Friday, March 29, 2013


I’ve been busy. It takes a lot of time and energy to teach one-hundred and thirty teenagers in six different classes.

You can’t just walk into a room and teach. Most people don’t think about this. For anyone who doesn’t teach, think about the last time you had to prepare for a presentation or speech. How long did it take? And did you really engage an audience or just talk to them and show pictures?

Preparing to teach a lesson takes time.

Student’s don’t (and shouldn’t) work without feedback. I’ve found a few learning experiences that students enjoy just for the fun of it, or because they’re curious enough to engage, but even if minimal feedback wasn’t required for nearly every activity, we still have to assess for learning in multiple ways. For anyone who doesn’t teach, think about how much time you take to pay the monthly bills, or file your tax returns. Or maybe it’s the monthly maintenance around your house. Sometimes it’s more enjoyable than others, but sometimes you just have to do it. And the consequences of not doing it can be disastrous.

Assessing student work and giving feedback takes time.

That alone is a full-time job, enough to consume an entire workday and beyond.

If you really want to engage with your family, involve yourself in the community, and maybe enjoy an hour or two of personal leisure in the week it’s hard to do much more. It’s hard to even do your best.

That’s why we’ve been so quiet lately.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Preparing for the Future

I love “survivalist” reality shows on television. The best ones focus on the need to simplify and make sure of two things in a survival situation. 1) Make sure to acquire basic needs (as opposed to wants) and supplies. 2) Value items that provide multiple uses. The main idea of these two points being that if you take care of the essentials, use a little creativity, and prepare to adapt your chances of surviving and perhaps even flourishing increase greatly.

We’re rarely confronted with the need to adopt a “survivalist” mentality because our world is relatively predictable from day-to-day. When it isn’t and disaster strikes, we face uncertainty and failing to prepare for and react to uncertainty is deadly.

My school district is beginning a process of creating a new strategic vision and plan for the future. At it’s root, that’s what education is about, preparing students for the future. That’s not an easy task when the future is an uncertain place.

All educators should be familiar with the “Shift Happens” videos and the Beloit College “Mindset Lists.” These resources describe the ways that our world has changed and is changing for current students. The lesson we should take from these resources is that predicting the future is futile. Twenty years ago, I lived in a dying analog world quickly being taken over by a digital revolution. Today I’m fully immersed in a digital world. When I consider twenty-years from now, it would be foolish to not consider that by then our world will be post-digital with a new set of challenges and opportunities that we’d never think of today.

As I sit playing a video game on my iPhone, I remember the first “Pong” system I played as a child. I carry a device in my pocket that connects me to the world, serving as my map, calendar, entertainment, reference source, a place to shop, do my banking, and communicate in ways that weren’t even possible twenty years ago. How did my education prepare me for this world?

Teaching students to adapt to an unpredictable future requires that we teach them enduring principles and ideas and give them the opportunity to apply those ideas in multiple ways.

I learned how to read and use a map in school. It doesn’t matter that I use it on my phone today, knowing how to locate yourself and others in the world is essential.

I learned personal and collective responsibility in school. Google calendar sends me text reminders every week so that I don’t forget to take out the trash, but I learned the importance of keeping up with my tasks because of the effect it has on me and others with paper and pencil.

I sometimes spend too much time watching videos and playing games on my mobile phone. I also remember wasting entire Sunday afternoons listening to the top 40 countdown on the radio waiting for the song I wanted to record on my cassette tape. Unfortunately I didn’t learn enough about not wasting time in school.
I learned that context matters in school and different levels of respect were required in different situations. I prefer texting to communicate today, but I still take the time to make sure my grammar is correct and the tone is evident to avoid miscommunication. I learned this because my teachers all had different expectations that I sometimes had to discover on my own through trial and error.

I recently read a book written by one of the stars of the above mentioned “survival” shows. It included an old cartoon of a couple in a fallout shelter, surrounded by stocks of canned food. The wife berated the husband for forgetting the can opener.

What a tragedy to starve to death in the midst of food for lack of a tool. The author followed up with a tedious but effective way of safely opening a canned good with nothing more than an abrasive surface.

That’s how you prepare for uncertainty. You don’t just learn to use the tool, you learn why, and how the tool is useful. Tools are extensions of humanity that facilitate our ability to accomplish a task. The knowledge of why and how gives us the ability to use it effectively, improve it if needed, discern if something new really is better, and to adapt when it is.

The idea of preparing students for an uncertain future can be scary. It’s tempting to buy into the next best thing in fear of being left behind. It’s easy to dismiss the value of technology in enhancing the experience of education.

Ultimately, the best we can do is to teach the lessons that endure to the adults of tomorrow using the most effective tools of today.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Where is the TU?

Yeah...we're busy.  Some might say too busy.  Too bad no one seems very concerned about that fact.
We'll probably get caught up at some point but not right now.  In the meantime here's what we should have been writing about.

UVa Honors Kopp
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation taps her for an Honor in Citizen Leadership.  Really? 

No Comment
School board members say the fact that no one showed up to comment at a recent meeting means that the community is pleased with its progress.  Or- that many who would comment and have are too busy or tired not being heard.

Dumler Won't go
It is really hard to impart lessons about character, responsibility and citizenship with this backdrop.  TU and pretty much everyone agrees...he's a bum.

Most "-ation"s are bad.  Time will tell.  The sky has not fallen.   I do expect that our school's meager lunch will now be even more expensive

Light at the End
The SB announced the last day of school as June 12th.  For the first time in years, we are not sure we will make it.

In the perfect example of mismanagement the UVa Saga continues.  Clearly the Governor should have read our posts.  This could have all been avoided.  If you want to learn how to weaken higher level public education, start taking notes.

UVA Lost in the ACC Tournament again. We haven;t won since the one and only win in 1976.  We haven't even placed on Saturday since 1995.  Yikes. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Future of Education

Often we are asked "What is it that you think you know about education that I don't?"  Usually origitnating with someone confdent they have it figured out, and we at the TU are just self serving teachers unable to see the big picture.  Well...all I can say is that I have given this a lot of thought.

I was actually interviewed my first year of teaching...back when our local paper actually had an education reporter and didn't just publish what they were fed.  I dug it out recently and was reminded that if you want to know about the future of education, ask a teacher.   Here is an excerpt that I scanned...

"Wink wink"

Friday, March 1, 2013

What Does it Mean to Put Students First?

Last night, a student communicated with me her dilemma over taking the AP Psychology exam in May. This student is one of my best students and would more than likely score a five on the exam.

The college she will attend next year does not accept a score lower than a five, and she has a second AP exam scheduled the same day as the AP Psychology exam. She doesn’t want to risk taking two exams on the same day and not doing her best on both, and the other exam is more relevant to her future plans.

What I’m really thinking: Please, take my exam. Even if you don’t prepare for it I’m sure you’ll get at least a four. When students like you choose to not take the exam it makes me look worse.

What I know is right: The AP program and exams should provide a benefit to students. (actually, maybe all aspects of education should). Students and parents, with the informed advice of teachers and school support can make appropriate educational decisions.

What I could do: I could insist that every student take the AP exam for my class. If I want a true measure of how well this class prepares students then it would make sense that all students take the test—high achievers, low achievers, and everyone in between.

What I’m happy about: My end-of-course test isn’t as high stakes as many “core” classes. I can look at my students test scores to inform instruction without having to worry so much about how the numbers look.

So what do I say: As I suggest to all of my students, if you were successful in this course you should expect success on the test. If you haven’t earned at least a C, your chances aren’t so good. If you haven’t earned at least a B and don’t plan to make time to prepare for the exam, your chances aren’t so good. Check the colleges you plan to attend and determine their policy on AP exams, compare it with your expectations, and if needed, talk to me and make an informed decision.

In the end, I’m driven by the value that responsibility for educational outcomes are shared by myself, the instructor, and the students taking my course. The test provides a significant tool to evaluate the extent to which each of us live up to our part of the responsibility. I am able to compare class grades to test scores. When discrepancies arise between a student’s class performance and assessment score I can look at all of the variables that might have contributed.

From year-to-year, I am able to modify instruction in response to information gleaned from previous year’s data.

This test has become a tool to inform and improve instruction. Students are not forced to take it for the primary purpose of providing evaluation of their teacher. Students are given the choice of determining whether the test will ultimately be in their best interest. The teacher is freed from the burden of teaching to the test and able to cover the curriculum in a meaningful context.

Current education reform debate too often pits teacher vs. student and falls back to the argument of “students first.” Is the practice of forcing every student to test for hours every year for the primary purpose of creating a system to evaluate teachers and schools a system that is focused on the best interest of the child, or on the teachers and schools that teach them.