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.


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?

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 Much Money?

File this under “take one, pass it on”.

If you know a teacher, have him or her post in the comments how much he/she has spent on school this year or even last year.  I’d love to see how much teachers are adding to the system to “make things better” or “even it up.”  If they are fortunate enough to be at a high-end school where parents use their wealth to guarantee access for their children, how about how much the teacher WOULD have spent were it not for reimbursement from the parents (a hearty thank-you! to all parents for that.)

Also, if you’re a parent who supports the teacher/school, if you could state how much and maybe even what it was for, that would be cool too.  Remember to pass it on so we can find out how many people are TRYING to make a difference in the educational system.

Basically, I want to see how much society is paying out-of-pocket and figure out a different manner of doing that OR even just getting a huge, “We funded our schools!” sign with a dollar amount.  Wouldn’t it be great if school districts published such things?

(PS Cumberland Elementary PTA in Sunnyvale does this with their volunteer hours.  They can show that the parents add, on average, an additional $120,000 in services to the students just by working at the school.  No wonder the school rocks.)

How Can I Accomplish This?

The other day I ranted about politicians and unions.  Basically that teachers are being taken to task for what’s wrong with education and how our basic right to assemble or support our political causes is being threatened pisses me off greatly.  I think I pointed out that our (mostly male) counterparts are being protected because what they do is “important.”

Now I can see officers and guards being afraid of teachers and teaching.  Why?  Because IF this is true, then we (teachers) are putting them (officers and guards) out of jobs.  It is said that 3rd grade reading scores are used to predict the number of jail cells that will be needed.  Think about that?  How horrifying is that to consider?  That we might actually KNOW as early as age 9 that a child will end up as a criminal?

Then think about how messed up it is that we pour a lot of resources and money into that end of the outcome.  Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to fund education, pour money into early (and often) interventions, and to try to eliminate the need for jail cells?  It seems odd to me that, as a society, we’re willing to pay $47,000 (on average) per year per prisoner in California; however, we only pay $8,852 per student (when adjusted).  Mind you, we aren’t paying them to LIVE at school, but you get the point.

How do we make the huge shift to investment and funding people up-front rather than making huge cost shifts at the back to punish?  It seems to me that if this is true, then we need to make some radical changes now.

Now… How can I accomplish this?

BTW, is anyone amused (if you’ve read my stuff) that the average teacher spends between $2,000 and $5,000 per year to fund education out of their own pockets?  Yes, we’re trying to gift match the states!  Speaking of how do I change that!

Beautiful Eloquence

I received a beautiful hand-written letter from one of my most amazing and wonderful students.  She’s one of those well-rounded, brilliant girls that you want to hate, but you can’t.  She’s just too sweet.  This was the first year I was lucky enough to have her, and I’ve been blessed by her presence ever since. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with when she grows up because she is going somewhere and doing something.  Plus, she can sweet talk you into it.  She’d make a brilliant Secretary of State.

Dear Mrs. Wynnell,

You taught me the wonders of a blank piece of paper, the power of my own voice, the beauty of the small details in life.  Your eloquent speech and expressive nature narrated to me the poetry of living today, not yesterday and not tomorrow.   Not once in this who year during class discussions did you turn down one of my answers.  Mrs. Wynnell, you are exceptional, and thank you so much for that.  You’ve touched my life in a way that no other teacher has ever.  You go above and beyond in every single lesson, touching upon the required, the related and the blunt truth of life.  The fact of the matter is, you are an amazing teacher.  You are also a phenomenal person.  I feel like you’ve got this life thing down to pat!  Thank you for sharing your wisdom!  Mrs. Wynnell you have been one of my all-time favorite teachers, and I most definitely mean that.  I honestly don’t know how else to thank you!


If only she understood that this wonderful letter, painting me in such a warm, glowing light was enough. 🙂  This is what I’ve needed all year.  These three affirmations show me that I am, indeed, in the right place.

I only wish I could thank each writer for giving me back myself.