May 22, 2009

Easy for the (Elective) Teacher?

For 5 years I have “reflected” on my teaching experience. I’m not sure what motivated me to begin beyond an overwhelming feeling of fullness; I needed to get rid of some things to make room for others. Of course that snowballed into a habit of binging and purging on teacher stuff. Then came the readers who actually made comments on my ramblings and, well, the rest is recorded here in the last 99 essays on teaching. This is number 100, and my last, at least here, for now. Here is a link for those who wish to continue reading on.

I am a teacher of elective classes. Some think the teaching of electives is easy. I teach a subject that students like to take, but I am a department of one and I write most of my curriculum alone. My pupils are not automatically enrolled; they have to choose the course. So elective teachers live and die by the number of students that enroll into their classes. Not enough students? No class. Yes, some students walk in enthusiastic and ready to learn. Others have a low expectation for the quantity of work they are required to complete in their elective.

It’s easy for an elective teacher to claim that school should be fun; we often teach “fun” topics. But why are they fun? Is multimedia fun by its very nature? Maybe. Or maybe it’s the teacher that makes it fun. Is English fun? How about Algebra? I believe it depends on the teacher, their attitude, and their approach to class. Notice I didn’t say the students. The students will react to the tone set by the teacher. The teacher must be passionate about the subject he or she is teaching, well qualified to teach students, and committed to their success.

These may be dark days in education, but I am optimistic. Budget cuts have lead to teacher layoffs, increased class size, and fewer teaching resources. Although we have grown to love our smart boards, LCD projectors, and computers in every classroom, the technology and visual aids are NOT what makes teachers great. Teachers have successfully taught throughout the ages without all of the extras that we currently enjoy. And students have learned. Sure it’s frustrating right now, and of course we’d like it to be different, but teachers will endure. We will continue to teach our students regardless of circumstances.

If I had to sum up my message to teachers in a paragraph, it would be this one. Invest in your students. Don’t just share your passion for learning, but infect your pupils with it. Teaching is the most important job in the world; and teachers change and improve the world. What we say to our students, how we treat them, and what we teach them in our classrooms has a deep and lasting impact on their lives. The words and actions of one teacher ripple throughout the classroom, and into the entire world. It is not an easy job.

May 15, 2009

Stay in the Game?

You already know that I HATE the end of the school year. While everyone else is excited for summer, all I can think of is the loss of graduating students. Of course I am overwhelmingly happy to see my students go off into the world, I just get a little too overwhelmed sometimes. This year we are not just promoting 600+ students, we are also losing about 30% of our staff due to SERP, RIF, and a new high school. In addition, it was announced this week that my favorite administrator is leaving for a position at the district office.

This is the end of my 10th year teaching the same subjects, in the same classroom, on the same campus, parking in the same space, eating lunch at the same taco stand on Tuesdays. My closest friend on campus is leaving for the new high school that opens in the fall. It’s “state of the art” in every way led by a motivated and dynamic administrative staff. Do you get a sense of how I’m feeling? Still, it’s been an amazing decade full of personal and professional growth. I have helped many students up the next rung of their ladder.

This spring, like every spring, I explored the teacher job market. I found an interesting position teaching technology in a nearby state where I would love to live. However, the good advice of friends kept me in place. So now as the 2008-2009 school year draws to a close, I am preparing for the 2009-2010 school year: meeting with next year’s advanced students, making plans for the summer, and revising the 9th edition of my multimedia curriculum. I am focusing on the positive tasks so that I do not get distracted by the impending loss of my graduating students.

Teaching is like that. Teachers pour their heart and soul into the success of their students. We work alone most of the time and cherish the few moments we get with other adults. We commit ourselves to a job that does not offer the opportunity for advancement (administration does not count), or even a merit-based paycheck. We are told what standards to teach, and when to teach them. We are told by the “professionals” that while we too are considered “professional” that “anyone” can be a school teacher, and that “everyone” knows how to educate children. Of course they do.

Teaching is a job that is full of disappointments. I know, they never tell you that in teacher school, but it is. More importantly, teaching is a job full of hope. And not just imagined, or wished for hope, but actual hope. Teachers serve their students daily. We lift our pupils up and often out of their situations, however dire. We educate children giving them hope for their lives today, and for their future tomorrows. Teachers inspire their students to learn, grow, and succeed. It is crucial that committed and confident teachers stay in the game. I plan to continue.

May 11, 2009

Aquistion and Application?

To borrow a phrase from one of my esteemed colleagues, and a concept that sounds like it came out of a round table conversation between 3 old friends, what if modern education focused more on the acquisition and application of information, and less on the memorization? Because of the Internet, students literally have the world’s knowledge base at their finger tips. Within seconds they can find the answer to any question that any teacher can ask them about, well, anything. The problem is that many pupils don’t know the difference between fact and fiction, or what to do with their answers.

So what if instead of focusing on the memorization of names, dates, locations, events, and even some concepts, teachers focused on the most effective ways to gather the most accurate information, and then, how to synthesize and apply this information to reach a conclusion? Of course it is important to know stuff, but what stuff is the most important to know? My father use to argue for the use of calculators. His point was that once the basic math was understood, that a calculator could speed up the math process allowing people access to high-order mathematical equations and algebraic concepts.

I have taught computer classes for 10 years. Most students come in with a working knowledge of how to use the computer and the internet, or so they think. Just because a kid can create a MySpace or Facebook account, does NOT mean they can properly take advantage of the Internet. We need to teach kids how to use the most powerful knowledge resource of all time. The problem is that many teachers don’t know how to use it themselves. We need to teach kids the different between fact and opinion, and what makes a web site an appropriate resource.

I am worried that today’s kids don’t know how to think. Yes, they know how to take tests well, and of course they can fill out packets of worksheets like champs, but how well do they think? How much time do you spend in your classroom on analysis, criticism, and critical thinking? How many classic novels do kids read in middle and high school that are followed up with valuable discussion? We all know it’s important for teachers to reflect, but do we teach reflection to our students and give them time and require them to complete the same exercise?

Our goal is to build better human beings. Perhaps we need to adjust the methods we use to build these beings. I’d like to say that I have memorized the names and years of service for each President of the United States and that I can rattle them off sequentially at will. But I can’t. However, I can find that information in .32 seconds on Google. If I had stayed in Mr. Carey’s AP US History course, then I could follow this up with a witty response to your essay prompt. Times have changed; the way we teach needs to change.

May 06, 2009

Miracle Grow?

The most important lesson I teach my students is time management, and I’m afraid I don’t teach it very well. Most classrooms in most schools are very structured and organized palaces of instruction full of meaningful and complex coursework assigned and submitted on a regular and reliable schedule. Vocabulary words on Mondays, definitions due Wednesday, spelling quiz on Friday. New chapter on Monday, lab time on Wednesday, chapter test on Friday. It’s a schedule ballet that teachers and students have danced for years. If students can keep pace with the teacher and tender their completed work on time they pass.

But what happens when the structure is loosened up? Have you ever transplanted a plant from a smaller to a larger pot, or into the ground? When my father taught me to transplant I was shocked by what he did to the roots. My dad would pull the plant out of its happy and comfortable home and then “massage” the base breaking up most of the dirt and loosening up the roots. As my dad put the plant into its new home he explained that by properly preparing both the roots and the soil the plant had a better chance.

The plant did not look happy in transition, in fact it looked more like it might die. The exposed roots were tangled and twisted. Dad explained that was because they were “root bound,” the old pot was now too small for the growing plant; If the plant was left in the smaller pot, it would die. We needed to provide a larger space, with looser dirt in order for the roots and the plant as a whole to continue to grow. And he was always right. Whatever plants we transplanted always came back bigger and healthier. Miracle Gro helped too.

What does transplanting plants have to do with teaching and time management? I wrote earlier about how I handle late work. I always take late work, and I rarely assign makeup work. When the students ask what they can do to improve their grade, I tell them to do the work that I have assigned, and if they didn’t like the grade they earned, then to go back to the assignment, redo or finish it, and then resubmit for a re-evaluation. Returning to unfinished work forces the students to reflect on their efforts, make needed improvements, and complete the assignment.

Offering students the opportunity to return to their work does not fit the schedule ballet experienced in most classrooms or into most teacher’s idea of proper time management. But students who are doubling up on assigned work must manage their time appropriately to complete all of the requirements by their scheduled due dates. This forces students to do two very important things: spread out their roots, and find fresh dirt to grow in. The transition may be ugly and uncomfortable, but the end result will be a student who is learning and growing into a better and healthier human being.

April 23, 2009

Work, Learn, Enjoy?

I believe that a student getting an education should have three goals: work, learn, and enjoy. These should be the same three goals of their teachers, and the educational institution they attend. While I think that these three goals remain at the core of the beliefs upon which everything in education is built upon, as I talk with the graduating seniors this year about their educational experience, I wonder if educators and education have 1) fail to communicate to students that these are our goals, and 2) lost sight of our goals while trying to appease forces outside of education.

Getting an education should be work, hard work. I make my students work hard and they are shocked by it. However, I don’t make them work as hard as they should, and that shocks me. Many teachers will assign packets of “busywork” (the students’ description) in lieu of projects, reports, and essays. Sure, packets are easier to grade, but they are also easier for the students to fake. I often see kids copying each others answers in these lengthy packets of worksheets. For the students to work hard, the teacher must work hard, and don’t we already work hard enough?

The larger question is do teachers work hard at the right things? Are we working hard to teach our students to learn? I am afraid that we are raising a generation who do not know how to learn, and cannot solve problems independently. When I raised this concept in class I had a young lady ask me what learning was? Scary. As reflective teachers I think we need to focus on not just the content of the courses we teach, but the process. Are you teaching your students how to find information, synthesize it, and apply what they have learned?

I said many times that school should be fun, and some teachers disagree with me. Ok. But at least students should enjoy the process of gaining education. Think about it, we like to do things that we like to do. Do your students like to learn? Do they enjoy the learning process? Do they enjoy working hard to reach the goals set by you in your classroom? I believe that they should. It’s easy to point out that school teaching isn’t real fun for teachers right now. It’s not. But our frustration should not be passed on to our pupils.

I am the educational leader in my classroom. I intend to maintain the following three goals for my students: 1) that they work hard at the assignments I give them, 2) that they learn how to learn and problem solve on their own, and 3) that no matter what the task is at hand, that they enjoy the process of working and learning. Perhaps it is not possible for all students and teachers all the time. I can’t change that. What I can do is keep myself and my students focused on what makes an education so valuable and worthwhile.

April 10, 2009

They don't know that they don't know?

I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and neither do my students (most of them.) Events in my life over the last few weeks have had a whopping impact on my perspective on teaching, life, and especially on my efforts with my students. I had this topic written down for quite a while, but it has taken me some time to realize how and what to write about the fact that I didn’t know that I didn’t really know about poverty. And not just poverty, but about desire, about homelessness, about ambition and dedication and commitment. I thought I knew.

I went to Mexico over spring break. Almost as a clique of what to do during my two weeks off, I went with a group of students to build a house for a homeless family. I know that there is poverty in Mexico; I know that there is poverty in my school. I’ve seen pictures of shanty towns. My father drove me down to 4th street in Los Angeles when I was a young person. But this was the first time I have worked along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his life, and life for his family.

Or is it? Isn’t that what I do as a teacher everyday: work along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his or her life? I think it’s the “desperate” part that is missing from my students. Most of them do not seem very desperate to learn. Perhaps it is the population that I teach. Perhaps it is the times we live in. Or perhaps they do not feel the urgency to improve because many do not understand the opportunities of an American education and have not experienced a real need. They don’t know that they don’t know.

I was struck by the children of Mexico who have nothing to occupy their play time; nothing but each other’s company. I wondered if they have the same ambition for their lives as I have. Then I watched Slumdog Millionaire. No wonder it won best picture; what an amazing story, and an amazing film. The brothers who lived in a trash pile clearly had ambitions for a better life, and were willing to do whatever was necessary to survive. Jamal was desperate to endure, even if he couldn’t read the Three Musketeers and never learned the name of the third.

As educators, I feel that it is critically important that we keep our eyes open. Just because we can’t see what goes on beyond the closed doors of our classrooms does not mean that it is acceptable for us to choose ignorance. We need to recognize in ourselves that we don’t know what it is like to walk in the shoes of ALL of our students. We don’t. But we need to make the point with ALL of our students that we all need to be cognizant of the whole world we live in, and not just our small corner.

March 26, 2009

Real 1:1 Learning?

In my classroom every student has their own computer to use for the entire class period everyday. Some call this a 1:1 ratio (computer to student). It is a great blessing for students to not have to share their computers while they are working. Effectively incorporating computers into my approach to teaching is a challenging and wonderfully rewarding experience. People ask me what I teach. To respond “multimedia” seems so inadequate. To say “computers” usually gets an “ah ha” reaction, but it really doesn’t describe what I teach. I teach communication skills using the computer hardware and software as tools.

The computer is a vigorous and powerful teaching tool if used correctly. I can envision a future for education that thrusts the bulk of information dissemination onto the computer and frees up the teacher to guide and assess. Computers provide the opportunity to fine-tune each and every students individualized education plan and tailor a learning experience as unique as each individual. The current “shotgun” lecture approach loses many students in the process. An alternative could be provided by a machine that is more dynamic, more entertaining, more flexible and able to more accurately follow along with the individual learner’s pace.

Of course, the computer is not a teacher, and should not be considered a teacher, ever. The computer is a tool that is very good at presenting information and collecting and returning data that can be used by a human teacher to improve the way the teacher assesses and services the educational needs of their students. Some teachers resist using computers; but then, some teachers resisted using blackboards, then greenboards, then whiteboards, and now smartboards. Hmm. Some people think using technology only gets in the way of the most important part of teaching: the relationship between the teacher and student.

Real 1 to 1 learning occurs when one person sits down with another person and teaches them to learn something. The roles of the teacher and pupil are dynamic, fluid, and can change depending on the level and subject. For example, an child learning a second language while working individually with an adult teacher can at the same time teach the adult something about his or her primary language. Peer to peer education is also a very effective version of 1 to 1 learning. Students working in pairs teaching, reviewing, and reinforcing the material is a great way to learn.

As computers become more commonplace in education the opportunities and advantages that come from their use will help teachers to improve and refine the educational process for students. However, it is the effective use of the technology by the human teachers that is the key to success for the students. The best 1:1 ratio is not computer to student, but person to person. The use of computers can have the positive effect of providing more time for teachers to work individually with students. Computers and technology alone are not the answer, but great tools for teachers to use in education.

March 11, 2009

New Chair?

I realized yesterday that the cushion of my teacher chair was worn out. (My butt was really sore). So I started looking for a new one online at Office Depot. I didn’t get there immediately after school, but was instead interrupted by life. I ran into a colleague who asked where I was off to, and I explained that the cushion of my teacher chair was worn out, and I was on my way to replace it. He explained that because of the configuration in his classroom, and he also teaches using computers, he spends his teaching time standing up.

I finally arrived at Office Depot and went immediately to the chair section. The cheapo chair I selected online was actually made of cheapo vinyl. No thanks. So I had to “test sit” every chair on the floor to find the right fit. I felt like Goldilocks, too hot, too cold, but I couldn’t seem to find “just right.” Part of it was the prices. Have you shopped for chairs lately? They can get very expensive very quickly. And the manufacturer now includes ratings for how many hours you spend in the chair daily, 0-3, 4-6, 7 or more .

As I was test sitting I was considering all of the available information on each chair including: building materials, number of legs, high back vs. low back, degree of tilt, and overall comfort. I was especially careful to be considerate of the number of hours I sit during the day. Teaching computer classes requires a great deal of both demonstration and organization, both of which are best completed while in a comfortably seated position. My current chair is old and quite worn out. Much like Martin Crane’s (Frasier) lounge chair, my old friend is being held together by gaffer's tape.

There were many fine choices and my behind was in barker lounger bliss more than once, when all of a sudden it struck me, what the heck was I doing there? Was I actually trying to support myself spending less time teaching? Sure, I have a legitimate need to sit during class that extends beyond simply resting my feet, but was I actually prepared to purchase a king’s throne that would inadvertently keep me from doing my job? My butt is sore, and I deserve to be comfortable during the day. I need a new chair to support my teaching.

No, I don’t. I don’t need anything in my classroom that is going to distract from my main purpose: teach the students to learn. Instead of being comfortable behind my desk, I need to spend more time moving around the classroom. Instead of students coming to me, I need to go to them. Yes, I will still need to be behind my desk for computer-based demonstrations, but maybe I can raise the legs of my desk so that I too can stand like my colleague. Be careful my teacher friends of anything that distracts you from your purpose, even chairs.

March 06, 2009

Late Work?

The overarching goal of education is that kids LEARN the material, and let’s face it, not all kids learn at the same pace. I have a unique approach to late work. I encourage students to turn their work in early by offering extra credit incentives. I do charge a 5% penalty to work that is turned in late, but I always accept late work so long as I can grade it before the end of the official grading period. Of course teachers should penalize laziness and irresponsibility, but sometimes that type of behavior can be confused within a struggling student.

I teach heterogeneous classes. My classroom is filled with not just all high school grade levels, but an even broader variety of learning styles and speeds. Some students are very quick in some areas of study, but can be very slow to absorb other aspects of the curriculum. One of my goals is that ALL students learn the curriculum, and giving them an out by making a zero an option is not a sound practice in my opinion. Yes, some students do fall short and will fail to submit all of their work, but those students are the rare exception.

When I assign a major project that will take more that a few days to complete I offer all of the students an early turn in option. If the student turns in their completed project three days early, I offer the 15% extra credit; if two days early, 10% extra credit; if 1 day early 5% extra credit. Then I offer the early birds an addition opportunity to earn points by encouraging them to become a helper. A finished student who helps a struggling student submit their completed work by the due date gets additional flat rate extra credit points.

For students who are tardy in their submission I do charge a 5% late fee. But this fee does not grow with the number of days it takes to complete the work. There are many reasons why students do not turn their work in on time. Only one of those reasons is laziness. Telling a student that they can either turn the work in on time, or not, gives the languid student permission to not complete their work. If they are not completing the work, they probably are not learning, or at least, I can’t tell if they are learning.

I have to admit that assessment is my least favorite part of teaching. I really enjoy reviewing the students work and offering them constructive criticism. But I hate the hours upon hours that it takes to grade, and having to write the same note over and over and over again on multiple students’ rubrics. But assessment is a fundamentally important aspect of education. We need to know what the students need to learn and when they have learned it. Yes, it makes me cranky to grade late work, but my crankiness is less important then the students’ learning the material.

February 22, 2009

Teaching Patience?

To teach patience we must provide opportunities to BE patient. Kids today are so used to immediate gratification, that they struggle with waiting for anything (Ok, we all do.) Working time into our lessons forces students to work through their assignments, and by doing so learning to focus more keenly on each individual step required to reach their goals. I’ve already written about how I believe patience and respect are the keys to teaching. Here are three suggestions of how you can incorporate more time into your classroom schedule that will ultimately help teach the students how to be patient.

Teaching patience requires a patient teacher. Some people tell me that I am a patient person. I don’t feel patient. However I can say that I spend so much time around people (students) less patient than I am that it makes me appear very patient. I am blessed with a relatively long fuse, and I am continually given opportunities to practice patience; it seems like I have to wait for EVERYTHING. As we all know, practice makes perfect. So the first step is the teacher recognizing the importance of patience and being open to acting with patience in the classroom.

Teaching patience requires a patient presentation. Every classroom has a pace. For some, the pace is fast and furious, for others, the pace is slow and steady. Both are fine so long as the teacher and students are comfortable. Within the daily routine of all classes there are activities and assignments. These assignments are often complex and include a deadline. To help teach students patience, try breaking down the complex into smaller, perhaps daily doable chunks. Much like spoon feeding a baby, introduce the curriculum a little at a time. Smaller chunks of information are easier for students to digest.

Teaching patience requires a patient process. When setting deadlines for student work a set of staggered due dates can be useful to help encourage all students to turn in their assignments. Allowing for early submission helps to motivate the students who like to work more quickly without penalizing those who work more slowly. I offer additional extra credit for any student who, once their work is completed, assists another student to finish their work on time. I also allow for resubmission of work to students who meet the deadline, but may have overlooked a particular aspect of an assigned project.

Perhaps I am too patient, too liberal in my approach to teaching the pupils to be patient. I believe that high school should be a safe place to make mistakes. Therefore, it is important that the teachers, coaches, and administrators who work with students be willing to reach down and help up our kids when they stumble. In our world of “I want it all and I want it now” I feel that it is necessary that educators not only model patient behavior, but also act as the agents of patience in the lives of students. Teach them to wait.

February 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Mister?

Names are important. In the classroom I feel that it is important for students to refer to their teachers as Mr. or Mrs. So and So. I don’t feel that it is appropriate in any k12 setting for any student to use any teacher or administrators first names. There needs to be professional distance between student and teacher. It is equally important for teachers to quickly remember and regularly use the names of their students. The use of a student’s name in the classroom is a validation that recognizes that they exist, that they are unique, and they are important.

Almost no one calls me by my first name, Kevin; and even then it’s a shorter version like Kev, and sometimes Kevo. My dear mother who named me doesn’t call me Kevin because that’s not the name she picked out for me. My mother named me K.C. up until my (paternal) grandmother came to see me in the hospital and asked what my parents had named their first-born. My grandmother’s famous response was, “K.C.? Sound like the name for a dog.” So K.C. became Kevin Christian. However, most people who know me professionally, including my students, call me Bibo.

Leaving off the “Mr.” part used to bother me. But then I came to accept my namesake and go with it. Some students call me “Mr. Bibo” in class, but those are usually the newer, younger students with whom I have not yet made any sort of connection. About midway through the school year, and from that point on, the majority of high school students I teach refer to me simply as Bibo. And it’s not just them. My colleagues also refer to me as Bibo. That could have something to do with there being four other Kevins on campus.

I could be offended at this lack of formality. For me, the use of my last name alone has become endearing. Bibo is a very uncommon name after all (how many Bibos do you know?) One Bibo was actually a Governor at Acoma Pubelo in New Mexico during the late 1800’s. My sister and I recently ran into another Bibo working at a local restaurant. Just today a student shared with me that Bibos means an Asian wild ox. So as long as I feel respected by my students as the authority figure in the classroom, I don’t really mind.

So long as your students respect you as their teacher dropping the Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. can be acceptable. However, I still would not allow my students to use my first name because I feel that it crosses a line of professional distance that the kids themselves want to keep in place. Many adults will continue to refer to their childhood teachers as Mr. or Mrs. well into their adult lives. I have written under a pseudonym (Cal Teacher Blogger) for five years, but no more. From this point on it’s Mr. Bibo (but you can call me Bibo.)

February 10, 2009

Time for Change?

I will now write about a subject that is none of my business: retirement. I want to appeal to those who are close to the end of their teaching career, anyone with over 30 years experience, to strongly consider making this their last year of official public service. I also want to encourage those individuals who have lost interest in growing as educators to start a new chapter in their lives. In California, as in much of the country, the budget issues are humongous. In about a month my school district will start sending pink slip layoff notices to many of our employees both certificated and classified. Within this group could be many young nontenured teachers. We need these young people in education.

In general, a veteran teacher costs more than twice as much as a new teacher to keep employed at any school district. That doesn’t mean that for every one teacher who will retire this year, that two newer teachers will stayed employed, but for sure a retiring teacher will help save a young teachers job. Some teachers have lost their passion for teaching and are right now considering another profession. This is a good time to make that change. Of course the younger teachers will not have the experience or the expertise in the classroom of the veterans. However, the future of education lies squarely on the shoulders of the younger generation of teachers who have been thoroughly trained and prepared for the job.

Teaching is hard work for a cost of living wage. I am afraid that if young people who have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to become teachers leave education because of these budget cuts they may not come back. Teaching requires an expertise in a variety of disciplines (subject area, classroom management, public speaking) that are highly attractive to employers. These young teachers will find other jobs that pay more and that might even satisfy some of their personal needs to serve. Good for them; bad for education. We need these people to stay in the service of our students.

We all remember what it was like at the beginning of our teaching careers. The excitement of the classroom, the joy of learning, the satisfaction of knowing that we made a difference to somebody. Do you still feel that way? Because there are other things to do in the world to help contribute to our society regardless of how long you've been teaching. The universities are always in need of adjunct faculty; how better to share your teaching experiences? You could also write a book on teaching or finish that novel. And for the die-hard teacher, some districts might even hire you back at their base salary.

Again, this is none of my business. I would personally be greatly offended if I was in my 31st year of teaching and some complete stranger wrote to me asking me to retire. I would be equally offended if someone who had never stepped foot into my classroom suggested that I consider another line of work. I will retire when I’m good and ready thanks. For those whom I have offended I apologize (write your comments below). Just please realize that I am trying to see the bigger picture and look down the road a little. I’m not saying that your services are no longer needed or that you are a lousy teacher, but that change can be a good thing for everyone.

**Revised on 2-11-2009 (Thank you Doyle).

February 06, 2009

In The Middle?

I am approaching the middle of my teaching career. I am also in the middle of the teacher generations. I am no longer the “new guy,” nor am I a part of the “old guard.” I find myself being placed into leadership positions both on campus, in the district, and even here on the web. I am embracing the opportunities that come my way and doing my best to serve when and where asked. I am also trying to mentor as many young teachers as I can. This is an interested and somewhat daunting place to be, in the middle.

Many of the teachers who mentored me in my early years of teaching have either retired recently, or are close. Some of them have worked hard through their tenure to keep up with the latest teaching trends and held tight to the swing of the educational reform pendulum. Other veteran teachers found what worked for them early on and have stuck to a winning game plan. It’s sad to see these folks move on; they take with them volumes of experience ALL teachers could benefit from learning. If you are in the twilight of your career please share your wisdom.

As I look around at my peer group of teachers I am impressed. Most of us are Generation Xers who enthusiastically jumped into teaching because we saw a need and felt a call. Now in our teenage teaching years we have learned a little, experienced a little, and are starting to refine our game. We’ve been though the onslaught of standards and lived through almost a decade of NCLB. Thankfully many of us missed out on BITSA, but we’re all pretty good teachers anyway. We now answer the call of campus leadership and are ready to lead the way.

This newest generation of teachers is a truly impressive group. They have endured a ridiculously difficult process in their pursuit of teaching. But, for all of the hoops, and test, and essays, and lesson plans, these young teachers are dynamic, exciting, and just plain fun to be around. Their ideas are fresh and innovative, their integration of technology is impressive, and their love of teaching and learning is clear. I am excited for my own children to be taught by this amazing young generation of committed, encouraging, and enthusiastic young teachers. It is true, the future of teaching is bright.

Education evolves with every new generation of educators. True some of the themes and ideas get recycled, but the teaching of students is a process that improves every year. Each successive cohort of teachers stands upon the shoulders of the giants who came before them as they reach higher and higher to raise up the next generation of learners. But the ultimate goal remains: teach the students well. I’m so thankful to be included in an alliance of individuals who commit themselves to the improvement of our planet through the education of all people and the growth of our culture.

February 02, 2009

Three Must Follow Blogs?

Awhile back I included a list of my favorite blogs, websites, and authors. Since then I have discovered three more that I must share. Perhaps this will be something that I will do now on a more regular basis, but since I just wrote that, probably not. We’ll see. I am not the only blogger who writes not just to be read, and because I want to share, but because I can’t help it. I am like a pitcher of water: if I don’t pour some of the liquid out, I am going to overflow. As it is I gush.

Adventures in Super Teaching by TeachEnEspanol is a relatively new blog worth visiting regularly. I have to admit that I feel a kindred spirit with this bilingual resource teacher from Chicago. Every other post I read feels like I could have written it myself even though I have never taught EL, or worked anywhere other than Southern California. Still, it’s so comforting to share another teacher’s thoughts and relate to their experiences, observations, and conclusions. Check out this blog, follow it, and leave MANY comments. The author will appreciate even the shortest contribution. You can read her complete story here.

John Spencer
writes in a variety of blogs and often. He is a BIG thinker who is ready and willing to share his ideas with any and all willing participants. Each day of the week he has a different theme, and everyday he explores the theme deeply. John is also on Twitter and sends out regular daily updates. You can also join his Ning social network. John reminds me of another John who was in another desert pointing a different generation towards their futures. John has a clear vision of the use of technology in education that we all need.

I am very impressed with the post college (mid to late 20’s) generation of teachers and thinkers popping up on the Internet. Perhaps most impressive to me are the Three Old Farts who are not old, and I hope, not farts. Chris Allison, Josh Lake, and Nate Evans are three graduates from Texas A.M. who have started a public discussion on the web. And guess what? You can join in. Their topics range from education reform to marketing each contributing independently but commenting as a trio. I love this format so I have started my own conversation on another blog.

There is so much valuable content on the web today. I am overwhelmed. No matter your niche, there seems to be a group or groups ready to invite you into their fray. Teacher resources via blogs, Twitter, and teacher-specific web sites have really blossomed. It’s important that we all contribute to the discussions through our comments wherever we spend time reading and learning. Unfortunately, I cannot keep up with everything that is written about teaching and teachers, but having looked around a bit, I can confidently recommend that you follow these three web sites and check back with them regularly.

January 30, 2009

The Spark?

When I reflect on the events that sparked my teaching career and the success that I have experienced in both teaching and in life, I can point back to one person, David Schlitt. David was my middle school drama teacher. Not only did David cast me in a play when I was a seventh grader, opening up a whole new world that encouraged me to discover who I was, but David also mentored me as a baby teacher, opening the door for my first job by shifting teaching assignments. The following two paragraphs are lifted from a 2006 blog post.

David, my middle school drama teacher, had a unique and very positive relationship with his students. In David’s class it was Ok to be yourself without being judged, a rare experience in middle school. In fact, you could be silly and make people laugh at what you were doing, not at who you were. David was the first teacher I had ever met who did not condescend to his students, but met them were they were emotionally, and could spar with them mentally and at their level. It was a unique and valuable experience. I gained confidence in who I was and began to trust my skills, my abilities, and myself however unrefined.

Our teacher/student relationship developed into a friendship after I went on to high school and college. When it became time for me to student teach, I knew exactly for whom I wanted to apprentice. I knew that David would allow me to not only “get my feet wet,” but also actually teach solo in his classroom. And he did. In fact, after my student teaching time was complete, David decided that he was ready for a change, and the principal offered me his assignment, which I gladly accepted. I knew that David believed in me from the time that I was 12 years old. I knew it because of the way he treated me with respect, and supported my decisions. David was a great teacher.

After a decade long pause in our conversation, David and I recently spoke on the phone. He is now teaching in his 38th year, and planning on 2 to 6 more in the classroom. David still teaches and inspires 7th graders to reach beyond their comfort zones and grow into who they will someday become. His students are lucky beyond their understanding.

It is important that ALL teachers strive to open up doors for their students and seek to draw out the strengths of each individual pupil. Clearly David recognized something in me way back when and if it were not for his guidance, and taking the time to work with me personally, I would not be the person that I am today. I can only hope to return the favor to a young person in one of my classes who is struggling to find their way. Thank you David for drawing me out, igniting the fire within, and for your friendship.

January 26, 2009

Confident Teaching?

Teachers must teach with confidence. We must not only be sure of our subject matter, but expert in relationships, management, and organization (at least in our classrooms). When we speak to our students we must do so authoritatively, while at the same time, maintaining a level of approachability that allows our pupils to view us as both wise and accessible. In addition, we must be consistent in our message not only adhering to our own classroom rules, but more importantly, embodying that which we teach. A confident teacher builds confident students who are prepared to go out into the world.

There are many excellent examples of confident teachers throughout history and I want to use an example from my favorite one.

From Mark 1:21-27 (The Message)

Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.

Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, "What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you're up to! You're the Holy One of God, and you've come to destroy us!"

Jesus shut him up: "Quiet! Get out of him!" The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out.

Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. "What's going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!" News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee.

Jesus had the benefit of being holy, we can only aspire to such a position. Jesus was a confident teacher because he knew what he taught to be true and presented it to his followers as truth. Jesus did not stumble around with his lecture notes, misspell words written in the dirt, or pause to check his facts. He knew what his message was and he delivered it plainly and clearly. And check out that classroom management! How cool would it be if one of us could tell Johnny Obnoxious to sit down in his seat and be quiet and he actually did it the first time without protest? The whole school would be buzzing over that, no after school detention required.

Jesus lived what he taught. His message was of salvation and he acted appropriately. Our message, whether it be in English, math, history, science, or the electives, is that our subject matter warrants our students attention and that what we teach them they will actually use in their lifetimes. Of course, that means that we need to actually use what we teach in our daily lives. If we are teaching writing, we need to write; if language, we need to speak the language daily. We must teach our students confidently so that they will be confident of what they learn.

January 22, 2009

No Apologies!

At the risk of over-reacting I have to share my irritation with Kaplan’s advertising and what it claims about educators and education. The second half of this video is right on the money, education needs to change, and it will. I will write later about my vision for more student-focused learning and how I think public education can and will step up to the task. I won’t fault the marketing department at Kaplan for their shot at the current state of education, it’s broken. However, I will not, nor should any teacher, ever apologize to any student for “failing” them.

Teaching is one of if not the hardest jobs one can choose. I don’t know a single teacher who does not pour their hearts and souls into their work. Sure, some are more effective, and some others are more dynamic, but no one who stays in teaching past the first few years is there for the “great pay,” or, “summers off.” Working with students to develop their skills and abilities takes immense patience, careful and accurate lesson planning, a compassionate and caring heart, an above all, a willingness to reach down and help up those in need regardless of circumstances.

Do teachers fail their students from time to time? Of course. But the proposition that today’s educators have “failed” to educate this generation is simply offensive to me. I suppose that it is easier to blame educators for the problems today’s young people are having in the world. After all, today’s students spend on-average 6 to 7 of their 24 hours at school mostly participating in instruction. The balance of time, upwards to 8 or 9 hours daily are spent, with friends, at home, completing homework, or with family. Unfortunately, school is falling lower and lower on their priority lists.

Perhaps this advertisement for a commercial educational institution is aimed more squarely at the colleges and universities, and not so focused on K-12 public education. Perhaps I am too sensitive. If you read my posts here then you know my heart. I just hate it when educators are blamed for the failings of their students. Ideally every child taught by every teacher would excel in every subject ever taught. But this is not what happens. Thankfully, the American public education systems has been part of the backbone of the success of our country and will continue to grow and thrive.

I’m sure that I have now ruined my opportunity to ever become a Kaplan instructor. Well, that’s ok. I will continue to implement my own educational reforms from within my own classroom with my own students every day that I stand in front of them and teach. And to be clear, I will never, ever, apologize for not bringing my best to the classroom and not teaching every student I am assigned to the best of my ability. I will draw out their talents, and educate each individual to confidently venture out into the world and be wildly successful.

January 14, 2009

Hope for the Future?

I enjoyed a conversation with a baby teacher recently that encouraged me is these uncertain times. She came to me with a video tape of one of her lessons that she needed copied to DVD. No problem. As she waited, and my students worked, we spoke of many things both educational and inspirational. Her ambition is to teach early elementary, perhaps even kindergarten (God bless her). She is focused on a suburban school in a needy area where she has already spent a few years subbing, and is currently student teaching. She spoke with passion and care for her students.

I asked about the mood among teachers looking for contracts in the current environment. Early the same morning I shared with some colleagues about the 4.2 billion, the impending budget cuts, furloughs, pay cuts, or perhaps even layoffs. Our district is encouraging (read pushing hard) for those both administrative, classified, and certificated who are even remotely close to thinking about retiring (anyone over 60) to heartily grasp a "golden handshake." The baby teacher shared her concern and explained that over half of her fellow teacher candidates in her cohort of the credential program had already left the university. Very sad.

The young teacher shared with me her passion for the school where she is currently a student teacher. She admires and appreciates the students, feels supported by the staff, and the principal has already hired her for a handful of long-term substitute assignments. It seems to me that, budget allowing, she is well aligned to be hired there when the opportunity arises. I remembered when I was offered my first teaching job at the campus where I still work. I felt like it was an honor and privilege just to be invited to take a seat at the table.

We spoke about the challenges of substitute teaching and value of her teaching credential program (she is participating in the same program at the same university that I attended way back when). Having learned all about classroom management through subbing, she is now focused on how best to deliver curriculum, how to juggle the standards, and how to develop appropriate relationships with the students. She shared her recent joy when a student that she was teaching experienced an “ah-ha” moment. We agreed that teaching is not only the most fun profession to choose, but also one of the most important.

Her boyfriend is also a teacher and has recently found employment in the district. The two plan on being a teacher couple, eventually getting married, and having a large family. It is so refreshing to hear about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the young adults who dedicate themselves to the education of our children. Although we face turbulent times, I am confident that the teachers with an appropriate focus and attitude will endure the cuts in resources and continue to serve the students well. Our numbers may dwindle, but the internal fire that ignites teachers will never burn out.