Committed to Education

I follow Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, on Twitter. Since he’s a politician, Mr. Duncan’s tweets usually have the rose-colored “candor” you’d expect from a public figure earnestly trying to avoid controversy. Needless to say, I roll my eyes a lot when I read his tweets.

Secretary Duncan is in Haiti for two days, and he made this poignant observation while visiting a school there:

arnetweetI agree with Mr. Duncan in his praise. That is an amazing commitment to education, and I wish more American students were so dedicated to learning; however, I have to pause for a moment and wonder…what would happen if these 16-year-olds, living in one of the poorest nations in the world, suddenly got the opportunity to come to America?

Would they flourish under the guidance of well-trained American teachers? Would they be able to excel, given the opportunity to learn in classrooms equipped with Promethean Boards, iPads, and document cameras? Would they be able to use their drive and dedication to become successful individuals and make themselves into confident, intelligent human beings?

No.

In America, based on their age, they’d be thrown into high school with no preparation, forced to learn English in 12 months, given a standardized test over curriculum they don’t understand in a language they can barely comprehend, and told they’re failures when they don’t meet the standard. And we’d blame their teachers.

They’re in second grade because that’s the level of educational attainment they have. When they’ve mastered second, they’ll move to third, and so on. That’s logical. That’s how education should work, regardless of age. That’s not how we do things in America because one size fits all, right Mr. Secretary?

Maybe we should reevaluate our own commitment to education, Arne. Dare I say, maybe we should be more like Haiti??

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An Open Letter to Edupoint

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: I’m a teacher.

I’m not a web designer. I’m not a programmer. I’m not a tech guru.

I do, however, think I’m pretty tech savvy. Like most guys, I refuse to use the owner’s manual when I get a new phone or computer. I just boot the thing up and start clicking stuff until it does what I want. Most professional programs are intuitive enough that, with a little time and energy, I can figure them out. That’s how professionally made programs should work. Manuals are good for reference, but if the GUI is well-designed and the code is good, the program should be easy enough to figure out.

With all of this in mind, Edupoint’s Synergy application is, for lack of a more professional term, crap.

For those of you who (thankfully) don’t know what Synergy is, it’s a web-based application that schools use for attendance and grading. My county has decided that this should be our new platform this year (as soon as everyone got comfortable using the old, efficient platform). Let’s take a look at some of my issues with this application, shall we?

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Spambot Poetry

I frequently get spam comments that pass through my WordPress filter, but this one made me stop, read, and think. It’s almost poetic. The spam bot even included dramatic line breaks:

The sound of music should be pleasing to the ears and
only then will it be appreciated by people hearing it.
This method is similar to the first one as far as method; however,
it is more elaborate because it involves multiple drains connected
to several mulch basins. However, a UV filter runs around $25 and that
is well worth the investment to protect more expensive parts.

This is deep. I think I need to go reevaluate my life…and buy a new UV filter. They’re a steal at $25, and I hear they’re well worth the investment to protect more expensive parts.

spambotpoetry

Posted in Fun Stuff, Sarcasm | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Absent-Minded School Districts

chair

So I read an article about a school in Texas giving a kindergarten student detention for being late to school.

Outrageous, right? I mean, who gives a six-year-old detention for being late to school? At that age, I was still trying to master the whole “bunny down the hole” shoe-tying concept, so how could I have been expected to provide my own transportation anywhere? How is a six-year-old accountable for that? Clearly this is a terrible policy instituted by a draconian school system. The administrators should be forced to change the policy, and the teacher who allowed this punishment should be reprimanded.

If you read the comments on that story, you’ll discover that’s a recurring opinion: stupid school and awful, union-protected teachers.

But let’s ask my favorite question: WHY? Why would a school system institute a policy that seems so obviously flawed? The answer is “AYP,” and you can thank your local congressman for it.

AYP stands for “Adequate Yearly Progress,” and it’s a residual policy left over from No Child Left Behind. Basically, AYP is a series of measures that indicates whether or not a school or system is improving. It’s tied to allotments and funding, so it’s a big deal if you’re a teacher or principal who, you know, wants to keep your job. Most of the measures for AYP are test-related (surprise, surprise), but there are a few other measures that matter. For elementary and middle schools, one such measure is attendance. Yes, a school can fail certain sections of AYP if students are absent too often.

Think about that for a minute. The SCHOOL can be penalized because students don’t come.

In essence, by adding an attendance requirement to AYP, the government is claiming that a school can control when students show up. Again…really, really think about that. So if I’m the principal of a school in which students are tardy or absent excessively, you can bet I’m going to find some way to curb absenteeism…but what options do I have?

“But wait,” you say, “this girl wasn’t absent. She was just tardy.” And yes, that’s true…but district policies on when a ‘tardy’ becomes an ‘absence’ differ. Early check-outs and late check-ins before or after a specific time are counted as absences, so if this girl was getting to school after that cut off, it wouldn’t matter; she’s considered absent as far as AYP is concerned.

I appreciate that the father in the story takes responsibility, and there’s a brilliant line in the Yahoo News version of the article:

Brooke’s family would like to see Olympia’s policy changed to punish the parents, not the kids.

Hmmm…holding parents responsible for things they control, and at the same time, not penalizing schools for something they cannot control? Sounds like a good idea. I wonder why no one’s ever considered that…maybe we need to add ‘common sense’ to the curriculum?

Nah…we’d probably just try to cram that into AYP too.

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Leading horses to water…

I will be accountable for my lesson plans.

I will be accountable for my instruction.

I will be accountable for creating differentiation to the best of my ability.

I will be accountable for the safety and well-being of my students to whatever end I can possibly protect them.

I will be accountable for my communication with parents, staff, and students.

I will be accountable for the collecting, compiling, and presenting of my data (no matter how useless and inane it may be).

I will be accountable for absolutely everything within my personal control as an educator.

Therefore, I will not be held accountable for students’ choices…because I cannot control their choices.

I will not be held accountable for parents’ choices…because I cannot control their choices.

I can control what I teach. I can control how I teach.

I cannot control what a student learns.

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Please don’t hug me…

In the wake of Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut, there have been a number of Internet posts and Facebook groups popping up, suggesting that Monday should be “Hug A Teacher Day,” or something of that sort. It’s to show appreciation for teachers and all we do. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do…but as a teacher – and especially as a male teacher – I’m going to say this is nicely as I can:

Please don’t hug me.

While I genuinely do respect the sentiment of hugging teachers, I want to point out that there are a lot of really significant and important ways that parents can show their support and appreciation for what we do that go far beyond a hug – and they’re just as easy to initiate.

If you really want to show appreciation to your student’s teachers, consider one of these alternatives:

  1. Read to your student for at least 20 minutes today.
  2. Help him/her with homework – even if you’re not sure how to do it yourself.
  3. Ask how his/her day was…and then really listen to the answer. Don’t accept any apathetic variation of “It was fine.”
  4. Look on your school’s website/newsletter for any upcoming events. Plan to attend one.
  5. Email/call/send a note to your student’s teacher and ask if there is anything you can get for the classroom…or just send something in (tissues are hot commodities right now).
  6. Email/call/send a note letting a teacher know what you have noticed is working for your student at home…and what isn’t.
  7. Volunteer to come in and assist.
  8. Plan to have lunch with your student.
  9. Check your student’s grades. Ask what THEY are doing to improve themselves.
  10. Don’t let them settle for average. I won’t.

While we should never forget the victims of this absolutely horrific event, the best way to move on is to refuse to give in to fear. To continue business as usual. And the best way to appreciate the men and women who teach your children is to never forget that YOU are our most important asset in educating, protecting, and enriching the lives of your students.

Don’t hug me. Hug your kid. And then read a book together.

Posted in Adventures in teaching | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Basic Math

My average class has 35 students. My school’s largest laptop cart has 32 computers.

Do you see the problem?

There has been intense debate about whether or not class size is directly related to student achievement. The data is just too vague, and the studies are too scattered to provide any definite conclusions. But allow me to make (what I believe is) a factual, objective, mathematical statement:

35 > 32

Does anyone want to debate that?

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