Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Are you sick of higly-paid teachers?"

We've all seen this in one form or another, whether it be the current derivation (recently most frequently found here -- requires a facebook account to view), or some other form of the same argument through chain e-mails or other forms over the years.

It needs to stop.

It's whiny and pedantic. It's making a terrible argument as a joke to get people to think and talk -- and it is getting people thinking and talking. The problem is it's getting teachers and their friends saying things like "this is the boost I needed today," or "yeah, we are underpaid," somehow basing this off of the numbers presented in the note, and having those who really are sick of highly-paid teachers say things like this:

"If king for a day, I would eliminate “Education” degrees - one of the most irrelevant degrees today. I want a teacher with a major in a real subject matter (science, math, English, etc) and not a degree in “how to teach”. I've read articles that entrants into “education” colleges are in the lowest 25% percentile - so the kids are being taught by the lowest intelligent grads."

"If I were czar, I would require **all** teachers to take and pass Calculus I for engineers and science majors. They would sit in the same classes, shoulder to shoulder, with the geeks.
Do teachers need Calculus to teach? No, of course not, but it would assure that they had a high enough IQ to be entrusted with a classroom of children. It would help prevent having math phobics teaching classes and passing their bias on to their students. And...Maybe having taken and passed Calculus the teachers would reject the nutty methods that are being used today to teach math.
Also...I would require all teachers to take and pass, once every three years, the GED for high school drop outs. If they can’t pass the GED then they shouldn’t be anywhere near kids as a teacher.
It is my guess that large numbers of government teachers would fail the GED, even if given a month or two to prepare. They would likely fail the math portion."

This is the reality. This is how some real people honestly view teachers and education (for more negative comments, check out Free Republic). These comments are based in falsehood, but they're real comments brought forth by this note. That brings me to my main point: this note is damaging to the teaching profession.

It's damaging because it unfairly compares the profession of teaching to the job of babysitting. Teachers know this is tongue-in-cheek, but the connection is still there. Nobody really thinks teachers are glorified babysitters, but here we are, making that argument, jokingly or not. The fact is, teachers are the brunt of a lot of criticism these days. Some of it deserved, and a lot of it not. We don't need to force our way into more undeserved criticism. We need to build up the profession.

Instead of arguing about pay in this manner (any job could do that, and it would show that all jobs are grossly underpaid), how about we proclaim the things we do as teachers? How about we talk about the training we all receive -- most of it while we are in the profession? How about we talk about the time we truly put in (one post at Free Republic mentioned requiring teachers to work 10 hours a day -- anybody else laugh at this being an underestimate?)? How about we stop making comparisons to the business world (since we're not in the business world), and start making professional comparisons? By this, I mean go ahead and compare us to lawyers and doctors and other professions. We, like them, are professionals, and have high standards. If a doctor screws up, there's a mighty lawsuit on his/her hands. If we screw up, we should also be held accountable. If this is the reality (which I purport that it is), we need to stop running from this.

Of course, the other reality, that we need to make known, is that there is currently no fair way to judge a teacher. There's no objective method that works. If a doctor were judged by the patients he/she has who don't survive after treatment, every doctor would be fired. Some just can't be saved, no matter how hard he/she tries. This is understood. The same is true of teaching, yet that is not understood. I don't know a single teacher who gives up on any student, just like I don't know a single doctor who gives up on any patient. But they don't all make it. That's the reality.

The other part of this reality is that teachers are only a piece of the puzzle that makes up a student's education. There are teachers, support staff, administrators -- these are all the paid positions. There are also parents and friends, who are probably more valuable to the individual student than all the paid positions. There is no formula, no equation that accounts for all of this and ends up with a grade for a teacher. There probably never will be.

And there shouldn't be. Teaching is a profession, not a job. We want that respect. We feel we've earned it. We need to act like it, even when the rest of the world doesn't treat us that way. That's what will make it a profession.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Presidential Medal of Freedom

I enjoy sports. I enjoy them a lot. The competitive nature, the mathematics, the essence of humanity sometimes coming out in the field of play (not mentioned here: greed, pompousness, vacuum of money). As a fan, I watch some sports chat shows (notably Around the Horn and PTI on ESPN over dinner). They've mentioned lately two recent Presidential Medal of Freedom winners: Bill Russell and Stan Musial. Bill Russell is certainly deserving for what he accomplished as an athlete and coach, and especially for what he has done for civil rights. If I was in charge, I don't know if I would have awarded anything like this honor to Stan Musial, but I'm sure there could be far worse honorees.

But I digress from my main point. I went to check on who had won the Presidential Medal of Freedom (pretty much the greatest award a non-military U.S. citizen can be given), particularly in the field of education. 15 people have been honored for their work in education since the award's resurrection by JFK in 1963. Of these, best on some quick research, one -- ONE -- has done most of his/her work in K-12 education: Margaret McNamara, the founder of Reading is Fundamental (which, by the way, is in severe danger of losing all federal funding). That means no curriculum designers, no K-12 teachers, no K-12 administrators, nobody who is in the schools day in and day out. I think this is ridiculous. I also think this is likely to change in the coming years, because of the ubiquitous nature of blogs, Twitter, et al. So, who is going to be the one to break through? We all have a wealth of information, and a wealth of talent. This all adds up to the ability to make a lot of positive changes. For my money, I'd nominate Dan Meyer for his "What Can You Do With This?" idea. Bottom line: it's time that we, as teachers, make the impact we truly can. Social media has made this more possible than ever. Let's go grab the horns.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Homework is Essential?

"Homework is an essential part of learning."  This was just said to advertise a bit on helping your child remember more that will be aired on a local morning show tomorrow morning.  This was said, without qualification, and without hesitation.  Most people, both in and out of the world of formal education, probably wouldn't bat an eye at this.  But it hit me, as I'm sure it will many others, like a slap across the face with a sack of bricks.

Homework, an essential part of learning?  I'm sure many would concede that homework is an incredibly common part of school, if not essential.  I myself assign homework most nights in most classes.  But you know what I'd like to do more than assign homework?

Not assign homework.

I hate assigning homework.  I hate discussing a concept with my students, either through class discussion or group exploration, and then saying to them "Great!  As a class, you guys understand this.  Now, here are some exercises (rarely, they're problems) for you to work on in small groups in class for the remaining 10 minutes, or by yourself at home.  Oh, and the odd answers are in the back; I know that, you know that, so you better not get those wrong.  Have that done tomorrow morning."  I don't understand how this makes sense.  Yet I do it.  My students don't like it (most of the time), they don't do it to learn -- they do it for the grade.

So what's the point here?  Am I just ranting a bit over something I saw on TV while I have a fever (yeah, possibly)?  But are we still doing homework?  Really, teachers?  Homework was a great idea when we got out of the chalk-and-slate world and into textbooks, paper, and pencils.  Learning exists beyond the walls of the classroom, now more than ever.  If we box our students into doing exercises for homework, what are we missing out on?

What if the "homework" (we need a new name for that, by the way) was a way for the students not to take the classroom home with them, but a way for them to bring their world into the classroom?  We can solve equations anywhere.  Why waste time that they could be gathering data and wondering about the world around them on that?  Homework can and should be for students to gather pictures, videos, and other evidence of the world around them to support what's going on in class.  We can't be in all of their lives (nor should we be -- that'd be creepy and potentially illegal).  But they are.  They can bring that to the room (they do anyway, emotionally).  How can we make use of this?

Wow, that got a bit off-topic and rambling.  No more blogging while sick.  But the point is this: is homework an essential part of learning?  Essential?  I don't think so.  If we have it, let's make it worthwhile.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Escape from the Textbook Notes

My notes from the Escape from the Textbook Conference stream.  All times are Eastern.

12:16 We're getting started.  On time (essentially).  I like it!

Escape from the Textbook

This is a late notice, but there's a live stream of a conference called "Escape from the Textbook" that begins at 12:15 Eastern.  It goes basically all day, until 6 (it's actually west-coast based, so that's why the late times).  Check it out if you get a chance; I know I will!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Top Jobs of 2011

CareerCast rated the top 200 jobs of 2011, as well as the worst 10.  The tops?  Software engineer, followed closely by mathematician, and then a big jump to actuary.  Apparently mathy/statistical jobs are awesome.  No surprise to me.

What's last?  Roustabout.

Their formula uses 5 main criteria, which then break down further: environment, income, outlook, stress, and physical demands.  The tops and bottom begin to make sense when looking at just those criteria.  Desk jobs have decent environments, good income, low physical demands, and potentially low stress.  Working on an oil rig is essentially the opposite.

Well, I was curious.  Where would teacher land?  I would think the stress would be somewhat high, with parts of the environment being good and parts being bad.  Where does this formula put teacher?

100.  Behind librarian (29), school principal (41), teacher's aide (91).  Also behind astronomer (22), barber (76), and telephone installer (97).  What's right after teacher?  Surgeon at 101.

It's an interesting list; check it out!

As for the students. . .there are certainly some good math applications here.  Would a better formula be more accurate?  How do the intangibles of a job factor in (and is there a fair way of doing that)?  Could the students come up with a different formula they would trust more?

Language arts applications: do you agree with the rankings?  Could someone be happy as a roustabout?  Could someone be unhappy as a software engineer?  What would make a good job for an individual?  What would make a bad job for an individual?  What would make a good/bad job for you?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Good Teachers are Good

Do these results surprise anyone?


The "surprising results?"  "When highly effective teachers are hired, not only do their students' test scores improve, but the scores of students in classes they don’t teach also get a boost."


Teachers become better teachers from each other, and oftentimes, teachers are inspired to try new things by just chatting with other teachers who try new things.  Also, teachers can have a positive influence on their students that carries over to other classes those students have, which creates a better learning environment for all.  This shouldn't be news.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Re: Super Bowl

I think I found the response to how I'll use the Super Bowl in my classes.  I'm going to be teaching "The Star-Spangled Banner" as literature in a couple weeks.  This snafu by Christina Aguilera should prove helpful (comments on YouTube NSFW or school):

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egypt and Social Media Lessons

As we all know, a country shut down their ENTIRE INTERNET (both its hosted sites and accessibility) to try to quell a revolution.  Facebook and Twitter seem to be the main culprits.  First off: whoa.  Secondly, and I think this is key: it didn't work.  These websites are merely the tools of social media, not social media itself.  The spirit of social media lies within its users.

Ready for a favorite question of mine?  So what?  Well, let's not ignore the social media message here: outlets like Facebook and Twitter are here, and they're pretty important right now.  They may not be around forever, but humans will always find ways to use whatever tools they have to connect with each other.  So how do we use that?

Or maybe it's not important how we use it, but that we use it.  As a teacher, I have a professional facebook account.  This allows me to connect with students and parents in an easy way.  I can post information there, random videos, fun little quotes and sayings, and there's a level of connection.  I've tutored students through facebook, answered questions about projects, etc.  That's a basic and simple use.  But social media is here.  Let's not be afraid of it!  Let's find ways to best use it for our students and for our schools.  It's free and it's easy to use.  Why would we not figure out how to make it work for us?

Super Bowl

Last year, over 106 million Americans watched the Super Bowl, making it the most watched television show ever.  Sports fans watch it because it's the biggest NFL game of the year.  Non-sports fans watch it because the commercials are the most anticipated set of commercials during any one show; nearly all of them will be new, and most will have high production values.  People will talk about the game at least for a few weeks or months; they may talk even longer about the commercials (if they're memorable enough).

So what?  Well, come on, teachers!  106 MILLION people are all going to be watching the same thing.  I don't know what the demographic breakdown is, but I bet a good 75% of middle school and older students will be watching the Super Bowl (and commercials).  All of these students will come to school the next day with a common experience among them.  Incredible!  The only other times this could happen would be incredibly major news events (which cannot usually be planned) or huge local events (town fairs or something of the sort).  But with these events, not every student is going to have the same experience.  With the Super Bowl, while their environment will be different (are they at a party or by themselves or maybe just their family?), they will all see and hear the same thing over the course of about 4 hours.

With apologies to Dan Meyer, What Can You Do With This?