Thursday, January 30, 2014

Relationships Matter in Education

     Our best teachers love what they do and they love working with students.  The relationships that teachers have with their students help to foster better student achievement.  And it is no surprise that this is the case.  Students want to make their teachers proud of the work that they can do in the same way that students want to make their parents proud.  When teachers show the students that they really care about them and their progress, students respond with better progress.

     The same is true with teacher relationships with parents and schools relationships with parents--and the community.  Relationships matter.  Researchers agree that teachers have the largest influence on student achievement.  Good teachers tend to produce good students.

     People who love to work with children are primed to be good teachers.  Learning can be difficult at times, but it is always less difficult when you have a caring, dedicated teacher ready to help you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Everyone Has Value

     At a recent school system event, one of our wonderful middle school students, Emily, gave a great, solo speech (written by herself) titled, Everyone Has Value.  She told a story of offering a $100. bill to a group of students and everyone wanting it because it has value.  And then she suggested crumpling that $100. bill and throwing it on the floor; and (still) the people would want to have it because it has value.

     She went on to explain that everyone has value and everyone should see the value in themselves as well as in others.  She shared results from a survey in which people said that they didn't like the way they looked; and they wished they were better looking.

     This young teenager was talking to her peers, but her message resonated with the adults in the audience every bit as much.

     Recently a commercial was released about a deaf football player named Derrick Coleman.   Again, the message is Everyone Has Value.  The deficiencies, or perceived deficiencies, in all of us are not what define us as a person.  Your mother was right when she said, "You can do anything you want to do."

     We will all have successes and failures in our lifetime.  But everyone is important; everyone is special; everyone can contribute in their own way to the fabric of society.

     Public schools (at their heart) teach this message to all of us.  Everyone has value.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Learning vs. Getting Good Grades

     In this corner, with hundreds of years of experience, The Edict of Education, the Natural Ability of Every Newborn Child; let's hear for Learning!

     And in this corner, gaining strength and popularity over the past few decades, the Beauty of College Applications and the source of Bragging Parents Everywhere; let's hear it for Getting Good Grades!

     Education faces a lot of battles.  One of the daily battles is Learning vs. Grades.  Teachers are on the side of learning and students (to be fair) are on both sides.  Some do their best to learn; and some are just doing it for the grade.

     I (sometimes) refer to this as "playing school". Some students just play the game.

  1. Go to school.
  2. Do what you are told to do.
  3. Read the book.
  4. Do your homework.
And Learning takes a back seat to just getting the grade.  Teachers are very familiar with this battle.  The best teachers engage their students--no matter the subject--and sometimes students discover that they like a subject that used to be just a "grade".

     In this battle, as is often the case in public education, it is the teachers who come to the rescue.  It is the teachers who instill a love for a subject.  Still, I would argue that we want support from parents too. 

     School can (certainly) be fun; but school shouldn't be a game to be won or lost.  All students can learn and all students can see the value of learning with the right incentives and with the help of caring adults--at school and at home.

     We know that students can graduate high school just by "playing school"; but those same students often struggle in college.  A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that only 42% of students that went to college immediately after high school ended up earning a bachelor's degree within eight years of graduating from high school.   Another 11 percent had earned a Master's degree.  (See report here; go to page 3, third bullet)  What happened to everyone else?  And students that began college more than 13 months after high school had even worse results.

     So keep fighting the battle of Learning vs. Getting Good Grades.  Learning is the heavyweight champion of public education.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Common Core and Our Desire to Give the Best to Our Students

     During my 25 years in education, I've seen ideas come and go; I've seen programs come and go; and I've seen movements come and go.  I used to think that the education system was constantly dreaming up ideas that were initiated with great fanfare and then were let go as failures.  But I've come to realize that education is not a static thing; certainly National Education is not a static thing.

     A lot of thought and research and debate goes into new initiatives and I think that it is fair to say that educators are constantly thinking about students and the best way to help students.  Education is also constrained by limited funds and (sometimes) limited research.  Also, big problems that require big solutions are often very complicated.  But it is not an excuse to "do nothing" just because the task at hand is difficult.

  After the landmark report "A Nation at Risk" came out in 1983, our education system did their best to respond to the issues that were raised in this report.  Some problems have been addressed and some remain.

     We have to remember that time does not stand still.  The world is changing and that means that our schools have to change also.  The form of that change can be numerous and diverse; but change it must.

     I am living and working through the transition to the Common Core standards.  Once again, this is a big change that is responding to a big problem in a big way.  Change can be scary at times, but this change is very, very necessary.  I am confident that I will look back at this second decade of the century and say that I was part of the beginning of something big.  And I am proud to be involved in this change.

     This isn't the end of change.  Programs and ideas will continue to come and go.  Each one will do its part to help our students and to improve on the last change that occurred.  I've come to believe that change is good and it should be embraced.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Special Ed. Makes Public Schools Special

     When I started teaching, I knew my content (mathematics) very well and I learned a few things about managing a classroom of students from my teacher prep classes in college.  But I knew nothing about Special Education.

     Fortunately, I had some great Special Education teachers in the building where I taught.  They helped me to better understand students with learning disabilities and how to teach them.

     I've since come to learn that Special Education is one of the true jewels of Public Education in America.  Special Education teachers and supervisors work everyday to find the best way to help students who find it difficult to learn in the same way as their non-disabled peers.  It is a tough job; no two special education students are the same.

     So thank a Special Education teacher today!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Shouldn't Be Here

     I am enjoying my 25th year working in education this year.  I've been a middle and high school mathematics teacher, a high school mathematics chairperson and district teacher specialist, I've worked in the research and accountability office, and am now a supervisor of secondary mathematics--overseeing the mathematics program for 20,000+ students in my school district.  Still, had things worked out the way they were "supposed" to, I should have never done any of this.

     You see, I grew up in a lower-middle income family--which is an overtly nice and formal way to put it.  I have a brother and two sisters; all born within a six-and-a-half year timespan.  I was among the first generation to benefit from the Free and Reduced Meals program.  I was in 10th grade in 1980, and the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) did a national survey of students in my class back then.  They followed up with us ten years later and this is what they found:  Only about 5% of the students in my economic family situation graduated from college.  (Good news: NCES did the same study with the 10th graders from 2002 and found that 14.5% of the low-income students from that class ended up with a college degree by 2012.  That's better than 5%, but still much too low.)

     So, had I followed the path that most of my peers did, I should have never went to college; I certainly should have never graduated from college.  Which means, no teaching job, no promotions, and certainly no Master's degree later on.  Hence, I shouldn't be here.

     The reasons I AM here are many.  One of the biggest is simply public education.  My K-12 teachers never told me I couldn't go to college; they never told me I couldn't do whatever I wanted to do.  The ability of my parents to pay a greatly reduced price for lunch for four children was an incredible benefit to my family.  Who knows how much less my parents would have been forced to provide for us had this not been an option?  We always say that education is the gateway to successful, productive citizens.  There is no doubt in my mind that public, free education made a difference in my life.

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

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