Deleting Diagrams

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“These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It’s a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win.” – Taylor Swift

As the title of this blog indicates my posts are about revolutionizing teaching and pedagogy. I’m still quite amazed to find that the practice of diagraming sentences is still very much in practice across the United States.  My family members teach in schools where it is taught. I’ve worked at schools where it is taught.  I also have a global network of educators with whom I speak that have indicated quite clearly to me that the practice is alive and well… even though research has clearly indicated its poor ability to actually teach grammar.  A recent article in The Atlantic: “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” highlights some of these research findings.

As early as 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English declared that “repetitive grammar drills and exercises” — like diagramming sentences — are “a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing.”  Yet the practice persists in classrooms throughout the nation.  Furthermore a careful study of the Common Core State Standards makes no mention of Diagraming Sentences.  Why then is this antiquated practice allowed to continue? When research clearly indicates that it is ineffective at best why is it allowed to swallow valuable instructional minutes in an already cramped work day?  a recent NPR article also talks about the debate regarding diagraming sentences.

It seems that ancient practices are like vampires… hard to kill unless brought into the bright light of public scrutiny.  Yet that is difficult to do when teachers who cling to ancient pedagogical techniques continue to shroud the truth in a cloak of shadows.  The argument is usually “I learned this in school it was good we should still teach it”.  Wow, research be damned.  No wonder there is so little respect for the teaching profession as it continues to pick and choose those research articles that it likes and just ignore data if it goes against tradition.  One only need to look at the phenomenon of Homework… largely expected in every grade level yet the research findings are clear… In the elementary grades Homework has clearly been demonstrated to have no effect on student learning or even worse, a negative affect.  Positive gains do not appear in the research for elementary students… if they do they are the minority of articles, yet teachers continue to extol its merits…. simply because we’ve grown accustomed to its ineffectual presence.

If you’re a teacher, and administrator, a parent, a student, a human being somehow impacted by school and education I implore you…. start taking a critical look at what is being taught in our schools.  What practices take place.  Don’t take for granted that just because you experienced it as a child it has value today.  Remember there was a time when a person who had a headache would have his or her skull cracked open to let the bad spirits escape… I’m glad medical science actually uses data and grows in its practices or else we’d all have holes in our heads by now.

Take a step back, look at the data, make a good decision.  The future of our students depends upon you.

Demand High Quality

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“Believin’ all the lies that they’re tellin’ ya
Buyin’ all the products that they’re sellin’ ya
They say jump and ya say how high” – RATM

Today I received some troubling news.  I even wrote a short tweet on twitter about it, but I took it down because I felt it deserved an entire post instead of just a short 140 character shout out.  It is that time of year when administrators are getting ready to hire teachers (if they haven’t already).  This is a sacred process that is of the most critical nature.  A principal is tasked with finding and selecting the most qualified and best suited individual to help at least 30 lives learn and improve for an entire academic year. This is a task that should not be taken lightly and one that should have the strongest of criteria to fulfill.

I was speaking with a colleague on the east coast.  I respect her well and know that she always strives to do what is best for her students as well as for her school.  She mentioned that she was upset because of the new teacher that was being hired at her school.  When I asked “why” she gave me an answer I wasn’t expecting and I must say it also had me quite upset because I realize the practice doesn’t just take place at her school but is something that happens across the nation on a regular basis.  The teacher that they were hiring isn’t qualified for the position.  This could mean a lot of things so let me be specific.  The teacher does not hold a teaching credential, has served as a substitute teacher (which has very minimal requirements in most states) and has been selected instead of increasing the search for a more qualified individual.  I feel bad for a lot of people in this situation.  I feel bad for the new teacher… its not going to be an easy road, I feel bad for the students who are going to receive a sub-standard teacher instead of at least a teacher with basic qualifications, and I feel bad for the school that has an administrator too lazy to roll up her sleeves and conduct a thorough search.

I know they’ve been looking for a while and not found any candidates.  My colleague tells me one teacher was offered the position but found another job due to the slow nature of her administrator to actually select and notify the candidate.  However, if traditional search methods aren’t working then there should be something outside the box.  Look out of state, go online and post the position with video interviews. Find the ideal QUALIFIED candidate.  Right now this administrator is gambling with the education of her students and its just not right.  It is her decision to make but in my opinion it makes for a very weak administrator.  I was once faced with similar difficulties in locating an ideal candidate for a position.  However I was prepared to step into the classroom if necessary with my teaching credential to ensure that the students received the education they deserved.

I had a set policy when I ran my school.  EVERY teacher had to be credentialed. That even included substitute teachers.  I know that many schools do not have that policy.  I also know that one school had a substitute come in with minimum qualifications (basically a BA degree, no teaching credential, not even a course taken in teaching or pedagogy) and at the end of the day multiple students emailed the actual teacher saying how nice the substitute was, but that they needed help because they couldn’t understand the assignment or what he taught them.

Education has, for too long, stagnated and floated upon the river of poor education brought on by the deluge of unqualified candidates.  The current minimum qualifications are horrible but at least they exist and should be met.  Any administrator that ignores this really does a discredit to the profession of teaching.  Only the most overwhelming emergency should excuse them from making this horrible choice.

Stand up parents, teachers, and administrators.  DEMAND  that your children receive education from at least MINIMALLY qualified teachers (I SAY DEMAND EVEN MORE) and if you find that your school has hired a teacher who doesn’t even have a credential… move your child or demand your administrator be held accountable.

For too long the system has said “JUMP” and we’ve responded “HOW HIGH”.  It is time we respond with “HOW, WHY, and it better be high quality.”

This happened to my friend on the east coast, but I am certain its happening in just about every state out there.  I’d love to hear your opinion on this and ideas about how we can stop this practice from continuing.

Waivers are not the answer.

Money for Nothing and your Tuition for Free

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Image Credit: DrRandomFactor (Modified by John Wick ) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

I was already aware that Germany had one of the lowest tuition rates in the world for its students, however today I learned that they have abolished tuition for University students.  This includes foreign students from the United States as well as other countries.   As a product of the US University system and a member of Generation X, I am among the typical American who has gathered quite a substantial student loan debt in order to further my professional career.  Any news about alternatives that exist in other countries is always interesting.

What is most interesting to me is the philosophical outlook that Germany has taken with regard to university education.  According to CBS News a Hamburg Senator, Dorothee Staplefeldt, commented that tuition is “Unjust” and that the fees “… discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Did you catch that? It was an acknowledgment that the fees universities charge can put education out of the reach of students who need it the most.  It was a politician actually standing up and saying that one of the roles of politics is to serve the people!

Writer Lynn O’Shaugnessy (@CollegeBlogs) Brings up some excellent points.  She stated, “It’s too bad that politicians in the U.S. don’t feel that a college education is worth supporting appropriately.”  She also brought up the continued quarter century decline of state aid to public universities in the United States.

Fear of an Educated Planet

It seems that much of the discussion regarding education in the United States, currently, is centered around Common Core State Standards, Federal Funding to schools, Assessment, Value Added Evaluations, etc.  Some talk has come up, from time to time, about reducing student loan debt etc. However at the heart of the issue is a philosophical belief that we should charge (and charge heavily) for an education.  This fear of an educated planet only pushes us further into debt (students and government alike) and hinders our ability to compete in the global market.

It seems we (The United States) likes to compare our education systems to other education systems only when we are being self deprecating.  Its far easier to say that others are better than us and to find ourselves in the quagmire of political debate rather than attempting to solve the root of our issues.

Our system is not broken.  Our philosophy simply needs changing and we need people to take a stand so that we can offer education to all those who truly desire to be educated.  Instead of focusing on our cultural currency that demands “Money for Nothing and our Chicks for Free” (as Dire Straits once sang) why not focus on eliminating the need for student currency to attend university. Educated students entering our workforce will be better equipped to tackle the issues that face our nation on a daily basis.  If we want to compete in our own nation, let alone on a global scale, its time we demand Money for Nothing and our Tuition for Free.

 

 

Evolution of the Digital Immigrant

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley 

“Sometimes when I take a peek outside of my little cage, everyone looks so asleep. Will they die before they wake?” – Oingo Boingo

It used to be said that there were (and I say this with much ire) Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. For many years, those teachers and administrators who actively resisted technology were handed a Get Out of Jail Free card. They could, and often would; state “I’m a Digital Immigrant.” This passport to slow down integration of technology did more harm than good for the students that we are duty bound to educate.

Some people are simply uncomfortable using technology (yes even those that grew up with it).

Some are afraid of what may happen when the technology fails (yes at some point it will fail).

Some do not want to admit that students in their class might know more about how to use the technology than the teacher (yes quite often they will).

The reasons are many and varied. And the passport of the so-called “Digital Immigrant” offered over a decade ago by Prensky has allowed these educators to willingly retard the development of necessary skills, processes, and product creation that is necessary for today’s world and for the world in which the students will enter as adults.

Papers Please

Luckily, the terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant are going out of fashion, though there are still some die-hard fans (and not the Bruce Willis, Yipee-Ki-Yay ones) who still have a rigor mortis death grip upon the terms. I’ve walked by a few presenters who still champion the term but the time is nigh for each of us ask for their papers and to tear up the passport that allows educators to effectively hinder student’s progress toward a successful adult life.

Develop an Excuse

I’ve also heard the argument made by these educators that they need more Professional Development. It is classic. “I can’t use these tools because I haven’t had enough PD.” On the surface, this seems like a logical argument. However, I’ve never heard a child say they couldn’t use a piece of technology in the classroom because they lack PD. They embrace their natural curiosity. They explore, they use their curiosity to learn and are not afraid of breaking a device or admitting that they don’t know how to do something. If only our colleagues who are gripping onto the sides of the ship would pull themselves up out of the icy water and start learning how to set sail with their students.

Basic Training

The new cry that I have heard coming from these Digital Divisives is that we need to get “Back to Basics.” I’ve actually heard a teacher say with all due sincerity “ We need to teach them (the students) the basics before we teach them with technology.” What a dangerous philosophy. This is worse than the PD or Immigrant argument, because it subversively indicates that technology is little more than a fad that will not be used later in life.

Long after these educators have retired their students will find themselves attempting to use new technologies of the future, having been deprived of the “Basic” foundation of the technology of the present. We know that decades ago Lev Vygotsky demonstrated the importance of scaffolding and helping students push through their Zones of Proximal Development. Many adhere to this tiered learning, but the Digital Divisive fails to implement this approach and expects the students to jump into an adult life without the benefit of having learned to productively use technology for learning.

Furthermore, the statement is erroneous. We do not have to teach children the basics before they use technology. Technology should be used to help teach children the basics. We are witnessing the evolution of the Digital Immigrant. As with all things in evolution, they’ve adapted and grown stronger in their methods of survival.

Extinction Level Event Required

Digital Immigrants claimed ignorance, as that became a weak means of survival, they evolved into Development Demanders, until finally we have their current form, the Digital Divisive. As with the dinosaurs, it will take an Extinction Level Event to halt the evolution of the Techno-phobes and Techno-odios that have brought our students one more minute closer to midnight on the digital clock of their futures.

This will take a concerted effort of parents, other teachers, and administrators to demand and ensure that our students no longer are hindered in their growth and development. We’ve listened to the excuses for decades and allowed ourselves to be dragged into the tar pits where only the adept Digital Divisives are flying over the morass of our dying initiatives. Its time we halt this evolution and bring forth, to the light, the real harm that is being done to the future of our students and our world by those who fail or choose not to understand the important role that technology plays in our present and most certainly will play in our future.

 Your DNA

So, what are your thoughts.  What Dynamic Nuanced Approaches do you have to offer in halting the evolution of a dangerous paradigm? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and lets start an evolution debate that is actually worth having.

 

A Small Victory

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Fernando Herrera via Compfight

“Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them!” – Stacker Pentecost

Today heralded a landmark tentative ruling from Judge Rolf M. Treu in the case of Vegara et al. V. State of California. This case involves nine plaintiffs who are public school students that are bringing a complaint against the State of California. These students are challenging five components of the rather encyclopedic California Education Code (specifically 44929.21(b); 44934, 44938 (b) (1), 44944 (2), and 44955. Okay… those are a lot of numbers so what do they mean?

These California Ed Codes deal with three separate issues. 1. The “Permanent Employment Statutes”, 2. “Dismissal Statutes”, 3. “Last-In-First-Out [LIFO] Statute”. At the heart of this matter is the question of whether or not these statutes, which deal almost exclusively with tenure and teacher retention within the state of California, violate the state constitution. In the tentative ruling it was found that they do.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not usually go out of my way to read a legal ruling, they tend to be bland and really hold little interest for me. However, it is clear that Judge Treu did not have any ineffective teachers when he was in school. His ruling is sound and the language he chooses to use throughout is engaging and quite dynamic. I do not often encounter a ruling in which words such as “paradigmatized”, “Gainsaid”, “Preponderance”, “über”, or “illusory” are used with eloquence and precision.

Judge Treu also manages to make very clear that his ruling is based solely upon the law and that it is not his place to enter into the realm of politics or legislation, he even goes so far as to quote Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Paper 78! If you are an educator (even if you aren’t one from the state of California) I highly recommend you read the entire 16-page ruling. You will not be disappointed you can find it by clicking here.

As legal precedent Judge Treu cites Brown v. Board of Education, Serrano v. Priest, and Butt v. State of California. Where this ruling takes an interesting turn is that these cases all dealt with a “lack of equality of education based on the discrete facts raised therein.” Yet the court was faced, in this case with applying “… these constitutional principles to the quality of the educational experience.” It is a strong statement in that quality is finally being considered as a factor that has a very real impact upon the lives of students.

The plaintiffs clearly state that these three statutes directly result in the retention of “grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment” which violates “their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of education they are afforded by the state.” Ultimately the judge found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all issues presented and the state as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers did not offer any evidence that the state has a compelling interest that justified the statues or that the “distinctions drawn by the law[s] are necessary to further [their] purpose.”

What is truly interesting is that repeatedly throughout the case and in the ruling we find that the plaintiffs and the defendants agree on key issues that stand in direct opposition to continuing the current statutes as they exist. Lets examine what both sides agree with:

  1. Competent teachers are critical and are the most important “component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience.”
  2. “grossly ineffective teachers undermine the ability of [a] child to succeed in school.”
  3. The current process for dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher is “torturous” expensive, and time consuming almost to the point of impossibility of removal of the tenured teacher

I would like to only offer some highlights of this case because I really want you to read the entire ruling. What follows are some gems from the legal document.

The judge stated that the evidence of specific effects of grossly ineffective teachers upon students is compelling… and shocks the conscience (I am inclined to agree).

Some basic facts supported by research:

  1. “A single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom.
  2. “Students taught in LAUSD by a teacher in the bottom 5% of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared to students with average teachers.”
  3. “The extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250” within the state of California.
  4. LAUSD alone had approximately 350 grossly ineffective teachers it wished to dismiss at the time of trial but no dismissal process had been initiated.

Lets take a look at the three main statutes…

Round I: Permanent Employment Statute

It should be clear to anyone who even remotely glances at the Permanent Employment Statute [PES] that it is completely ridiculous. Reading Judge Treu’s ruling would be amusing if it weren’t for the seriousness of the impact the current Ed Code has upon thousands of student lives! Half the time you’re reading the decision you feel like he is specifically saying “USE COMMON SENSE HERE!.”  let us examine some of the problems with the PES statute.

PES is more commonly known by the informal phrase: “two year” statute. Basically, as it is understood promoting a teacher to tenured/permanent status takes place at the end of two years. Judge Treu is very clear that even this is “misnomer” because teachers need to be told on or before March 15 which is a full 2 – 3 months prior to a two year term if they will be reelected… which means that administrators must make that decision long before that time. Yet, and here is just one piece of ludicrous logic, the formal induction programs for a new teacher takes a full two years to complete (the FULL two years). Therefore, administrators are forced to make a decision to grant teacher tenure before an official evaluation of the teacher’s competence and ability through the induction program is complete! The insanity in this is mind-boggling! As judge Treu states, “a teacher reelected in March may not be recommended for credentialing after the close of the induction program in May, leaving the applicable district with a non-credentialed teacher with tenure.” On the flip side, to ensure that districts do not end up in this situation, many administrators are forced to deny approval for teachers if they have even the slightest doubt about their ability… despite the fact that they may have been found to be completely competent at the end of the induction program! Why would the state even attempt to defend this statute? Luckily judge Treu found this statute to be unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California!

ROUND II: Dismissal Statutes

The plaintiffs argue that the process of removing a grossly ineffective teacher from the teaching profession is overly time consuming and expensive resulting in many teachers’ districts retaining these poorly performing teachers. How time consuming and expensive is this? Apparently the figures indicate that “It could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the current statutes.” This is nearly half a million dollars! For schools that are already facing sever budget constraints, one need not wonder why they haven’t pursued the removal of these teachers.

What I love most is that judge Treu does not state that teachers should be denied due process. He is very clear that they deserver a process. However the current state of affairs is what he terms “über due process.” I couldn’t agree more!

Judge Treu’s own words really bring home this issue: “There is no question that teachers should be afforded reasonable due process when their dismissals are sought. However… the current system… [is] so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.” – I couldn’t have said this better myself.

Based on these common-sense facts the court found the Dismissal Statutes unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California.

Round III: LIFO (Last-In-First-Out)

I would like to start this section by stating I’d love to meet the genius who came up with this to ask what they could have possibly been thinking when they wrote this statute? Apparently this had some traction (thankfully not a majority) as ten states currently require seniority to be the sole factor in determining who is let go. It is shocking to think that this is indeed the reality. Completely compelling, effective teachers may be let go simply because they are newer than some who may be grossly ineffective. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are also grossly ineffective new teachers, but the current California statute does not even allow for a teacher’s ability to be considered! This statute basically states that the last-hired teacher is the “first statutorily-mandated first-fired one when lay-offs occur.”

I’m not even sure why the State would want to try to defend this practice. To do so would mean that the State would have to prove that there is a good reason to remove students from the best teachers and leave them with those who are not capable of being effective! Judge Treu is very clear that “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”

In the Legislatures Hands

I applaud Judge Treu for being extremely explicit in the role of the court throughout his entire decision. He was clear from the beginning that the court’s only job is to measure the statutes against the constitution. He closes by making some excellent points. Here is Judge Treu in his own words:

“… it is not the function of this court to dictate or even to advise the legislature as to how to replace the challenged statutes. All this court may do is apply constitutional principles of law to the challenged statutes as it has done here, and trust the legislature to fulfill its mandated duty to enact legislation on the issues herein discussed that passes constitutional muster, thus providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”

It is in your hands now Legislature. Its my hope that the State would take this decision and use it as a wake up call to begin real reform in getting and retaining quality educators in the field and removing those who have proven ineffective or unwilling to make necessary changes to help children learn and be successful in life. However, I sense that this will find its way to an appeal and the process will be further drawn out. How many more children must suffer because the adults in charge are unwilling to look at the harm that is being done to children on a daily basis all in the name of protecting entrenched, ineffective educators at the cost of those who would actually help students thrive?

Your Thoughts

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of this ruling! I also love the restrained biting criticism that can be read between the lines of Judge Treu’s decision. Sign me up… I am a fan of making changes to the current statutes of the California Ed Code. However, I know I’m not the only one with an opinion. You may have an opposite opinion. You may think I’m crazy for holding my view. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you live in one of the majority of states where statutes such as these do not exist…. Please share your unique perspective.

I look forward to reading your responses and having a wonderful open dialogue on the topic. You may click here to leave a comment if you so desire.

 

Teaching Dreams of Sushi

Sake And Tekka Maki
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: drp via Compfight

Konnichiwa, I know that this title probably has you a bit perplexed, a bit hungry, or perhaps a bit of both.  I’m sure you’re wondering what Sushi has to do with education.  I promise you This will make sense.  Like the Oracle said in the Matrix after giving Neo a cookie, “by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.”

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Japan.  It was a country that was filled with many wonderful features.  The culture was rich and far more ancient than anything we have here in the United States.  I appreciate that.  While there, I of course had to go to get some sushi.  You see, I love sushi in the US and I had heard that it is even better in Japan.  Let me assure you that what you hear is correct! It was amazing, fresh, and prepared with a certain care that I haven’t seen elsewhere in all my travels.

This reminded me of a film I saw a while back called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend that you do.  It’s the story of Jiro and his lifelong dedication to truly mastering his craft (making sushi) and the very rigorous process he goes through to train and mentor those under him.  He’s mastered his craft for over 75 years and has earned 3 Michelen Stars all while operating a small sushi restaurant at the bottom of a Tokyo subway station.   I think that if we developed an understanding and a demand for excellence the way that Jiro has for our teachers, our children would be some of the best educated in the world.

Dedication

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro

I think that far too often teachers fool themselves into believing that they are dedicated to their work.  Jiro’s statement is bold. Sure teachers may feel immersed in their work but often I hear this as a complaint.  Too much to do, too little time, filling out reports, assessments, etc.  But these are part of the job.  What if teachers, willingly immersed themselves in their work, with a goal of not complaining about the job, but mastering it?  There are plenty of good teachers that do this, but there are also quite a few who do not.  I often wonder if it might be better that to become a teacher you must undergo 7-8 years of formal university work and internship. This would help to ensure that those who remain are truly dedicated.  I know this is extreme by our standards, but lets face it… right now our standards are pretty low. I’m discouraged that more universities do not encourage those who would obviously make poor teachers to choose another path.  Instead they seem focused on the money. It’s a sad commentary but one I think we can fix.

Our own regard

“If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”- Jiro

Its well known that the opinion of teaching in the US can, at times, be pretty low.  Feeding into this is the fact that a lot of teachers have bought this, hook-line-and sinker. They perpetuate the low image of the teacher as one who is under the weight of standardized tests, an oppressive educational system, or that they must bend to every parent’s desire.  They fail to stand up and believe in themselves as a professional.  I don’t know about you, but I went to university for quite a long while.  I studied, I interned, I was mentored.  I became an expert in my field and as such I will gladly debate the merits of any educational decision I make with anyone while having the confidence to do it as an expert in my field.  All of you are experts as well!

Jiro is right. If our sense of ourselves is lower than that of the parents or politicians, then how can we ever expect them to take us seriously? It is time we began to strengthen our belief in ourselves.

Love your profession

“I don’t like days away from what I love.” –Jiro

Jiro’s statement of self-reflection in which he recounts that he doesn’t like days away from what he loves should be at the heart of every teacher.  Does this mean that I think teachers should work weekends, and holidays? No. What it means is that even when you’re not with your students you should be expanding your knowledge, enjoying the learning experience, conversing with friends and colleagues.

Days when I am away from what I love are difficult.  I love helping children learn.  I love learning more about the art of good pedagogy. I love talking with other teacher friends who strive to make a difference every day in their students’ lives. I love that sanguine person who can speak with me on my hardest days and still remind me that what we do is for the good of so many.  It’s that sanguine person who becomes your foundation, without him or her it may as well all be lost; I know I would be useless. Perhaps it is in this regard that I begin to understand Jiro so much more than before because I also don’t like days away from what I love.

If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend it! It’s great to watch.  As you watch it, consider how much stronger we would all be if more universities put in even half the dedication that he speaks about into producing excellent teachers.  We have them out there, but we need to grow stronger. Dedicate yourself further today than you did yesterday and tomorrow further still! Remember what you love and never let go.

 

Someone to Carry You…

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We see the letters posted on the Internet from educators who are disgruntled or dissatisfied with their positions as teachers within our current education system (for example this letter from Huff Post Education).

However, I do wonder about the stories not being told about educators who make a difference every day and choose to continue in the profession.  The message I see, time and again in the media, from educators is that they are dissatisfied with the way education works, the system is broken, they don’t like the policies so their answer is to resign.

That’s a great lesson for our students<insert sarcasm here>… when things don’t work the way you want… just quit.   The more difficult challenge of working with the system and systemically striving for positive change is an act that almost never makes the papers.   For that reason, I’d like to share why I am in education and why I will continue to be in education without an incendiary resignation letter.

This is my open response, as an educator, to the above-mentioned letter:

Dear Administrators, Superintendents, Teachers, et al.,

This is my official letter declaring my dedication to the students and children that we serve every day in our classrooms and schools.

I am exceedingly happy to have the privilege to serve children who are just beginning to understand the very complex world in which we live.  There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a learning experience with a student and building a relationship of trust in which both the student and the teacher form new knowledge together.  We believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we form a partnership that always strives to provide children with the resources and learning experiences they need in life. We are an extension of the home family unit and that is a sacred honor that I hold close to my heart.

You see… there are very few professions as noble as that of educator.  We are tasked with helping a child grow their knowledge and mind so that they can be successful and happy in their adult lives while providing for the betterment of society.  Why wouldn’t someone want to be involved in a profession such as this?

I did not enter the field of education with grand notions that I would make a six-figure salary, be understood by parents who do not yet recognize the professional degrees and credentials I hold, face the reality that teachers tend to be looked down upon as failing by our society, or that I would have to face policies and practices that were designed for a factory-era society rather than one that should be looking to the 22nd century.

You may call me crazy… but those are among the chief reasons I entered this profession. So that I may change them.

So many teachers become disillusioned with the education system and I have to ask “why?”  Did they enter this profession blindly? Did they (sorry for the pun) not do their homework and learn all they could about teaching and what it entailed in our society? I have to wonder when I read resignation letters that complain about low wages, following policies they might not agree with, etc.  If someone is out there speaking untruths to our pre-service teachers, please let me know so that we can stop them.  I’m going to break this down to the lowest common denominator:

Teaching is hard; it will be an uphill battle; you will not be paid what you are worth; people will judge you based on tests you do not take; it is not fair.

This is the state of most school systems within the United States.  Enter the profession knowing that the above statements are true and that this is the reality in a large portion of the schools that exist today.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Enter this profession, knowing what you know and fight for change.  If you quit the profession knowing all of the above from the beginning, you only have yourself to blame. Do not blame the administrators, parents, colleagues, policies, practices, etc. Only you have the power to enter a system that is struggling and to make it better.  Our society is so set on instant gratification that we believe if we haven’t brought about immediate change, then we are failing.  Take a deep breath for this one:

Failure is okay.

We learn from it and we rework our strategies.  Quitting, for the true educator, is never an option.

So many educators complain about policies that make them uncomfortable.  The standards movement had its detractors, NCLB had its critics, Race to the Top has been torn apart, Common Core State Standards have been openly attacked… some people will never be happy with change and that is okay.  But realize that our profession is built upon change.

The very nature of education should be change.

We are not supposed to teach children the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years.  Technology, society, and the world move ahead with or without us.  I’m sorry to break the news to you but that worksheet or standard that you really love may have to disappear.  A worksheet and a standard do not make you a good educator.  What makes you a good educator is the ability to take a learning goal, objective, standard, etc. and to make that come alive for your students. Don’t like the new standards? Well, get involved in the politics of creating those standards. Don’t like the new policy, work to change it.  Can you change everything or affect everything? No. But demonstrate to the world that we can fight for it.  Quitting only demonstrates that the issue really wasn’t that important to you in the first place.

Let’s be honest, the message quitting sends isn’t that the system is broken.  The message it sends is that you are not happy about the condition of education and you do not value students enough to continue to fight for them. I understand the fatigue of the fight; I’m in it myself. So quit if you must, but don’t bash the administrators, colleagues, or policies because you couldn’t continue the fight. All that serves to do is lower the morale of those of us in the trenches and discourage those who are considering taking up arms to make this a better world for our students.

The following statement was made: “We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.”  I have a couple of problems with this. If you speak out you may be reprimanded, but perhaps it has to do with the way you are speaking out.  Is it constructive or is it complaining? If you do as you are told you are not necessarily supporting a broken system.  You have to have a system to work with in order to make changes in the first place.  Is it the best system? No. But to say you won’t do what you are contracted and have agreed to do when you accepted the position only highlights that you truly did not know what you were getting into. Instead, work with the system, and use the procedures and policies put in place to make positive changes. And be prepared, people will criticize you for this.  Any change is met with resistance.

Some ask and argue, “Can I stand by and watch this [failed education] happen to our precious children?” and the response is to quit and fight from outside the system.  I’m sorry, you did something worse than stand by and watch, you left the field of battle. Your colleagues are still there attempting to make things better and you abandoned us.  You abandoned your students. You didn’t stand by… you sat down.

In her resignation letter Mrs. Hawkins asks: “Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers? With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love.”

A follower quits following.  A leader guides his or her ship through turbulent waters and fights to make the voyage to the desired destination.

I profess that we have leaders and that they are fighting every day to make a difference in the educational landscape. Leaders like @sjsbates@theweirdteacher, @tritonkory, @btcostello05, among many others.  We fight to bring about change and find the value in the current changes that are taking place.  Are the changes enough? No. But we all have to start somewhere.   I do not know how the resignation of an individual is supposed to inspire change.   Perhaps the resignation is a good thing, because we’ve lost someone who has given up the ghost in the battle for education reform.

I say to you teachers, educators, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms… do not give up the fight. Become a leader.  Chart these tumultuous waters, brave the maelstrom of doubt and dissent, and stand with us as we make this a better world for our students. You are the good news in education and you are the stories that should be told to the world.  Let’s stop perpetuating incendiary resignation letters from teachers and, instead, support the great work educators perform every day to make a difference in the lives of their students and for the betterment of the education community in our great United States of America.  The best way to teach students that they matter and can make a difference is to show them that we matter and that we can make a difference.  That is hard to do if we simply quit and hope that it will somehow inspire change.

We are in this together. Do not let the fatigue get to you. Lean on each other.  Remember this great quote from Firefly:

“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that- you find someone to carry you.”

Let’s carry each other and make this a better world for every child out there.

I invite your comments and I ask that you consider writing your own letter to continue our fight.  Let’s stop quitting and let’s start making a difference.

This is Captain Wick… ending transmission and awaiting your reply.

#revogogychat
#browncoateducators
#shinyedchat
#bcedchat
#revogogy

You can’t put students first if the teachers are pushing them out of the way to get to the front of the line.

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One of the recent images that perpetually floats around Twitter is the “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”  I have to say that on the surface this seems like a logical statement; it seems as if there is little wrong with this statement. However, something about it began bother me like a Ceti Eel larva going for my ear.  Now, I will be the first to say that teachers are important, without teachers the students wouldn’t have a chance of learning as much as they do on a daily basis.  However, for too long now we have put the teachers first.

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Seriously… What does this mean?

This means that I have sat in meetings where teachers have complained about not wanting to do more work (regardless that the outcome would mean helping a child learn).  I have witnessed administrators afraid to make a change that they know will benefit the students because they fear a negative reaction from the faculty.  I’ve read the articles and positions where teachers state that they are underpaid, undervalued, overworked, etc.  But this is nothing new.  I’ve yet to meet a US teacher who went into the profession thinking they’d make millions of dollars and become a superstar that the whole nation wants to meet. Its time we put on our reality caps.  Teachers are vital, but for too long teachers have been fighting to put teachers first. We have all paid the price.

I mean no disrespect to my colleagues, but when we start talking about making changes and the majority of the responses we receive are “its too much work”, “I don’t have enough time”, “I’ve been teaching this for 20 years and I’m not going to change”, “This is just another version of XYZ that we did in the 80s, 90s, etc.” I’m sorry but I must honestly ask… why are you in this profession if those are your responses?

I will readily admit that I will always put students first.  I’m sorry teachers, but you’ve had your turn at the front of the line and now its time to step aside and let the students take their turn.  Teachers, for the most part, have large unions, organizations, etc. that protect their interests… what do students have?

I will put the students first, and I’m sorry to say it but… teachers, you may even come in 2nd or 3rd.  I will always support you.  I will always do everything I can to make your job easier, however it will never be at the cost of helping a child learn. I recall one meeting where a teacher responded to a new initiative stating, “Its just one more thing we have to do”.  I responded with, “I don’t care if you have to do 1,000 more things, if it helps one child learn you’re going to do it.”  The truth is, you have a choice to work in the environment that puts students first or teachers first and if it is my school, it will always be the students.

It is time we realize that our job is one of sacrifice, of service, and that we stop complaining about it.

Remember, you can’t put students first if the teachers are pushing them out of the way to get to the front of the line.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.  I know I’m in the minority here as I’ve seen tons of these images on the Internet and not one comment to challenge it, but I’d like to know that I’m not necessarily alone in this. Dig deep my friends and I think you’ll see that we have had our time at the front of the line… lets actually give that place to those who don’t have a choice in attending school for 8 hours a day.  For a change, lets give the utmost priority to the students and stop fighting change that is designed to help them only because it makes us uncomfortable.

Please click here to leave a comment or on the comment bubble at the top of this post.

Of Mr. Selfridge and Education

Selfridge's - Oxford Street at night
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ho John Lee via Compfight

“Why should man allow jealousy to make him miserable? Why should he hold his eyes so close to the surface that he cannot take a broad survey of life?” – H. Gordon Selfridge

 A Store is Born

I’ll be the first to admit that I am by no means even close to being an Anglophile. I enjoy history and I like looking back at where we have been to see how it has shaped where we are and how we can make choices that will form where we are going.   My wife enjoys shows such as Downton Abbey and if she happens to be watching it when I’m in the room I tend to enjoy it as well.  Apparently, there is a new show she has started watching called Mr. Selfridge; it is about the retail magnate who started Selfridges and the lives and happenings surrounding him.  I came to the show a bit late. I only saw one episode and it involved a visiting dancer and different departments working together and apart from one another.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but make parallels to modern education.  It was easy to envision Mr. Selfridge as a principal who desired to make changes for the better for his school.  I saw him as fair, stern, and as a man of great vision (of course this is based off of one episode, but I am certain this is more than likely an accurate representation).

Taking a Broad Survey of Life

There was one interesting event that immediately caught my attention.  A new American department manager came to the store and took materials from another department without asking that department manager for permission.  The American had demonstrated vision and ingenuity and ultimately made quite an impression with the customer and Mr. Selfridge. The other department manager took offence and wanted to ensure that this didn’t happen again.  Except, Mr. Selfridge commended the departments working together and the end result.

What I found realistic was that, despite this, the department manager informed her staff that under no circumstances were they to give anything from their department to the American manager again.  The complexity of the human condition was demonstrated in these actions. I had a moment of clarity and began to connect this event to modern education.

I see the different departments as different classrooms.  I envision the store as the school and of course the students and parents as the customers.

I’ve witnessed teachers who get so narrow in their view that they focus only upon their own classroom and only upon what will help themselves.  Like this department manager, they focus on the glory of the self rather than the possible success of the institution.  Luckily, my staff does not fall into this troubling pattern.  We are actively working on understanding that we are a team, an elite unit that is formed to help students learn.  I’ve faced battles with some educators that have their eyes so close to the surface that they cannot take a broad survey of their practices.

We live in a time that is ready for change. The system hasn’t failed us, it has served its purpose. We have simply outgrown the system.  It is time for people of vision to move us forward into the 22nd century of education. I only ask that as we do so, we take a step back and take a broad survey of our situation so that we may work as a team.

I look forward to future episodes and I hope that I will continue to be able to make parallels with education.

Your View

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.  Have you experienced teachers that don’t like to share and mire themselves in the myopic view of their classroom?  How have you encouraged collaboration? How can we develop a more global view of the school so that we realize we are all on the same team? I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

Click on the dialogue bubble at the beginning of this post to leave a comment or click here to leave your comment.

Let’s Stake 21st Century Learning

HDR - Chiesa gotica?
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: -MandarX- via Compfight

“You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you.” -Abraham Van Helsing

Why are educators and parents still talking about preparing students for the 21st century as if it is the future?  We have been living in the 21st century for more than a decade yet the term “21st century” is a ubiquitous term that seems to be the one undead piece of jargon that refuses to have a stake driven through its heart.  Its zombie companions, “digital native” and “digital immigrant” are also notoriously difficult to kill and seem to perpetuate the myth that there are those who should be excused from learning technology because they were born before it was invented. I know plenty so-called digital immigrants that can outshine their digital native siblings.

We’ve been asked to teach our students the skills they will need to flourish in their future. Yet so many times we do not give them the tools that are being used in today’s workplace. Parent and educators balk at giving a student a $500 tablet but don’t bat an eye when their book bags are filled with $900 worth of books.

I ask, how are we expecting our students to thrive in a world that will demand universal use of technology in one form or another when we are handing them materials made from trees and printed with plant pigments? We seem to live in a world where the adults are teaching children based upon their own “comfort” level rather than the needs of the child.

I often field statements from parents and even some educators that are along the lines of: “That’s not how they taught me when I was in school.”  I have news for the world; the way we should be teaching children isn’t going to be remotely close to how I was taught when I was in school.  I’m not saying that those methods were ineffective.  They were effective for the world and time in which they were used.  But many educators and parents have a death grip or proclivity toward antediluvian pedagogical practices, because we are more comfortable with what we know than what we don’t know.  I think Hamlet would agree that we would “rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.” It is truly something worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.

The best learning takes place when the teacher and the student are learning together, when the role of mentorship and guidance shifts, ebbs and flows with the nature of the lesson.  Its time we stop “preparing our students and classrooms for the 21st century” and looking to prepare our students for the 22nd century. We live in a time where knowledge is at our fingertips.  To remain stagnant in our practices only holds our students back from reaching their true potential. Lets call in Van Helsing and Rick Grimes and put a stake in the heart of 21st century learning while effectively stopping the spread of Zombies like digital natives and immigrants.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Are you ready to start talking about 22nd century learning? How do you approach parents and educators who want to teach children the same way they were taught nearly a half-century earlier?  Click on the comment bubble at the top of this post or click here to leave a comment.