Tag Archives: school

I feel so hopeless right now.

22 Jan

This school year hasn’t gone as planned.

Don’t get me wrong.  It hasn’t gone badly.  My classes are good and well-behaved (for the most part), and the students seem to respond well to my style.  Yet I haven’t been able to try any of the new things I envisioned for the year.

Part of the problem is that I’m at a new school.  In some ways, I feel like a brand-new teacher again.  The norms and values of the school as a whole are very different from my previous workplace.  At my old workplace, there were a lot of passionate teachers.  There were also, unfortunately, a lot of people who shouldn’t even be in the teaching profession.  At my current job, the faculty seems good overall, but they don’t necessarily seem passionate.  There are some people that I think may not even like kids. 

Frustration

Frustration

They aren’t bad teachers, though, necessarily.  Yet it’s still a very different dynamic than what I am accustomed to.  At my previous workplace, differentiated instruction was really pushed (some might say “crammed down our throats”).  New ideas were always being presented and tested out.  I have lectured more at this new job than I’ve ever lectured before.  I mentioned to my fellow subject matter teacher the other day that I thought we should have the kids do more projects.  They appeared aghast at the idea. 

I keep telling myself, “Maybe next year”.  But what about this year?  It hasn’t been bad, but I don’t know that I’ve grown much either.  I’ve wanted to set up a Moodle all year and have gotten absolutely nowhere.  The teachers here don’t seem very interested in trying new things, so I haven’t been able to get much tech support, either.

I’m frustrated.  I’m lonely.  I know no one likes a new person who comes in and starts changing things dramatically, and I understand and respect that.  But when does that end?

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The Top 100 Tools for Learning

21 Dec

The Top 100 Tools for Learning list for 2011 is now being compiled!  Good stuff.

Like, OMG, why are you so rude?

20 Nov

I’ve listened to my co-workers complain all year about how rude, snotty, mean-spirited, and lazy the students at our school are.  At first, I was puzzled.  Compared to my previous workplace (which was rife with drugs, sex, and violence), the students here are angels.  They are engaged in learning, seek their teachers out for extra help when it’s needed, are polite, and are just generally extremely fun to teach.

I wish I could remain under this enchantment, but I’m starting to understand some of my co-workers complaints.  Over the past few days I have witnessed several students (none of my own, thankfully) being rude, mean-spirited, and just generally acting like JERK FACES. 

Instance #1: While helping a fellow teacher  set up for a lab activity in her class, one of the senior boys, Jimmy, who had chosen his lab table called out to another boy, “Hey Peter!  Come over here.  Peter!  Peter!  Over here.”  Peter most definitely heard Jimmy asking him to be his partner.  Peter pretended not to hear and joined another table with much cooler boys.  I’m not one to let things like this slide, so I glance up at Peter and say coolly, “Come on, man.  You’re going to ignore Jimmy?  He’s been calling you for the past minute.  Not cool.”  Peter’s face turned red, and the teacher, also perturbed, then switched all the groups herself.  (Fortunately we have a good enough relationship that she didn’t mind me butting in.)

Instance #2: During one of my break periods today, I could hear some girls conversing in the science room next door very loudly before class began.  The conversation went something like this:

“Oh my god, you will not BELIEVE what happened.  Mrs. Robertson came into the bathroom when I was in there, and she STARTED TALKING TO ME!  I HATE when teachers do that.  I’m like, why are you talking to me?  Yeah, she said, ‘Hi, Bethany, how are you?’  We’re in the bathroom.  Oh, and then she TOUCHED my shoulder!  Ugh, I know!  I’m like, what are you a perv?”

I very nearly marched in there to proclaim, “Yes, clearly a teacher being friendly to you and speaking to you as if you are an actual person is clearly out of line!”  Somehow I restrained myself.  The teacher she was talking about is, incidentally, known as one of the kindest, most soft-spoken teachers on our campus. 

mean teens

Mean Teens

Instance #3:  While walking down the hall during the same off-period, some students were sitting in the hall (allowable, as it was their study hall period).  I overhear one young man say rather loudly, “I pay $25000 a year to go to this damn school.  Why should I care about the freakin’ rules?”  I stopped and slowly (and rather dramatically) turned around and stared him down.  One of his friends noticed me and started hitting him in the shoulder, whispering, “Language, dude, language!”  I simply shook my head, and turned back around saying, “No, not just language, guys.  Attitude, too.  Language AND attitude.”  After witnessing this last display of teenage snobbery, I was feeling quite ill-tempered.  I returned to my room and vented about the behavior of the students in all of these stories to a colleague. 

Then something unexpected happened.  The young man from instance #3 appeared at my door and apologized profusely and sincerely.  I suppose there is always hope for the next generation after all.  🙂

(As a humorous aside, when I was looking for images related to “apology” and “sorry” to include in this post, Tiger Woods kept showing up.)

Minnesota Now Requiring Resume Tape for Teacher Certification

14 Nov

According to the news story, not only will student teachers in Minnesota be closely observed by professionals, but they will also have to submit a resume tape demonstrating their skills in a classroom setting.  What are your thoughts?

Full story here.

Yet another great technology, web 2.0, etc, site for educators

31 Oct

There are lots of blogs, sites, etc, that fall under the category mentioned in the post title.  But this one is still worth mentioning. 

iLearn Technology: http://ilearntechnology.com

You can find lots of good tips and ideas for integrating technology into the classroom at this blog.  Through iLearn Technology, I found something called edu2.0, which is apparently a free LMS along the lines of Moodle.  (One of my goals this year is to start using an LMS, so edu2.0 may be the way to go, since my school doesn’t host Moodle.  More on that later, though.)

What I like about ilearntechnology is that it doesn’t just give a quick blurb about some of the sites and tools it mentions.  It gives a detailed review and suggestions for how to use, and people often participate in the comments, including the owner of the blog. 

Go visit iLearn Technology today!

What to do with oddball answers…

27 Oct

Teachers, what do you do when you get odd answers?  I’m not talking about the ones that are waaaaay “out there”.  I mean the ones that attempted to answer the question but didn’t actually address what was being asked. 

For example:sample answer

If you are having a hard time reading this, the question reads, “What is bromothymol blue and what is its purpose in this lab?”  The student’s answer?  “because when its covered in vinegar (weak acid) it changes from blue to yellow”. (Note: this is not an actual picture of a student’s work.)

Firstly, the student never actually said what bromothymol blue is.  Secondly, it does indeed change color in this lab, but the student’s statement doesn’t explain why that is necessary.

Another example…

Question: “How could you and your partner work even more successfully together in this lab?”

Answer: “No.”

I think you get the point.  In these cases, I leave notes for the students and circle the parts of the question they either skipped over reading or misunderstood (like the “How” part of the previous question).  I talk with them verbally about it one-on-one. 

What do you do, though, when mistakes like this keep happening over and over and over?  Please share.

My comments on Joel Klein and Michelle Rhees manifesto “How to Fix Our Schools”

23 Oct

Some of the nation’s top educators have written a manifesto about how to fix our public school system.  These are some of the same people involved in the film “Waiting for Superman”.  You can read the manifesto in its entirety by clicking here

These leaders in education want to hold teachers responsible for student performance.  This makes sense.  In any job, employees are judged on performance.  Yet the problem is much bigger than these leaders have addressed. 

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

I whole-heartedly agree that teacher performance should be the biggest factor in determining who stays on-staff at any particular school.  But how do we measure that performance?  Consider the following.  In the state of Texas, students must pass the state’s standardized tests, called TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).  Such TAKS tests take place several times throughout a child’s education, and children can be held back in certain grades–or not allowed to graduate high school–if they do not pass these tests.  Clearly it would make sense to examine student scores to get a feel for teacher performance.  For example, students of Mrs. Johnson averaged 36% on the 10th grade TAKS.  Obviously, Mrs. Johnson hasn’t done her job.

But why hasn’t Mrs. Johnson done her job?  Perhaps Mrs. Johnson is a poor teacher and should’ve been booted out many years ago.  This undoubtedly happens in the education system, and this must end.  As the manifesto says:

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

It makes sense that students of such teachers are more likely to be successful.  Apparently Mrs. Johnson wasn’t effective, engaging, and didn’t compel her sophomores to reach for success.

But what if she did?

One of the biggest issues the manifesto fails to address is student apathy.  This is most likely more a problem the older the student gets.  There are many teachers out there who are well-trained and can perform their hearts out for their students each and every day, but if the student doesn’t take responsibility for their education, the teacher isn’t going to be able to make a difference.

Let’s consider Mrs. Johnson.  Mrs. Johnson is a “great teacher” according to her peers.  She is so great, in fact, that this year the administration has decided to put her with the neediest students–those who are learning English and have learning and behavioral disabilities.  Mrs. Johnson did so well with her previous group of students, and they scored so well on their TAKS, that clearly Mrs. Johnson’s skills need to be applied to those who need the help the most. 

Mrs. Johnson knows her students well, has good classroom management, and follows all the rules for the children with disabilities and language difficulties.  She employs Bloom’s taxonomy.  She uses multiple intelligence theory.  She differentiates instruction every day.  She tiers and uses flexible grouping.  She isn’t perfect, but she utilizes all the school’s training and current educational research on how to make her students succeed.  Most of her students enjoy her and her class, but in spite of her effort, they rarely complete assignments in class, and homework is a joke.  She tries to remove the students disrupting class by referring them to their principal, but often there are no consequences for their actions–either because the principal doesn’t care or, in the cases of those with disabilities, scared to take action for fear of a lawsuit.  Her assessment scores are poor, and her TAKS scores at the end of the year are low as well.

Mrs. Johnson’s colleague, Mr. Bowen, also incorporates all of the above teaching methods in his class.  He teaches pre-AP and AP classes.  His students want to go to college, and though they aren’t perfect, Mr. Bowen doesn’t have a huge amount of trouble getting his students to complete their work.  Their TAKS scores are several points above passing.  In fact, Mr. Bowen doesn’t even review any TAKS problems or strategies with his students.  He doesn’t need to.

Budget cuts must be made the next year; who does the school fire?  Based on the above, the least effective teacher appears to be Mrs. Johnson.  Clearly, she didn’t do enough to make her students pass the TAKS.  Her job was to get the kids to learn and pass TAKS.  She didn’t accomplish this, so obviously she needs to go. 

The difficulty with this scenario, though, is who CAN get these kids to pass?  Once Mrs. Johnson is fired, it is likely that whoever replaces her will face the same problems.  What’s to be done?

I realize we shouldn’t feel too sorry for Mrs. Johnson.  It’s rough luck, but the schools DO need to judge their teachers on something.  Maybe Mrs. Johnson will get a great job at another school where the students are more eager to learn and take advantage of her enthusiasm.  Or maybe she won’t. 

Clearly holding teachers responsible for student performance will help weed out the truly awful teachers that exist.  My question is…then what?  How do even the BEST teachers get kids to WANT to learn and succeed?  What do we do about the students that truly do not care and thus hinder the students that do want to learn?  Many schools are scared to take action against such students.  What do we do about administrative policies that hinder, or even promote, these problems?

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