you have might have trouble joining a domain, networking with other devices, saving and keeping software up to date but that said we are confident that many schools, teachers and students will like our product and that is why we are offering a whole bunch of them to a whole lot of schools so that maybe, just maybe they'll catch on.  Give us a try ...please."

Is the surface a good tool and good addition?  I'd start by asking teachers who use it.  Seems for  the most part reviews are favorable.  But many point out the limitations and unknowns.  Get their input and don't rely on top down implementation.  Understanding what is going on in this commercial is really pretty simple. Microsoft refocused and redirected its excess inventory at schools and launched a reward system as a means to gain entry into the education market.  Not that much different than a label drive from soup cans or some other means it makes sense to get everyone involved and behind the effort to fund low cost computers/devices in schools that want them.  Will it work?  Time will tell but I suspect that the Surface will be no different than many other forms of the latest greatest thing.

"Didn''t Care what you thought then.  Still Don't"

Truth in Reform
So now a little truth in reform.   What would leaders, politicians and decision makers say, or at least what SHOULD they?
Truth is refreshing.  To hear someone say "Hey I know this isn't exactly what you want but here's why we are doing it " would mean a lot.  I broke it down into sound bites to cover some of the major points.

"Hey...we know it isn't really the teacher's fault but someone has to be held accountable for these low scores."
"True, we haven't really given much thought to how to use the computers for instruction, but clearly we have to use them if we are going to keep up with all the affluent districts."
"Online learning might be great for motivated learners...but its not a viable option for all learners...we know that...but fact is it is a heck of a lot cheaper than hiring teachers. "
"I blame you...since no one else can be held accountable."
"It is not the type of learning we care about if you can't show us the data."
"I don't care about what you think, I care about what I think and I think I know better."

I could at this for hours...maybe in the comments section some of you could share what you wish reformers would say since it is what they mean.

Maybe some of that is too strong?  But the Appearance over Substance Paternalistic Movement for the Sake of Movement style of leadership that is rampant in this nation is wearing me thin.  It may not be any more responsible for problems than bad teaching, but it can certainly infect and interfere with quality teaching on a much greater scale.  As a part of this, buy the wrong devices or software and deploy them in poor manner and you have caused a lot of undue stress.  That is not good for students, not good for parents... and definitely not good for teachers.  Believe me, I know.

Technology in Education 
So back to the panacea of technology.  Big time movers and shakers are often far too cozy with computer, software and technology folks and do not pick up on the limitations.  They might get enticed with their own free version then commit and represent the tool as indispensable.  Forgetting the ever important mantra of K.I.S.S.     Having an out of the box access point for kids is in most cases a good thing.  But does the included Office software offer only a trial version?  Will the school division have to re-license applications and programs in a few years?  What happens if the device might break down(if you weren't are hard on stuff)?  How long before this device is no longer useful.  Does a kid want to stare at 8" screen 7 hours or more a day?

"Someone adopt me ...please"
I know I wouldn't have to look too hard to find storage closets full of old I-touches, unsupported computers or other fancy items destined for the Island of Misfit Tools.  That place is just as sad as the one in the Christmas classic.  Bottom line is most of this stuff represent budget busting Big Ticket Items.  As a teacher I see it as a means to divert more funding, energy and attention away from the classroom.  (<----Read that sentence again)   A narrow view perhaps, but one built on long experience.  The more we spend away from students, classroom, and actual learning instead on indirect support of the learning can mean we get less return on our investment.

I instead would focus on hiring good people.  Giving them what they need and a few things they want.  And, working very hard to make them feel supported and valued.  In today's world that means yes, technology should play a vital role.  But we must never forget what motivates and interests Microsoft, Apple, or any other for profit firm when they enter the realm of education.  Rest assured it is not what motivates those who can make a real difference in the lives of young people.   If we simply throw technology at our problems in an effort to improve, we won't even get past the surface(sorry...did it again).  Would I take some Surface tablets?  Why not?  But I don't feel I need them and I most definitely would not stand in front of a camera and blindly share my thoughts like this Timothy Busfield "teacher" did in this commercial.  But the tan vest...nice.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reformers Have Broken Thanksgiving

Mmm...More Gravy please.
With Thanksgiving Break just ahead I thought I get it started a bit early.  So I hustled from my classroom into the crowded cafeteria during one of our 24-minute lunch periods eager to grab a meal and scarf it down before the bell rang and the hordes of students headed out the door, some back to my class.  I waited patiently to place my order in the line.   I could have cut as some staff do but that never seems right to me.   The menu featured turkey, stuffing, green beans and mashed potatoes, all among the most American of meals.  I stepped forward and said "I'll take some of everything..and gravy on all of it too please"  But before she reached for the first helping of Turkey with the tongs, she paused.  She looked up just for a moment and then paused.  I hung on the slightest movement.  Then it happened.

She signed and said "You cannot get Mashed Potatoes and Stuffing Together."


She apologetically offered "it's not up to me" and she simply was not able to serve the two together.  The words stung me like a slap to the face.  I recoiled and said "Oh?"  I added a second later that "sounded pretty Un-American to me."  She agreed and I reluctantly chose the stuffing as she added to my gravy across styrofoam tray.

This scenario should not serve as an indictment of my school's or any other cafeteria in the nation.  She and they are doing their best.  (Nevermind the choice to throw away thousands of styrofoam trays a month...that seems flawed.)  But the un-Thanksgiving-like choice forced upon me illustrates the point perfectly and is a microcosm of education.  In an well intentioned effort to make things better, decision makers had done something that just wasn't right.  Sure child obesity is a major concern and yes healthy meals are important, but that did little to assuage my discontent.  Could anyone who decided that two starches cannot go together look me in the eye and make a rationale case for why that was so in this particular case?  I think not.  As a result of their decision, quality didn't get better, it got worse. 

And at every turn classroom teachers are facing similar sorts of situations.  Reformers, working to make things "better" are too far removed from ground level.  They've lost touch and in many ways are affecting change without really knowing the consequences to students and teachers.  The result is we feel powerless to help things improve and do what we know would make things better.  Paternal activism in this case is a bad thing.

I see it every day where testing, data collection, standardization and top down policy inadvertently interfere with the ability of talented classroom teachers to do their job well. But like the lunch lady, what choice do we have?  When we speak up we run the risk of being labelled an agitator or not a team player.  It's tough.

My colleague said it best:

"The only way to get common sense reform is to put decisions 
in the hands of those closest to where it matters most"

But we continue to move in the opposite direction in our misguided national effort to improve education quality.  No magic elixir exists and issues facing schools are as diverse as the students themselves.  Solutions and reforms should be local and driven by those with the greatest sense of understanding.  So unless you want to be told what you can't do as I was, then encourage decision makers to entrust people in schools to direct and affect change in the way they see fit.  Let them give me both stuffing and mashed potatoes.  It's the right thing to do

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is it Ever Going to Get Better?

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”
Overcoming that will require communicating to parents that competition is now global, not local, he said.

So says Arne Duncan this week in Richmond according to a report from Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet.
It’s alarming that policy is directed in this nation by those so far out of touch with reality.

First, he’s attempting to frame opposition to Common Core in emotional terms. This shuts off rational discussion of pro’s and con’s by placing one side on the rational/objective side and the other on the emotional/reactive side. We see this as well when people evoke the mantra of “student’s first” or frame dissent in the corner of “status quo.” So far in America, this has worked. Reasonable opposition to modern education reform, questions and criticism that could lead us toward informed cooperative change, are dismissed.

Second, he’s assuming that accepted metrics of student and school performance are valid. I’ve given several tests this year and each of them has given me different information about students and their environment. I’ve learned a few times that students do poorly on tests because they haven’t taken the responsibility to prepare. I’ve found that other times the test was perhaps too hard, or my instruction didn’t prepare them well enough for expectations. I’m able to determine if a test score is the result of effort or lack of understanding in conversation with students about their performance. The test score doesn’t speak for itself.

Third, he overlooks the successes that we see in public education systems. How should the “white suburban moms” respond? We thought our schools were good. My oldest child graduated, went to a good college, and has a successful career now. I guess we were fooled. Now that we’ve got the “data” it’s obvious that this school sucks.

But perhaps the biggest problem is this. Common Core implementation is pretty new. I’m not sure that many locations have actually seen results of their implementation and the results of the testing. How are these “white suburban moms” already reacting to something that hasn't happened. It seems like Arne already knows the results or at least has a hope for what they will be. Are the Common Core standards an effort to measure the educational quality of the United States or are they a plan to prove what reformers want to hear?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Read it Here First. Or at least Second Hand

Education Technology

Missing TU up to the minute posts?  Too bad.  We've been busy.  Teaching 8 classes is taking its toll.  When push comes to shove we focus on the classroom and not the blogosphere.  Still there are some happening worth sharing.  Given time is short it makes sense to simply share with you the thoughts of people who said what we were already thinking.  Enjoy.

From Our School Newspaper:
"Next time, learning space designers, you should get the input of of those who are actually going to be using the spaces"   She said what we think. Change isn't "better" when it limits functionality. If that doesn't sum up some of our biggest issues as teachers, then nothing does.

From Cavalier Daily on Teach For America:
"On the surface, the program appears to offer an antidote to the nation’s educational crisis, but in reality the program’s model, structure, and impact leave much to be desired."  I sat at a UVa football game yesterday and watched one of the most abrasive individuals I've ever observed gloat about the Duke win.  What's worse is he had a "Hoos love TFA" sticker on.  Blah.

From Huffington Post on teacher Stress:
"almost half of teachers leave the profession after just five years, costing districts' billions of dollars and depriving students of the experience of learning from seasoned professionals."
Whether I am more stressed or not remains to be seen, but I am definitely doing more work, seeing more students and tasked with more aspects of education than just "teaching"  then I used to be.

"A conflict between two school employees on Sunday caused officials to close Madison County schools as a precaution on Monday." 
Maybe as result of all the stress?  I've certainly argued with folks at work.  But threats?  Seriously though this is a bad deal for everyone.  I hope that it was more precautionary than anything else.

From Reuters- Obama Promises fix to Healthcare website:
"There's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am."
As we flock to incorporate technology we become reliant upon it.  Guess what, this isn;t always a good thing when it fails to function as we want.  Whether this is our division's grading software or the common app that college applicants are completely dependent on, when things go south...its bad.

Next time, learning space designers, you should get the input of those who are actually going to be using the spaces. - See more at:
Next time, learning space designers, you should get the input of those who are actually going to be using the spaces. - See more at:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Inspiration for Teachers

When my life is over,
I hope I will have helped others to look ahead.

I’ve gained no wealth or fame.
Nothing I’ve built is seen
It was never easy and
wouldn’t have it any other way.

A room filled with people now is empty.
I never cared what I taught, I cared about who I taught. 
I hope I am remembered.  I hope I remember them

Now that I am gone do not leave my desk empty.
Find someone who’ll weather the tough days and those that speak ill of schools. 
Find one who overcomes the problems, the poverty, the anger, the mandates.
Find one who can give of themselves when they have little to give.

Give them one thing I have left to give.
Find that teacher and give my place to them.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad Causes the Federal Government to Shutdown

So admittedly the title of this post is intended to generate traffic but we are busy and do have lives outside of teaching and this award winning blog(that will be true when we win an an award of some sort).   There are at least a few notable events taking place around the nation connected to education.  As we await the fate of the outcome and a looming Federal Government Shutdown we ponder the demise of Walter White and Breaking Bad.  The members of the Underground had a conversation today that amounted to sarcastic banter for the benefit of a student teacher who was present.  But it went something like this;

"I'm trying to plan out this teaching thing but my brain is not really working anymore. I forgot how hard this teaching thing is." 
"Yeah, I thought after my first few years I'd have this thing all figured out, turns out it's still hard."

In other events there were a few pieces of news worth sharing.  

"Movies, Education...Same difference."
He says things like "charter schools (which are generally just public schools freed from union red tape"  -OK?    Basically he's a movie critic with a shallow understanding on education.  He has a loose grip on the subject and while smart  he is forced cite experts like Erik A Hanushek who deals with economic analysis of educational issues.His review of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is much better. 

the fact he has a website and has created a website with teaching advice makes it more scary than comical.  As simple as abolishing Public Schools sounds we might suggest such an effort is neither that wise or that worthwhile.  I'd prefer to abolish dumb as there seems to be plenty of that among our nations leaders.  Utter stupidity as David Gergen called it is often tough to watch but our nation's teachers dealing with reform are getting fairly used to it.  Sadly there is no shortage of people promoting books out there.  We here at the Tu might get to work on one at some point if we weren't so busy doing a crappy job as teachers I suppose.  And they are the ones adversely affecting the fate of us all.  While we wait some who will put Paul's plan into action we'll just keep teaching. 

New York State is holding the  Summit for Smarter Schools sponsored by the Partnership for Smarter Schools and three State Senators.   It focuses on the effects of the statewide testing and possible and common sense approaches for positive change.  Time will tell whether the ideas discussed gain any traction but there are hints of such ideas in many states including our own.  

Bill Gates tipped his hand about the efficacy of his reform agenda in an interview and I and most other teachers I know could likely provide a more substantive change with the funds he is pouring into education through his foundation.  We've talked about Bill Gates before in our How do you Make a Teacher Great post.  That answer remains a mystery but there is no shortage of experts on the matter.  Accountability...only for teachers and students I suppose,

With that we leave you to another week.  Our hope is that even if you lose faith in the Feds ability to get anything done, you keep a bit of faith in your local public school.  We'd appreciate the help. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Ended With A Griddle

It started innocently enough. "Mr. Turner, want to host our club?"

They asked politely. So far they'd proven to be good kids. I gave them a chance. "What kind of club is it?"

"The Lumberjack Club!" Both of them proclaimed in unison.

"And what exactly will the Lumberjack Club do?" I asked.

"Wear flannel, eat pancakes, and learn about lumberjacks," he said, then paused before adding, "but mostly eat pancakes. It's really about the pancakes."

How could you say no to that? So I agreed.

They kept me informed of the progress. "We've got people to bring in griddles, we'll get plates, forks, pancake mix, and syrup." They made a Facebook event and told me it was going to be a crowd. The created an excellent video promo for the club.

 Today was the day. Griddles and pancake mix and supplies were dropped of in waves over the course of the morning. A-block, done, B-block, done. The lunch bell rings and it's time for The LumberJack Club!

Five or six of the founders arrived and rearranged the furniture and set up a work space.

"I think we better just use two of the griddles," I said, "we have issues down here in the basement with breakers some time." So we plugged in two of the larger griddles and started mixing pancakes while they heated up.

Pop! (not a crazy loud dramatic pop mind you, just a little)

"Yep, that was the breaker. Give me a minute to get a master key and I'll reset it. But we better scale back to one griddle."

A trip upstairs for the key and a visit to the utility closet later and we were cookin'. Six cakes on the grill, two pitchers of batter, and a line of hungry, lumberjack-dressed teenagers waiting in a line.

Then I got the word from the teacher next door. "Did you have anything to do with the wireless being down? Because my entire lesson plan next period depends on it."

"Ooooooh. Maybe. I'll check."

Realizing I was over my head, I turned to my fellow Underground Teacher for help. Before we could search for a solution, I heard unwelcomed words. "There it goes again."

Twelve pancakes in and we'd blown breaker number two.

I reset the switch and headed off with Mr. Lindsay to the menacing "internet closet."

If networked buildings had real bowels, they'd look like this. Wires and boxes and blinking lights everywhere. We were lost. The only thing we knew for sure was that the blinking red light on the router meant nothing good.

I began to panic and just went back to try and hide in the middle of the fifty or so flannel-clad teens aimlessly waiting for pancakes in my classroom. Pancakes thirteen through eighteen had just been poured on the grill when I heard the custodian at the door.

"What is going on in here?" He looked genuinely surprised. I wished that I could offer him a pancake.

Innocently, I replied, "We're cooking pancakes?"

He seemed confused. What could be confusing about fifty kids in flannel, huddled around an electric griddle waiting on some pancakes?

"We've got fire alarms going off upstairs. You're setting off the heat sensors. We've been running around trying to figure out what's going on."

"Oh. Yeah, it's us. Just trying to make some pancakes."

"Are y'all done yet?" He was very polite, considering the circumstance.

"Do you need us to be?" I offered.

"Yeah, I think so. Let me use your phone to call upstairs to let them know what's happened."

Trifecta! We killed power, we killed internet, and yes, you guessed it, the phone was dead.

What's the moral of this story? The twenty-first century isn't ready for twenty-first century learning.

I created an open space for learning and allowed the students to engage in an activity of choice. I respected their comfort (what's more comfortable than flannel) and turned my room into a maker space (making pancakes is every bit as vital to society as making bridges) for them to collaboratively create. Their work had an authentic and immediate audience. And what was the result?

Absolute chaos! And mild disappointment. But no worries. The teenage lumberjacks, undaunted by setback, spent the remainder of lunch figuring out how to engineer LumberJack Club 2.0.

Good luck Lumberjacks! (and Lumberjackies)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Media Bias, Ignorance, or Apathy?

Word for word, here’s a recent story that appeared on the website of our local television station:

Federal numbers show that the majority of Virginia's teachers are paid more than the national average.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says Virginia teachers receive average annual wages from around $58,000 to $60,000, compared with a national average of $56,000 to $57,000.

Among Virginia's 10 metropolitan areas, only the Washington region has wages for all teachers that were significantly more than the national average.

Teachers in Richmond and in parts of southwest Virginia are paid significantly less than the national average.

Somehow, this report is supposed to be informative. If I did my job this terribly I’d lose it. Despite the “evil teacher’s union” too protect me.

My county pays teachers well compared to many others in the state. I’d guess we’re at least in the top quarter. Even so, a teacher with a Master’s Degree would have to make it to their 18th year of service to earn $56,000. (20th year with only a Bachelor’s)  That mean’s that about 75% of districts in Virginia require at least 18 years of service before a teacher hits the low end of the national average.

In our county, a teacher would not reach the minimum range of the Virginia average until 20 years of service. (24 years with only a Bachelor’s).

What’s the headline of this story? “the majority of Virginia’s teachers are paid more than the national average.” It just can’t be true. Simple statistics. Median and Mean aren’t the same thing, and this average refers to the mean.

Let’s simplify. Two sets of numbers. (1,1,2,2,3,3,10,10,10: Average- 4.7) and (2,3,3,4,4,5,5,6,6: Average- 4.2). The majority of numbers in set one is BELOW the average of set two, even though the AVERAGE of set one is higher than the average of set two.

In Virginia, average salaries by location range from $35,700- $76,874 ( . A simple comparison of state to national averages do not justify the statement “the majority of Virginia’s teachers are paid more than the national average.”

Are they simply trying to make the point that they think teachers are already overpaid?

The unfortunate truth of our local media is they only report what they're fed. They don't recognize that everyone feeding them is promoting their own specific agenda. And the public is left with a very skewed understanding of what goes on behind the walls of their own schools and a very unbalanced understanding of the nuance of education reform and policy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 11th, Syria, the Dead Bodies and More.

Our school marked yet another anniversary of the September 11th attacks. My ninth graders were two at the time.  We did a reflective journal and some shared stories of their parents' experiences but did so with a sense of disconnect.  I shared my experiences and together we discussed how our world has changed.  Our posts of the past (here and here)bring up these same issues that we confront each and every year as teachers.  I wish we could go deeper.

At the tail end of that discussion a student asked a pretty provocative question about possible US involvement in Syria.  I did my best to respond with some appearance of ful understand which likely failed miserably.  Such real time events are so difficult for the experienced news consumer it must be near impossible to comprehend for the average 14 year old.  But believe it or not amid all the snapchats and Facebook updates I think there is actually some genuine American sense of concern for their world.  After going around in circles and bringing in everything from Pearl Harbor, ethnocentrism, oil prices and how to define terrorism, I punted. John Green saved the day.  To be honest the bell to end class helped a lot too.

The rest of the week has been pretty normal if you call taking your classes outside for a Mock Archeology Dig to learn about Prehistory "normal".  In what I can only describe as either my most ambitious or most foolish project ever another teacher and myself created two fake dig sites full of artifacts.

The students have been excavating for two full periods engaging in a variety of jobs.  In the 90*+ heat they've been digging in the dirt,  sorting and cleaning artifacts and cataloging them using a Google form.  Put that in your reform pipe and smoke Pearson Inc.   All of this has happened under the watchful eye of a former student of mine who actually did archeology in on a site in Pompeii.    Will we do it again?  Absolutely.  But I suspect we will also do some things differently.  For instance don't bury anything that might make students think I actually put a body in the pit.  Those jokes got old after about 3 minutes.  Also never hand a 9th grader a digital camera without first saying "You are not to use these to take selfies." I really enjoyed the time it took to discard about one third of the images they took.

Lastly this week our division was visited by the former CEO of Lockheed Martin who discussed STEM in education.  That buzzword and the either real or manufactured shortage of experts in these fields is all the rage in eduspeak nowadays.  The article in our local paper asked him some rather leading questions which hint and the media's willingness to accept the narrative about needed reform from just about anywhere.  Anywhere except teachers or people working in schools. These question in particular stood out:  "What’s working in Albemarle County Public Schools?" and "Why are so many school divisions struggling with STEM-focused education?"    No one has ever asked me anything even remotely like that...and if they did they certainly didn't wait for an answer.

Still his was a good visit and he likely has positive goals in mind for kids.  We are on the same team.  I just wish that folks in charge would pass the ball  a bit once in awhile or at least listen to me in the huddle. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Virginia's Candidates for Governor on Education

If you’re unfamiliar with the 2013 race for Virginia Governor, this statement from Larry Sabato sums up why this election is so peculiar:

“These two are running against the only people they could beat”

No doubt, we’ve got two terrible choices. All politics aside, we’ve decided to look at both candidates' education platform. I could never endorse either of these two as a candidate, but there are significant differences in their plans for education.

Ken Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli’s plan begins by pointing out the obvious. Despite a history of success in Virginia schools, our biggest problem lies in racial, economic, and geographic disparities in student outcomes. His plan is based on four principles described below.

1) Empowerment
In order to ensure all of our students have the best possible education, we must empower
parents with the option to determine the best academic setting for their child’s education.

One could argue we already do this. Parents can discern from many rankings (including the states A-F rating) what schools are good. Once they’ve done so, they simply move into that district. Yes, that is ludicrous, but only in its extreme from the idea that parents can simply choose a good school. Factors of economics and parent involvement will still keep disadvantaged kids, well, disadvantaged. What about the goal of providing every parent’s child with the best academic setting?

2) Excellence
We need to always remember that teachers are the backbone of our education system. Study after study proves there is no more important variable in terms of determining a student’s long-term success and financial security than teachers.

Anyone propagating this falsehood has zero credibility. It is a statement meant to promote an agenda and a disservice rather than a complement to good teachers. Some studies show that teachers are the most important IN SCHOOL VARIABLE determining student success. This lets policy makers off the hook in addressing the most important variables that happen out of school. It also provides an easy target when reforms don’t work.

3) Opportunity
All children, regardless of who they are or where they live, deserve the opportunity to attend a quality school and learn from motivated teachers.

The obvious fix, provide support and resources to make every school a quality school. The reform fix, punish bad schools and reward the good. Create more disparity and place the outcome for children in the hands of whether or not their parents make the right choices.

4) Accountability
If we care about our students’ progress, we must implement real and verifiable measures
that allow our education system to replicate success and remedy failure.

Several decades of “accountability” haven’t moved us very far. Instead of starting over to find something that works, we keep tinkering with the tests. The best question to ask is “to whom are teachers accountable.” In today’s testing climate we are accountable to “big government” to borrow a phrase. Our students and their parents should be the ones to whom we’re accountable. A real education platform would figure out how to make that happen.

Terry McAuliffe

Like Cuccinelli’s plan, McAuliffe's plan uses numbers. That makes it easy on us. Here’s what he says about plans for education.

1) Reforming the SOL tests.
We must have a strong system of student achievement and teacher evaluation.

How about scrap and start over? I do like his ideas about what needs to change, but I don’t trust his plans to change them. The plan seems to place much faith in the validity of “growth measures” and still focuses on the purpose of SOLs being teacher evaluation rather than student learning. He also calls for a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to reassess content. How about we just release some of the content and let parents, teachers, and students judge for themselves whether the tests are fair?

2) Innovation in Education.
Quality educational systems need to think more creatively. Partnerships with businesses and community colleges, emphasis on STEM and Computer Science, and increased flexibility for our school districts will all help bring our schools into the 21st century.

Public/Private Partnerships and an emphasis on STEM are good, but if we’re not careful, we sacrifice other areas of equal importance. Education should not be solely driven by economic incentive. As a teacher, my job is not to prepare students to earn as much money as they can when they grow up. Let’s not sacrifice the arts and humanities for the sake of preparing students for a global economy. And, the quest for private/public partnerships should not overshadow the fact that education is a public trust and the public has a responsibility to support it, fully. The addition of private partnership should enrich, not support. (On a side note: Quality political systems need to think more creatively. Can’t we do better than just using words like Innovation, STEM, and 21st century and really focus on what we’re doing now in the present)

3) Supporting our Schools
Over time, the Commonwealth has reduced state investment in our schools, reducing the resources of our schools and shifting the burden to local school districts.

I agree. But the biggest obstacle to spending money on education is accountability. I think the public wants to know what they’re getting for their investment and the lack of transparency in educational spending creates a public sentiment of distrust. I don’t think the public wants test scores, I think they want to know how their money is being used. We don’t do a good enough job of letting them know.

4) Let Teachers Teach
Our teachers need to be relieved of the growing amount of paperwork and administrative tasks so they can focus on the job they signed up for: educating our kids.

Let’s focus here. Paperwork and administrative tasks are a nuisance, and when I’m overworked, they become the proverbial “straw that breaks the back.” I did sign up to “educate kids” but I’m educating about 35-50 more of them a year than I did in the late 1990’s when I started. Before worrying about the administrative burden, we need to understand the “job that we signed up for.” It takes much energy, effort, and time to “educate our kids.” Many teachers today are not doing their best, they’re doing the best they can.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The First Week of School?

Congratulations on completing the first full week of school America. Eight days in the books and a long Labor Day weekend coming up…

What’s that you say? Oh, you’re not starting until after Labor Day. I guess I did know some places still do that.

And what else was that, four weeks in? Already?!

O.K., I know, some of you do that year round thing.

I guess it’s pretty presumptuous for me to assume that every other school in America is on the same schedule as me.

Last week, the wide variety of starting dates for school struck me. I participated with a group of Psychology teachers in a twitter chat on August 21 and our topic of conversation was “first day activities.” It just happened to be the evening of my first day of school. Other teachers were in the midst of planning and probably incorporated some of the ideas into their first day. I also learned that some other teachers were already well into their school years.

A week later, we talked about different ways to use technology. Some teachers are already 1:1 and others can’t even rely on a consistent network connection.

A conversation about “flipping the classroom” highlighted scheduling issues of a different sort. At some schools, kids take classes that meet every day for a semester, others every other day all year, and even others every day all year long.

Teachers have students taking anywhere from four to eight classes at a time. If a student takes eight flipped classes with twenty-minutes of work for each every night, that’s two hours and forty-minutes at home in addition to the 7-8 hours at school each day. Perhaps it’s much different when students have four classes at a time.

The point is, no two schools are the same. Resources, size, demographics, schedules, all play a role in making them unique. The only consistent element is the relationships between young learners and adult guides helping them to reach their potential.

Perhaps as a nation we should focus more on these relationships that make a difference and less time searching for the big solution. There is no one curriculum, one instructional style, one behavioral system, one learning resource, or one best assessment that fits every system.

If we’re not careful, in our push to find the one big solution we’re going to kill the solution that’s already present.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Real World and Real People

Real World and the Real World

When I was about 6 years old, I remember watching a show on TV called “Real People.” Byron Allen, Sarah Purcell and Fred Willard would make me and my family laugh and I still remember some of the colorful characters from all across America they showed to us. The supposed “Real People” where the show took it's name.   This show also was the first time America heard from Richard Simmons, that’s just trivia by the way. The show dealt with nothing in particular that was influential or meaningful, but it says something that a 6 year old remembers those names some 20 years later(OK more than 20).

 I begin with that diversion since today’s scramble to revolutionize education with technology, which the TU posts have touched on, looks right past the people in it. I don’t remember the names from my youth because they were associated with TV, I remember these people because of who they were and how they affected me. So imagine if you will a redesign of education discounts the significance of real people working in the field.

 Often in education circles power players and decision makers preach about preparing students with nebulous things like “life skills” and "digital citizenship." As fuzzy as these words are, most people have at least have an idea of what the terms mean. Defining and measuring them is the hard part. But to the skilled and experienced educator you just kind of know when a student goes out into the “real world” whether or not they are ready and whether or not they will be OK.

Years of reading wedding announcements and the court report in the newspaper have mostly supported my predictions about the fate of students.   To me and most other teachers our job is about more than data, lessons or content is people.  What has occurred with alarming frequency over the past few years is the arrival of the snake oil salesman in educators lives. These are characters(there is no better word for them) arrive from out there in the supposed real world and have leveraged their technical or business skill and savvy into a position within the education establishment.  Unlike those of us here already, they don't seem to care much about people.

Their first step is to talk about re-designing everything in schools for the real world. This is where a good teacher pauses and says things like, “What?” You see, we ARE in the real world. Too often their efforts to improve our educational world instead disrupt what is a carefully crafted environment.   I end up no longer doing my best and instead doing the best I can as a result of some additional burden or unhelpful shift.  They usually push some brand of pseudo-real world scientific approach.  Science instead of art in the classroom.  An approach I do not favor.

 Sure, they can bring in an idea that makes things better and sometimes do. I and everyone else welcomes such reform. But more common is their ability to alienate, demoralize and undermine talented and devoted educators. What I have seen first hand is the ability of these outsiders to group-think in isolation. They also tend to promote their ideas using the digital landscape.  They fail to gather or even value the insights of people who deal with students. That is unfortunate because those are the Real People in education. The same Real People that have been preparing students for the real world for years.

 Not all of these characters are bad.  Not all are good.  In that sense they are like teachers.  But they differ in the most critical of ways.  They don't think like a teacher.  They don't have the experience of working with students and lack the practical knowledge to understand how ideas translate to action and play out in a school.  They don't actually carry out any of these plans, they just constantly come up with more.  And most importantly they are not directly accountable to students, their parents or any sort of evaluation.  If things don't work out they just move on to the next town....I mean school system.

Appearance of movement over substance.  That sums it up.  Sacrificing deep relevant positive change for quick flash in the pan actionable shifts that appeal to the popular trends.  They aren't real people and that isn't real change.   Just a carefully crafted facsimile.  Some promote ideas, others products while others simply seek to gain access and tap into the last stream of public funding to succumb to privatization and for profit motives.  To them these are just untapped marketplaces for their new product, program, fad or idea.  Nevermind the impact it has on real people, there's money to be made and fame to be had.  Their efforts can divert critical resources away from classrooms and kids and the adverse effects are indeed real. 

Carl Jung said "Children are educated by what the grown up is, not what he says" and at the end of the day what makes real difference in education is real people.  The idea vendors will shove their wares down the throat of districts convincing them that it will yield immediate improvement.  If, or more often when, that doesn't happen, they disappear into night heading out to raid the next division coffers.  Leaving behind the Real People to continue their efforts to make a lasting and real difference.  If we want real and consequential change to be the cornerstone of the future of education it must indeed be centered around Real People. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Crazy- In a Hurry

Week one is in the books!  It is true it wasn't really a full week and there aren't actually any books.  But that shouldn't detract from the joy of having all the students back in our building after dreary week and half of meeting.   The first few days went smoothly which is not always the case.  If you teach I hope the same was true for you.  Working with almost 1800 young people running around, you get used to crazy.  But this year started before they arrived. 

As an experienced teacher I am never surprised at the speed at which the world around me can go completely haywire.  Rarely am I surprised or even forced to pause to absorb the chaos.  It's just too common.  Crazy is the normal.  It's what we do.  That said I can't help but take in with bewilderment the week that was in local education circles.

Let's start at a nearby High School.  Fresh from his June appointment the new principal released a statement announcing his resignation.  What?  While he cited personal matters as the cause I could only imagine what might really bring this about.  It is odd to say the least.

The NCLB Monument.  They built a monument to that crap?
Just down the road in another nearby district a new assistant principal is under fire.  Locals are calling for her ouster after what they term "bullying' of their students.    
All this as the state releases data on how district students have performed on statewide SOL tests.   Nevermind the impact of No Child Left Behind is still being debated.  Along the same lines the Norfolk school board and the Virginia School Board Association decided to sue the state to block Governor Bob McDonald's school takeover legislation. 

Then there's an announcement that Pearson(our nemesis) had mis-scored tests for more that 4,000 students.  The same Pearson that has a more than $100 million contract with our state.  And this isn't first time.  As if we needed another reason to despise for profit education.  Sadder still is the fact that no one seems to bat an eye.  Let's imagine the calls for accountability if this were a teacher who made this mistake. 

Closer to home I found myself conflicted about efforts to redesign learning spaces.   Our media center has been radically transformed.  It is not that the changes are all bad, some are quite good.   But many of the alterations seem to have originated far from actual classrooms and teachers and affect what we do.  As a consequence what was a multi-use facility is now shifting to trends more about appearance that function.  In fairness it is a work in progress.  The Media Center people in the building are great and to some degree, they like us, are along for the ride.  I just wish for one minute the "about the learner movement" would assume that most teachers always try to be about the learners.

Elsewhere our county will hire someone to "rebrand" a local middle school.  To what extend that is necessary or wise I am not certain.  But that term "rebrand"  sounds odd in the same sentence as school.  That word belongs in some sort of business world.  All in the name of "What's Best for Kids"  That might require some rethinking.

Thanks goodness day one of school things returned to "normal". The kids running everywhere meant things were about like they should be.  We'll do our best to keep about the same the rest of the way.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm Still Anxious

Tomorrow I begin my eighteenth school year as a teacher. But I’m still anxious. After tomorrow I will have met more than one hundred classes for the first time, and still, I’m anxious. I watched the handful of students roaming the halls today, finding their way around before the first day of school, and I saw a look on their face that I recognized. I’m still anxious about the first day of school.

I’ll meet over one hundred strangers tomorrow and the next day for the first time. And by the end of the week, I’ll need to convince them that I’m trustworthy, that I care, that I deserve their respect and cooperation. I have to make them believe that they’ll be better off for doing what I ask of them.

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I’m anxious.

You expect it from a student. A student starting a new school, but from a teacher with years of first day experiences? Still feeling of anxiety on the first day of class?

My first year of teaching, a computer on every teacher’s desk was the big deal. Tomorrow I’m slightly frustrated because my students can’t use the laptops until the second period of the day. My first year I spent hours setting up Excel to use as a grade book. Today, I spent a few minutes making sure my Powerschool settings are correct because students and teachers can view my gradebook in real time. I’ve spent more hours designing my website than working on a syllabus this year.

Teaching is different every year. Students are different every year. I’m different every year. And every year I’m anxious. Very few things continue to work year after year, and a teacher must constantly review and revise what they do.

I’m a little socially awkward. I’m uncomfortable around people I don’t know. I don’t like large groups. That doesn’t sound like someone who’d make a good teacher. But I am. I’m probably not great, but I must be better than adequate. I teach an elective that students choose to take, and many choose to take it year after year.

But what I do doesn’t come natural. It takes lots of work. Lots of work, and lots of worry.

Sometimes when I watch performers I notice when they perform to perfection it seems effortless. So much so that I think, “I could do that.” But the older I get, the more I realize, the easier they make it look, the more practice and time and energy they’ve put into it. When it looks the easiest, it’s been the hardest.

I’ve worked hard this year, like every year, to make tomorrow seem easy. And after that, the next one-hundred and seventy-nine won’t be so bad. And the anxiety will give way to relief as my students and I settle into 2013-2014.

Happy First Day of School everyone.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Teaching Underground's 2012-2013 Report Card

Much has been made of the activities of the NSA and their monitoring of cell phones. No doubt it is better not to know some things but the Constitution still means something around here. At least it is supposed to.  The events of the past decade have changed our standing in the world community, our military strategy and our views on domestic security as well.  We'll spare the you the 1984 references and simply say 3 things.  Torture should be illegal.  The U.S. is the good guy. 
Grade= (They know their grade already)

Pearson Education
Well your stock prices went up but we still disapprove of you.  You control the SOL tests, the question approval process, our grading software, curriculum , remediation programs and just about all aspects of the online process.  But you don't own us. 
Grade= F

Education Leaders
Just because.  
Grade= F

New England Patriots
How do you keep a guy like Hernandez and trade Wes Welker? That turned out well.
Grade= F

Teachers of America
Do more, and be more aware and informed of the changes that are affecting our profession.  
Grade= B+

A-Rod and Ryan Braun
"On my honor I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this assignment"
Your word is your bond fellas.  Barry, Lance, and how many more athletes seem to put results in front of integrity.  Sad they get so much time on ESPN
Grade= F

Chris Dumler
Not sure everyone knows the whole story of the County Supervisor or if they or we even want to.  But dude was an elected official.  Apparently that means nothing to some self-centered hacks that are too often filling elected Offices.
Grade= FBut no opportunity to retake the class.

Anthony Weiner
Sticking with the crappy politicians theme, this guy is a bum. This former teacher says something.  Too bad Weiner can't listen.  Bum.
Grade= F and he is expelled

The New County TPA
In addition to having new cover sheets and thousands of other things designed to effectively measure teacher quality, they have a way of making the end of the year oh so pleasant.   Step in the right direction?  Time will tell.  As teachers we now have a number assigned to us.  A metric of performance, maybe they can give us an A-F grade.
Grade= 3 Applies (I think that equals a C)

The Mayans
Turns out they were wrong. Or maybe we were measuring the wrong thing.
Grade= F

Miss Utah
 Look Lady  know you are attractive but let's not pin everyone woe on Education.  

2013-2014 School Year

Welcome back to school. The best thing about August is that everything starts over again. Clean slate. We're excited to see all of our new student faces and look forward to a great year of teaching and another frustrating year of edu-policy.
Grade (in progress)= A+