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+