Gladly Would I Teach

I learned how to become a better teacher by watching, listening, and questioning other teachers for over thirty years. Now that I am retired, it's my turn to pass on my strategies, philosophies, successes, and failures to others who may learn from my experiences.

08 Mar

Chasing Rainbows

Posted in Reading, Teacher Frustration, Teaching Tips, Testing, Writing on 08.03.10

Based on standardized test scores, this year my school has focused on improving our students’ reading comprehension. Every now and then we have been shown scores and have been encouraged to increase the amount of reading that we require, particularly the reading of nonfiction texts. We’ve had staff development on how to increase reading comprehension and have been asked to document reading activities. Recently, we were told that scores from our upcoming spring tests will measure how successful we have been this year.

We weren’t asked why our students reading comprehension scores have declined. If we had been asked, however, I could have immediately explained part of the problem. Until this year, my school embraced “Quadrant D” learning, or learning that is performance based (at least that’s how it was described to us). We brought in “experts,” who are no longer in the classroom, and they taught us what we needed to do to engage our students in more meaningful learning.

Kids don’t need to sit around and read and discuss Shakespeare, we were told. They need to be up moving around and performing Shakespeare or working on group activities, or working on computers. Traditional reading and writing activities were strategies of the past that no longer worked with today’s students.

So most teachers, particularly the young teachers with little experience that would have helped them filter the  suggestions from the “experts,” jumped on the bandwagon and constructed lessons that allowed students to spend more time performing, more time drawing, more time acting. Reading and writing declined.

Now our students’ reading comprehension scores have declined, something that any veteran teacher could have predicted (and did predict) years ago when we drifted away and decreased how much reading and writing we required from students. Our kids were so engaged, just not engaged in reading and writing.

I am reading Diane Ravitch’s new book The Death and Life of The Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. In the introduction, Ravitch chastises educators for jumping on the latest fad without any proof that the fads work.

We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows and there is no pot of gold at the end of them.

Our kids declined in reading because we chased a rainbow that seemed so happy and colorful and enticing. Well-meaning people chased rainbows, and our kids suffered. I would like to hope that we have learned from this and that we won’t jump on the bandwagon of the next greatest fad, but I know we will.

Why do we always think that the “experts” who have little contact with children know best how to teach them?

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06 Mar

Walking and Grading Papers

Posted in General on 06.03.10

Because I live so far from the school where I teach, I spend an inordinate amount of time driving alone, roughly two and a half hours to three hours daily. That quiet time is great for thinking, great for listening to music or books on tape, or even great for talking on the phone on rural roads occassionally. That quiet time, however, is terrible for my health. Awaking at 4:00 every morning, arriving home around 5:00 every afternoon, and going to bed around 9:00 leaves very little time to exercise.

By the time I get home in the afternoon, I have a list of things I need to get done, and exercise falls farther and farther down my list until it falls off my list half the time.

So, last week I decided to learn a new skill: walking and grading. Since my planning period is before school, I have at least 30 minutes to walk the building in total silence long before most teachers or students arrive. Of course, since I have lots of grading and reading to do, I don’t have the time to walk exclusively for 30 minutes. If, however, I keep practicing, I should be able to walk and grade or walk and read simultaneously.

I know I won’t be a fast walker as I walk the halls and grade, but I will be much faster than I currently am as I sit at my desk and grade. Walking slowly and deliberately may not be the best way to walk, but it’s much better than sitting.

So, here’s my new goal. I’m going to walk and grade 20-30 minutes each morning before 7:00.

For now, I think I better stay away from the stairs.

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05 Mar

Angry and Disappointed

Posted in General on 05.03.10

I started my morning dealing with an intelligent and talented senior with great potential who has been goofing off most of the semester. I ended the day with two students who made really bad choices and will suffer serious consequences. Just when I thought the day was over, I discovered that a student earlier in the week had skipped my class and then lied to me.

Usually, I work hard, find a way to reach kids, and celebrate their successes.

Every now and then, I’m just angry and disappointed. This is one of those days.

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04 Mar

And the rest of the story

Posted in Student Behavior on 04.03.10

Last week I wrote about a terrible theft problem that my school endured a couple of decades ago. If you didn’t read the original story, you might want to read it before reading this post:

Watch Your Pocketbook

As a reminder to those of you who read the original post, while we were having an after-school faculty meeting to warn teachers not to bring their purses into the building because students had stolen two teacher pocketbooks from filing cabinets on that day, someone stole the administrator’s pocketbook from her office!

First we laughed at the irony and then we took up a collection to give to Sue, the administrator, in case she had an emergency while driving home that night. We all got home a little after midnight. What a day!

The next morning, Sue called me to tell me that a really sweet girl had called her at home to tell her that she had found her wallet on the way to the bus the previous afternoon. She had wanted to return the wallet to Sue, but she was afraid she would miss her bus; so, she took it home. Sue thanked the girl and asked her to bring the wallet to school with her on Monday.

Sue had only been in the school for a few days and knew few of the students.

“Sue, who was the student?” I asked.

“Oh, she was a really sweet girl. Her name is Cindy” (fictitious name).

“Was it Cindy Jones?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s her name. Do you know her?”

“Not only do I know her,” I replied. “I’ve already suspended her twice for STEALING!”

Sue then tried to convince me that the child seemed really sweet and didn’t think she could possibly have stolen her pocketbook. Besides, it didn’t seem logical that a student who stole would call to report the theft. That didn’t make sense.

I assured Sue that some of our kids were both dishonest AND not real bright.

That afternoon I drove to Cindy’s house, met the mother, and retrieved the wallet. (We later found the pocketbook itself on the school yard.) I’ll never forget Cindy’s house because it had burglar bars on every window on the ground floor, the only house in the neighborhood with such security.

The following Monday was a whirlwind of student interviews and unpleasant encounters with the mother who swore she had “never had an ounce of trouble” from her daughter.

In the end, Cindy served a few months in alternative school.

She returned to our school months later and resumed her thievery.

I’m so glad I decided to return to teaching instead of continuing in administration!

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03 Mar

Talented Kids “On Air”

Posted in General on 03.03.10

Each Friday morning, my classes spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class watching “Around the Mountain,” a student-produced weekly video program about our school. Each segment includes news, interviews, humorous segments, and student spotlights. I am always astounded by how creative students are, and it’s great fun for me because about half the kids on the KMTV staff are in my AP English class. Under the direction of Jackie Collier, an inspirational teacher, our students produce work that is comparable to work usually found in small colleges.

If you are interested, take a look at Friday’s program. Last week, I wrote about our Valentine Dance for Special Needs students. The segment on the dance can be found on this video a little beyond the 9 minute mark.

KMTV Feb. 26, 2010

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02 Mar

Watching an Amputation!

Posted in General on 02.03.10

I am often amazed at the opportunities that students have today.  Since I teach in a school that includes a Math and Science magnet program, we have many intelligent and diligent students who are thinking about becoming doctors in the future, a career interest for many of the students I have taught through the years.

Oh, but what opportunities kids have today!

Our senior magnet students are required to complete internships for one semester during their final year of high school. Some students who are considering careers in the medical field intern with doctors, and a few of the lucky ones get to spend weeks working with energetic and compassionate surgeons who are willing to mentor a seventeen or eighteen-year-old student.

That’s right – surgeons!

Students get their own scrubs and have the opportunity to enter the operating room and watch as surgeons complete operations, not once, but many, many times during the 18-week program. Every semester I have wide-eyed students who tell me all about what they see during operations, and our conversations almost always revolve around the amputations that they see.

Yes, amputations! (I would run away, but for kids who are interested in medicine, this is an experience of a lifetime.)

Imagine being eighteen years old and interested in becoming a doctor. How much would it mean to you to be able to walk into a doctor’s office or a surgeon’s office and shadow him during part of the day? Without question, students who have this amazing opportunity will remember it for the rest of their lives, and this experience will indeed help them decide if a life in medicine is what they want to pursue.

I wish all of our students had the opportunity to shadow caring professionals who are willing to devote part of their day to prepare future generations for careers.

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01 Mar

What a Wonderful School!

Posted in General, Teacher Frustration, Teachers, Testing on 01.03.10

Like many teachers, for the past week I have been thinking about the Rhode Island high school that fired all of its teachers because the school repeatedly failed to reach NCLB standards. I don’t know much about the school, but I suspect I can guess what kind of school it is. I suspect it’s in a lower socio-economic level neighborhood and probably has a high transient rate for students and probably teachers and administrators also. I guess that few of the parents attended college, and I would imagine that some of the students who graduate from the school will be the first in their family to do so. Isn’t this the scenario of most schools that fail to meet NCLB?

Regardless of the students’ background, however, most Americans expect students in  schools like this to score as high on standardized tests as students in suburban, upper middle-class areas. How absurd!  Yes, students in impoverished areas can indeed meet the same standards as suburban kids, but it would require an extraordinary faculty and student body.

As I read about the firing of the Rhode Island teachers, I thought of my own high school in suburban Atlanta. We have a beautiful campus, and the facilities are only ten years old. Students have access to about 30 AP courses and scores and scores of extra-curricular activities and sports. The faculty is well trained and usually enthusiastic. Students perform well about the national average on standardized tests, and among the 2500 students, the only students we have to worry about are several hundred students who are not as economically advantaged as most of our students, the very type of student who probably makes up the majority of studens in the Rhode Island high school.

People who visit our school always compliment us on our facilities, the energy, compassion, and academic performance of our students, and the diligence, enthusiasm, and devotion of our teachers.

We are a wonderful school!

I wonder, however, what would happen if the couple of hundred of students who struggle academically were the majority of the student body instead of the minority?

What would people then say about our school?

Would someone step in to fire all of our teachers?

Would Arne Duncan, the United States Education Secretary, step in to applaud the firing of the entire faculty?

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