Posts Tagged ‘real world’

I recently led a seminar on teacher retention. It was short and to the point. It was based on conversations, quick surveys, research, and experience. It was prompted by something I had learned at a previous seminar. Two years earlier, I was at this same conference and was shocked to learn from another presenter that nearly half (45%) of new teachers quit during their first five years.

How, I questioned, can something we have looked forward to, studied for, interviewed for, and sacrificed for, be such a monumental disappointment as to cause half of us to just walk away and not look back? I don’t mean change schools, I mean just quit education forever.

After talking to colleagues, I did what any good researcher would do–I Googled it. One of the first articles I ran across was from a math teacher whose complaint was that he was barred from teaching the traditional math he was taught in school. His advisors up the food chain wanted a more intuitive approach where discovery and feeling were paramount. His argument was simple: 2+2 still equals 4, and any human with a working memory needs to know their multiplication tables. His leaders wanted him, rather, to allow students to “discover the concept” of two numbers being equivalent to a third. I loved his response. He wrote, and I’m not quoting, that the likelihood of undisciplined, ill-mannered, disinterested students discovering a concept that a studied, intellectually invested mathematician took years to develop was zero. And yet we play the game.

In my conversations with teachers, another big problem is discipline. There is none. Corporal punishment is considered ancient and barbaric. Intimidation and embarrassment are considered cruel. Reasoning is useless in all but a precious few circumstances with reasonable students. Administrators’ hands are tied by local and state rules. The inmates have taken over the asylum.

Another concern is the amount of “hoop-jumping” cited by both teachers and administrators. Ask any teacher, any teacher, and you can get a feel for what I’m talking about no matter where you live. Much of it is what used to be called “paper work” but which is now done mostly online. Some of it is to make areas more competitive for federal funds, some of it is what is humorously and quietly called CYA work. But the amount of it has increased over the years and even though it yields little immediate reward for the classroom teacher, much of its completion falls to these folks. Frustration mounts, and teachers just give up.

If you want to know how teacher feel about their working conditions, just Google “Teacher working conditions survey” and click around. Not all states have their own survey, but many do. You may have to read between the lines, but if your antennae are up, you’ll get the message.

Finally, if you want to get an earful (or eyeful) go to the link below and read about the frustrations of one teacher who says so much that so many would like to say.



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Years ago, I remember hearing that economics and behavior should have no effect on educational success. Poor kids, I was told, were just as smart as rich ones. I could believe that, because we lived well below the poverty mark, and I still did well in school. Has something changed? Or was I just a fluke?

According to the report The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007)  

“Research shows that poor children are less likely to succeed in school, more likely to have long-term health problems and more likely to rear their own children in poverty than their higher-income peers.”

” Recent scientific evidence further supports these findings by demonstrating that the detrimental effects of poverty are literally built into the architecture of children’s developing brains.”

Something has happened to our spirits, I suspect. I remember poor kids in the 60’s vowing that their children would never live as they had. We had spunk and hope and creativity! I cannot remember any gap or chasm between myself and the children of the scientists and engineers at the area university or government laboratories.

Nowadays, students of hardship enter my classroom with “hopeless” stamped across their foreheads at an alarming rate. When asked if she couldn’t take her studies more seriously, one student answered “I just want to get out of here so I can have some babies and “draw” (go on welfare.)

Nearly 25% of the students in our area live in poverty. I cannot fathom there being a silver bullet for this. Some days I feel as hopeless as they do. But I still believe that somewhere beneath the hurt and hopelessness is a student who wants to make something of themselves. I just hope I can find him or her before they leave my school.

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I am all about instructional differentiation. I know that each of my students is different and needs to be appreciated as an individual. I know they are the product of a unique set of circumstances. They do, however, have one thing in common: they are all in my room at the same time learning the same information and skills from the same teacher.

In that respect, they must all learn a valued life-skill: adapting to different learning styles and environments. I believe we have mis-interpreted the learning styles paradigm. Whether a student is left-brained, right-brained, kinesthetic, aural – whatever, that preferences only describes that particular student’s natural predisposition toward learning. It does not, however, mean that the only learning that student can experience is that which is presented in his/her preferred manner. We, in fact, do our students a great disservice when we give them the illusion that the great spinning world outside the walls of our school awaits with open arms to custom fit it’s square peg to their round hole.

I do not remember a time when any college professor presented English composition in any manner other than their tried and true methods. We sat in a large lecture hall with 100 other students and LEARNED to LEARN. I do not remember any employer differentiating their instructions to me on the job. Bosses expect you to adapt to them. I have never heard a member of the military tell me that their CO adapted instructions to make following orders more acceptable to them. I can hear you veterans laughing from here.

In short, the most valuable thing we can teach our students is how to learn the subject at hand. This skill, once mastered, will last them a lifetime.

Hopefully, it will be a long and successful one.

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I remember my first online course. It was a continuing education course from a nearby college which, even though just a few towns away, was still beyond a convenient driving range. I signed up by phone, got the course materials by mail, and began logging in nightly to get assignments, turn in assignments, or-and here’s the important part-enter comments on a discussion board.

The discussion board was to take the place of peer interaction. Members (students) would post their comments and invite comment or discussion, or even start entirely new discussions. A single topic and its attendant responses was called a “thread” and could be discussed at anytime during the course. Many of the instructors even required a certain number of entries to be posted, or discussions started as part of your grade.

That seems like ancient stuff now. Our students now have smart phones, i-pads, and many have digital notebooks or i-books. Add to that devices like Kindle and other e-book readers as well as the ubiquitous phone apps which allow students to access the internet for more information than we as teachers have time to ask for and you can see that our thirst for knowledge has us drowning in information.

BYOT (not an official title but one I heard recently) is becoming the paradigm for the future classroom. Students are encouraged to “Bring Your Own Technology” to access information beyond the confines of the school room. In this setting the teacher serves merely to pose the question and moderate the discussion of answers. The building of relationships becomes obsolete. We become abject facilitators.

Ok-so maybe it won’t be as bad as all that, but if we are not really careful, public education will become obsolete. We can already take college courses online, and virtual public high school courses are now available. Soon there will really be no need to sit in a classroom with a real teacher.

I suppose, however, if I can sit on the beach with my laptop and grade electronically submitted assignments and still get paid for it…hmm…let me think about that.

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As I write this I am amazed at the outcry against GAP having traded in the old familiar blue GAP box we’ve all come to know and love for a more pristine, clean-looking logo. What amazes me even more is how that outcry fell on the ears of GAP officials who finally succumbed and changed back to the old blue box.

Now, short of a boycott, I can’t imagine what imaginary forces would cause a major company to abandon a new (and no doubt costly) image switch. Are their clothes not still some of the best? Are their stores not artsy, clean, and fun to shop in? So what gives?

No doubt someone at the top one day said “We need to update our image!” Ideas were proffered, studies were done, drawings were rendered, and bam! new image! Instead of a hearty embrace of the new,- or even more useful in some cases, a simple ignoring of it, – we see a vapid online outcry against it.

It points up a strange truth:

 We seem to be most vocal about the things that matter least.

I cannot count the number of  teacher’s meetings I’ve attended where the the real battle seemed to be who could toss about the hottest terms or engage in some quasi-politicoeducational banter that had no effect on my real concern: reaching and teaching my students.

Some students can’t think straight because their family situation is near intolerable. A few are technically homeless. Some are so far poverty level they’ve given up. Some don’t have adequate health care. Some try to balance home, school, AND work.

Classes rarely have what they need. Teachers battle against sometimes insurmountable odds and are rewarded with only criticism. Principals are no longer just the head teacher, but business manager, legal advisor, disciplinarian, PR representative, personnel director–just for starters. The entire system gets so bogged down in paper work it’s difficult to stay on schedule. Some schools do struggle with incompetent staff but it’s usually because they are surrounded by poverty and crime, and the really skilled teachers know they can work elsewhere.

If anyone wants to start an online campaign to change things,

let’s change something important.

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It seemed like it took for ever for me to learn to 8-3-3-9-9-8 (text.) No wonder many states make it illegal to text while driving (see earlier post.) I heard a report that the safety council had suggested that data had been misinterpreted which suggested that car crashes had gone UP in states where texting while driving had been made illegal. We’ll see.

Texting in school is a hot issue, though. Many of us try to embrace the new wave of technology while trying to decrease distractions. It is true that teens are so accustomed to multiple streams of input that they can learn faster than we can teach–well, at least in theory.  It may be true that the net can be spread wider, but they’re not catching many fish.

So why is it that the world of information can be a mile wide and only an inch deep? Linda Stone may have an answer. It’s called continuous partial attention. Years ago, I did a research project on memory, and the bottom line of the whole thing was:

 If you want to remember something you must pay attention to it.

Students (and adults) who are in constant contact through their phones and texting devices are hard to get through to. They seem to linger on the edge of many things simultaneously without giving true attention to anything. This is  the state of continuous partial attention. This is not multi-tasking, this is multi-glossing. It increases stress, frustration, and causes email-apnea and early burn out. (www.lindastone.net)

The internet as well has changed the way we think. For example: we can sift through Google results faster as we search for something, and decide which information we’re looking for. That’s a good thing. And while we can search, message, Facebook, and any number of other things, we have lost many of the more human aspects in exchange.

Many of these human things–recognizing irony, reading body language and facial expression–have become lost to many students today. We even have to use emoticons in our messages and e-mails!

In feeding students spirit, try to have a totally disconnected time. Turn everything off – breathe – focus – pay attention to the task at hand. There is no mass of information to sift through-the teacher has already done the sifting. There are no decisions to make-the teacher has done the deciding.

And while new teacher methodologies dissuade this approach, sometimes we need to let the students sit back,

and think.

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I love traditions. I’ve blogged earlier about our Christmas tradition called the Parade of Toys. Many school traditions are centered around seasonal sporting events, like homecoming, a bonfire, a dance, or some other rite.

But when I ask someone why they do something year after year that has no apparent value so far as student growth is concerned, I cringe when I hear “It’s just tradition!” Why are there some subjects we teach the same old way year after year and say “That’s just how you teach this!” It may interest you to know that the exponential rise in the use of multiple sensory inputs used by our students (games, phones, mobile browsers, cams, etc. and many time all rolled up into the same device) has had a surprising effect on student learning: they can learn faster than we can teach. I’m not saying they can assimilate it all or even use all of the information correctly, but as far as simple acquisition of knowledge? It’s fast!

This means I have to get creative. I have to think in a new way. They’ve been there-done that, and they are under-whelmed by most teaching methods. Students have a bad habit of devaluing knowledge. They only want to know what’s “on the test.” They think knowledge is only good for passing tests, getting the credit, graduating, and going on to get a job so they can spend the rest of their lives paying for things they want or need. “Knowing stuff” is no longer it’s own reward. Growing as a creative entity is not on their list of things to do. Making sense of life is no longer a priority. They are surrounded by uninspiring, uncreative, traditional people who tell them “Don’t get your hopes up,” and “Just graduate and get yourself a good job.”

Granted, graduating and getting a good job are worthy goals, but is that the end? I look at students everyday who I fear are just going to “settle” rather than go on and excel. I am outnumbered by the nay-sayers. I am not heeded like their peers and kin. I feel like John the Baptist  in the wilderness crying out “Get ready!” But all they see is this life.

So each day I have to try to be bigger than life. I have to try to create curiosity and foster hope and show patience and love to them. And somehow I still have to teach them .

But if they ask “Why are we going so slow?” or “I’m bored!” will I answer “It’s tradition?”

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