Friday, August 10, 2012

Testing Reality

Once again the topic of testing rears its ugly head. Just like many schools around the country, mine is making a few changes in an attempt to affect student achievement and test scores...but that is for another day.

I want to give thought to what is considered a success when it comes to testing. What percentage of kids need to pass before we say "good job" to our schools?
100%... 60%... 75%...90%?

I have never subscribed to the No Child Left Behind theory that 100% (too high) of our students will pass all their tests by 2014. I have also never liked the ridiculous 50% (too low) that is required of students to pass some of the end-of-year subject tests.

For me, 80% is a good baseline to shoot for with test scores. Now before you label me a pessimist (I prefer realist!), let me give two reasons how I came to this number... free will and "life happens."

Unlike using numbers to keep track of sales at a business, test scores fail to paint the full picture when a student flat out refuses to engage in their education or assessments. This maybe a lack of relationship with student, but regardless, it's near impossible to make humans do something when they have their minds set against it.

On the other hand, sometimes "life happens," and students don't test as well as they normally would. Even if you have the best teachers and most attentive students throughout the year, life events can happen that cause them to lose focus. Recovering from being sick, social drama, a family member dies... all of these would give an adult trouble, even more so a child.

So... You may tell me 19% failed, but I say 81% passed, and that ain't bad!

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Summer is coming to a close and my thoughts are starting to drift back to the classroom.

-I wonder if I will be able to connect with this group of kids as well as those of the past.
-Where can I improve in my presentation, relationships, and demeanor?
-Will they leave in May feeling stronger and better than when they arrived?

...but most of all, I'm just grateful for a career that I can commit my MIND, BODY, and SOUL to everyday.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about a teacher's role in the classroom.  See you in the hallways. :)

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
--Haim G. Ginott

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Phone Home!

So this is going to be a little bit of a rant. :(

There is a pet peeve of mine that has been steadily growing over the last year or so.

Bad or no contact information for parents!

It just blows my mind that someone is willing to drop off their child for 8 hours of the day without a way for the people in charge to easily get in contact with them.

I know that some parents get tired of hearing from the school in regards to discipline issues, but what if something serious were to happen to your child? How are school staff supposed to let you know if something has affected the health or safety of your child when the phone numbers in our computer are disconnected or for places that you longer live or work at?

In the end, I find it ridiculous that adults will not hesitate to keep their magazine or TV subscription information current, but when it comes to doing the same for your child's school, it just slips their mind. Sounds like a serious case of misplaced priorities!

So... if you have kids in school (or will have kids in school), be sure to keep that contact information up-to-date for your child's sake!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Relativity of Time

It has always amazed me how quickly my middle school students can ride an emotional roller coaster from high to low and back again.

--Best friends, worst enemies, and back to friends in the span of a few days.
--They're in love, out of love, and back again within weeks.
--You're their favorite teacher, you're the worst because you called them out on their poor behavior/choices, and by the end of the week, you're once again the best.

This strikes me as a very tiring way to live, but...
Over the last few years, I think I have come up with a explanation for this seemingly odd behavior, and it has helped me to be more understanding of the students in my room.

Basically, I believe, that students and adults experience time differently. Shocking, right?! Seriously though... I haven't run the math, but think about it. One week of time is a higher percentage of a 12 year-old's life than it is for a 30 year-old. Just as a week for that same 30 year-old is larger chunk of his/her life when compared to a 70 year-old. This has led me to construct a (very) rough conversion chart for how my students (12-13 year-old's) experience time compared to me (31 year-old).

The way I see it, one day for my students is equivalent to one week for me, and if they have to wait one week for something to arrive, it is similar to me waiting a month. This view has cleared up a lot of misconceptions that I have had in years past.

For example, I used to get frustrated when I gave an assignment weeks in advance and then watch them wait until the last few days to get it done. I now see that two weeks down the road is in the far distant future from their points-of-view. I also realized that I do the same in my life! While I don't necessarily wait until the deadline if I am given two months (teenage equivalent of two weeks) to get something done, I will usually gather information and then relax a few weeks before getting down to business.

Let that sink in for a bit, and you might come to understand that a kid's use of time, while sometimes confusing to someone older, is not them trying to be defiant or irritating on purpose, but just how they experience time during that stage of life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Attack of the Tech!!!

It seems computer technology in the classroom has been the BIG push over the last few years around here. On the face of it, this idea sounds fine, but something about spending large amounts of money to snatch up the latest in technology has not sat well with me.

Don't get me wrong... I have seen some awesome things done with SmartBoards, iPads, and computers in many small remediation and special education clasrroms around the district, but the reality is that a majority of teachers have a 25+ to 1 teacher/student ratio.

For me, all these technological devices are tools that best used when applied to the situations that call for them. For example, hammers are great tools for putting nails into place, but they do not work so well when dealing with screws. Sure... it is possible to get that screw into the board, but wouldn't it have been easier to just grab a screwdriver? I think this is part of the problem with computers (laptops, desktops, and/or tablets) in the classroom. Too many times we throw out the traditional form of educating our kids (teacher/student relationship) in favor of a new way that depends heavily on technology (computer/student relationship). We have elevated computer technology from the status of mere tools to something almost human in intelligence.

We give extra value to computer technology because of this warped view, but I believe this shift is not beneficial in the long run and just adds to the cycle of American schools jumping from fad to fad. Let me try and explain.

--Computer technology is NO replacement for the work of a good teacher, especially in the K-3rd grade levels. No amount of computers can make up for a kid missing out on the basics of reading, writing, and math at such an early age. Instead of spending money on computers, shouldn't we FIRST focus on getting those basics taught and understood by our students? I think we could best accomplish this by hiring more K-3 grade teachers to get the teacher/student ratio down. As it is, ONE teacher successfully teaching 25+ lower elementary students to read, write, and do math is nothing short of a miracle! If you don't believe me, just try teaching anything to a room full of 7 year-old kids by yourself and see how it turns out. :)

--Speaking of large amounts of students... I have found that all this computer technology usually leads schools deeper into a money pit. As school districts struggle toward the goal of "a computer for each student," they usually rack up a hefty bill along the way. (Again, if computers were viewed as tools meant to be applied to the correct situation and NOT all of them, we wouldn't be fighting to buy so many.) Even when districts do reach this lofty goal, it is usually years down the road, and means that it is time to start buying replacements for the original, aging equipment. All of these purchases add up to big bucks that I cannot help but think could be better spent on hiring more teachers, especially at the elementary level.

--There has also been a lot said lately about preparing students for technology in the workplace. I think this idea has been a big reason behind the push for computer technology, but let's think about it for a second. How much computer technology is REALLY needed in most jobs? If you think it through honestly, you'll find that most jobs do not require much more than skills in word processing, internet navigation/research, and cable connections. For everything else, this is what the company's technology department is hired to accomplish. What about the jobs that DO require a high level of computing expertise? That training, more often than not, comes from post-high school classes or on the job training after being hired.
That being said, I love computer technology and all the fancy devices that make my life easier and more entertaining, but when do we sit back and think hard about how these devices impact our students and if that is money well spent?
So you want to give my school money for an additional teacher OR computers for everyone?
I know which one I would choose every time!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Teacher's Thanksgiving

Before we dive head first into the commercial and capitalist season known as "the holidays," I thought I would take the time to list a few things I am thankful for as a teacher.

-Having a job
-Thoughtful kids
-My map pointer (aka: lightsaber)
-Post-It notes
-"What Would You Like To Know"
-Copy machines that work
-Supportive principals
-My standing desk (Grok on!)
-IMAX videos
-11:15 coffee break with the 6th grade giant
-"Good Things"
-Joking with students
-The Teacher indoor soccer team
-Asking questions

Hope everyone has a good break.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


It's that time of year, voting for our school's teacher of the year has begun.

...And while it is hard to get excited about the process that encourages us to NOT vote for the "best" teacher, but the one who is the "finest example of the profession" (aka... the teacher who will look the best on the forms they fill out for the district T.O.Y. competition), I began thinking back to teachers I had in school that had an impact on me.

What I have found that makes a good teacher isn't necessarily what they teach a student, but how they make that student feel. As the years have gone by, I have forgotten some of the content taught, but I still remember leaving a class feeling smart, important, and even liked, which sometimes made all the difference.

As for my schooling, I know plenty teachers I had who match that definition, whether it was the way they managed their classes, the passion they put into their job, or just how they treated me in general... they are important to me.

So thank you Mrs. Hubbard, Mr. Jenkins, Coach Butcher, and Mrs. Harris. I don't know if you have won any awards, but I appreciate everything you did.
What about you? Feel free to leave a comment below about any teacher that made an impression on you.