Friday, December 27, 2013

What Did You Do on Your Winter Vacation?

     We always ask students, "What did you do on your summer vacation?"  I am going to share with you what I've done (so far) on my Christmas vacation.  To me this is a very typical Christmas break; but I wonder if others would read this and think otherwise.

     My wife and children (13 and 16 years old) got our Christmas tree on December 21st.  A tad later than we usually get it, but it was Saturday and we were all together.  We get our tree from a local Boy Scout group at my church.  They are always very nice and they put it in that net thing and tie it to the top of my van.

     My brother-in-law came from North Carolina to stay with us during Christmas week -- which was very nice since we don't see him that often.  My in-laws also live with us, so Christmas Day was a nice family affair with extended family.  On the day after Christmas, we had our "more" extended family Christmas party with about 15 people.  This sometimes turns into an eating-all-day thing; but also lots of smiles and laughter.

     In a couple of days we are traveling to visit my brother and his family in New Jersey.  Once again, food and laughter and family.  Lots of people joke about the down side of spending time with family, but I never feel that way.  I enjoy visiting with family members.  I've never experienced the oft-cited stress related to these events.  I especially like it when the cousins get to see and play with each other.  They enjoy it and I hope that they will stay in touch when they are adults.  (Trying to set a good example.)

     Professionally, during down time over the vacation, I am reading a book about teaching students who grow up in poverty.  It seems we are always trying to find a way to reach these students and after 25 years in education, I am still trying.  I know it can be done and as a country, it must be done.  Public schools have a moral responsibility to educate all students.  I want to do my part, and (if possible) I want to help others to do this too.

     Vacation is a time (for me) to think about what I've accomplished and to look ahead at the challenges that still call out for a solution.  Problem solving is a big part of work (and art) of education.  I know that I value time to think and time to study and time to consider possible solutions.

Friday, November 29, 2013

It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

     We've got some great teachers in our public schools.

     Some are great because they are warm and caring.  Students like these teachers and they want these teachers to be proud of them.  Students will do just about anything their warm and caring teacher tells them to do, because we all do want to do things for people who care about us.

     Some teachers are great, because they work hard to get to know each and every student.  They learn how each student learns and they understand how each student struggles with their learning.  These teachers are able to find a way to present content to students in a way that the students will understand.

     And, of course, some teachers have both of these attributes--(1) They are warm and caring, and (2) they understand how each of their students' learn.

     Our best teachers know that they cannot make things too easy on their students, because the goal isn't to make students happy (or to merely "get-the-right-answer").  The goal is that the students are learning.  The best teachers know that learning comes with a little struggling--sometimes with a lot of struggling.  And the best teachers are able to allow their students AND to encourage to keep going and not to give up when the struggling occurs.

     "Teaching" is only part of a teachers job.  The main part of a teachers job is making sure that the students are learning.  Some teachers view the "teaching" part as the only part of their job.  These teachers are good at making lesson plans and following through with procedures.  They are good at assigning HW and keeping track of grades.  They are good at doing what they are supposed to do--what they are told to do.  But merely "teaching" and ignoring the amount of student learning that is (or is not) taking place will never be enough to raise their students' abilities.

     The best thing about public education is teachers who do everything they can to help their students to learn.  Thank you to our hard-working teachers.  No job is tougher or more rewarding!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanks Twitter for All the Good News about Education!

Twitter is filled with Good News about Education

I've been on Twitter for about 20 months, and throughout that time I've learned more and more about what I can do and what I can learn from Twitter.  I use Twitter as a professional, and I like to follow other teachers and educators from around the world.

Since beginning this blog, I've been on the lookout for positive stories about education.  My Twitter feed is a treasure-trove of such stories.  On a daily basis I read about students and teachers doing amazing things in their schools and in their communities.  I see pictures of teachers learning new strategies to help students in their classrooms; and I see pictures of students engaged in learning in a variety of settings.

Of course, I also gain a lot of ideas from reading the posts from the people I follow.  Sometimes they direct me to articles or blogs on particular topics.  Other times they direct me to hot-button topics that lead to great discussions.

As always, we don't want to ignore the problems of public education in America.  I am very aware that the way I use Twitter tends to encourage "the positive".  It is what we call The Echo Chamber--only follow people who agree with me.  I know that the people I follow (while diverse) do not represent all points of view.  I wouldn't say that I exclusively hear positive things, but most of the people I follow (including me) tend to follow the rule "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."  This doesn't lessen the truth about the good things I read on Twitter; but it is necessary to recognize there are lots of stories that I am not reading.

My point is that it is very easy to only hear the negative about public school education in America and it is important for educators--and especially non-educators--to know that there is a lot of good going on everyday in our public schools.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good News About Public Schools

Kudos to Brian Cleary whose article Good News about Public Schools ws printed in this week's edition of Ed Week.

Mr. Cleary's article included some great stats about positive things with public education that people never here.  These included:
About 90 percent of the kids in the United States go through the public school system.
The literacy rate in the United States is 99 percent for those age 15 and older.
Most of our recent presidents—from both parties—were largely products of public education, including Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon.

I often say that we (in public education) spend 90% of our time worrying about 10% of the students.  They seems to be endless attention on the students who aren't successful and very little attention on the students that are successful.  Of course we want everyone to be successful, and of course we want to do everything we can to help all of our students.  But let's not forget the good; the positive; the many, many successes that occur in public schools everyday.

And it's particularly nice (and unfortunately rare) to see it in print.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Professional Conferences

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are holding one of three Regional Conferences this week in Baltimore, Maryland.  This is close enough to my hometown that I can actually commute to the conference each day.  If you love teaching mathematics and learning about teaching mathematics, then (like me) you love going to an NCTM conference.

Every year, thousands of math teachers from Pre-school teachers to college teachers attend the Annual NCTM meeting (held somewhere in the United States) and/or one of these three Regional conferences.  There is something for everybody.  Presentation, workshops, and a huge area of vendors.

People come to be better teachers.  They meet other teachers from around the county; they make professional connections; they learn new teaching strategies; and it's a lot of fun too!  The best teachers are constantly learning and improving.  It is great to be surrounded by teachers who love what they do and are eager to get better.

The other two Regional Conferences this year are in Las Vegas, Nevada

and Louisville, Kentucky

I would encourage all mathematics teachers to attend a Regional or National NCTM conference.  You will be glad you did.  You will return to your classroom eager to try out the new things you've learned!

Online Professional Development

I think it is fair to say that a major, behind-the-scenes aspect of teaching is the constant professional development and teacher training that goes on.  I think that the general public has this sense that teachers are pretty smart and they know their content very well.  They graduated from college and they are done with the "learning" portion of their lives.

Of course every teacher knows that through informal and formal ways, professional development and constant learning is what makes great teachers great teachers.  New standards, new resources, new technology, new requirements, (etc.) insist that teachers stay current; and that requires training--what we call "Professional Development".

Once again, it's a tough job being a teacher.  Finding time for additional training is tough too.  Some of it happens during the summer time; but some of it has to take place during the school year.  My next couple of posts will talk about these varied professional development opportunities that great teachers take part in.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thinking about Thinking

I remember (when I was in school) my teachers would say, "I can't open you head and see what you are thinking."  And then (I guess) they would encourage us to ask questions when we didn't understand something.

I think the biggest challenge for teachers is to try to know what their students are thinking.  We can't always "see" it on an assessment.  Even as mathematics teachers, it is not enough to see that the students are getting the right answer.  We're glad they are getting the right answer, but we don't necessarily know that they are thinking through the problem correctly.  This is particularly evident when they get some answers right and others wrong and the problems are very similar.  Teachers think, "How did you get this right and this wrong?"  We assume that they made a simple arithmetic error.  Sometimes that IS what happened.

But other times the problem is that the student isn't thinking about the problem correctly.  Their method works sometimes and not other times.

This is why it is so important to have lots of discourse in the classroom.  Teacher-to-student, student-to-student, and whole class discourse.  We have to "hear" what the students are thinking.  And if we want students to be comfortable to speak up in class, then we have to establish a learning environment where students feel safe to share their thoughts.

Someday, we might have a device that can show us what students are thinking.  But today, we have to find ways to encourage students to help us to know their thoughts; to talk about their reasoning, their "thought process"; their ideas.  It's all about the learning; which requires thinking; which requires teachers to know what their students are thinking.

Yipes!  Teaching is hard.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Art of Education

       The challenge of education is the art of education.  Namely, it is the art of finding the best way to reach every single student.  Learning styles and teaching styles have to "mesh".  Someone said that teaching really IS rocket science.  I've also heard that teachers make hundreds of decisions everyday--often on the fly while the class is going on.

       We know that our best teachers connect with their students.  They get to know them.  They talk with them in the hallways and in the stands during football games.  They care about their students.  And their students want to make their teachers proud of them.

       This blog is constantly on the lookout for positive stories about public education in America.  Let me know your stories.  Maybe I'll have some guest contributors.  And I want to post pictures and videos of the good and great things that are taking place across the nation in our K-12 classrooms.

       When I taught high school and middle school mathematics, I always enjoyed making Positive Phone Calls home to parents.  It's amazing to me, but nearly every parent told me that they never received a positive phone call from a teacher.  It made me feel good and the parents loved it.  Word got out to my students that I did this and students actually WANTED me to call their parents.  It was great.

       Teachers are always looking for ways to connect with their students.  I see it every time I visit a classroom.  And I read about it on Twitter and in journals often.  I am anxious to share these great ideas with others.

       Congratulations to all the teachers who have mastered the Art of Teaching.

       Keep it up!

6:30am - Time to Start a Blog about the Good Things in Public Schools

It's 6:30am; "No time like the present." (Right?)  So here is my first post; really my introduction to this blog.  This blog that I have said to myself for years (and to others) that I should write.  So here is the beginning.

The blog is called, What's So Good About about Education?.  The purpose (the vision) is to highlight the good things that occur in American education every single day.  There are lots of sources out there that talk about the bad things in education.  This would make the average person think that there is nothing good about education in America.  Well that's just not true.

In truth, I may talk about the good and the bad, but I want to stress that there is lots and lots of "Good" going on.  We need to acknowledge the hard work of teachers and the many, many successes of our students.

I hope to  be able to do that.

Have a great school day America.  I know you will.

Peter Cincotta

Public Schools and Choice

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