Flipped Instruction

and a flippant question.

If homework is such a HUGE issue in education with parents being pretty much against it, then how, exactly, does flipped instruction work?  You see, watching a video and making sense of it is STILL homework.  This just seems… weird.

I guess I find it strange that what we’re teaching is SO LARGE it has to go that far outside the school day.  Why not just slow down, lecture, practice, refine, coach, compare, collaborate, etc.?

Honestly, as a teacher, I have an issue with outsourcing my job to Khan Academy so I can, allegedly, act as a coach.


Spoiling Our Kids & Blaming Them For It

I admit that I don’t ask much of my child.  In part because I don’t run my house as my parents did, nor do I have the same financial issues or job requirements.  In short, I’ve given my child very few responsibilities, and, I’m sure, it shows.

From time to time, he’ll get snotty with me, and when I go off, I mention how I would never have done this as well as all the responsibilities I was expected to fulfill as a child.  I don’t know why I do it because it’s obviously not effective in getting what I want.  Probably because I don’t know what I want at that moment in time. I’m guessing I want him trained like I was; however, I’ve not taken any time, given any attention, or been willing to be consistent in training him.  His “failure” is really MY failure.

I’ve always known that when there are kid troubles that we should look to the adults.  It’s our job to model for them and act as guides.  Thing is, we’re really not that interested in doing so.  We want to TELL them what to do, we expect it done to our satisfaction, and then we’re mad when it doesn’t happen.  That’s just crazy, and it’s the best recipe for having poor relations there is.  After all, look at all the romantic relationships that fail due to communication and expectation issues.  Duh!

What really brought this home for me was a blog post that my cousin, Tiffany Heth, posted to her Facebook wall.  It’s called “Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make”.  Now, we all know I’m not Christian, nor is my child a teen (yet).  However, that doesn’t mean I might not find something worthy and valuable in the article.  And indeed I did.

The article points out that spoiling kids isn’t just about access to money, it’s also access to too many opportunities.  I would include in that giving them experiences that aren’t age-appropriate.  We give and do for our children as a matter of fact, but then we’re pissed when they EXPECT these things.  Yet, if we really look at it, we are the ones who created the problem.  Remember, start as you intend to go.

One of the issues of the “modern world” is that kids today have too much.  This has probably always been the case.  But it seems that we never consider that parents these days GIVE too much.  Perhaps we should reflect as to why we do this.  For if we truly want to make changes, shouldn’t we start with ourselves? I would venture to guess that I’m not the only one with self-discipline issues.

Or is this where someone throws out “picking my battles”?

Common Core, 21st Century Skills & Kindergarten

In the last few years there was a shift in education from state standards to, essentially, federal standards.  These are referred to as Common Core State Standards. As soon as they were adopted by states, there was immediate feedback and criticisms about the standards from both parents and teachers.

Thing is, whether you love them or hate them, there are a couple of KEY flaws to the standards themselves.

The first, and more salient one, is kindergarten.  What most people actually don’t know is that kindergarten is NOT a legally required step in education.  Education begins with FIRST grade.

You might be asking, “So what?”  Well, kindergarten is the new first grade.  However, without all of the skills once taught in kindergarten, we’re setting up our educational system for failure.  In fact, I think if we looked at educational statistics in the last 30 years, we could, at the very least, set up a correlation for why we haven’t seen the expected gains.

During the last 30 years kindergarten has moved from being part of a day to a whole day.  Skills like learning to actually write (SERIOUSLY, hold a pencil), coloring to fine-tune motor control, following directions, and learning to solve problems were shoved aside to teach ACADEMICS!  After all, we need our kids ready!

However, we can’t have academics without first building the foundational skills.  This USED to happen in kindergarten.  Now, however, it’s addition and subtraction fact families, sight words, and writing paragraphs.  All this from a grade that’s not required.

Now, don’t take this to mean let’s make kindergarten legally required so we can start, day one, making 5 year olds sit still for 5 hours filling in worksheet after worksheet.  Instead, let’s return kindergarten to the foundational skills students will need in order to be successful over the life of their academic careers.

In short, how do you teach creativity, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and communication if you don’t start in kindergarten and actually LAY that foundation?

If there is to be an educational revolution, and we seriously want to follow a business model, remember that businesses focus on VERY FEW GOALS.  Part of this process is choosing fewer goals, refining the model, and then delivering an excellent product.  Those businesses that tank often took short-cuts and went off half-cocked.

With that in mind, let’s restore kindergarten to kindergarten and focus on laying the foundation of 21st century skills by teaching students HOW to use tools and then allowing them to demonstrate that ability.  Yes, let’s give those kids scissors. Let’s act like the standards as a suitcase or an outfit.  Look at it and automatically remove 10% of what’s in the suitcase or one piece of jewelry.  Too much is too much.  Finally, let’s push all the of the standards up at least one year.  This means that what we expect from kindergarteners NOW we would expect from 1st graders instead.

You might think your kindergartener will be bored.  That he or she already knows all of this.  However, I think you’d be surprised at how much slowing the pace and allowing confidence will make a difference.  After all, is your kid REALLY bored or are you just in a hurry to prove how smart he/she is?


The 5-Year Thing in Teaching

I’ve never seen statistics on this, so I don’t actually know if it’s true.  However, there is this “theory” in teaching that many teachers exit the profession by their fifth year.  I’m sure there’s an amount like “half the teachers quit before they get to year 5” or some such stuff.

However, this idea popped into my head the other day because it occurred to me that MANY of the district office teachers and coaches are teachers who WERE NOT IN THE CLASSROOM FOR VERY LONG.  In fact, many of the principals we have WERE NOT IN THE CLASSROOM FOR VERY LONG.  All of a sudden I have this different view of they are LEAVING the classroom, not necessarily QUITTING the profession.

I think this is actually a far more chilling statistic if it’s true.  Having people who lack classroom success dictate and determine the fate and future of teachers and students is horrifying at best and probably some kind of malpractice at worse.  There’s something really, really wrong about having a leadership that knows little about the battlefield they’re sending their soldiers into, and criminal about leadership that would NEVER set foot on that battlefield because they hated it.

In real war, we tend to feel confident about our generals because they’ve seen real battle.  Well, this is real.  Why are we promoting the least qualified among our ranks to lead?  Moreso, why aren’t we questioning WHY they left the classroom but not the profession?

Computers & Education

I’m not a Luddite, but I do lean towards that philosophy when talking about “technology” in the classroom.

For those of you who either know me or have read this blog from time to time, you’ll know that I don’t really approve of computers for kids.  While some might think this is about me “protecting” my job as a teacher, and it may be (I hadn’t really thought of it that way until I was typing this), the fact is, I don’t see this “tool” as being appropriate for teaching.

There, I said, it.  A computer is a TOOL.  It’s one of many.  Like all tools, some are more suited for the task than others.  However, I find that the current flow is that computers are the way to deliver interventions to struggling students, to remediate them, AND to excel them.  This one tool does it all — it slices, it dices, it cooks, it cleans, it’s a miracle…. It’s a sham.

NO tool is everything to everyone in every situation.  This includes a computer and it’s software (or its app).  That we, as a society, are so hell-bent on having teachers PROVE they are DESERVING of their pay is insulting, but then to be that teacher and see how many people will roll over and play dead allowing some random computer program to “teach” their students is just mind-boggling.  You WANT accountability, and then pawn off this MOST IMPORTANT EDUCATIONAL GOAL onto a piece of furniture?  That’s just crazy.

And all that opining aside, the fact is the students HATE it.  We have kindergartners, who aren’t even LEGALLY REQUIRED TO ATTEND SCHOOL, forced to interact with computers for 100 minutes a week.  A casual person might say, “Well, that’s only 20 minutes a day.” BUT… School schedules are complex monsters, and school supplies are limited, plus… well, there’s the cost of licenses so only x many kids can access a site at any one time.  So, NO it’s not 20 minutes per day.  It’s generally three 45 minute sessions per week.  That’s just painful for everyone.

My students don’t really look forward to computer days.  They ask if they can sign out and just read.  They will do math or anything else.  They would LOVE it if I could manage to get them outside for regular PE, but I can’t.  I’m relying on brain breaks in class to get us up and moving.  I try to fit one in every 45 minutes, but it’s not always possible.  Yes, technology trumps outside time. Go ahead, ask where my day goes….

  • 1500 contact minutes a week gets divided up mostly as…
  • 125 technology
  • 500 to 600 for English Language Arts
  • 80 for supervising lunch because lunch is during my contact minutes
  • 100 for music, 60 just for standard operating procedures, 300 for math
  • 60 for library/girls’ & boys’ club
  • 60 for assigning/reviewing homework
  • 60 for transitions or breaks
  • 150 for science or social studies
  • leaving about 100 minutes left-over that tend to be eaten, no joke, by lost supplies, interruptions, melt-downs.  Sometimes, though, we get PE

The long and short of this long-winded tirade is that kids really only want technology when they are playing games and it’s fun for them.  Most only like school because it’s social.  Seriously, they come to school to be with their friends.  Therefore, this tool that makes them focus on a screen, tracks their time, and isolates them isn’t effective because… well, they don’t like it.

We would be well-served to remember that most connections are made through our emotions, not our intellect.  Truthfully, what’s in it for us?  This method… not much.

BAD Teachers

Education has been an issue for decades now.  You’d think if it were going to be reformed, it would have happened by now.  Instead, it appears that change is done in fits and starts, done and undone by whatever was popular at the time and replaced by the next popular silver bullet.  Allegedly nothing has changed, but since education lacks any really good, solid, honest data collection and aggregation system, it’s going to be impossible, really, to know what does or does not impact a child’s ability to take in new information and move forward.

When I first decided to become a teacher, it was because I was not happy with the jobs I was finding as merely a college graduate with an English degree.  For some reason that will NEVER make sense to me, a fellow Jazzerciser looked at me and said, “You’d make a good teacher.”  That, and the fact that a couple good friends were entering public education at the time, helped drive my course.

Now I was aware, based on my interactions with many people in the public and private sector, that many are not what we would call smart.  I assumed it was the education system, and in California, I still do to some extent.  Quitting my job, I became a substitute teacher.  However, rather than traveling from school to school and position to position, I spent 99% of my time at one school — probably the lowest school in the district and the county.  Once they found someone who could work and would stay, they clung on for dear life.  That’s how hard it was for them to find people to take positions.

I was offered a job almost immediately.  I turned it down because I just kept hearing a good friend’s voice say, “Don’t take a job and then quit.  It’s the worst thing you can do to kids.”  She, of course, was talking about the importance of community and stability for the students.  It’s like being a mom, at some point it’s no longer about you.  I turned down positions for 6 months before I took one — alternative.

I was replacing a teacher that was considered bad.  Now, here’s the thing, to be bad at a school that was clinging to dear life anyone who would commit was mind boggling.  How could that be?  However, when I entered the class it was clear.  These students, low but smart, wounded beyond all belief, shoved into the corner of the school based on their bad behaviors, had done next to nothing since school started.

I’m serious.  They had nap and snack time.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders?  NO!  Yes.

The room was a mess.  There was no teaching map.  There were no books or supplies.  She took them on walking field trips to the ice cream store because it made them happy.  Or they went on hikes because they needed nature.  I’m not sure what her philosophy was, but it wasn’t “Let’s rebuild these kids, get them emotionally and academically on par, and return them to their herd.”  It was likes she was the zookeeper for exotics.  I finished my term and said no to a second.  There was nothing joyful about the position, the students, and the assumption that I alone could do this without help.

So, the bad teacher was replaced.  By someone who was CLUELESS.  I don’t know which is better.  However, that’s not really the point of this long-winded blog.

I was offered a 6th grade CORE position the next year, which I would teach as I took my credential classes. I had an amazing year with my students, learned a lot, and got great help and advice from my administration and colleagues.  I didn’t know a thing, but that was OK because I had people to help me learn and practice what I didn’t know. I was hooked and ready for me.  I was fortunate because across campus was a younger version of me hating every second of her first year as a teacher.

Her team was apathetic.  They, in fact, didn’t collaborate.  There was a different teaching and life philosophy from each one.  They would have team meetings because it was expected; nothing came to fruition.  We attended staff meetings. She, like me, coming from private sector held up the school’s expectations because THAT’S YOUR JOB.  My 6th grade CORE colleagues that I worked with (because not all of them did) also held up the expectations.  Then again, we’d all gone from private sector to public education.  We’d had what I would refer to as REAL jobs.  We had different attitudes.

Her team held the idea that you say yes in the meeting, make no waves to be noticed, and then return to your classroom, shut the door, and do whatever you like.

She left teaching for good based on this type of “cover your ass” and “protect yourself” attitude that she thought was endemic of teachers as a whole.  I’ve stayed with teaching because I always find those people who believe as I do.

Thing is, no one on her team was considered BAD.  They weren’t getting attention one way or the other.  They were, in fact, mostly invisible.  No one could accurately describe how or what they taught.  The prevailing thought was that they came in, did their jobs, and the kids learned.  Maybe… Maybe not.

I think we should stop worrying about BAD teachers because those teachers really will reveal themselves over time.  No one wants someone who is bad for students in a classroom.  However, for all the “THE UNION PROTECTS BAD TEACHERS” rhetoric going out there, it’s forgotten that the people who have to address this was the ADMINISTRATORS.  You know, the ones who should have noticed in the first place, but didn’t or didn’t care.  So now they HAVE to pay attention and put in the due diligence to remove these teachers.  THAT is a HUGE task — no joke.

In the meantime, however, the middlin’ teachers are just plugging away like coming to work is the same as showing up at a car wash.  They do what’s expected, no more, and often don’t follow anything innovative — be it academic, community, or behavior plans — because it requires MORE of them.  They aren’t there to make change.  They are there to teach only.  And by teach, they mean deliver the content as scripted.  No more, no less, unless money is attached.

Because these teachers don’t want to be SEEN, they blend in.  They make no waves.  They come with no big ideas, goals, or different ways of doing things.  They are the same day one year one as they are day one year ten.  They aren’t about to draw attention to themselves because then they MIGHT have to put in some work.

Teaching is hard work.  It’s more than content. And we’re barking up the wrong teacher when we concentrate on “bad”.  We should be concentrating on fair, average, middlin’ and not making waves.  Because I guarantee you, when you bring in the reform, these are the ones undermining it and NOT delivering the content.  Even your bad teachers will try unless they are burned out or have given up.  No, it’s your “get along with everyone” and “make friends with the principal” ones that are your problem.

You’re just to blind to see.

How to Hire a Superintendent

According to Suzanne.

In my warped world view, superintendents tend to just jump around district to district.  They stay long enough to have appeared to have done SOMETHING, but not so long that they actually have, thus managing to appear competent. Or at least not incompetent.

I feel like many areas of public life, not enough scrutiny is placed on the person who is going to be leading our students into the future.  In fact, I think that school districts operate a bit like incredibly lucky Exxon Valdezs or Costa Condordias.  We’re just one  catastrophe away from learning our leaders are, for all intents and purposes, drunken cowards who have no clue what leading really means and will feign ignorance at the first real sign of having his/her feet held to the fire.

My solution? Well, since I keep being told it’s the 21st century (like I haven’t figured *THAT* out), I feel we go all social media and Survey Monkey on them.  It seems to me that outgoing superintendents should be mourned.  The whole district community should be saddened at the loss of a true leader, and work towards keeping him/her.  A superintendent’s departure shouldn’t be treated as though it’s no different from being told it’s Tuesday or hot outside.

School districts should be polling potential candidate’s former district asking parents, students, teachers, management, faculty, school board, community members, and all other district employees a series of questions designed to find out WHAT, if anything, that person did during his/her tenure, as well as if they will miss his/her leadership, name five accomplishments or improvements, and name five outstanding issues.  We should be asking about leadership style, accomplishments (BEYOND the job description), visibility, insight, innovation, and community building

It’s surprising to me that in THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY we are still just looking at cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation.  There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive Google search, full review of a candidate’s teaching style and ability, as well as checking out more than the references provided?  Where are our school boards going beyond to actually hire the best people for leading our learning environments?

If it were me, I’d expect the candidate to come in knowing the district, walking me through the plan to maintain or improve, and have a clue as to who the stakeholders are. After all, if they’re only selling themselves that doesn’t help me see what they’re going to do for the district as a whole.

Then after all that, I’d post my top candidates and ask the community to submit follow-up questions, comments, concerns or even “this seems like the best person for the job”.  When we’re talking a QUARTER MILLION dollars and up, we should be getting the best.  Furthermore, let’s treat them they way they feel teachers should be treated.  You get renewed based on the test scores, you’re an “at-will” employee, and raises will be based on evaluations from the classroom.

Until we improve innovation and transparency at our highest levels we will never get the educational system our students deserve.  In other words, stop TELLING me it’s the 21st Century and actually start HIRING like it’s the 21st Century.