Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Good Teachers make Good Students

     Good teachers make good students.

     You can search the web for lists of "What makes a teacher a good teacher."  Different lists, different points of view.  But there will be some similarities.

     If you ask people to talk about their favorite teacher (again) you will hear some common themes.  Chances are, your favorite teacher is someone you liked and someone who liked you.  Your favorite teacher was probably very helpful; perhaps very kind.  You may have done very well in his/her class, or maybe you didn't.  (Interesting how your "grade" in your favorite teacher's class doesn't seem to matter much.)

     Good teachers understand the importance of good relationships with their students.  When students feel comfortable to ask questions (and they are not embarrassed to be "wrong"), they tend to do much better in class--even if it is a subject that they don't particularly like.  

     So if you want to have good students, be a good teacher.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Better Plan for Remedial Math in College

     Students who graduate from high school but are not ready to do college-level work are required to take remedial courses.  These are courses (that students must pay for) that do not earn them college credit.  For mathematics, some students must take two or three remedial math courses before they can take their first credit-baring mathematics course.  (See Beyond the Rhetoricnews articleanother news article)  The idea is that these courses will help students to gain the mathematical knowledge that they need to be successful in the "real" college math courses.  The assumption is that these students would not be able to pass a credit-baring math class unless they first proved that they had these particular math skills.

     It makes sense; it sounds logical; it seems like a good plan.  But it hardly ever works. (See Bridge to Nowhere)  State Senator from Florida, Joe Negron has said “Remediation in Florida was not an entrance ramp to success, it was an exit ramp to failure.”  Students struggle in these courses and drop out of college.  Instead of helping students to be successful in college, the remedial math course system is lessening the likelihood that students will complete college.

     There has to be a better way to help students.  I work in a secondary school environment (middle and high schools).  When we have students coming into middle school who are below grade level in mathematics, we don't teach them elementary school math, we teach them middle school math and provide support along the way.  Similarly, when students enter high school with weak math skills, we don't reteach middle school math, we teach them high school math provide support along the way.  

     Why can't colleges do this?  Why can't colleges put students in college-level, credit-baring math classes, and provide help along the way for students who struggle.  Some colleges (and states) are looking into this idea.  (See articleCaliforniaFlorida)  

     High school mathematics teachers will tell you that they often have students in their high school math classes with weak skills, but these students usually pass the class.  They may not get "A's", but they will pass and earn the credit.  And we all know how they do it:

  • They study
  • They do their homework
  • They ask their teacher for help
  • They ask their parents, friends, relatives for help
  • They struggle to learn (or memorize) what they need to do well on tests
     Most of the people reading this blog have been in a high school or college class that they found difficult and most of us have found a way to pass; or to get a "C"; or to do whatever it was we were motivated to do to successfully finish that class.  Clearly there are going to be students who are completely unprepared for some classes and no amount of assistance will bring them to the point where they can pass.  But I would say that that is not the case with most students.

     We need a better plan.  Remedial math classes in college that don't remediate students is not the way to go.  There has to be a better way to help students to achieve their dreams and to graduate from college.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Everyone has Experiences with Education

     One of the strongest assets of public education is The Public.

     Everyone is free to voice their opinions regarding public education in general as well as public education as it relates to their own school (or their child's school).  Everyone has had experiences with education and everyone has their opinions regarding what should happen within the school walls during the school day.  The strength of a public school is its ability to respond to the needs of the public in its mission to educate and prepare students for their future.

      Of course, this can be a messy process at times; and everyone isn't going to get everything they want all of the time.  As society changes and as America changes and as the world changes, our public schools must also continue to change.  Sometimes changes don't lend themselves to simple "right" or "wrong" solutions.  Sometimes people prefer the comfort of "staying the same" rather than the uncertainty of change as we prepare for the future.

     Still, we are stronger when we listen to varying points of view and consider varying options.  Schools know that it is important to have a partnership with parents.  We know that students do better academically when their parents are involved in their education.  It is unfortunate that (so often) the newspapers only talk about the struggles between school systems and the public.  It much more common for schools to seek positive relationships with their parents and even to encourage more parental participation in school issues and events.

     The public makes our schools great.  As a teacher, I would occasionally receive advice from a parent regarding my teaching.  Sometimes I was offended and sometimes I was appreciative.  But (probably) all times, it affected my teaching in some way.   I would think about what they said and compare it to what I knew about teaching; and I would (perhaps in a small way) change what I did for the better.  The same thing happens to principals and other school leaders.  We take in the advice and opinions of many and it shapes our thinking--perhaps, it even shapes our actions.

     I wonder if it is the case that most people never comment about educational matters; and only the people who are really angry and only the people who are really happy tend to be the people who speak up.  That can be dangerous because the people on the extremes (often) do not represent the opinions of the many.  So the next time you receive an email or phone call from your child's teacher (or superintendent) asking for your opinion, please take a few minutes to share what you think.

     We're listening.  After all, you are the "public" of our public education!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Secretaries and Custodians

     Everyone knows who the principal of school is; everyone knows their teachers.  But there are people who keep our public schools running smoothly and looking great that many people never notice.  In fact, these people do such a good job that it can be easy to overlook them.  Yet every school principal and every teacher is very appreciative of the jobs that they do.  These people are the secretaries and custodians in our public schools.

     Our secretaries answer the phones, oversee daily attendance, order supplies, send out email and paper information to parents, organize files, update their computer skills, and attend to many other responsibilities for the benefit of the students, parents, and school staff.  Their work makes it possible for teachers to teach and for principals to lead.  Secretaries are often the first person that people see when they enter a school building and therefore, they represent the "first impression" of a school that people have--a very important position.

     Custodians keep the school buildings clean and safe for students and staff.  They mop floors, empty trash cans, clean the lunch room (daily), keep the heating and air conditioning running, clear the sidewalks of snow, change light bulbs, fix doors, windows, chairs, tables, desks, and anything else that needs fixing.  Our custodians attend to many and varied needs throughout the day and throughout the school year.  This also includes cutting the grass and maintaining the landscaping around the school.  They set up chairs for assemblies and special events.  Custodians enable students and staff to work in a clean and safe building every day.

     The secretaries and custodians in our public schools are hard-working, dedicated people who take pride in doing a good job and in being part of the public education system.  Their role is essential in the smooth operation of any public school.

     School Secretary Day (in the United States) is April 23, 2014.  It is a day to recognize and show appreciation for the people who do so much for our schools and our school systems.

     School Custodian Appreciation day is on October 2nd.  Once again, this is a day to share with our school custodians just how much we appreciate the job that they do.

     It's good to know that schools have able, competent, and dedicated secretaries and custodians that come to work everyday to support the education of our students!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lots of Helpful People

     In the one-room school house, there was a teacher and that was it.  It was probably a very caring teacher who (maybe) knew her students and their families very well.  But it was one person and that was it.

     Today, our public schools have librarians and nurses and school counselors and aides and assistant principals, and (maybe) math specialists and reading specialists and special education teachers.  We know that students need good teachers, but they also may have other needs that can be addressed by other professionals.  We want our students to be good learners, but also want them to be healthy, happy members of society.

     And these people are here to help the parents as well as helping the students.  Our public schools take on a lot of responsibilities in an effort to help our students to be the best that they can be.  It is a big job to educate children and it takes a lot of people to do the job right.

     So, in addition to thanking your teacher, be sure to thank the other people in the schools that come to work everyday to make the school experience positive and to help your child in every aspect of their growth and development.

     What's so good about public schools in America?  Lots of helpful people!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Testing That Helps Us Learn

       Schools and testing just seem to go together.  And along with "testing" comes "grading".  From the outside, school can seem like it is entirely made up of just testing and grading.  And, to be fair, schools and teachers spend a lot of time on the issues of testing and grading.  Parents like to hang report cards on the refrigerator and brag about high test grades.  Newspapers love to report about test scores of schools and school districts.  Colleges may have admission requirements related to test scores.  Even politicians like to talk about test scores.

     But inside the school our best teachers are concerned about entirely different tests.  These "tests" (or assessments) are the ones that tell students and teachers what they know and what they don't know.  We call these tests Formative Assessments--or Testing FOR knowledge.

       These tests might be graded or they might not be graded.  The purpose of these tests are not to get a grade, but instead to see what students know and what students are able to do.  These are the tests that teachers really care about; and they are the tests that students actually like because they actually give students information about what they have learned.

     The best part is that these "tests" might not even look like tests.  They might be one question at the end of the class that students answer (verbally or in writing).  It might be a game that students play in class that requires them to answer questions about current lesson topic--and earn points for their team!  It might be a mini-project in which students are given a situation that they have to make sense of and then decide what to do next.

     Formative assessments give teachers information about how well students are learning.  Teachers use this information to make decisions about what to do the next day.

     Formative assessments are a necessary part of the learning process.  It is unlikely that every students will learn and understand every lesson in the every class every day.  It takes trial and practice and support and discussion and mistakes and "try again" and more discussion and (yes) formative assessments every step of the way so that teachers and students can get information on what they know and don't know.

     Schools are supposed to be about learning.  Maybe someday, the "grading" part of school will go away and the only part that will remain will be the learning part.

     I hope to be here when that happens.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Teacher Doing What They Love Best

       Public schools are filled with great teachers who love to teach.  Third grade teachers who, "Love the 3rd Grade." and high school teachers who, "Love to teach Biology." and (yes) lots of middle school teachers who, "Love Middle School."  I've put these sentences in quotes because very often I hear teachers make these statements.

       Sometimes people who don't work in education can't believe it when they hear teachers talk about how much they love working with students.  Maybe this is because they have a negative attitude toward children or teenagers.  Maybe this is because television and movies have portrayed school classrooms as disorganized and chaotic.  But the truth is that many teachers love what they do and they love to help students to learn.

       Parents are much more comfortable with school when they know that their children have excellent and caring teachers.  Students do much better academically when they have knowledge teachers that love what they do.  As a country, we succeed when we have a well education population and that begins with teachers.

       Everyone remembers their favorite teacher.  Who was your favorite teacher?  It was probably a person who was very nice; who loved teaching; who loved being with students; and who made an effort to really get to know you.  Great teachers have a great influence on people and (by extension) on our society.  Teachers make a difference everyday.

       I am thankful for the great teachers in our public schools who love what they do everyday.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We Want to See You Everyday

     Public schools have something for everyone.  Aside from the "core four" subjects of Math, Science, English, and Social Studies, schools offer Art, Music, Physical Education, and Foriegn Language.  But even more than that, schools at every level offer all sorts of clubs and teams and groups for students to join and to learn more about.

     While school is mandatory for all students, we know that students will not come to school everyday if they don't feel a good and positive connection to their school.  We also know that students who come to school everyday tend to have better grades (see chart).

     Of course, it makes sense that you have to be in school to learn.  We know that students who are absent a lot, often struggle to keep up academically.

     Sometimes we have students who struggle in their core-four subjects, but love Art and Music and come to school everyday because they don't want to miss their Art and Music classes.  Even these students will do better in Math and Science than students with poor attendance--just because they come to school everyday.  And maybe as they grow up, they will learn to actually enjoy their Math and Science classes more!

     Every day counts in school; every day is important.  And, we want to see you everyday because we like to see your smiliing faces too!  So come to school to learn, to play, to socialize, to be on team--but be sure to come to school everyday.

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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