26 July 2006

Wouldn't ya know it?

Just so everybody knows, I had every intention of blogging from Eugene. I guess it was silly of me to assume that a hotel like the Hilton would have wireless access in their rooms.

I will have an update sometime this week-end.

FYI, to all my California Folks, it is much cooler up here :)

edited to change my embarrassing grammatically incorrect sentence.

It's a prime day for a prime Carnival!

Come on out to the prime numbered 77th edition of the Carnival of Education, hosted by TextSavvy.

Next week's Carnival will be hosted by the apparently delicious folks at This Week in Education, so please send your submissions to thisweekineducation@gmail.com by Tuesday, August 1, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Pacific.

25 July 2006

Jargon Jungle, Week 3 - The Heatwave Continues Unabated

I'm out of jokes about how hot it is--I've ceased to be amused and now I'm just cranky. So, to get my mind off of the heat and onto more fun things (like my impending trip to Hawaii--a honeymoon five years overdue!) here's another installment of The Jargon Jungle. :-)


Accountability-based learning: &-"kaun-t&-'bi-l&-tE 'bAsd 'l&rni[ng] [n] when teachers are blamed for poor student performance, but involved parents are lauded for outstanding student performance.

Achievement gap: &-'chEv-m&nt 'gap [n] the area between the teacher's planned student acheivement and what students actually learned.

De-centered classrooms: dE-'sen-t&rd 'klas-"rüm [n] [1] when you are notified a week before school starts that the classroom you planned to have is no longer available, leaving you to scrounge and replan [2] misguided policies by administrators in an attempt to save money, in which teachers are required to change classrooms multiple times in a day.

K-W-L: [n] Abbreviation for the term “Know-Want-Learn”; denotes a strategy used to determine what students don't know yet, won't want to learn, and will not be able to tell you that they learned anything about.

Pedagogy: 'pe-d&-"gO-jE [n] derived from the Latin roots for “foot” and “study”, pedagogy is the realization that no matter how good the shoes looked in the store, you should have thought twice before wearing them to work and having to stand in them all day.


I hope next week's Jungle will be slightly less hot and steamy for all of you. I'll be posting from the tropical clime of Hawaii, but at least it's never gotten above 100F there.

20 July 2006

Blogging to you from Eugene, OR

On Saturday, I leave for Oregon to attend a week long conference on "Direct Instruction." I plan on taking my laptop in order to blog about my daily experiences and overall impressions on this method of "teaching."

It is with some skepticism that I approach this conference because this is about scripted teaching and implies that teachers cannot teach effectively unless they are given exact words to say to their students. Nonetheless, I will try to approach it with an open mind because afterall, my principal has entrusted me and a few other fellow teachers to take this training in order to share it with staff at our school site.

Even looking for information on what direct instruction is, I was brought to Jeff Lindsay's web site, which proclaims that direct instruction is the solution to underperforming schools. One of the quotes that stands out to me is if the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught, which is attributed to Dr. Siegfried Engelmann, the pioneer of Direct Instruction. Of course, I take issue with this quote because it lays all the blame on the feet of teachers. Kids learn and don't learn for a variety of reasons, one of which may be because of the teacher they have before them in the classroom. However, there are many contributing factors to the success or failure of kids in public schools.

One of my most problematic studens last year was truant over 2/3rds of the school year. Is his lack of success due to my not teaching him? Mind you, this wasn't some hardened high schooler, rather it was a 6th grader who looked up to his gang-banger peers and seemed intent on following in the foot steps of an older brother serving time in jail. The amount of time that I and my fellow team-teachers invested in him shows that we did everything in our power to get him in school so that he could get the education he deserves. There is only so much that one can do in a school system that has done away with counselors at the middle schools and has one VP responsible for disciplinary and truancy of over 900 students.

Overall, I just get tired of cookie cutter solutions that those on the outside of education want to throw at teachers. I think many teachers strive hard to reach all of their students through a variety of teaching methodologies because we recognize that kids have unique learning styles. Perhaps even more than that, teachers do not become teachers to fail kids, for when that happens, we question: what more could I have done?

Laugh for the day: In my e-mail today, I received confirmation for this conference. In the e-mail it states to bring cool clothing because the weather has been warmer and its predicted to be in the mid to upper 80's. G U F F A W! It's been hitting in the high 90's up to 107 in my neck of the woods.

19 July 2006

Due to a severe PEBMAK error[*], the california.livewire@yahoo.com email address no longer works. I'm hoping this is temporary, but for the time being, please direct all email to californialivewire@yahoo.com (it's different because there is no period between the two words.)

Sorry about that, folks! :-)

[*] PEBMAK: Problem Exists Between Monitor And Keyboard

Come One, Come All!

Come one, come all, come in out of the miserably hot weather! Come to the comfortably air-conditioned 76th edition of the Carnival of Education, hosted this week by Education in Texas, where it's hotter than a snake's... well, if you've seen Good Morning, Vietnam, you'll know the rest of the quote.

(With minor apologies to Ms. Cornelius, the movie quote queen--I could never outdo you!)

Next week's Carnival will be hosted by Mr. Person of Text Savvy. Submissions should be sent to mr(dot)obelus(at)gmail.com no later than 10 P.M. CST. Mike doesn't specify a date, but I'm assuming he means next Tuesday, July 25th.

18 July 2006

A Lesson in Contrasts

Because of the rapidly escalating hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, Beirut is no longer a safe place, and many foreign nationals are attempting to flee. But, says Reuters, “Unlike the US, the British government is not charging its citizens for the evacuation. Americans in Beirut are complaining that they have been asked to sign forms agreeing in advance to pay unspecified sums to cover the cost of their evacuation. Some said they had been told they will not be allowed to use their passports again until they pay.”

On the one hand, we have thousands of U.S. citizens in grave danger on foreign soil, and the federal government says, “We’ll get you to safety—and we’ll send you the bill.”

On the other hand, we have thousands of illegal immigrants sneaking across our California border and the government says, “Come on in, and we’ll pay for your kids to go to school; if you need medical care, we’ll take care of that bill too.”

Clearly the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

17 July 2006

Jargon Jungle: Edition 2

Somehow two weeks have passed by in a span of time that normally fits only one, and I'm left shaking my head that anyone believes I have the summer off.

So a bit tardy but better late than never, here's the next installment of The Jargon Jungle, now with Free Bonus Definitions[tm]!


Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP): (ad-kw&t 'yir-lE 'prä-gr&s) [n] a carved-in-granite, absolute, objective measure of school quality whose standards and measurements change more often than an 8th grader's social circle. Synonym: subjectivity. Antonym: effectiveness.

Best Practices: ('best /'prak-t&s/) [n] 1. Teaching methods only those outside of education want used. 2. A list of teaching methods handed down by politicians, administrators, and schools of education, all of whom seem to labor under the delusion that teachers prefer to use their worst practices in their classrooms and that one size fits all when it comes to teaching and learning styles. Synonyms: boring, redundant. Antonyms: logical.

Data-driven: ('dA-t& 'dri-v&n) [adj] 1. Phenomenon in which effectiveness is measured solely by numbers, many of which are preceded by the "$" symbol. Larger numbers always signify a better education, unless the term is applied to teacher salaries. 2. An overnight phenomenon in which a previously effective classroom instruction program will suddenly cease to function unless a team of experts is brought in with thousands of dollars worth of computer software that no one but them knows how to use and binders full of reports that no one bothers to read. The more costly a data-driven progam, the more effective those not involved in education perceive it to be. Synonyms: NCLB, costly. Antonym: student-oriented.

Research-driven: (ri-'s&rch 'dri-v&n) [adj] Educational programs implemented by people who have never taught in a K-12 school, but are good at using Microsoft Excel. Similar to data-driven programs, they can usually be identified by adults wearing suits that cost more than your first teaching paycheck, carrying briefcases and binders full of numbers that make sense to no one but themselves. Synonyms: pedantic, didactic. Antonym: useful.

Teachable moment: ('tE-ch&-b&l 'mO-m&nt) [n] 1. the brief period of time teachers get to actually teach their subject matter when they've gotten ahead of their scripted test-preparation activities. 2. The moment when a student realizes that severe punishment is imminent if he/she doesn't stop trying to stick a pencil in the ear of the person in front of them and pay attention to the lesson. Synonyms: satori, nirvana. Antonyms: scripted lesson, text messaging.

Zone of Proximal Development: ('zOn 'äv 'präk-s&-m&l di-'ve-l&p-m&nt) [n] 1. When the school places new portable classrooms on top of valuable playground real estate. 2. The distance a teacher gets when walking away from a student's desk after confirming that yes, the student understands the assignment and doesn't have any more questions, and before that student raises his or her hand with a question. Synonym: aggravation. Antonym: patience.

16 July 2006

This-n-That: A Sunday Smorgasbord of Six

Elementary History Teacher is grieving the loss of her mother, who died early Saturday morning: “She no longer hurts, she no longer fights for her next breath, and she no longer has to suffer the indignities her illness had brought her.” You might want to stop by and offer your condolences.

Ms. Cornelius over at A Shrewdness of Apes has generated a lively discussion about her “mixed experiences with homeschooled youngsters” because she knows “families who let their kids run wild and call it homeschooling.” Join in with your two cents’ worth!

NYC Educator writes about every teacher’s nightmare, when "The Principal Observes a Class.” (Maybe the details will sound disturbingly familiar!)

Dick at The Life That Chose Me muses about pay for paras. “Much of what we’re required to do as teachers could not be done without the support of these individuals,” he writes.

Bluebird’s Classroom is the site of some ruminations about knots, wiping noses and independence. See how Mrs. Bluebird weaves them all together here.

The Reflective Teacher meditates on the fact that many of us answered the call to teach because of the profound influence of one teacher in our lives. He remembers that Mrs. Hall and her “insistence for thorough work confounded me in a world of mediocre teachers who only sought minimal work.”

14 July 2006

What I did during my summer vacation . . .

Prior to becoming a teacher, I remember thinking to myself how luxurious it must be for teachers to have three months off every summer. Afterall, there are not many jobs out there in which you get that amount of vacation time, even if you've worked for the same company for a long time. In my previous professional life, I worked mostly as office staff for large companies. At most of these jobs, I got ten days of vacation leave after a year of employment. The game was trying to get vacation time off around federal holidays to maximize the amount of days away from work. So, at the thought of becoming a teacher, I couldn't help but think gleefully to myself about summer vacation.


Most teachers I know, myself included, do a lot of prepping for the upcoming school year. This summer I'm prepping for a new program, SRA Reach, an intervention program which I'll be teaching to my incoming 6th graders. Anytime there is a change in curriculum means that teachers need to familiarize themselves to this change. This will be a third change in curriculum since I began teaching five years ago. The good news is that it keeps me on my toes!

I also spend time on reflecting my previous year of teaching and contemplate the changes I want to make in the upcoming year. I'm never completely satisfied with my performance as a teacher and am always striving for ways to make me and my classroom experience better. This means that I spend time reading online teacher magazines such as Edutopia and blogs written by (and for) teachers.

Teachers usually do have some downtime during our summer time off, but it's nothing like what people imagine. A week after my school year was over, I went to a week worth of training for SRA Reach. Then at the end of July, I'll go to another week worth of training. At the beginning of August, I'll attend some meetings having to do with our union and working with a teacher that I'm mentoring. Oh yeah, did I mention that I'm changing classrooms? That means 2 to 3 days in my old classroom packing up and (hopefully) 2 to 3 days unpacking in my new classroom.

Of course, if I'm truthful with myself, I probably wouldn't have it any other way. I've come to realize that as much as I look forward to summer vacation, after some serious down-time that I need very much, come August I'm looking forward to getting back into the classroom. I remember that anxious feeling I used to get when I was a student the night before the first day of school, wondering about my teachers and the other kids, curious about what I would be learning in the upcoming school year. Even as an adult, I get that same feeling. I usually have a hard time going to sleep because I'm thinking about my students and what challenges we all face in the upcoming school year.

So, my fellow teachers, what did you do during your summer vacation?

12 July 2006

Throw some music on the Jukebox Carnival!

It's that time of the week again! Head on over to the demisesquicentennial edition of the Carnival of Education, hosted this week by the LA Times's School Me!.

Next week's carnival is at Education in Texas, so send off your entries over to Mike at mikea3_98 AT yahoo DOT com by Tuesday, July 18.

10 July 2006

In the name of "intervention"

I am entering my 6th year of teaching with somewhat mixed emotions. For the past three years, I have taught 6th grade Language Arts and History and have enjoyed the experience very much. While at times the paperwork has been overwhelming, I have seen my students make tremendous strides from the beginning of the school year to the end. This upcoming year brings about a new challenge. Our school district is implementing a new reading intervention program for those students who are two to three years below grade level in reading. This program is called SRA REACH. It is a "direct instruction" program, which means for a big part of my teaching, I will be reading from a script.

You read it right - I'll be reading from a script and my students will be "trained" to respond in the way the program wants them to respond. According to those who are implementing this program, students who are in these types of interventions can make tremendous progress in a year, sometimes increasing their reading level by "up to two years." Those who may be thinking this is tracking - students test out at various times of the year and move up to the next intervention level. The hope is that for my 6th graders by the time they reach 8th grade, they will be on grade level. The theory is that when these kids reach high school, there will be no need for this type of intervention.

However, my 6th graders will be in my class for a three hour block of SRA Reach and a two hour block of intensive Math. This leaves them with one hour which will be in P.E. I worry that they will become even more disillusioned with school. Some kids actually like Science and History. If my incoming 6th graders are lucky, some of them will be able to experience those courses sometime in their 7th grade year, but probably more of them won't be able to experience it until 8th graders. Many of them will miss out on learning about the ancient Mesopotamians who invented the wheel and were responsible for creating the first real writing system. They will miss out on the wonders of Ancient Egypt and Ancient China, those two societies who worshipped their pharoahs and emperors like gods. Many will miss out on how our Founders came to look to the Greeks and Romans for a system of government which would come to be called "democracy."

While I understand the need for intervention, I wonder at what cost to my students and to myself. Is it fair to deprive them of half of their education in the name of catching them up to their peers? Will I be able to look them in the eye years down the road knowing that I was duplicitous in this educational deprivation? I guess time will tell or when the next tide turns in education reform, perhaps we will not let history repeat itself.

Tiny orange laptops: the global importance of technology in education

When I was in high school, I desperately wanted a graphing calculator, even though I detested math, and struggled just to finish Algebra 2 and meet college entrance requirements. I didn't want a graphing calculator because I thought it would help me understand math more or get higher scores on the tests, I wanted one because a friend of mine had somehow loaded the video game "Tetris" onto his, and as my parents would not allow me to own any sort of video game, I was eager to get a TI-82 of my very own and join the ranks of the calculator gamers. However, in dumb teenage fashion, as I was making a pitch to my mother as to why I needed this expensive device, I let it slip that not only would this calculator help me bring up my math grade, but that I could also hook it up to other students' calculators and get things like games from them.

Thus ended any chance I had of getting a graphing calculator. Perhaps if I'd been a halfway motivated math student, she might have taken my request more seriously, but as I was more interested in Faulkner than in factoring, I let it drop.

Los Angeles Times educational columnist Bob Sipchen returned this week from the International Society for Technology in Education's annual national conference in San Diego, and in this week's column, he had much to discuss regarding the place of technology in education today not just in the US, but globally. At the end of the column, he posed his weekly question for his readers: Is the global technology revolution good or bad for American students?

I thought about his question this morning as I assembled my weekly powerpoint presentation for the remedial reading class I am teaching this summer. I pondered my own extensive use of technology both in and out of the classroom, how I came to incorporate it in my teaching, and how very different my teaching style would be without it.

One point that Sipchen brings up is a 2000 US Department of Education survey that states that 21% of 12th graders find school "quite or very interesting." He plays off of this statistic to discuss why students today are increasingly disengaged from traditional educational methods, preferring a world of light and sound rather than of paper and ink.  I believe the reason that only 21% of students profess to find school engaging or interesting is not because of a lack of technological bells and whistles on the teacher's end, but a lack of intrinsic motivation on the part of the student. Some of this is the educational system, with its increasing emphasis on standardized tests and scripted learning at an early age, some of it is a societal lack of emphasis on education, and some of it is lack parental pressure--parents who tell their children that school is important, but they don't model it at home. Most children are innately extrinsicly motivated, and with enough extrinsic motivation (both positive and negative) as well as adults who model the proper attitudes and behaviors, they develop their own intrinsic motivation and become engaged in school and learning.

I went into teaching to educate and mentor, not to entertain, and when my students whine that something is boring, my standard response (as any of my students can attest) is "waaah." I'm not astoundingly sympathetic to kids who are given everything and then complain that they're bored--of course they're bored! I constantly tell them that I wouldn't give them the material if it weren't interesting or relevant in some way (which is only a lie about 5% of the time, really!) and, if they think it's boring, I challenge them to find something important and interesting about what we're learning. Most of the time, it works to some extent, and it works best with the kids who are willing to work for something rather than those who expect things to be given to them.

That said, I believe that the global technology revolution will be good for American students, as long as they realize the importance of keeping up with it! Too many of our students define "technology" as MySpace or text messaging or high speed internet access, without thinking about the underpinnings of those technologies--who and what it took to create them.

I'm a big Thomas Friedman fan as well. Around the time of the 2004 presidental elections, MTV showed a series of 30-minute documentaries geared toward getting their viewership more interested in voting. One of them, titled "Choose or Lose: Work It", dealt with the job outlook in the US, and the fact that not only are jobs being outsourced, but more and more foreign workers with strong backgrounds in science and technology are coming here to work because there aren't enough Americans to fill the positions.

I was fortunate enough to catch a rerun on my DVR, which I then hooked up to my computer and burned to DVD to show my students on the LCD projector in my classroom, as part of a unit on the importance of being politically and socially aware (what better time for that than election season?) My English classes also watched the same documentary, as part of a unit on argumentation and persuasion. My students, mostly freshmen and sophomores at the time, got into the unit and were surprised by a lot of what they saw on the documentary. We live in a small farming town, and they have missed a lot of the diversity global exposure I took for granted growing up in southern California, so the issues presented in the documentary were more or less new to them.

I don't know how much they retained, but there was a lively and fascinating discussion on the class blog the following week.

All of the technology I use in my classroom is technology I have actively sought out--my webpage, my class blogs for homework and discussion, my classroom computer, which I bought because the ones the school supplied for the teachers were 6 years old, the LCD projector I "borrowed" from the library five years ago and never returned, not that anyone has come looking for it in that time.

We can either use technology or be run over by it. However, just as the MIT computer project is student-driven, classroom technology should be instructor-driven, and the instructors need to take their cues from the students as to what is valuable and what is a waste of time and money. I started to make a list of all the so-called technological innovations that sit in cabinets and storage rooms at my school because the decision to purchase them belonged to an administrator who went to an educational technology conference, rather than sending a teacher who might see the practical applications of such equipment. However, as I didn't want to fill up your comment section, I opted to leave the list out.

I'm a technogeek by nature, but in watching my students and seeing what technology they use and how they use it, I have been able to better adapt my own educationally-related technology usage to help streamline my classes and better assist and enage the students. While I don't believe that every student needs a laptop at school, and while I feel that much of today's oft-touted educational technology is just hype, I believe that many teachers need to stop thinking of technology as something to be taught separately and start thinking of it as just effective of a tool as chalk and a blackboard. It should be up to each teacher to decide what tools and to what extent they should utilize technology, but if we don't stop treating it as secondary and start not only using it but showing students what goes into that technology and the implications it has on their futures, they are going to get left behind, not just with regards to test scores, but with regards to the flat world in which we now live.

08 July 2006

The Jargon Jungle: Edition 1

As summer marches inexorably on, thousands of new teachers around the state are preparing for their first classroom assignments. While I can't offer any better suggestions than those so thoughtfully compiled by the most excellent Ms. Cornelius, I can help out by offering more relevant definitions to the many educational buzzwords that new teachers are forced to learn and veteran teachers try desperately to ignore.

I'm always looking for suggestions for more buzzwords--feel free to leave your "favorites" in a comment, and look for them to appear in future editions of The Jargon Jungle, a repository for busted buzzwords, idiotic idioms, and necrotic neologisms.


Highly-qualified teacher: ('hI-lE 'kwä-l&-"fId 'tE-ch&r) [n] a teacher who naively believes he/she has all of the classes necessary for his/her certification.

Transmitter of knowledge: (tran(t)s-'mi-t&r 'äv 'nä-lij) [n] a small electronic device implanted into a student's brain that shocks them every time they even THINK about text-messaging during class.

Collaborative decision-making: (k&-'la-b&-"rA-tiv di-'si-zh&n 'mA ki[ng]) [v(t)] the process by which a person within a group ends up doing all of the work because everyone else makes the decision not to.

Block-of-time schedule: ('bläk 'äv 'tIm 'ske-(")jül) [n] not to be confused with "amoeba of time schedule", the block of time schedule is a rigidly structured period of time that must be kept frozen at 32F or below, or else it will melt into an unrecognizable puddle of unstructured activity.


This concludes the inagural installment of The Jargon Jungle. Tune in next week for the second edition, and feel free to leave suggestions for words you would like to see in future installments.

06 July 2006

Let the party begin!

It's LiveWire's first mention in the Carnival of Education, the 74th weekly edition. Look for us in coming weeks! Next week's Carnival will be held at La Times's School Me! blog--see you there!

(And yes, I did take this picture--cell-phone cam, local fair. Photography is not one of my many talents, but I think this turned out neat.)

05 July 2006

Dobbs: No summer vacation for our failing schools

I really enjoy it when people who have never taught in a K-12 school comment on how teachers should do their jobs, and last Wednesday's Lou Dobbs column No summer vacation for our failing schools gave me a good belly laugh.

According to Dobbs,
Our elected representatives and educational administrators all but refuse to acknowledge that high school graduation rates for American public schools were higher nearly 40 years ago than today. And while one-quarter of white high school students drop out of high school, the problem is magnified for blacks and Latinos, about half of whom drop out of high school, according to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute.

Really? They ignore this? Funny, it seems like every time I turn around, another blowhard politician or political commentator is citing these facts.

Those numbers indicate the critical need to mount a national attack on the crisis that is far worse than administrators and educators have reported. Whether schools and their administrators are lying or cheating, or they're simply incompetent, matters little. Without independent educational studies, we would have no idea as to the depth of the crisis that faces our public school students in this country.

Well, thank goodness for those independent studies, because for years, teachers have been trying to draw attention to this, and for years, they've been patted on the head and told to go back into their classrooms. It's a good thing that the independent studies have brought this to light, because those teachers were obviously just crying wolf.

These so-called educators and administrators may be trying to keep the graduation numbers high so that they can meet the high standards of the No Child Left Behind initiative. While that initiative has not shown nearly as much success as its proponents and advocates had promised, it's done better than most of its critics and opponents would have you believe. In any event, the program offers far too little and lacks urgency in dealing with this crisis.

This "so-called educator" would like to point out that statistics can be manipulated both ways: just as we allegedly are manipulating our graduation numbers, proponents of NCLB are also manipulating its results.

Ironically, the United States spends a larger percentage of its total GDP on educating its students than just about any other country in the world.

As any good English teacher will tell you (anyone know one of those? Apparently I'm only a "so-called educator", so I guess I don't qualify), statements like "just about any" are vague, weak, and should be avoided. In an attempt to clarify Dobbs's statement, I went searching for his original data. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whom he cites in the next line, the US is 10th in educational spending, with 4.8% of its GDP going toward education. This puts it behind such countries as Saudi Arabia (#1, 9.5%), Norway, Malaysia, France, and South Africa.

Yes, you may say, but there are 191 192 202 243 254 countries in the world (a number defined only by one's definition of the word "country"), so isn't 10th still pretty high? Look more closely at the study. There are only 29 countries included: 7 from the Americas, 10 from Europe, 8 from Asia and 4 from the Middle East and Africa. This isn't exactly all of the countries in the world.

Additionally, (heh heh, no pun intended) numbers can be played multiple ways. The study Dobbs cites looks at education as a percentage of a country's GDP. However, perhaps a more telling number is the percentage of a nation's budget that is spent on education. According to the National School Board Association, "voters believe that 20 percent of the federal budget is currently spent on K-12 education." In reality, the US spends 1.5% of the federal budget on education. Compare this with Singapore, ranked above the US at spending roughly 7.5% of its GDP on education, a number that translates to almost 22% of its national budget. [PDF, pops]

Granted, Singapore is more heavily taxed and regulated than the US is or ought to be, but given the level of government subsidy in every sector of society, this is still a huge number.

Finally, Dobbs addresses his novel, step-by-step plan of how schools can be fixed reiterates everything teachers have been saying for years now:

# It is time to restore absolute discipline to our public schools and classrooms to eliminate every extraneous program in kindergarten through eighth grade that does not focus on reading, literature, writing, American history and civics, mathematics and natural sciences.

No art? Music? PE? It's not all about the academic classes, something almost any student will attest to when you ask them their favorite class is and they reply, "recess." Children are sponges for knowledge, yes, but that's not all they should be doing with their day. The more we pressure them to focus on core materials without giving them a larger context in which to fit that knowledge, the earlier we are going to burn them out on education. Some things you just can't quantify with a test, but that doesn't mean they should be limited in the classroom.

# We should begin to redress the compensation of all public school teachers to ensure that we have the very best and brightest educating our next generation. For me, that means paying teachers far more and demanding far more of them.

Speaking purely for myself here, I really can't work much harder than I already am. Heck, it's summertime right now and it STILL took me four days to finish this post. I'm just that busy with schoolwork--summer school, and keeping tabs on the students I mentor. Not that I don't know teachers who don't pull their weight, because I do, but if you pay professional wages, you're going to attract teachers capable of pulling their own weight, leaving the ones who don't to find jobs elsewhere. Teaching needs to pay enough to be one of the top choices of our college grads, not something some people go into because of the great benefits or vacation time or because they don't know what else to be.

# The role of the federal government should be to provide, no matter what the cost, a scholarship program that provides a family stipend to economically disadvantaged students who demonstrate exceptional intellect and talent.

Again, this has been said before, and is a no-brainer. However, I believe scholarship models like Michigan's, as well as Georgia's HOPE program, which is publicly funded, are more the way to go--students know from a young age that money will be less of a barrier with regards to college, so I believe they are more likely to see it as part of their future. Not all students are going to be the most exceptional, the best and brightest, but there are many hard-working, motivated students who might not qualify for other scholarships but would benefit greatly from tuition assistance at a state school.

# All graduating seniors in the top 10 percent of their class should be assured federally funded national scholarships to pursue university educations in mathematics, science and English. And stipend programs should be instituted, conditional on an educational commitment to teach in our public schools after their college graduation.

Excellent idea. And these scholarships need to not be for a limited amount, but ones that will cover unmet need, such as the Millenium Scholars scholarships offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These scholarships ensure that top students will be able to attend top schools without having to worry about financial aid--they cover the gap between the free financial aid that the schools offer (grants and scholarships) and the total cost of attendence, so that the students and their families won't have to take out loans. Since the inception of the Gates Millenium Scholars program, over 10,000 academically talented, underprivileged students have been able to attend the university of their choice free of the financial barriers that might otherwise restrict them. While I realize that this is an infinitesimal number compared to the number of graduating seniors each year, it still is a good model to consider.

To sum up, I agree with Dobbs that the current paradigm isn't effective for the needs of our students. However, I believe the change needs to come from more than just the local school systems--what is needed is a national change, and a societal change. Until people realize that teachers should receive a salary commensurate with other professionals, until politicians quit trying to quantify the sometimes unquantifiable, and until some of the societal ills that underlie many of our educational problems are remedied, Dobbs's advice will just be another noise in the cacophony of voices clamoring for change in a system they really know nothing about.

03 July 2006

Teachers have it easy

Recently in our local paper, there was yet another article about how teachers get paid a ridiculous sum of money for the amount they actually work.

I'll dispense with my usual invitation to come and follow me around for an entire day and see how hard I work because then you'd actually have to find me, and I prefer to stay anonymous in the great, nebulous realm of cyberspace. However, when discussing the article with several non-teachers, I made the following point that I feel bears repeating here.

If you don't think we work hard enough, then make us work harder. How do you do that? It’s easy-—send your children to school prepared.

My workload would easily double if all of my students did all of their homework every single night. In the honors classes I teach, I estimate that about 95% of my students do their homework on a regular basis. This number falls off to about 60% in my college-prep classes, and 30% in the basic-level classes. As a result, I spend less time outside of work grading for those classes, and more time during the class period reviewing the material, since most of the class didn’t do the assignments designed to help students review at home so that we can move on in the material during class.

If all of my classes were honors classes, there would be no way that I would be able to keep up the workload.

Fortunately for me, not all of my students are so motivated, and I'm able to have an occasional foray out into the "real world" unaccompanied by a stack of papers to correct; but while an occasional grading-free night is welcome, the reality is that I would prefer that more of my students put in more effort.

So make sure your students come with the proper supplies, the proper attitude, fed, well-rested, free of electronic distractions, and ready to learn, and then I’d have to waste less class time on making sure everyone is ready to go and more time actually teaching. If you already send your child to school prepared and ready to learn, thank you.

If you don’t currently have children in high school, feel free to come by and see what your tax dollars are paying for. Go to school plays, concerts, awards nights, back-to-school night in September. Talk to the teachers and ask them what they are doing in their classrooms.

Ask them if their students are coming prepared and ready to learn, and how it affects their ability to teach when the students haven’t done their homework or eaten breakfast or gone to sleep at a reasonable hour the previous night.

The more students that come prepared to learn, the more time teachers will have to spend outside of school hours correcting assignments and preparing material.

Personally, I don't know where I'd get more time--Señor Esposo (my husband) already thinks I spend too much time grading as is. But if the students work harder, I'll find a way to keep up with them.